Some Personal Thoughts on Francis Shaeffer’s Shaping of Evangelical America

Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America (Library of Religious Biography)Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America by Barry Hankins
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

If Francis Schaeffer was “the single greatest intellectual influence on young evangelicals of the 1960s and ’70s” (and my father reminded me of this weekly for years as he bought me Schaeffer’s complete catalog and made sure I read all), I’d wager those not of the evangelical bent ever have anything to worry about — not that they ever did. The concept of combining the terms “intelligentsia” and “evangelical,” despite being both scoff worthy and inaccurate, not only because we’re typically talking about theologians as opposed to scholars, but because the entire movement had to follow faux intelligentsia with what is now an industry into itself — Apologetics, a descriptive term that should bring tears of embarrassment to most anyone in that camp not only because it’s intellectually bankrupt, but because it’s rather pathetic that the entire movement exists, not to prove points to the heathens, but to prop up the millions of evangelicals suffering from fear, questions, doubts, disbelief, guilt and inabilities to respond to some of the most rudimentary questions and criticisms posed by others in society, regardless of different religious ideology, agnosticism or atheism and ultimately the nerve wracking knowledge that when all is said and done and the facts outweigh the myths, emotional appeals, total inability to reconcile a fraction of the inconsistencies, inaccuracies and total fabrications despite making Olympian efforts to bend anything to support their holy book’s innumerable flaws (with most of the faithful not having ever read the damn thing), many evangelicals suspect or know (though won’t admit it) that when all is said and done and there are no more rational, logical, factual, confirmable, etc., answers to their very reason for living, then they can only and forever fall back on “faith” as the umbrella answer to everything, or rather nothing at all. Because ultimately what accompanies that are hollow sayings like “the lord works in mysterious ways” or “we can never understand the ways of the lord,” etc. Which is tacitly an admission of total failure and which merely serves to continue tormenting the doubting faithful, and thus apologetics. But CS Lewis and Schaeffer and some others lead the intellectual way, right? And with the formidable William Lane Craig serving as the anti-Dawkins, Hitchens, etc., the faithful are in good hands, right? One can read, study, write, debate, etc., and try to feel confident in the arguments made, but ultimately it still all comes down to basically accepting Everything by faith because the splintered church not only can’t agree on nearly anything re doctrine or otherwise, but it’s apparently done little good because while the faithful have their secret doubts on their future eternal life, at least many of their current leaders give them structure, earthly meaning, reassurance, strength and most importantly, the formerly hidden but no longer concealed reason for current evangelical existence — Power. Earthly power. American Taliban power. They don’t care if they’re intellectual frauds or failures or that, more importantly, that they don’t give a shit about what their savior Jesus allegedly taught as they proudly do the opposite of what his platform was supposed to be. All they care about seems to be white christian nationalism, i.e., fascism, or ultimately complete power over all Americans and who knows what from there. If you doubt me, I could tell you personal stories dating back many decades about countless times throughout the ’70s and early ’80s sitting in on or being exposed to a lot of discussions involving strategies for just about everything in the future with an emphasis on “as long as it takes” (Roe). You learn a lot when you’re eating lunch or dinner with Jerry Falwell, Bill Bright, Chuck Colson, James Dobson, certain other well-known movers and shakers and if it ever was about doing as Jesus commanded, that migrated elsewhere during that time and was replaced by apocalyptic power lust. So Schaeffer? In fairness and to be candid, he WAS much more the intellectual than your average American evangelical was at the time. Despite being more of a fundamentalist, he did study and learn about the life views and philosophies of others, ranging from Hegel to Sartre to Heidegger and while American fundies were banning the Beatles (or in my case, Zeppelin), apparently Schaeffer was known for appreciating things I was banned from, whether the Beatles, yes, or postmodern art, music and literature, etc. Fine. Does that make his ideology right? Well, I don’t care how well read he was or how he bantered with philosophers, etc. When you still adhere to the Calvinist Biblical inerrancy dogma, and if he WAS intellectually honest I contend there’s no way he could adhere to that for thousands of reasons — all found in the bible and all demolishing that concept, Schaeffer would have had to make some real changes — and he DID, in some ways and is given more credit than he’s due, in my opinion, because AGAIN, at the end of the day it STILL came down to social/cultural/gender issues (women don’t go to seminary to become ordained; they belong in the kitchen/home environment only), his ‘Observational Love’ thesis never even played out well with his followers of that time (Calvinists not known for much love at all, perhaps?) and just because he allegedly electrified a new generation of evangelicals so that it was now No Longer Necessary To Be Stupid and it was hip to be faux intellectuals, we’re still stuck talking about faith. In whatever you’re told to, whether it’s a magic Fairie in the sky, an omnipotent, omniscient god who — reading through just the first dozen books of the Bible — is the greatest bloodthirsty mass murderer in history — in (despite inerrancy) constantly debating the literal existence of a hell or something that either never existed or has changed meaning somehow, etc., and on and on… We read Thomas Merton and we’re hip intellectual christians, right? Okay, many evangelicals would never accept Merton, but that’s all the more proof of the extreme limitations surrounding them and how even they know — despite a Francis Schaeffer — and Schaeffer? The reputation of his influence still abounds, but like Reagan’s being rejected by all of the new quasi-Republicans, I’m not sure Schaeffer would still stand up under the Franklin Grahams and Tony Perkins. They might protest and pay lip service to him, but actions speak louder than words and today’s evangelical is not seeking an intellectually engaging, if not superior, religion — they’re too invested in dumbing everything down as they preach hate, racism and in some cases genocide under the fascist Trumps of the world, or perhaps now a DeSantis, and with MTG in Congress, there’s no longer any need to hide their real agendas, which I’d assert are much more radical than anything he ever did. A good attempt in this book, but one that can never be supported in ways and means asserted and alleged.

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