In April, while presenting a workshop at the 2015 International Society of Christian Apologetics Conference in North Carolina, I spent some time in the home of Pastor Adam Johnson, whose family showed me great hospitality and warmth during my stay. Adam is a friend and fellow researcher of Dr. Schaeffer's works. After many talks, I asked Adam if he would share with us his experience researching at the Francis Schaeffer Collection at SEBTS, and the journey of life that led him there. I am sure you will find it edifying! Watch for more from Adam in the future! ~ Dan Guinn, FSS
Francis Schaeffer’s books played a huge role in my spiritual development. I became a Christian in 1994 around the age of 17 but in my twenties I went through a terrible spiritual crisis. I was struggling with questions and doubts about whether or not Christianity was true. It’s difficult to explain the emotional stress and anxiety I felt during that ordeal; trust me when I say that I was nearly at my wit’s end! As I see it now, there was some incorrect theology in my background which led me to wrong conclusions about what faith is, how sovereignty worked, and the role of apologetics. For instance, I thought it would be ungodly and unbiblical to use apologetics to try and strengthen my faith. Thankfully someone gave me a copy of Schaeffer’s Trilogy – The God Who Is There, Escape From Reason, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent. Needless to say, it changed my life. Through his books, Schaeffer helped me come to, as I see it today, the correct understanding of faith and reason, sovereignty, and apologetics.
As I worked through my own struggles and conquered my major doubts, I began talking openly about my struggles. I found that many others were also struggling with doubts too and God began using me to help them work through their questions. I had always aspired to serve in ministry but had recoiled back because of guilt over my struggle with doubt. Having overcome this struggle, I decided to follow God’s leading and leave my career in Actuarial Science to pursue whatever ministry He would call me to. I completed my M.Div. in 2013 and immediately started on my Ph.D. at Southeastern.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Udo and Deborah Middelmann had entrusted Southeastern to hold in custodianship the Francis Schaeffer Collection. The Collection includes vast amounts of Schaeffer’s personal correspondence, his early drafts and manuscripts, books and articles he annotated, his seminary notes from the 1930’s, as well as numerous audio and video items. Needless to say, this is a literal treasure trove! You can read more about the Collection here.
In the rest of this article I’ll summarize my experience researching the Collection. First of all, access to the Collection requires the approval of Dr. Little who serves as its Director. After I was approved, archivists in Southeastern’s library (Dr. Bill Youngmark and Steve Jones) helped me find my way through all the material. The research is made much easier by the finding aid they’ve created. This finding aid is simply a massive spreadsheet that is 50,000 rows long. It lists all the paper material (letters, notes, articles, books, etc.) in the Collection but not the audio and video items. Each row represents a different item in the Collection and some items are several hundred pages long. For example, Schaeffer took 108 pages of handwritten notes in his Apologetics class at Westminister and this item is described in one line of the finding aid spreadsheet.
Thus there are hundreds of thousands of pages of material in the Collection. The finding aid also lists what physical box and folder each particular item can be found in. Thankfully though, all of the paper material has been digitized (not all of the audio and video has been digitized yet). So when I found something in the finding aid I wanted to look at, say a specific letter from Francis Schaeffer to Billy Graham, I could access a digitalized version of that item in just a few seconds. I spent four weeks digging through the paper material. I estimate that I looked at roughly 2,000 items but I specifically made detailed notes concerning 700 items that were pertinent to my research. Through my research I came to have a much better understanding of Schaeffer’s epistemology and apologetic method. I wrote a research paper for Dr. Little this spring about Schaeffer’s epistemology and Udo Middelmann gave me permission to quote from some items I found in the Collection. I’m hoping the research I did will eventually roll up into my dissertation work.
I’ve often described the time I spent researching the Collection as a spiritual experience because it was similar to reading the biography of someone who God had worked through in a mighty way. I felt like I got to know Francis Schaeffer in a more intimate way as I read about his personal struggles, concerns, weariness, and victories. I was inspired to see how God could use a normal human being in such a mighty way in so many people’s lives. A lot of the personal letters are just about logistics—making arrangements for people coming to L’Abri, or plans for Francis and Edith to go and speak somewhere, etc. But there were also many letters from those who were searching for truth and struggling through various spiritual issues. It was humbling to read Schaeffer’s replies and how he poured out his heart to so many strangers. You can really see his love and compassion for others in his letters. Schaeffer continues to inspire me to serve Christ with everything I am.
~ Adam Johnson
To learn more about the Francis A. Schaeffer Collection at SEBTS you can watch videos from our playlist documenting the collection, including our documentary filmed in 2012: