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Covenant Seminary reminds us that thirty years ago today Francis Schaeffer died.  I was living far away in Scotland at the time, immersed in doctoral work, so that I was unaware of his death.  But when I read the notice in TIME magazine, I felt it was the end of an era and a personal loss.

Here are three reasons — for starters — why I am grateful for the life and ministry of Francis Schaeffer.  I never knew him personally.  I had only one brief conversation with him while walking across the campus of Wheaton College in 1968.  Our paths crossed on the sidewalk.  I asked him, “How are you today?”  He answered, “I am very tired.”  And we went our separate ways.  So my appreciation of Schaeffer comes from his books and preaching.  As each book came out, it landed on me as nothing less than a life event.  I heard him preach a number of times too.  He was a different kind of preacher, and very compelling.  But that leads me to my three reasons for gratitude.

One, Francis Schaeffer pioneered a new way of advancing the gospel.  All my life I’d been exposed to conventional people using conventional methods, and I don’t mean that in a condescending way.  I had the privilege of knowing men of true greatness, like my dad.  But Schaeffer was just different.  He located the gospel within a total Christian worldview.  He talked about modern art and films and books.  He spoke with prophetic insight about cultural trends.  He worked out fresh ways to articulate old truths, even coining new expressions like “true truth.”  He had a beard and long hair and dressed like a European.  He had Christian radicalism all over him, called for by those radical times.  I found him non-ignorable.  To this day, I dislike conventionality, partly because I saw in Francis Schaeffer a man who made an impact not by conforming and fitting in but by standing out as the man God made him to be, the man the world needed him to be.

Two, Francis Schaeffer united in a coherent and even beautiful whole theological conviction with personal humaneness.  I remember his saying once that, in a conversation with a liberal theologian, he would try to conduct himself so that the liberal would gain two clear and equal impressions.  One, Schaeffer disagreed with him theologically.  Two, Schaeffer cared about him personally.  Moreover, Schaeffer pointed out that, in ourselves, we are unable to demonstrate simultaneously the truth and holiness of God, on the one hand, and the love and mercy of God, on the other hand.  In our own strength, we will slide off toward one emphasis or the other.  But as we look to the Lord moment by moment, we can hold together both theological conviction and human beauty.  But only by both together can we bear living witness to the magnitude of who Jesus really is.  And if we fail to show the fullness of Christ, we actually bear false witness to him, we make him ugly in human eyes, and we set his cause back, however sincere we may be.

Three, Francis Schaeffer and his wife Edith, leading L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland, exemplified compelling Christian community.  They welcomed all kinds of people.  They attracted all kinds of people.  They demonstrated a gentleness, openness and tolerance that created space for many diverse people who wouldn’t have found a home in our more typical churches.  They sacrificed personally to create this rare kind of community.  Their wedding gifts were wrecked, people threw up on their carpets, and so forth.  The Schaeffers flung open their lives, their hearts, their space, and it cost them.  But they gained many people for Christ.  This bold commitment is real Christianity.  Anything less is bluff and hypocrisy.

I thank the Lord for Francis Schaeffer.

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20 thoughts on “Gratitude for Francis Schaeffer”

  1. Rick Owen says:

    I thank the Lord for Francis Schaeffer too.

    The first little book by Schaeffer I was introduced to as a new Christian teenager:

    Others followed. And his influence continues today among many.

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  3. Jim Lee says:

    It’s amazing to think how relevant Francis Schaeffer is to this day

  4. Chris Fisher says:

    Thank you for the article. It is quite timely in the Lord’s will for me. Jeremy Jackson of Trinity Fellowship in Syracuse, NY was an understudy of Schaeffer’s and wrote the study guide for his book “How Should We Then Live?” . He will be a speaker at a free conference on God’s attributes at our church in Cazenovia, NY June 6th-7th. I hope to get some insights on Schaeffer while he’s there. If interested, information on it is at

    1. Nate Sauve says:

      Chris, I grew up in Jeremy Jackson’s church. He certainly embodies the Schaeffer legacy of intellectual rigor and compassionate care. A true Scholar/Pastor. I didn’t realize the blessing I had until I moved away for college.

  5. Some people remember where they were for the Challenger or for Kennedy or for 9/11. I remember where I was when I heard that Francis Schaeffer had died of cancer. Now, I’m 36, so if you do the math Schaeffer had made a pretty strong impression on a little guy. My dad had 1000s of hours of his lectures on reel-to-reel tapes and would play them in the home. He didn’t realize how much I was listening.

    There are many people who have been influential in my life, but Schaeffer laid a foundation in my life that was so clearly, convictedly and loving cast upon the apostles and prophets.

    Thank you, Jesus, for given your church men and women like Francis and Edith Schaeffer.

  6. DENNIS MULLEN says:

    His book “True Spirituality,” had a profound influence on my understanding of the doctrines of grace. I can see him in my minds eye, pacing in the hayloft he describes in the preface, thinking backwards to his days of agnosticism and retracing his steps, as I imagine with Bible in hand, and coming face to face with the true “meaning of the finished work of Christ for our present lives.” And as he struggled and came face to face with that truth, he writes, “Gradually the sun came out and the song came.” What light he gave us, and what a worshipful song he sang. No person better taught what is the reality of our faith, when he wrote: “that it is a moment-by-moment process, there most be moment-by-moment teaching, there must be moment-by-moment example, of the present meaning of the work of Christ, and a conscious choice of the individual and the group to lay hold of these things (Bible Truth, what he called true truth)- first in instruction, and then in example.”

  7. His gravesite is here in Rochester, MN and it reads “from strength to strength” Psalm 84. He has been joined now with Edith and with many, we share in an inestimable heritage. So many lives have been changed by this man who lived out “no little people, no little places”.

  8. william douglas says:

    I agree. Schaeffer by his books made a huge impact on me at a time that was crucial in my life. The fearlessness in the face of the intellectual challenge and the kindness toward all was so powerful and riveting. I was in danger of retreating away from the whole area of intellectual things because I had decided that was the only way to remain faithful to God. Reading Schaeffer opened a door onto a whole world for me. I will always be thankful for his ministry.

  9. Like FS, you articulate so well the concept of truth presented with love for mankind. Thank you once again for the provocation. And like FS, you must be tired as well, but know that there are those who pray for you, till he comes, and for his glory.

    1. Ray Ortlund says:

      That is so dear of you, Debbie. Thank you. Very moving.

  10. Jacqueline Bay says:

    Hungry for more and a young believer I stumbled upon Francis and Edith Schaeffer. More than anything, I longed to go to L’Abri. I never made it to the actual place but I feel as though the Lord took me to His own handmade L’Abri. He caused our family to open our doors wide open for a season to welcome those in that wanted to discuss and learn and grow together. So thankful for the community of people that have come through our doors and thankful to this couple for pointing us in the right direction.

  11. Ray,

    Are you aware that FS came to faith through a Boy Scout troop associated with a Presbyterian church? And so it goes.

    Thanks for posting this thoughtful remembrance of some wonderful saints?

  12. Randy Stone says:

    If it were not for Francis Schaeffer, I would not be married to my wife of 40 years, nor a member of a PCA church. When I first met my wife, she had just returned from L’Abri and could not stop talking about it. She had picked up “Escape From Reason” in her college bookstore and it redeemed her life. She redeemed mine. Thank you, F.S. !

  13. Jim Freeman says:

    My goodness…that was an extremely powerful piece. Thank you so much for writing it. I came across Mr. Schaeffer and his work while attending Liberty Baptist College in the 1980s…I had all but dismissed the notion of Christianty being true….his work and sermons helped convince me otherwise. I’m forever grateful and forever in his debt.

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Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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