Today, January 30, 2012, is the 100th birthday of Francis A. Schaeffer. He was an important influence on my intellectual formation while I was in college. Although given my return to the Catholic Church I would now part ways with Schaeffer on several philosophical and theological questions, I still retain a healthy appreciation of the role he played in making American Evangelicals aware that the Christian faith is a rational knowledge tradition that simply cannot be relegated to the realm of “mere belief” without diminishing its epistemic status.
On April 29, 1986, I met Francis Schaeffer’s widow, Edith. I tell the story of our encounter in my book, Return to Rome: Confession of An Evangelical Catholic (Brazos Press, 2009):
During my second year in New York City I had the opportunity to meet Edith Schaeffer, the widow of the Presbyterian theologian, Francis A. Schaeffer (1912–1984), whose published works were influential in my decision to pursue graduate work in philosophy. Mrs. Schaeffer was in New York for a book-signing event at the massive Christian Book Distributors retail outlet in Midtown Manhattan. When I arrived there in the mid-afternoon, the crowds had dissipated and Mrs. Schaeffer was sitting alone at a table. I introduced myself to her and told her about her late husband’s influence on me. She seemed sincerely interested in my story. She then kindly asked if I wanted her to sign one of her books. I said “yes,” and handed her acopy of Common Sense Christian Living. She then opened up the book to the first blank page and proceeded to draw a sketch of the Swiss Alps, with birds flying between the mountains and a small flower at the base. (For years, her and her husband lived in Switzerland where they founded the ministry, L’Abri). She then wrote in large letters [photograph of the inscription is below]:
April 29, 1986
To Francis with love, Edith Schaeffer. I’ve written many notes to another Francis—-I do pray your life may be as significant in History.
It was only when I reread Mrs. Schaeffer’s inscription while writing this book that I realized that the day of her written prayer for me is the same day that in 2007 I was publicly received back into the Catholic Church, April 29. This is one of those “coincidences” that really spooks me, but in a good way.