Christians ought not to be threatened by fantasy and imagination. Great painting is not “photographic”: think of the Old Testament art commanded by God. There were blue pomegranates on the robes of the priest who went into the Holy of Holies. In nature there are no blue pomegranates. Christian artists do not need to be threatened by fantasy and imagination, for they have a basis for knowing the difference between them and the real world “out there.” The Christian is the really free person–he is free to have imagination. This too is our heritage. The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.
~Francis Schaeffer, from Art & the Bible
Francis Schaeffer was born on January 30th in 1912. A gifted philosopher, he had a profound impact on Christian apologetics. His work was a significant spark to the Jesus Movement of the 1970s.
Francis Schaeffer wrote Art & the Bible in 1973 at the heart of that age. As a poet and musician, I found in it a unifying force that brought together every aspect of my life.
In it he says
Trumpets, cymbals, psalteries, harps, all the various instruments of David-music upon music, art upon art-all pouring forth, all pointing up the possibility of creativity in praise of God, all carried to a high order of art at God’s command. And when you begin to understand this sort of thing, suddenly you can begin to breathe, and all the terrible pressure that has been put on us by making art something less than spiritual suddenly begins to disappear. And with this truth comes beauty and with this beauty a freedom before God.
Little did I know how much he would later influence my thinking with his clear eyed apologetics and social call to action with other books including What Ever Happened To The Human Race? If the Apostle John caused me to major in Theology, Francis Schaeffer made me add my second major in Sociology.
Writing in his book Scribbling in the Sand, Michael Card said this:
It was called the “Jesus Movement,” and unless you were caught up in the midst of it, you might have difficulty appreciating what a liberating word, what a breath of fresh air Art and the Bible was. A lot of people talked, wrote and even fought over the Jesus Movement, but Francis Schaeffer did a good deal of thinking for us, and more importantly, he taught us how to think.
Almost as soon as the movement began it was plagued with confusion. While some of us were trying to embrace the gifts God was pouring out on the body, others were calling them a curse. They claimed that contemporary styles, even certain instruments (like the guitar) were not appropriate or acceptable in the church.
Into the midst of this confusion stepped a quirky, goateed man in lederhosen. He spoke words of faith and freedom. Into a world that had become suspicious of the beautiful Schaeffer reminded us that the Father of Jesus was also the God of beauty.
At a time when we needed concrete, biblical objectives, Schaeffer provided perspectives and structures (major and minor) while at the same time insisting again and again that it is our lives that are supposed to be the lived out works of art (poiema). We were free, he insisted, our imaginations were free. We were free to create, as long as we never forgot that we are slaves to Jesus.
D I G D E E P E R
Evangelical missionary and apologist. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Schaeffer was raised in a nominally Lutheran family but during his high-school years became an agnostic. While studying engineering at Drexel Institute, he came to faith and completed his studies at Hampden-Sidney College, a Southern Presbyterian school (B.A., 1935). That same year he married Edith Seville, who would become an able partner in his ministry and a well-known evangelical author in her own right. Schaeffer attended seminary first at Westminster Theological Seminary, where he studied under the apologist Cornelius Van Til, and then at Faith Theological Seminary (B.D., 1938). In 1938 Schaeffer became the first ordained minister of the Bible Presbyterian Church and subsequently pastored churches in Pennsylvania and Missouri.
In 1948 the Schaeffers moved to Switzerland, serving under the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. In 1955 Schaeffer founded L’Abri, an international study center and caring community in the Swiss Alps, where he offered an analysis of modern man’s thought and a critique of secular culture from a Christian perspective. Over the years thousands of students and other seekers stayed with the Schaeffers, and through prayer, study and conversation many of them came to Christian faith. The ministry was greatly extended through Schaeffer’s writings, and by the 1970s he was widely regarded among American evangelicals as a preeminent apologist for the faith.
In books such as The God Who Is There (1968) and Escape from Reason (1968), Schaeffer traced the decline of Western humanistic culture to a lack of intellectual and moral absolutes. He claimed that this decline began when the philosopher Hegel replaced the notion that truth is antithetical and therefore absolute with the idea that truth is synthetical and therefore relative. However, Schaeffer contended that relative truth will not provide adequate meaning for life, so secular man has followed Kierkegaard in abandoning reason and attempting to find significance in drugs, Eastern thought and existentialism. Finally, Schaeffer argued that this shift from absolutism to relativism had spread three ways: geographically, from Germany to the Continent, England and the U.S.; socially, from intellectuals to the working class and then the middle class; and finally, by disciplines, from philosophy to art, music, general culture and then theology.
In his later writings, such as How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (1976), Schaeffer detailed the political and moral consequences of abandoning absolute truth. Politically, he held that without a Reformation base to unify form and freedom, freedom gives rise to chaos which in turn leads to authoritarian government. In the area of morals, Schaeffer contended that biblical morality has been replaced by sociological law or the view that whatever the majority holds is right. As a result, the belief that man was created in God’s image has been replaced by a low view of man, permitting the practice of abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. Schaeffer held that only a return to biblical absolutes can reverse these trends, and he admonished evangelicals to stand firm on the doctrine of inerrancy and take a public stand against social and moral evils.
Schaeffer’s twenty-four books have sold over three million copies in more that twenty languages. Two film series based on his books were widely viewed in churches. While appreciative of his general argument, some evangelical scholars have argued that Schaeffer’s analysis of the disciplines was frequently superficial. His supporters have defended him on the ground that he was an evangelist and not an academician. By any measure, Schaeffer was a leading figure in the resurgence of evangelicalism during the 1960s and 1970s.
Make the robe of the ephod entirely of blue cloth, with an opening for the head in its center. There shall be a woven edge like a collar around this opening, so that it will not tear. Make pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet yarn around the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them. The gold bells and the pomegranates are to alternate around the hem of the robe. Aaron must wear it when he ministers.
Felice Casorati, Dreaming of Pomegranates (1912)
SOURCES & RESOURCES
Francis A. Schaeffer, Art and the Bible (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009).
L. T. Dennis, ed., Francis A. Schaeffer: Portraits of the Man and His Work (1986); R. W. Ruegsegger, ed., Reflections on Francis Schaeffer (1986); E. Schaeffer, L’Abri (1969); F. S. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian World View, 5 vols. (1982).
Daniel G. Reid et al., Dictionary of Christianity in America (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990).
Escape from Reason (London, 1968);
The God Who is There (London, 1968);
He is There and He is Not Silent (London, 1972);
How Should We Then Live? (London, 1980);
True Spirituality (London, 1972);
Whatever Happened to the Human Race? with C. E. Koop (London, 1983). L. T. Dennis (ed.),
Letters of Francis Schaeffer, vol. 1 (Eastbourne, 1986).
L. T. Dennis, Francis A. Schaeffer: Portraits of the Man and His Work (Westchester, IL, 1986);
R. W. Ruegsegger (ed.), Reflections on Francis Schaeffer (Grand Rapids, MI, 1986); E. Schaeffer, L’Abri (London, 1969).
Sinclair B. Ferguson and J.I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 617.