good book review can perform three services. First, it alerts us to what might be worth our time amongst books coming out now, with description, critique, and evaluation. Second, it lets us comment on issues the book deals with whose significance is ongoing apart from the book itself. Finally, it can have a second life as a signpost to classic works from the past that we might have missed or of which we need to be reminded.
Therefore, I’m going to resurrect some of my old reviews that I think fulfill all these functions. I hope you will be reintroduced to some old friends or helped to find a new one.
Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. 240 pp., hardback, $24.99.
There was a time when Francis Schaeffer was part of the intellectual landscape of every intelligent and conservative American Protestant Christian. Now most young people even at conservative Evangelical colleges have not read him and may not even have heard of him. I have argued elsewhere that reintroducing them to his call for living out the lordship of Christ over the total culture with love and biblical integrity is one of the greatest needs of the hour: “True Truth: Francis Schaeffer’s Enduring Legacy,” Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012:29-45). One of the best helps you can get in remembering Schaeffer, appreciating his legacy, and understanding why we need not to lose it, is Colin Duriez’s biography. If I could keep just one secondary work on Schaeffer in my library, this would be it, without question.
Duriez studied under Schaeffer at L’Abri, and he paid attention. But this is not just a personal memoir. Duriez did his homework on important influences like Hans Rookmaaker, he got ahold of a wealth of early documents (he quotes from early articles by Schaeffer you didn’t even know existed), and he interviewed Schaeffer and other members of the family. The resulting portrait is rich, accurate, three-dimensional, and insightful.
Highlights include quotations from a 1951 Sunday School Times article by Schaeffer that reflects the spiritual crisis that led to his resignation from the Independent Board for Presbyterian Missions and the founding of L’Abri. Schaeffer’s new emphasis on speaking the truth in love that would characterize his approach from then on is expressed perhaps even more poignantly than in his more well-known later writings. “When we have purity leading to love and love leading to purity, and all because we love the Lord—then there will be lasting power and enjoyment of the One who is the dear Lamb of God slain for us, our Saviour and our Lord” (103). Anyone who met Schaeffer will resonate with Dorothy Woodson’s memory that “When Mr. Schaeffer would talk to you, then there was nothing else in the world that was going on” (145). The integration of genuine personal piety with a new kind of worldview thinking to which conservative Christians were not yet accustomed was part of what gave L’Abri its power.
Schaeffer gets criticism from academics because he was a generalist who could not satisfy them in their narrow areas of expertise, but he excelled in something that few academics with their requirements of hyper-specialization are good at: the ability to see the forest for the trees. Schaeffer had original and compelling ideas (the lordship of Christ over the total culture, the upper storey, the line of despair), but he was not interested in theory for its own sake. “I am only interested in apologetics that leads in two directions, and the one is to lead people to Christ as Savior, and the other is that after they are Christians, for them to realize the lordship of Christ in the whole of life” (177). Duriez is one of only a handful of Schaeffer scholars who evaluates him in terms of what his purpose actually was.
Duriez also manages not to misunderstand the much discussed “turn” in Schaeffer’s career toward political involvement with his move into filmmaking at the end of his career. There was no “turn” at all, simply an application of the same concept of Christ’s lordship Schaeffer had always emphasized to the new situation that obtained after Roe v. Wade. As Schaeffer explained to Duriez, “I was one of the first Evangelical writers to speak of the meaning of Christianity in music and art and philosophy. . . . But as time went on, and I emphasized increasingly the lordship of Christ, it became obvious the battlegrounds were not only the cultural ones and the intellectual ones but in the area of law. . . . So there’s never been any great decision, just each thing has followed after the other” (188). If being a Christian means that Christ is lord of your whole life, than that has to include what issues you care about and how you vote.
We can do no better service to our generation of young Christians than to help keep Schaeffer’s teaching and his example alive for them. After reading Schaeffer’s own works, no book will more help you to do that than Colin Duriez’s Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life. That makes it a very important book indeed.
Donald T. Williams, PhD, is Professor Emeritus at Toccoa Falls College. He is the author of thirteen books, including Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Square Halo Books, 2016), An Encouraging Thought: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of J. R. R. Tolkien (Christian Publishing House, 2018), The Young Christian’s Survival Guide: Common Questions Young Christians are Asked about God, the Bible, and the Christian Faith Answered (Christian Publishing House, 2019), and Ninety-Five Theses for a New Reformation: A Road Map for Post-Evangelical Christianity (Semper Reformanda Publications, 2021).