Eight Books You Should Read About Francis Schaeffer

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I’m always telling my students to read Francis Schaeffer, probably to the point that they get tired of hearing it. I’ve made arguments elsewhere for his prophetic and relevant importance for today’s cultural moments. He was pro-life before others were pro-life. He not only saw the shifting tides of philosophical thought, but he prophesied shifts in ethics and politics as well. For whatever ideas Schaeffer may have gotten wrong, he got ten other ideas right.

While I am adamant about engaging with the person himself, I think it’s also important to read how people have interpreted and understood Francis Schaeffer. For that reason, I want to recommend eight books anyone interested in Francis Schaeffer should read. For some of these books, I’ve recommended them by themselves. For others, you should read them side-by-side. No matter, all of these books offer a different (and often helpful) perspective to this important figure.

For whatever ideas Schaeffer may have gotten wrong, he got ten other ideas right. 

Follis’ book is a wonderful assessment of Schaeffer’s apologetic approach. Whereas others have sought to shoehorn Schaeffer into a particular pre-packaged methodology, Follis allows Schaeffer and his approach speak for themselves. There are other good works on Schaeffer’s apologetics, like Thomas Morris’. But Follis seems to really capture what made Schaeffer’s own approach so effective. He does not detach Schaeffer from his holistic anthropology or his rich Christian spirituality. Instead, Follis rightly emphasizes those elements as they have intersection with Schaeffer’s defense of the faith.

Surprisingly, there are only three book-length biographies written on Schaeffer (to my knowledge). That list includes this one by Duriez, and two others; one by Barry Hankins and one by Louis Gifford Parkhurst. Comparatively, Duriez strikes an appropriate balance in his biography. Hankins’ is more critical of Schaeffer and his legacy, whereas Parkhurst is more hagiographical. Duriez’s work does read as an “authorized” biography, and his research demonstrates that he was in communication with the larger Schaeffer family. And yet, Duriez does not paint an overly idealistic picture of Schaeffer. I think readers of this biography will walk away with a good representation of Schaeffer the man, as well as the historical context and influences that shaped him.

Full disclosure: the editor of this book is my doctoral advisor. But even if he weren’t, I think this book is worth being on the list. This book is the product of a SEBTS Center for Faith and Culture conference from November 2008. The purpose of that conference, and ultimately the purpose of this book, was (1) to introduce Schaeffer to a generation that may have been unfamiliar with him, and (2) to reflect on how to engage with culture given Schaeffer’s example. The book includes chapters from four men, two former L’Abri workers (Jerram Barrs and Dick Keyes) and two of Schaeffer’s sons-in-law (Udo Middelmann and Ranald Macaulay). What is so unique about this book is that it balances well the personal nature by which these contributors knew Schaeffer with very serious reflections on Schaeffer’s thought and influence.

I recommend you read these two books side-by-side. Both were published in 1986, two years after Schaeffer’s death. However, their interpretation of Schaeffer could not be farther apart. Both books seek to evaluate Schaeffer’s larger influence in evangelicalism, observing his interaction and thought in various academic disciplines, as well as his personal legacy. But where Dennis’ volume is very much a book admiring Schaeffer’s work, Ruegsegger’s volume is largely a critique. Written so closely after Schaeffer’s death, these books demonstrate the staunch divide on Schaeffer’s larger legacy. I have a clear favorite between the two, but I think they’re both worth engaging with and weighing the larger arguments about Francis Schaeffer.

This last entry is a bit loaded. I’ve included three books here both as a recommendation, but also as a demonstration. All three of these books (and there are others like them), place Schaeffer in comparison with other thinkers on important issues. In Budziszewski’s work, Schaeffer’s political theology is held in comparison to Henry, Kuyper, and Yoder. In White’s, Schaeffeer’s epistemology is compared to Van Til, Henry, Bloesch, and Erickson. And in Spencer’s work, Schaeffer’s environmental ethic is held alongside Ernst Conradie and Joseph Sittler. What these books demonstrate is that Schaeffer wasn’t just a mere apologist. He spoke about the “true truth” for all of life, whether it was the environment, epistemology, politics, or any other number of topics. These books demonstrate that Schaeffer’s work should be taken seriously in conversation with others on a range of topics. I think these books will highlight the prescient and perceptive nature of Schaeffer’s thought for the Christian worldview.

To be sure, there are plenty of other books to be read about Schaeffer. I’m sure there are plenty of books still to be written about Schaeffer. But by engaging with these books above, you can begin to see the important legacy the Francis Schaeffer left to a new generation of evangelicals. Schaeffer’s work is more important than ever. So “tolle lege!,” take up one of these books and read.

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Christopher Talbot

Christopher Talbot serves as the Youth and Family Ministry Program Coordinator and Campus Pastor at Welch College, where he also teaches courses in biblical and theological studies. He volunteers as Pastor of Youth and Family at Sylvan Park Church. Chris has spoken and written widely on youth and family ministry, and apologetics. He serves as Assistant Managing Editor for the D6 Family Ministry Journal and as a contributor for the Helwys Society Forum. He is the author of Remodeling Youth Ministry (Welch College Press, 2017) and co-editor of Christians in Culture (Welch College Press, forthcoming). Chris and his wife Rebekah live with their three sons in Gallatin, Tennessee.

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