I’ve been looking forward to taking Bill Edgar’s Schaeffer on the Christian Life to the beach with me this summer. One thing that I have been enjoying about Crossway’s On the Christian Life series is that you get to know two people: the biographer and the one whom the book is about. That is especially the case in this book, because William Edgar became both a Christian as a result of Schaeffer’s witness and his good friend. So he is part of his own story.
Both Edgar and Schaeffer have proven to be great companions to take to the beach. Without any disrespect, I would say that they have become “Bill and Fran” to me over the last few days. One reason I’ve been looking forward to this biography is the influence Schaeffer’s writings had on me in my early twenties. Fresh out of college, when I read Schaeffer’s teaching on the “upper story” and “lower story” categorizations that we tend to put faith and “reality” in, I was hooked. That is exactly what I noticed, but could not articulate, in my university years. Schaeffer’s teaching on “true truth,” “the God who is there,” and the “mannishness of man” (see Edgar’s summary on p.66) is both gritty and inspiring. This short little man who stuck out in the 60’s and 70’s with his goatee and knickers was resonating with me as a young woman in the late 90’s.
However, as I read some of Schaeffer’s later works and learned more about his involvement with the Religious Right, I became a bit confused by how political he had become. And I was saddened and perturbed when I heard about his son Franky’s book, Crazy for God, that painted an ugly picture of his dad. Kim Riddlebarger’s Academy series on Schaeffer was helpful, and I recommend them to anyone who would like to learn more about the life of Schaeffer (scroll down from link to that series). That’s when I first learned about the crisis of faith he encountered and how that influenced his writing. That series also gave me a better understanding about the climate that lead to Schaeffer’s political influence in his later years. I appreciate how both Riddlebarger and Edgar discuss Schaeffer’s strengths while being upfront about his shortcomings. In his book, Edgar also focuses in on this crisis and it’s impact on Schaeffer’s teaching. And he gives a personal take on how the Schaeffer’s extreme hospitality affected Franky, leading to some of his unfair accusations, without excusing Franky’s error.
Anyway, this spiritual crisis Francis Schaeffer encountered had to do with the reality of his faith—not only an evidence of the historicity of it, as important as those issues are, but the effect. He was discouraged that his own life and those who professed an orthodox confession did not show forth the fruit or reality of that faith. The description of his long, reflective walks during this year actually made me crack a smile because I thought of the scene in Forrest Gump when he ran and ran after Jenny had left. Edgar explains that Schaeffer came out of this “Slough of Despond” with a stronger resolve. “The apologetic answers are important, but knowing the present value of Christ’s work of redemption is paramount…This crisis sent Fran to look into the present meaning of the finished work of Christ for our lives in a way he had never done before” (82-83).
Isn’t this a question we are faced with every time we are called to resist a strong temptation to ungodliness? When we find ourselves rejected and tempted to retaliate in an ungodly way, or disrespected, lonely, or even if we are just feeling rebellious, we are faced with what we really believe to be true about God and it’s reality in our life at that very moment. Christ’s person, his love, his work, his sacrifice, his presence, his intercession, and more all have meaning in this very moment, not just in our prayer for salvation or in his glorious return.
Schaeffer was “obsessed” with this reality. That is what so attracted me to his writings. Edgar summarizes it well in his biography. Here are a few great lines:
The final reality is not chance, or even the Bible, but God himself.
Indeed, love is real because there is a real reason to keep the human race alive and not plunge humanity into death.
Further, the reason one can trust in the historic Christian position at all is that it is realistic about evil. Without this realism there is no hope. The Christian view is neither optimistic nor nihilistic, but realistic.
Science can succeed because the same God who created the real world also made our minds to recognize it.
About eating in our future, resurrected bodies, he says, “Among the many things which are marvelous about this is the very reality of it—the solidness of it.” Many of us love the picture in the Gospels of the disciples marveling at the sight of the resurrected Jesus as he says, in effect, “Got anything to eat?” (Luke 24:41).
While Schaeffer taught that we should expect progress in the Christian life, he strongly warned against perfectionism. Only the reality of Christ’s accomplishment can keep us where we need to be. (92-94)
In reading through this book, I am thinking about the life of Schaeffer, the Christian life in general, and the irony of how “countercultural spirituality” is a challenge to live according to the reality of God. Indeed, the gospel is real, and that changes everything.