Book Review: Francis Shaeffer

October 8, 2008

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life. By Colin Duriez. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. 240 pp., $24.99, hard cover.


One of the most important figures in the areas of theology, apologetics, and culture of the last century is Francis Schaeffer. Until now there had not been a solid biographical work dealing with the life of this important figure. Colin Duriez, someone who knew the man personally, has helped to fill this great need by providing a look at the life of this great man. With an analysis of his books, interviews with Schaffer before he died, his family, friends, colleagues, and people who studied at L’Abri, Duriez offers a volume on the man that essentially comes from the very heart of Schaeffer himself.


Francis Schaeffer was born in 1912 and lived quite a tumultuous life until the Lord took him prematurely from Cancer in 1984. Growing up poor in Pennsylvania, he studied hard in school and sensed the call to pastoral ministry. He studied at Hampden-Sydney College and after studied for his seminary studies at Westminster Theological Seminary and then finished at the new Faith Theological Seminary which was formed out of controversy at Westminster. Much of Schaeffer’s apologetical thinking was developed under the Father of Presuppositional Apologetics, Cornelius van Til (although he departed in some key areas). Schaeffer saw how Christianity affected all of life. This thinking is what began his great cultural studies and how he developed the thinking that one could see where one was at and where one was going by studying the development of cultural expression in previous years (areas of art, music, philosophy, etc.). Serving as a Presbyterian pastor for a number of years he convinced the denominational body that a survey trip of Europe was necessary following World War II to see how the New Theology there had affected the churches. Schaffer’s trip was something that changed his thinking and developed a new approach to ministry as he sought to intellectually address issues in the growing modernist and soon-to-be postmodernist society. This resulted in the founding of L’Abri (The Shelter) in Switzerland where Schaffer could meet with those who were searching and talk openly about how Christianity was relevant and addressed issues of culture, the arts, and everything. Through Schaeffer’s speaking and writing, vast amounts of believers became in-tune with what was going on around them and were becoming more and more willing to present Christianity as culturally relevant and intellectually responsible.


There was much controversy and pain in the life of Francis and his wife Edith. People did not understand their new approach to ministry by interacting with people on this kind of casual level at L’Abri. The schedule was intense and with people living with the family it often took tolls on the family relationships and on health in general. Schaeffer though saw himself as being a defender of Christianity by presenting the Christ of the Scriptures and how all men everywhere need to be transformed by Him. Schaeffer’s unique approach allowed him to reach people who were not being reached by the church. The intellectuals of the world turned to Schaeffer as the one who presented a culturally relevant Christianity. To this end he was greatly used of the Lord.


Duriez traces all the events of the life of Schaffer from birth to death in a very readable way. He presents the life of this man and his family as a choice servant of God. This is a solid contribution to the history of evangelicalism in the last decade, to the history of apologetics, and ultimately, to the life of this man, so often misunderstood in his own life and today. The only real weakness is that Duriez does not interact with his theology as much as would be helpful. He admits in the beginning that this is not a theological biography, but one is necessary. Duriez offers a helpful look at the life of this man. Now, someone must look at the theology of this man to continue to better help the church. But, this book is highly recommended as a well-written account (from the very mouths of Schaeffer and those who knew him best) of the life of pastor turned denominational leader turned missionary turned prophet and apologist. May all of us have the dedication that Schaffer did for the cause of Christ today in our ministries. Read and be challenged and encouraged by the work of God in the life of His servant.