Francis Schaeffer at 100, and Edith Schaeffer’s wonderful note to me

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 a

Edith and Francis Schaeffer

copy 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.

  • John Thayer Jensen

    Francis Schaeffer was of extreme importance in my growth as a Christian – and something he said once ended up making me a Catholic – in a way :-)

    I had financially supported Schaeffer for several years when I was a new Christian, and received his taped talks. In one of them, my memory is that he said (I say ‘my memory’ as I would not want to ascribe the idea I got out of it to him without some qualification) that Newman’s becoming a Catholic amounted to an act of cowardice. Newman had got weary of combatting liberalism, so, in Schaeffer’s words (this part of my memory is, I think, accurate) Newman “crept into the darkness of the Church and shut the door behind him.” Schaeffer really did give me the impression that, in his opinion, Newman just decided he wanted to let someone else do his thinking for him.

    Many years later I read Newman’s “Apologia” and the “Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine” and was floored. Nothing could have been less like what I had got from Schaeffer’s characterisation – or what I had taken from Schaeffer’s characterisation.

    I am hesitant to ascribe exactly that view to Schaeffer. But certainly I had thought that. I only became a Christian at age 27 and what I took from Schaeffer immunised me against the Catholic Church.

    Fortunately, reading Newman directly was the cure.


  • Steve Martin

    What a wonderful story.

    Thanks for sharing it. I too, pray your life will have great impact on those who know, and read you.


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