“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” —2 Chronicles 7:14
Schaeffers Meet at Unitarian Thrashing, June 26, 1932
rancis Schaeffer became one of the most famous and effective evangelical theologians and philosophers of the 20th Century. His writings appealed to all sorts of intellectuals, especially Christians seeking the relevance of their Faith to modern cultures, steeped in humanism and hostile to biblical worldview thinking. He and his beloved wife Edith established a Christian study center in Switzerland, which became a refuge for a variety of alienated believers and inquiring seekers after truth. The Schaeffers’ study centers, books, and lectures, influenced multiple thousands of Christians, especially people in their teens and 20s, over a fifty-year period.
Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984)
American theologian, philosopher and pastor best known for founding L’Abri in Switzerland with his wife Edith
The grounds of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, where Francis Schaeffer graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1935
Francis was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, to a “non-intellectual, working class family” in 1912. Edith’s parents were missionaries with China Inland Mission, and gave birth to her, their fourth child, in 1914, in Wenzhou, China. Francis surprised his parents with his desire for Gospel ministry, after becoming a Christian upon reading the Bible straight through, “searching for the answers to life’s questions,” at the age of 17. He matriculated at the premier Presbyterian college in the South—Hampden-Sydney. He was an intense student, burning the midnight oil and eschewing the wasted time and high-jinks of fellow classmates. Edith attended Beaver College in Pennsylvania, also Presbyterian (now known as Arcadia).
Francis and Edith met at Arcadia College (previously known as Beaver College) in Glenside, Pennsylvania where Edith Schaeffer (née Seville) attended
In God’s providential timing, Francis visited a liberal Presbyterian Church in a town nearby to his home on June 26, 1932, where a noted Unitarian Universalist speaker presented his views of why he denied the Bible and its teachings about God, Jesus Christ, and other doctrines of the historic Christian faith. The precocious and intellectually formidable Edith had come to the meeting prepared to challenge the teacher publicly and refute all his arguments; her time growing up on the mission field had well prepared her in apologetics. When the Unitarian had concluded his presentation and asked for comments, Francis leaped to his feet first and shredded all the skeptic’s arguments. The brilliant Schaeffer had three years remaining at Hampden-Sydney where he would graduate Magna Cum Laude. Edith Rachel Merritt Seville, duly impressed with the bold young man and his powerful arguments, stood when he was done and delivered her response to the hapless speaker. Francis, also duly impressed, asked her if he could walk her home. They were married in 1935, right after Francis graduated, and they moved to Westminster Seminary near Philadelphia.
J. Gresham Machen Memorial Hall at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, PA where Francis studied under presuppositional apologist Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987)
Francis pastored several churches, and after the Second World War, they were sent by the Independent Board for Presbyterian Missions to Switzerland. Although he always considered himself a pastor and evangelist, Francis Schaeffer, in 1955, established a study center called L’Abri, (French for “the shelter”) in Switzerland, which became a retreat for intellectuals seeking guidance and counsel and sound biblical teaching. The application of a biblical worldview to art, culture, and family was at the center of Schaeffer’s teaching. He wrote twenty-two books and oversaw the production of two influential films derived from two of his books: How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture, and Whatever Happened to the Human Race?
Chalet Les Melezes at Swiss L’Abri, an organization founded in 1955 by Francis and Edith Schaeffer in Huémoz-sur-Ollon, Switzerland
L’Abri is located on the outskirts of Ollon, Switzerland, situated a few miles southeast of Lake Geneva
Besides bearing him four children, Edith closely assisted Francis in the Study Center (which has expanded into eight different locations on several continents) and wrote twenty books herself, several best-sellers on family and homemaking, after her husband’s death in 1984 of cancer. Edith lived till 2013, dying at age 98 in Switzerland. From what began as an almost routine attendance at a liberal church in the early 1930s, Providence forged into a marriage that influenced millions of people, contributed to a resurgence of evangelical participation in American politics again, helped an untold number of Christians rediscover their faith and grow in it, led many to Christ, and built an institution that keeps their legacy alive into the 21st Century. We need even greater individuals and teams to step forward in the pagan and depraved American culture today, that Francis Schaeffer foresaw in its early days, and fought against for decades, fifty years ago.