The debate still continues about Schaeffer with all of it's nuances. I often wonder if there is any Christian scholar more misunderstood or often misrepresented than Francis Schaeffer. Recently, I was reading a post by Barry Hankin's called "The Mark of a Schaefferite : The Lasting Legacy of Francis Schaeffer." Barry Hankins also wrote a book called "Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America." One of the problems I am seeing as I read these "legacy" type articles is often that they seem to make certain assumptions about Schaeffer purely on the word of his son Franky. Someone who is obviously openly hostile and seems to have a chip on his shoulder in my opinion. Moreover, I venture that critics have not read much of Schaeffer themselves. I am not saying this is the case with Mr. Hankins, but I think that if a scholar reads enough, they just might change their mind.
Now as I was reading Barry Hankin's article, I was struck by the fact that it contained many of the prevailing matters I often hear debated. So I decided to reply. My point here is not so much to take exception with Mr. Hankins but to show that I believe there are some other alternatives to the opinions that are being formed and propagated about Schaeffer. I believe they are worth examining before making judgments or characterizations that could serve to distort Schaeffer's legacy, but perhaps that is too late.
While I think the article by Mr. Hankins tries to be favorable, the problem is that I believe there are indeed some historical inaccuracies here. So graciously and respectfully, I would like to point out what I believe are errors:
1. ) "The answer lies in Schaeffer’s having been a complex individual with a wacky son" says Hankins.
The image of Franky spurring on his father is a myth propagated by Franky. Rick Pearcy suggested to Franky to tell his father to do an historical reply to the prevailing historical revisionism being put forward (Kenneth Clark, and Jacob Bronowski to be exact), and this became How Should We Then Live. Franky never mentions this. If one researches How Should We Then Live (see Francis Schaeffer an Authentic Life by Colin Duriez) you will find that Schaeffer had hoped to do this all along and he had told Edith this. So Franky's suggestion only solidified it for him. I am not saying he had no part in influencing his father. I am saying that the picture of him being thrust into the situation and polluted by his son is simply false. See my article here:http://francisschaefferstudies.blogspot.com/2011/11/origins-of-how-should-we-then-live.html
2. ) "There, he found Europeans not much impressed with American fundamentalist heresy hunting. " says Hankins.
While this has some plausibility, it is really an oversimplification. The more pressing reasons for his resignation and the start of L'Abri were wrapped up in the denominational in-fighting of the time they were on furlough in the states and where he was teaching "True Spirituality." Much to his surprise, it was not always well received, many in his denomination mistakenly perceived it was politically motivated.
3. ) Hankins states that one of the goals of L'Abri was to "argue young people into the Kingdom of God."
This wording is a mistake as it could be taken to imply that Schaeffer was a Rationalist, and he was not. He simply believed that a persons faith corresponded to the real world.
4. ) Hankins states that He Is There And He Is Not Silent is one of "Schaeffer’s first three books."
This may have been a mere editing oversight but, He Is There And He Is Not Silent is not Schaeffer's third book, Death In The City is his third book and "He is There..." was not published until 1972. See Schaeffer's "How I Have Come to Write My Books" where he talks about how he wished that he had published it third, but he did not. It is however the third book in the trilogy.
5. ) "Schaeffer’s career took another dramatic turn in 1974 when his twenty-two year-old son Franky talked him into making their first film, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?"
The book that Franky urged Schaeffer to do first was How Should We Then Live? in 1976. As stated earlier, although he did urge him, the idea was suggested by Rick Pearcy. Whatever Happened to the Human Race? I believe was published in 1979 not 74.
6. ) "More important than the film itself was the shift in Schaeffer’s tone."
This is of course a matter of opinion, but I would argue that it is inaccurate. One merely need to read Death In The City to hear many of the same tones from Schaeffer. In that book he address politics in passing at various times as well.
7. ) "Schaeffer began to call for the defeat of secular humanists, not their conversion"
Again, the same objection as #6. However, this statement is caustic and is simply untrue. Schaeffer never lost his evangelical emphasis. If he had, he would not have organized his combined works to show that he was pushing forward an entire concept... "The Lordship of Christ in every area of life... even politics." He comments on this goal in the preface of to A Christian Manifesto. His dedication of the book to Samuel Rutherford should also not be overlooked, for he says..."he has meant much to me for many years." Likewise, his book The Great Evangelical Disaster represents a significant evangelical ecclesiology.
These are respectfully, my opinion and I offer them for your consideration as I hope that Schaeffer scholars will consider that there are plausible answers in the midst of the ongoing debate. Thus I humbly submit to Mr. Hankins what I believe are errors in his interpretation of Schaeffer's legacy.
~ Dan Guinn