As I recently read through Crossway’s collection of the Letters of Francis SchaefferI was struck by how applicable Schaeffer’s insights are today, particularly in regard to evangelical movements, leaders, and doctrine. His counsel deserves to be heeded by those of us in the “gospel-centered” stream of evangelicalism.

With this in mind, I have selected some favorite excerpts from these letters and woven them together creatively. Using Schaeffer’s own words, I am imagining out loud what counsel he might give us today.

What Francis Schaeffer Might Say to the Gospel-Centered Movement Today

1. Make sure your loyalty to Christ supersedes any loyalty you have for the “movement.”

[Brothers and sisters,] I see the need for Christians across the face of the earth who are indeed brothers in Christ, standing on the fundamentals of the faith and separated from unbelief, to come into personal fellowship one with the other to the praise of our Lord. And yet how quickly such a thing can grow into that which is merely cold, formal, and dead. The cry of my heart is that God may have mercy on us.

I increasingly see the dangers involved in organization, and I do think that most of us get the cart before the horse. That is, we organize first and then go forward, rather than growing close to one another through spiritual and personal contacts and then letting whatever organization grow naturally out of that-as the tree puts forth the leaf and then the bud and then the flower as the Lord leads.

I don’t think [that the deeper spiritual walk is] in antithesis to an organization. And yet, I must say that it does seem to me that so often organization becomes a means to an end in itself. So often it takes so much energy to turn over all the machinery that the work never gets finished. And so often we put the machinery in the place of the Holy Spirit, feeling that if we can just get organized enough then the thing is sure to go on and be successful.

Of course, this is all very wrong, and not only wrong but wicked. We must realize that it is only the Holy Spirit who can give the power, and we must realize that the only motivation which pleases our dear Lord is our love for Him. Merely keeping machinery turning, and getting all mixed up in the self-aggrandizement that so often goes with a large organization, completely casts aside this primary motive of love to the Lord and a dependence then on the one source of true Christian power-the Holy Spirit.

The problem is not one of loyalty or lack of loyalty to a “cause” or “movement.” [The problem is that] loyalty to organizations and movements have always tended over time to take the place of loyalty to the person of Christ… We must urge each other not even to give final authority to principles about Christ, but only to the person of Christ.

2. Don’t let your orthodox doctrine be disconnected from a living relationship with the living Christ.

Doctrinal rightness and rightness of ecclesiastical position are important, but only as a starting-point to go on into a living relationship – and not as ends in themselves.

[Take the Reformation, for example.] The Roman Catholic Church had come to teach the wrong doctrines. And I feel that most of the Reformation then let the pendulum swing and thought if only the right doctrines were taught that all would be automatically well. Thus, to a large extent, the Reformation concentrated almost exclusively on the “teaching ministry of the Church.”

In other words almost all the emphasis was placed on teaching the right doctrines. In this I feel the fatal error had already been made. It is not for a moment that we can begin to get anywhere until the right doctrines are taught. But the right doctrines mentally assented to are not an end in themselves, but should only be the vestibule to a personal and loving communion with God.

The danger of orthodoxy, even true orthodoxy, is in falling off the other side of the knife blade: that is, in stating the intellectual position and then placing a period. What we must ask the Lord for is a work of the Spirit . . . to stand on a very thin line: in other words, to state intellectually (as well as understand, though not completely) the intellectual reality of that which God is and what God has revealed in the objectively inspired Bible; and then to live moment by moment in the reality of a restored relationship with the God who is there, and to act in faith upon what we believe in our daily lives.

3. Live in a way that demonstrates the holiness and love of God.

We must exhibit simultaneously the holiness of God and the love of God. Anything else than this simultaneous exhibition presents a caricature of our God to the world rather than showing him forth.

We are in a day when evangelicals tend to let down the absolutes in the Word of God in doctrine and in life, and we must be careful not to contribute to this. On the other hand, we are in a day when other evangelicals are becoming more and more heartless, and we must be careful not to contribute to this as well.

The problem is in being those who insist upon the absolutes of God and yet show forth beauty to the world, which is strangling for the need of both absolutes and beauty. These things are beyond us in our own strength, but not in His strength as we allow Him to bring forth His fruits through us in this sinful and ugly world and generation.

May the Lord lead you that you not deny His existence through lack of faith, nor deny His character in either His holiness or His love.

4. Rely on the Spirit as you grow in your love for God.

[Remember that] the decisions of a growing work demand that the One who directs be constantly at hand.

It brings me increasingly to my knees – to ask that the Holy Spirit may have His way in my life; that I may not think just of justification and then the glories of Heaven (with merely a battle for separation between). [But that I may also think of] all the wonders of the present aspect of my salvation, and that they may be real to me in my life and ministry.

What a wonderful Lord we have, and how glorious it is to indeed have God as our Father, and to be united with Christ, and to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Oh, would to God that our ministry could be under His full direction, and in His power without reservation.

God really is there. He really does exist, and He made us for Himself. Knowing that He is there, and therefore that we do not live in a silent universe, changes everything. To know that we can speak and that there is Someone who will answer fills the vacuum of life that would otherwise be present. And then, when we realize His love for us as individuals – that Christ really did die for us as individuals, for us personally – life is entirely different.

You need not be afraid to enjoy God. The beautiful thing is that He uses us, but never in the way a soldier would use a gun only to throw it down and take another. He uses us, but He always fulfills us at the same time.

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10 thoughts on “What Would Francis Schaeffer Say to the Gospel-Centered Movement?”

  1. Craig Hurst says:

    I plan to begin reading all of his works next year.

  2. Trevin Wax says:


    You won’t be disappointed. He has been one of the most influential thinkers in my life.

  3. Michael Snow says:

    “The cry of my heart is that God may have mercy on us.”

    “Tell me what the world is saying today and I will tell you what the church will be saying in seven years.”–The Great Evanelical Disaster

  4. Arthur Sido says:


    Your second point is powerful and dead on. We still see the results four hundred years later of a Reformation of doctrine that left practice more or less assumed.

  5. Lon Hetrick says:

    Nice post Trevin. I especially liked this: “Doctrinal rightness and rightness of ecclesiastical position are important, but only as a starting-point to go on into a living relationship – and not as ends in themselves.”

    My Christian experience began in a very experiencial movement (Pentecostalism), which I abandoned for doctrinal reasons and joined the reformed theological/gospel-centered movement. I see the potential for errors on both sides though, and I think the solution is effective discipleship that teaches (good) theology to all, equips all for ministry, and promotes a living relationship with Christ. The church I attend in Atlanta (Perimeter Church) does a good job at this, I think, and calls it “Life on life, missional discipleship.

  6. I hear more of Francis Schaeffer in the thoughts, writings, and preaching of the cross-centered movement today than just about anyone else. Might be a bit of an overstatement, but I do think that he is the most quoted/least attributed because he so deeply has infected the thoughts of a whole generation of leaders.

    He was prophetic in the previous generation, so we would do well to listen to what he was saying about our current generation.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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