Larry E. Wilson


I can confidently predict that Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer (who died of cancer on May 15, 1984) will be remembered by future church historians as one of the most significant Christian leaders of the 20th century.

Dr. Schaeffer had a noteworthy ministry, influencing a numerous and broad spectrum of people. President Reagan eulogized, “He will long be remembered as one of the great Christian thinkers of our century, with a childlike faith and a profound compassion toward others. It can rarely be said of an individual that his life touched many others and affected them for the better; it will be said of Dr. Francis Schaeffer that his life touched millions of souls and brought them to the truth of their Creator.”

Countless disenchanted youth found new life and hope in the historical Christian faith through the work of Dr. Schaeffer.  Further, as Stephen Board commented in Christianity Today (June 15, 1984), “. . . he enjoyed unusual credibility among most American evangelicals and many fundamentalists.”

This is particularly remarkable when it is recognized that Dr. Schaeffer was Presbyterian and Reformed (i.e., Calvinistic!). Dr. Schaeffer often alluded to this by referring to himself as “a man of the Reformation,” by speaking of and citing John Calvin with favor, by lauding the fruits of the Reformation in Western culture and the influence of the Puritans in early America, and by praying and working for “reformation and revival” in our day.

How could Francis Schaeffer, as a Reformed Presbyterian, attain the broad-ranging influence that he did?  Of course, his brilliance as an analytical thinker and his copious and “swashbuckling” style as a writer were critical factors, but I think there is a deeper, more foundational reason.

I think Dr. Schaeffer embodied an exemplary balance between what has been called “pie, doc, and kuyp” tendencies among Christians.  Many Christian leaders have tended, I believe to emphasize one or two of these perspectives to the exclusion of the other(s). “Pie,” or pietists, emphasize personal devotion to the Lord, personal evangelism, prayer, etc. “Docs,” or doctrinalists, stress biblical teaching, theological accuracy, church purity, etc. Finally, “kuyps,” or Kuyperians, dwell on social and cultural involvement, Christian approaches to philosophy, art, economics, politics, etc. Unhappily, Christians have tended to polarize over these differing emphases.  Balanced Christianity, on the other hand, would encompass all three emphases. To my mind, Dr. Schaeffer embodied that balance—in his life, in his ministry, and in his writings.

In his final book Dr. Schaeffer described the overarching commitment that drew these perspectives into an integrated whole:

Through my work there is a common unifying theme which I would define as “the Lordship of Christ in the totality of life.” If Christ is indeed Lord, He must be Lord of all of life—in spiritual matters of course, but just as much across the whole spectrum of life, including intellectual matters and the areas of culture, law, and government. I would want to emphasize from beginning to end throughout my work the importance of evangelism (helping men and women come to know Christ as Savior), the need to walk daily with the Lord, to study God’s Word, to live a life of prayer, and show forth the love, compassion, and holiness of our Lord. But we must emphasize equally and at the same time the need to live this out in every area of culture and society.

It was this balance, I think, that gave Dr. Schaeffer credibility across such a broad spectrum of people. Christians from differing perspectives saw that he shared and promoted their concerns.

It was also this balance that made Dr. Schaeffer one of the most significant Christian leaders of the 20th century. With his wide-ranging credibility, Dr. Schaeffer was able to lead many believers (including our Christian leaders) to broaden their horizons and transcend their own truncated “pie, doc, or kuyp” emphases. The impact of this trend is still being felt. It is strengthening the Church’s witness to the world, for there is an increasing concern to minister to whole persons with a whole Christianity.  It is also helping the Church internally, for as Christians see the value of those emphases which they have been neglecting, they are beginning to recognize that other Christians have already cultivated those particular strengths. But above all, it is bringing glory to our God, and that was Dr. Schaeffer’s burning desire all along.

What then can we learn from Francis Schaeffer? Of course, we can learn all sorts of particulars, but I think the greatest lesson is deeper. We may even disagree with certain particulars, but let us not allow that to blind us to the lesson we so need to learn in our day. Let us learn from Dr. Schaeffer the lesson of balanced Christianity—that we must become “pie-doc-kuyps”!  Let us learn from Dr. Schaeffer the lesson of “the Lordship of Christ in the totality of life”!  Let us learn from Dr. Schaeffer the lesson of the power of live Reformed orthodoxy!

This article first appeared in Presbyterian Journal, October 3, 1984, and is reprinted here (in the book) by permission of the author. 

Copyright © by 1985 by Louis Gifford Parkhurst, Jr.


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