Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.

Title:

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life

Author:

Colin Duriez

Publisher:

Crossway

https://www.crossway.org/books/

Publication Date:

June 13, 2008

Format:

Hardcover

Length:

240 pages

OVERVIEW

When people consider what writers have really impacted American Christian philosophy, two names come up routinely: C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. Founder of the L’Abri movement in the 1950s, Schaeffer’s books have had a seminal influence on Christian discussions about worldview, apologetics and creativity. Colin Duriez, a noted C.S. Lewis scholar and one of Schaeffer’s students at L’Abri in the 1970s, gives a detailed biography of the man’s life and impact.

Duriez carefully balances describing his memories of Schaeffer and drawing on other sources about Schaeffer’s work and impact. His chapters on Schaeffer’s early days as a Presbyterian fundamentalist pastor particularly benefit from this research, showing how Schaeffer’s later convictions were to some extent born out of the fundamentalist movement’s excesses. The balance between personal memories and research also allows Duriez to defend Schaeffer when defense is necessary, while also admitting Schaeffer’s flaws. For example, he concedes that Schaeffer’s recurring critique of Soren Kierkegaard may be limited, but argues that in context Schaeffer’s points were reasonable. He also admits that Schaeffer had a bit of a temper and often struggled with doubt. Consequently, Duriez gives a complex portrait of the man, a biography rather than a hagiography.

Duriez’ balance particularly helps when it comes to talking about Schaeffer’s son. Frank Schaeffer continues to be a controversial topic among L’Abri alumni and Schaeffer scholars, partly because he’s often seen as the person who got his father involved in Christian Right politics. In the 1980s, Frank encouraged Francis to write Whatever Happened to the Human Race? with C. Everett Koop, and directed the miniseries based on the book. The miniseries received funding from various Christian Right advocates and was a seminal influence on the movement. Although Francis shared the Christian Right’s value for human life, his interest in intellectual honesty and creativity meant he prioritized some things differently. As a result, L’Abri alumni who don’t care for Christian Right tactics or language sometimes blame Frank for tainting his father’s legacy. Frank created controversy again when he gave a less than complimentary picture of his father in his 2007 memoir Crazy for God. Duriez is tactful as he considers Frank’s claims and the impact that Frank’s work with his father had on Christian Right rhetoric. He also gently points out what seem to be factual errors in Crazy for God and notes connections between how Frank talks about Christian Right evangelicals in the book and how he depicts evangelicals in his novels. In short, Duriez deals with “the elephant in the room” in a careful manner.

Working with a wide variety of materials, some more controversial than others, Duriez creates a well-crafted book that ranks up there with his work on C.S. Lewis. His combination of good storytelling and careful research produce a compelling read that will appeal to first-time students and academics alike.

A terrific book on a seminal Christian figure.

ASSESSMENT

Rating (1 to 5 stars)

4.5 stars

Suggested Audience

Christians interested in Francis Schaeffer’s life, work and legacy.

Christian Impact

Duriez helps readers to see the theological principles that fascinated Schaeffer and defined his work, as well as the qualities that made him such a notable teacher.

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life


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