June 10, 2020
David and Karen Mains host a throwback interview with Francis Schaeffer – American theologian, philosopher and apologist.
David: Yeah, for someone younger who didn’t know Francis Schaefer, who would you say he was?
Karen: Oh goodness, how do you describe? He was a major thinker. He was a major evangelical thinker of his time.
David: And almost unique.
David: The year was 1982 and Ronald Reagan was president.
Karen: In just two years earlier, Reagan had defeated Jimmy Carter in the national elections.
David: My broadcast guest in the Chapel of the Air back then was Dr. Francis Schaefer, whom I still think of as a major Christian thinker.
Karen: And coming up, we will all hear the voice of Francis Schaefer from our Chapel of the Air archives.
Intro: Welcome to the Before We Go Podcast featuring Dr. David Mains and his wife, noted author Karen Mains. Here’s David at Karen Mains.
David: Karen, within a little less than two years after my interviews with him, Francis Schaefer would be gone.
Karen: He had lymphoma, which is the same kind of cancer that our son died from, but he mentions that on the broadcast. So, he actually had lymphoma at the time we were broadcasting.
David: Yeah, for someone younger who didn’t know Francis Schaefer, who would you say he was?
Karen: Oh goodness, how do you describe? He was a major thinker. He was a major evangelical thinker of his time.
David: And almost unique.
Karen: Unique in a lot of ways. Certainly, a philosophical. But I think what he did for so many of us, literally thousands of us, was he gave an interpretation of the humanist and secular movements of our day and what the Christian response should be to it. In a way that we could understand and comprehend. It was sort of like when he would talk about philosophical things or thinking movements.
David: Or the world apart, whatever…
Karen: World apart, you would say. Well, of course, oh, that makes all sorts of sense. But we just never had anyone to interpret it that way.
David: He was a pastor and a preacher, but he didn’t sound like the normal preacher.
Karen: No, he didn’t have a preacher speak. Sort of a disease we’ve noticed, like some of our friends.
David: He would know our names, but we couldn’t say that he was a close friend. We probably knew his wife better than we knew him.
Karen: Yeah, I think we did. A professional relationship.
David: That’s really well said.
Karen: He was on our broadcast. You interviewed him. We certainly admired the man.
What Francis Schaefer did was he established a center in L’Abri Switzerland. So, all of us knew about L’Abri. You and I were never there. We never studied there, but there were literally thousands of young people who studied in L’Abri. It was a philosophy seminary and a spiritual community. So, they lived in community with one another while they were studying. This shows you the hunger. There was during those days among our age set and younger to have this kind of comprehensive explanation of the major thinking movements of our time. And L’Abri expanded to Sweden, to France, Netherlands, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
David: That’s really interesting. Yeah, that’s well said. I didn’t know that.
David: That the spread was to other places as well. Karen, I thought of him as someone who helped me in my understanding of revival.
Karen: Oh, that’s interesting.
David: He talked about it historically, but he always said there would be many, many individual conversions, but unless that carried over into a reformation of society, it wasn’t authentic revival.
Karen: And I think you’re sort of…
David: …stealing his thunder.
Karen: So, why do we listen to Francis Schaefer himself say those things?
David: Okay, from the archives of the Chapel of the Year.
Early in my ministry, I was helped a great deal by some tapes loaned me by a friend. In many ways, they revolutionized my life because for the first time I began to see how my faith related to my worldview. Until then, my relationship to Christ had been somewhat compartmentalized.
The speaker on those tapes was a Dr. Francis Schaefer, an American who was ministering out of L’Abri, Switzerland. At that time, Dr. Schaefer hadn’t authored 22 books or done a major film series as he has now, but his message still came through loud and clear. And for that, I’m grateful.
Dr. Francis Schaefer, I presume many people have told you how your ministry has helped them through the years.
Francis: Yes, I must say that one of the overwhelming things that moves me is to be going through an airport and have somebody stop me that I’d never seen before and just say, “Aren’t you Francis Schaefer?” And I say “Yes.” And they say, “Your books are films of change my life.” And it’s deeply moving. And also, many young artists stopped me, or older ones now, because L’Abri is going on. And they said, “When I became a Christian, the church put me in chains and made the idea of artistic interest a second-class thing. And reading your books have set me free, and I’m producing again and creating again.” And I always say at that moment, I feel like just blowing the big trumpets. It’s a journey to me. And Edith and I both feel with the books and L’Abri that all we can do is worship for the way the Lord has used them, because I don’t believe there’s any human explanation of this. I think it’s the praise of the Lord.
David: Your wife Edith has been a real help through her writings as well, and we’ve used some of her books with the broadcast. Today’s topic of discussion is how Christian is America. Is it proper to think of this as a Christian country?
Francis: I would say no, very firmly. We must see that when the nation was founded, it was founded on a Christian base, the Christian consensus. It does not mean that all the individual founding fathers were individually Christian. But they were all functioning in a what I would call Christian consensus or Christian worldview or Christian mentality.
It’s changed now. And now the dominant worldview in this country, as forced by law in the schools and often through the media, is that instead of the Creator God being the final reality, which he was to all the founding fathers, instead of this, now the final reality has seen to be only material or energy shaped by pure chance. And this is forced on our children by law in the public schools. This now has become increasingly dominant in the last 40 years.
So, I feel that we have a great opportunity in this country because there are so many really fine Bible-believing Christians in this country. But as far as the general consensus is concerned, we must see that in the case of the courts, it is forced by law of course. But in the media, most of the – well, that might be strong because you can never say the media. You have to say it’s very different. But in general, the media has the same basic worldview. And what we have to realize is that you don’t need a plot. You don’t need a collusion when certain questions come up, say abortion or permissiveness or unisex or anything you want of this nature. You don’t need a collusion or a plot. If the certain people in the media, certain people in government, certain people in the educational system have this other view, a final reality of only material or energy shaped by chance, they will, with inevitability, come up to the same conclusions. And consequently, it lines up to a tremendous force into our public opinion.
David: You said that there was a Christian base, at least in terms of worldview at the beginning. Does having a Christian heritage bring with it any special advantages for a country?
Francis: Yes. We often, those of us who are Bible-believing Christians, see our Christianity as much too narrow a thing, much too small. Now, no one more than I in the whole world stresses the fact that a person must accept the Messiah to be right with God.
I believe this. But what we fail to see is, and what the people who led the revivals, such as Finney and Wesley and the Great Awakening before the American Revolution, what all these people knew was something that our evangelical or Bible- believing leadership seemed to have forgotten. And that is, there are two elements here. The first is the call for the individual to accept Christ as Savior, the Messiah. But that this then should lead out into society with social effects.
So, you have the primary thing of the good news. But it will always bring with it, if it is practiced on the biblical level, it will always bring with it effects into government and into the social questions of the day.
David: So that if we were to know revival in our time in America today, there would be many conversions, but there would also begin to be an influence on problems such as you mentioned like abortion, the whole of sexual things, the matters of justice and such, I assume.
Francis: Absolutely. We must not forget the great Wesley revival, for example, in England. Almost all secular historians would agree that if it hadn’t been for the social results, the social results that came forth from the Wesley revival as long with the individual salvation, that England would have had its own form of the French Revolution. Nothing less than the great awakening in this country without any question that it prepared largely for the founding of this country and the so-called American Revolution.
David: You’re not, just to be careful. You’re not advocating some kind of a theocracy. Or you’re not saying that Christians and their God should have preferential treatment in this country.
Francis: I’m glad you asked me that. Because actually no one is more opposed than I am to a theocracy. Either in fact or in name, not just in name, but in fact as well. And I think the mistake all the way back to Constantine was, in the Roman Empire, was a mistake and has always led to problems. Absolutely not. The all we would ask for is what the founding fathers built into the First Amendment as it was originally intended, and that is that the state would not interfere with religion, and religions would be free. And nothing has made so much trouble in this country as what I would call the new and novel view of the meaning of the First Amendment. It has been turned right over on its head. The First Amendment when it was passed meant only two things. First of all, the meaning of the First Amendment was that there would be no United Church for the total 13 colonies. Though most people don’t realize that at that time most of the colonies had a special relationship to one church or another, and even this wasn’t considered against the First Amendment. The second meaning of the First Amendment was the fact that the state would never interfere with a free practice of religion. Now that’s all it meant, and we have turned it over on its head and made the absolutely opposite thing out of it.
David: And say exactly what you’re saying. We have made it mean that it would be totally isolated from other avenues of life.
Francis: Yes, and that religion would be not allowed to bring its principles into the area of government. Rather than the government not being allowed to force itself into the areas of religion.
David: Talk about our government and the relationship of what you see happening in today’s world in its three branches. Are you encouraged as to what’s happening, say, in the executive branch, the legislature, the courts kind of track those down for us?
Francis: Well, we must face the fact that with the conservative election in 1980 that there are more people in government at the present time in the administration and the legislation too than previously, who really see these things from the viewpoint which I am talking about.
The courts, on the other hand, are the things which I must say really have frightened me the most especially the Supreme Court. Because ever since all of our window homes, the Supreme Court has been functioning definitely on arbitrary sociological law. That is, not only do they not feel any roots in God’s law, but they are not strict constructionists concerning the Constitution. They feel free from the Constitution. So, they’re making law as well as ruling on law. And sociological law means that the courts decide, a small group of people, decide what is for the good of society at that given moment and then force it on the total population. With this, I must say that I feel the courts have been a real threat to the liberty in this country.
David: This is difficult because, as, say, an American citizen, I can vote for people in Congress or for the President. I don’t know how to get at what you’re talking about. Do you have specific suggestions?
Francis: Well, I would point out something I think it’s very practical and without any question, the pro-abortion people, the people who are in favor of more permissive lifestyle, pornography, all the rest, but especially we can talk about the pro-abortion people. They have deliberately used the courts instead of the legislature for the simple reason that the courts are not subject to the people’s will in either election or reelection, which raises a tremendous problem. But we do have a possibility in that the courts have some sensibility to the human interests of the moment of society. And if the Christians would make enough noise and really let it be known what their opinion was and carry their spirituality because this is true spirituality, carry their true spirituality and the totality of life, the Christ is the Lord of all of life, and bring their force to bear on our society at the moment. We might even be able to make a change in the ruling of the court.
David: The people who move in these areas put themselves up for tremendous criticism, not only by the non-Christians, but also by Christians who have a feeling that that’s a political area you shouldn’t get involved. How would you respond to that?
Francis: I respond that they have a very poor view of spirituality. One that is absolutely 1,000% contrary to what the Bible teaches. True spirituality is that the Lord Jesus Christ, if he is my Savior, is my Lord. But if he is my Lord, he’s not just Lord of my religious life, but he’s the Lord of the totality of life. And this country would not be in the mess it’s in, and the Christian people wouldn’t be weeping for what they face at the present time in this country, if even 40 years ago the Christians of this country had practiced true spirituality and brought their, the Lordship of Christ, into their public life as citizens. The reason this country is in trouble is not because of a humanist or materialistic or something conspiracy. It’s in trouble for only one reason, and that is the church has not done what we’ve been commanded to do. The Christians have not. And that is to be the light and salt of our culture. And all you have to do is to go to a man like Jonathan Blanchard, for example, founder of Wheaton. He understood. Finney understood. If you’re going to be really spiritual, there must be individual salvation, revival of the Christians’ heart. But if it is true, they called for civil disobedience in regard to slavery, for example, as a realization that this was an expression of the Lordship of Christ.
David: Dr. Schaefer, many people have heard about you being sick, and they would very much appreciate an update as to your health.
Francis: Well, thank you. I’m just saying I’m very thankful to the Lord. Three years ago, three years and a bit more, I found I had lymphoma. As a matter of fact, we found it out just as we were finishing shooting the film, Whatever Happened to the Human Race. I found I’d lost 25 pounds in just a couple of weeks. But in the providence of the Lord, we were just able to finish the film. It was beautiful, the way it fit together. I came to Mayo Clinic. And I didn’t know then how sick I really was. But in the interim, I’ve been on chemotherapy all the time since. I’m on it all the time, 14 days out of 28. But I must say that I haven’t had the bad effects most people have had from the chemotherapy. And mostly to the praise of the Lord, I would say that I’ve been able to do more work in these last three years than I’ve ever done in my life. So, I’m really filled with thanksgiving.
David: And many, many of our people, I know, pray for you and I pray for you myself and count that a privilege to be able to do so.
Francis: And I’d just like to say thank you to everybody who has prayed for us.
David: In Washington, speaking at the Convention of the National Religious Broadcasters, you talked about our government shift from Judeo-Christian principles to that of humanism, secularism. You said, let’s start to call it what it is. And you used a word that’s kind of inflammatory. You used the word tyranny. Was that a spur of the moment comment you made, or had you thought through carefully at use?
Francis: Very carefully. We must realize that the Judeo-Christian position, which was the basis of this country, promised freedoms to everybody. And there really were freedoms, and not just freedoms for Christianity, but freedoms for Thomas Paine, for example, who held the opposite view. But as we have shifted to the other view of the final reality, which has become dominant and especially in our schools and often through the media, that instead of the final reality being an infinite personal God, to whom not all things are the same. In other words, some things are right, some things are wrong on the basis of his character. As we’ve shifted from that to the other worldview, that the final reality is only material energy shaped by chance, we must realize that that other final view gives absolutely no indication for any value to human life, or any value system, or any basis for law. That being so, the proper definition of humanism falls into place, and that is man becomes the measure of all things, which means everything is arbitrary. Now as soon as you come to that place, then what you find is it leads toward chaos, whether it’s in the individual’s life of some young person who’s just hedonistic or whether it is in society. Consequently, the direction then is for these people who are then making their arbitrary choices and forcing it on all the society. They increasingly become tyrannical in forcing their view on the whole population. Nothing is more clear than the public schools, where we must say, and we can’t say it too often, that the public schools in this country by law are tyrannical, in that the people who pay the taxes for the schools have nothing to say about what is taught.
So that a recent Newsweek poll, if it’s accurate, says 76% of the people in this country would like to see both evolution and creation taught. And yet nevertheless, the courts have made it absolutely illegal to teach anything about any kind of religion except the humanness religion in our school. So, here you have a totally tyrannical situation. Or you can say it another way. Here you have public television supported by public tax money. Christians can’t get anything on this.
And at the same time, you can go down. Bernowski’s a sentiment. Clark’s civilization. The cosmos by Carl Sagan, a new thing on. All of them are propaganda things in favor of this other world view. But a Christian has no voice. So, what we’re facing is a totally hidden censorship. And people often say, well you’re trying to bring censorship, but what they forget is we already have a hidden censorship. And the very form of world view, which gave us the freedoms in the first place in this country, is the very thing that’s being forced out on this tyrannical basis.
David: Sometimes it’s hard to fight tyranny if you can’t figure out who the tyrant is. You’re not saying that there is a given individual mastermind in all of this?
Francis: Not at all. I think we’ve made a terrible mistake. We don’t have to think of a plot or a collusion in order to bring forth these tyrannical things. If you hold this other worldview, this materialistic worldview, it mathematically, inevitably brings forth results in all the areas that are troubling our society. Abortion, a phytoncide, promiscuousness, the public schools, the breakdown of the family. So, if you hold the final worldview of this Judeo-Christian God, who’s the personal creator God, it brings forth naturally results in the total of society. But the other view does too.
Now these men don’t have to meet together in a plot or a single mastermind plotting it all. Their view brings this forth and it leads to all the breakdown in our society, which really brings much sorrow to not only the individual, but to many people looking on and seeing what’s happening to us.
David: Dr. Francis Schaefer, the American tradition of throwing off tyranny has included protest and even the use of force. As part of our heritage, are you comfortable with such measures?
Francis: Absolutely. I would say very firmly that what I call the bottom line, we must face it. The bottom line is I speak of it in a Christian manifesto. If we do not realize that when a government commands that, which is contrary to the law of God, it abrogates its authority so that it’s not only our privilege, but our duty to disobey it, we’re forgetting our whole Christian heritage. We must never forget the Christians in the early church were thrown into the arena to be killed. From their viewpoint, it was a religious thing. They wouldn’t worship anyone but the living God.
But from the side of the state, they were civil rebels because they were not worshiping Caesar and Caesar worship was the thing holding the empire together, the Roman empire together. You could be an atheist; you could believe anything. They didn’t care. It had nothing to do with religion. From their viewpoint, it was civil disobedience or take some poor family in the Soviet Union today. By law, they’re not allowed to teach their children about Christ or Christian truth. They must disobey. They must disobey.
Now then, we must realize that down through history, it’s always been the same. Whether it was Peter standing before the Sanhedrin and saying we must obey God rather than man, or whether it is the Christians in Russia today or back there at the early church, the tradition has always stood that it is the duty to disobey the state if the state commands that which is contrary to the law of God.
Now we must be careful. We must do it on the appropriate level. And at the present time, with the freedoms we have in this country, the appropriate level is protest. It is using the courts and electing who we can elect, who should be elected to the government and so on. But at the same time, while we operate on the appropriate level at this moment, it’s all lost unless we realize that if we say we will never disobey the government. If we say that we have put that government in the place of God. We have erected a false God which God never meant to be allowed. And in that case, whether we acknowledge or not, we have made the state to be Caesar and worshiped.
David: Now this is spelled out very carefully in your new book, A Christian Manifesto, which is published by Crossway Books. Many people would hear that and say it’s new, but you’re affirming that this is a very old thing for Christians, and I’m trying to underline that.
Francis: Absolutely. We have forgotten our heritage. We have forgotten that Christians have called for individual salvations and all the great revivals. The Wall Street Journal, for example, not too long ago indicated again with clear understanding something that many Christians don’t have, that the great awakening prior to the American Revolution was a big factor in leading to the throwing off a tyranny. Finney held this view. Jonathan Blanchard, who founded Wheaton did, Wesley did. These people all believed in three things, individual salvation, the revival of our own hearts. But these things then leading out into society with social change into the whole of the social and political picture, and specifically to reject anything that would put itself in the place of the Creator.
David: Is there an alternative for Christians apart from that, which is negative?
Francis: Absolutely. And this must be stressed, and I stress it very strongly in a Christian manifesto and also in the book which Dr. Coop and I did previously in film series on abortion. Whatever happened the human race, we must stress the political and legal responsibilities, but these become nothing unless we practice the Christian alternatives.
So, you cannot say to a girl who is facing the problem of abortion, don’t get an abortion and then not help her bear the weight of the thing financially in every other way. One of the great tragedies of our churches has been that they’ve been preaching points, they’ve been activity centers, but there’s been very, very little community. And so, what we ought to do, whether realizing it, whether in the area of abortion or a found a side or these other areas, we must show the Christian alternatives even if it’s at great cost. So, I’m very thankful for the Christian legal society, for example, bringing an arbitrary discussion about cases to settle it out of court. I feel it’s extremely important and I’m very pleased with the crisis pregnancy centers that are growing up.
Yes, we must really take the legal stand and the political stand, but unless we show the beauty of the Christian alternatives and pay the price for it, I think we ought to go home just stay in bed.
David: People have called you a prophet. Apart from speaking forth God’s truth, do you have thoughts as they relate to the future?
Francis: You must realize I’m not a prophet in the biblical sense at all. And this term always makes me very uncomfortable. All I am, is a person that prays, studies my Bible, has spent four or 45 years studying the surrounding culture and pray that I might make the right projections. I must say that sometimes I feel frightened that so many of them have turned out so well.
So, I wouldn’t want anybody to think of me as a prophet in the biblical sense. But I do believe these things I’m saying of the importance of where we are and having to do something about them rapidly is something that would please God.
David: Dr. Francis Schieffer, on behalf of our Chapel family, I thank you for these three days. They’ve been very profitable. We know you better than you know us, but at least be aware that we understand the battle and are in it with you. Our hearts are with Christ, the great King, and the Restoration.
My friend, I recommend that you read Dr. Francis Schieffer’s latest book, A Christian Manifesto. It’s not that difficult. In fact, I’d say it’s reading that’s easily understood.
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