“What? Two months dead and not forgotten yet? Why, then, there’s hope a great man’s memory may outlive him half a year!” – Hamlet.
I had a sobering moment on the second day of class in the spring of 2005. I asked the group of 125 students in “Western Thought and Culture,” an interdisciplinary survey thoroughly informed by Schaeffer’s cultural apologetic, “How many of you had never heard of Francis Schaeffer or L’Abri before taking this class?” Almost every hand in the room went up. This would not have happened ten or even five years before. It did not even happen quite so obviously the previous year. But the dramatic nature of the response this time suggests that we have passed a threshold which does not bode well for the future.
Though Schaeffer has now been dead for more than two decades, his legacy and his influence had lived on in the Christian movement—until now. Past generations of Christian students might not have read Schaeffer, but many of them knew that he was a controversial intellectual guru of the Evangelical movement who was a stalwart champion of the inerrancy of Scripture and opponent of abortion. Now suddenly we have a generation of Christian students for whom—if they do not come to Toccoa Falls College and take “Western Thought”—it is as if he never even existed.
Think for a moment about what the Christian movement, especially its Evangelical wing, was like before Schaeffer came upon the scene in the Sixties. Most believers were unaware that there was such a thing as a “Biblical World View.” They figured that, aside from Christians being a bit more honest and less immoral and abstaining from tobacco, alcohol, and movies, there did not need to be that much difference between them and non-believers in their whole approach to life. They did not think the intellectual, social, and cultural issues of the day anything they needed to be concerned with. And so they watched the Christian consensus they had come to take for granted evaporate to the point that our Supreme Court was able to legalize the mass murder of unborn children and, until it was too late, they had no idea that it was even happening.
It is hard today to remember how radical Francis Schaeffer was in the Sixties when his call for speaking historic Christianity into the Post-Christian world with intellectual integrity, his call for holistic world-view thinking, and his call for living out “the lordship of Christ over the total culture” were first sounded. I do not claim that forgetting Schaeffer necessarily means forgetting these lessons. Rather, my concern is over how well we ever really learned them. Schaeffer has never been replaced by another voice of equal stature able to speak to these issues with equal clarity, equal power, equal doctrinal soundness, and equal biblical faithfulness, in a way that would speak to such a cross section of the Evangelical world. We still need to hear that voice. But outside the walls of my institution with its required “Western Thought” course, we must fear that it is now growing very faint.
Note: An expanded version of this essay is available in Williams’ book Reflections from Plato’s Cave.
Check out Dr. Williams’ books at http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/! Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), Reflections on Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lantern Hollow, 2012), and Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed. (Lantern Hollow, 2012). Each is $15.00 + shipping.