Meet Francis Schaeffer

An Intellectual Pair

Strangely enough, Francis and Edith Schaeffer met as teenagers when they both stood up to defend Christian orthodoxy at a youth meeting in the 1920s. Their relationship blossomed during high school, and it was at Edith’s urging that Schaeffer decided to attend Westminster Seminary instead of the Biblical Seminary of New York. They were later married and in 1948 they moved to Europe as long-term missionaries. They settled in Switzerland and began developing a program called "Children for Christ". On the side, the Schaeffers entertained groups of schoolgirls on ski holidays in their Swiss chalet.

The Shelter

In 1955 the Schaeffers set up their own ministry organization, L’Abri ("The Shelter"), in a Swiss village called Huemoz. They began taking guests, and developed a regular weekend schedule with the intention of stimulating religious and philosophical conversation among the visitors. L’Abri became instantly popular among student circles, and by 1957 the Schaeffers were hosting about 25 guests every weekend. The program was a great success, but that sort of hospitality certainly had its costs. Francis recalled, "In about the first three years of L’Abri all our wedding presents were wiped out. Our sheets were torn. Holes were burned in our rugs. Indeed once a whole curtain almost burned up from somebody smoking in our living room…drugs came into our place. People vomited in our rooms."
During the following years, L’Abri’s popularity continued to grow and the facilities were expanded. Schaeffer’s L’Abri lectures on the philosophical meaning of modern theology and culture were taped and the tapes quickly gained an international circulation. In 1965 Schaeffer took his first speaking trip to the United States, giving a series of lectures in the Boston area. He then gave a series of talks at Wheaton College which were later published as a book entitled The God Who Is There. An unusual speaker, Schaeffer regularly lectured in an alpine hiking outfit. However the oddly dressed man transfixed students as he discussed modern philosophy, quoted freely from contemporary musicians, talked of films by Bergman and Fellini, and alluded to art and literature. Arlin Migliazzo still remembers the thrill of those first Wheaton lectures, saying, "He showed me that Christians didn’t have to be dumb!"

The Schaeffer Library

In the following decade, Francis Schaeffer published over 18 books that garnered sales of more than 2.5 million copies. Likewise, Edith Schaeffer had developed her own popular following. In the 1970s she wrote a regular column for Christianity Today and authored a total of eight devotional and family-life books that sold more than a million copies. In 1974, propelled by the film-making interests of his 21 year-old son Franky, Francis’s ministry took a different turn. Francis and Franky together produced a film series and book entitled How Should We Then Live? Both the film and the book were bestsellers. In 1977 Francis became an outspoken defender of the pro-life movement, and in 1981 wrote A Christian Manifesto, defining abortion as the single most important issue for Christians.
Francis Schaeffer was diagnosed with cancer in 1978 at the Mayo Clinic. He died six years later at home in Rochester, Minnesota. His final book, The Great Evangelical Disaster was published that same year. Today, the L’Abri ministry is still thriving with "shelters" all over the globe that give people a place to find God in the chaos of the modern world.

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