Dr. Francis Schaeffer was the prophetic voice of the 20th Century. He forewarned the Christian community of both postmodernity (before it was called postmodernity) and the real issues behind secular humanism. He was a brilliant man whose wisdom, epistemological skills, and grasp of the history of philosophy made him an awesome asset to the Christian community. He was a noted speaker with a worldwide ministry until his death in 1984.
One thing, however, that Dr. Schaeffer said stands out in my mind as of great importance. It is not in the category of philosophy, or theology. It is something very simple. Schaeffer rejected the idea of a very public, and popular, western ministry to live in the Swiss Alps and minister to students, day in and day out. He and his wife Edith lived hidden away up there and had no organizational support, no fund-development department, and no PR group. Many of his former colleagues thought he was crazy and some were even angry that he would do this. Dr. Schaeffer, however, shared the gospel with hundreds of college students, and his wife helped as many.
He would sit and talk with every student who came through his doors to wrestle with him about the meaning of life and about God. He would patiently listen to them, taking them seriously, and then he would gently and honestly point out the wholes in their worldview. Many students came to Christ through that ministry. And from it all Francis Schaeffer has a great lesson to teach Christians today; it is a lesson about evangelism and compassion.
In his book The God Who is There Schaeffer describes the fundamental shifts in the culture that have led people further and further away from truth and from God. Through Philosophy, theology, and art the culture has abandoned truth and made the nature of evangelism more difficult. His own prescribed method of evangelism involved tearing down a persons worldview, but the way that one does that is of paramount importance. So Schaeffer writes:
These paintings, these poems, and these demonstrations which we have been talking about are the expression of men who are struggling with their appalling lostness. Dare we laugh at such things? Dare we feel superior when we view their tortured expressions in their art? Christians should stop laughing and take such men seriously. Then we shall have the right to speak again to our generation. These men are dying while they live; yet where is our compassion for them? There is nothing more ugly than a Christian orthodoxy without understanding or without compassion.
That is probably the greatest lesson we can learn from Dr. Schaeffer. You can never share the gospel with someone whom you do not take seriously as a human being; and they will never want to listen to you if your words are not truth and compassion mixed together. There church, and individual Christians in particular, have over the past several centuries struggled greatly with this kind of evangelism. We have often found ourselves more interested in turning up our noses, mocking, belittling, and boycotting the culture, but Schaeffer would have us to find compassion for the culture. So he says, “As I push a man off his false balance, he must be able to feel that I care about him. Otherwise I will only end up destroying him…” We must have compassion.
Yes I am angry that Philip Pullman wants to “destroy Christianity!” But in his books (which have been adapted into a full length motion picture, released today) I also sense that there is a man who hates God, who is honest about it, and who needs the gospel. I will find in some of his major fans similar feelings of religious disdain. How I share the gospel with them will need to start with recognizing this factor and lovingly tearing down the worldview that supports it as I bring them the gospel. What Schaeffer does so well is to remind us that the culture is part of life, where people’s worldviews are expressed, and though we would often criticize and demean culture it can and should actually be part of how we do evangelism.