Dan Guinn of Francisschaefferstudies.org interviewed me recently about a set of old cassette tapes of Francis Schaeffer’s lectures that I had donated to be digitized and made available to the public. You can hear the tapes at the website address given above. Here is a good discussion of Schaeffer and his legacy that introduces them. Guinn asked good questions. I hope my answers were worthy of them.
FRANCIS SCHAEFFER STUDIES: Thank you for allowing us to digitize your recordings of the 1971 lectures of Dr. Schaeffer on He is There and He is Not Silent, Dr. Williams. Can you describe the event where the lectures were recorded?
DONALD T. WILLIAMS: It was a L’Abri Conference up in the clouds at Covenant College on Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, TN, in 1971.
FRANCIS SCHAEFFER STUDIES: How old were you when they were recording. Were you a student?
DONALD T. WILLIAMS: It was spring semester of my sophomore year of college. I was twenty. I skipped a week of classes at Taylor University to attend, as Covenant’s spring break did not coincide with ours. Skipping those classes was the best educational decision I ever made.
I had just changed from Music to English as my major, planning to take Greek for my language requirement and use it as a pre-seminary degree. Schaeffer certainly helped to get that plan off on the right foot. I had started reading his books in high school and had read everything he had written up to that point. C. S. Lewis had showed me that the life of a Christian intellectual was possible. The God Who is There and Escape from Reason showed me what it ought to look like in the late 20th century. This was my first chance to hear Schaeffer in person.
FRANCIS SCHAEFFER STUDIES: What other well-known speakers were at the event?
DONALD T. WILLIAMS: Mrs. Schaeffer, Hans Rookmaaker, Os Guinness, and Udo Middlemann are the ones I remember, though there may have been a couple others like Dick Keyes as well. They were all good, but the one that impressed me most after Schaeffer himself was Udo speaking on Julien Benda’s book The Treason of the Intellectuals. I got some tapes of Guinness and Middlemann too. There wasn’t much point in taping Rookmaaker on art if you couldn’t get the slides!
FRANCIS SCHAEFFER STUDIES: These lecture recordings of Dr. Schaeffer speaking on He is There and He is Not Silent are your personal recordings. Can you describe how the lectures were recorded?
DONALD T. WILLIAMS: There used to be a technology called “cassette tapes.” I used a personal recorder a little smaller than a shoebox with a hand-held mike. The tape in the cassettes was guaranteed to snarl eventually, so after a few years just about anything could be lost. It is nothing less than a miracle that Dan Guinn and company were able to get anything useful off of these! Their preservation for posterity is a great service to the Kingdom of God.
FRANCIS SCHAEFFER STUDIES: Did you talk with Dr. Schaeffer during this event? If so, what was that like?
DONALD T. WILLIAMS: In those days, Schaeffer would continue discussions into the wee hours of the morning, so if you held out long enough you would be in a small-group discussion with him. I did, of course. I remember asking, “You’ve said repeatedly that ‘There is nothing Platonic in the Bible.’ But what about the book of Hebrews, where you have the temple in the heavens contrasted with the man-made temple on earth? That sounds a lot like one of Plato’s forms to me.” He gave a technical answer about the difference which I was not yet ready to appreciate, but which I pretended to understand.
My favorite memory of talking with Schaeffer came two years later at the next conference, though. In 1971, I had been in some pretty small groups with him, but never one on one. In 1973, we both got to Covenant early when no one much else was around yet. Schaeffer walked over to me and struck up a conversation while I was still working up the nerve to approach him.
Astoundingly, he remembered me from two years previous. How many hundreds of people had he spoken to in the mean time? He managed to convey that he was the one honored by my presence! I am convinced he sincerely felt it so. And in that, I was granted a gentle and completely unintentional rebuke, a realization of how far I still was from the greatness to which I aspired.
FRANCIS SCHAEFFER STUDIES: These recordings are dated prior to the release of He is There and He is Not Silent, and they are perhaps the most intense we have heard from Dr. Schaeffer. What was your impression of him speaking and when you finally read the book that paralleled the lectures, what was your impression?
DONALD T. WILLIAMS: Schaeffer’s books were made by transcribing and then editing his lectures. He would develop a lecture or a series of lectures and give them over and over in many places (or to different groups coming through L’Abri), deal with the questions that came up, and thus strengthen them over time. Eventually then a typescript would be produced, and from that the book version would be edited. These are the lectures that were the source of He is There and He is Not Silent.
I did not realize until I bought the book how much better the live lectures were. The books are great. The God Who is There and Escape from Reason had revolutionized my whole approach to thinking as a Christian. But I found He is There and He is Not Silent disappointing after hearing the lectures live. I realized later that this reaction was a bit unfair. It’s still a good book, but it is a poor substitute for actually being there! Not only are some interesting asides lost, but it is just not possible fully to capture on the page the full personality, the intellectual and spiritual passion behind the ideas. I’m so glad that some of that has been recaptured here.
FRANCIS SCHAEFFER STUDIES: What is the significance of He is There and He is Not Silent?
DONALD T. WILLIAMS: It completes the argument of The God Who is There. How is it that we can claim we know God? Only if He exists and has revealed Himself to us can we make such a claim validly. Not only that, but unless these two conditions are met, we cannot really claim to know true truth about anything in His world. So what are the good and sufficient reasons for believing that God has spoken, that He is not silent about ultimate meaning and values? That is what this book tries to give. It pulls together threads from The God Who is There and Escape from Reason and tries to tie them into a single, beautiful bow.
FRANCIS SCHAEFFER STUDIES: Are these lectures still important? What can we learn from them today?
DONALD T. WILLIAMS: They are better than the book. That ought to be recommendation enough! But let me close with an anecdote. Above, I mentioned that the heard lectures give us a greater access to Schaeffer’s spiritual and intellectual passion. Well, my best friend, David Stott Gordon, was present, having driven up to meet us from the University of Georgia. He was a Geek among Geeks, a true disciple of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. He evaluated everything in the most unemotional and rigorous, analytical manner possible. He would challenge anything, even if he agreed with it! After the lecture on the answer to the epistemological problem, there were tears streaming down his face, and I had no need to ask him why. I think there were a few on my own as well. Listen to this series, and maybe you will see why too.
Donald T. Williams, PhD, is R. A. Forrest Scholar at Toccoa Falls College, Past President of the International Society of Christian Apologetics, and a Resource Scholar for Francisschaefferstudies.org. To order his books Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams, Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (which contains an essay on Schaeffer’s legacy), or Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters (all $15.00 + shipping), go to