Fifty years ago today, Time magazine published an article on Francis Schaeffer, who with his wife founded “one of the most unusual missions in the Western world.” What made their ministry, nestled in the Swiss Alps, so different? They focused on intellectuals–artists, musicians, students, atheists, Jews, Catholics and Protestants–an eclectic mix of people that in 1960 the church tended to neglect.
Conversions were few. “But,” noted Time, “those who do become Christians are not likely to be superficial ones.” Schaeffer is quoted in the article as saying, “They’re no fools. . . . When they make a decision, they possess the intellectual framework to make it in.”
Eight years after that article, InterVarsity Press first published Francis Schaeffer’s books in North America–The God Who Is There and Escape from Reason. They exploded on the scene at the time and are still in print, still selling steadily today. As Jim Sire wrote in his foreword to the thirtieth anniversary edition of The God Who Is There:
Escape from Reason would have been published first, but its delivery from the British printer was postponed by a strike on the St. Lawrence Seaway. The God Who Is There was being printed in the United States, the result being that both books were released in the fall of 1968, just a few days before Schaeffer gave [a series of] lectures at Wheaton College.
Perhaps no other author set the tone for what IVP would become more than Schaeffer. While IVP was already attuned to the intellectual world of the university, the success of Schaeffer’s books (and many from other authors that followed) fixed in readers’ minds the image of a publishing house that took ideas seriously, that wasn’t intimidated by worldviews that might be encountered in the university, that understood that culture was to be engaged and redeemed rather than treated as an enemy to be defeated.
The influence of Schaeffer on an entire generation helped create the world of vigorous Christian scholarship we see today. As Linda Doll and I wrote in Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength., one of the main reasons IVP was able to undertake a serious academic publishing program in the early 1990s was the existence of a newly emerging author pool.
Many of these potential authors had been inspired as students by the books of Francis Schaeffer in the seventies (many of them published by IVP), which communicated that intellectual pursuits by Christians were a valid, viable and important enterprise to undertake. “Schaeffer was instrumental in popularizing and legitimizing the life of the mind for many
twentieth-century evangelicals” [Krapohl and Lippy, 1999, p. 298]. Thus IVP could now benefit from the effects that IVP books had had on a generation of readers who had seriously engaged the academic world, pursued higher education, received Ph.D.s, taken positions at universities and seminaries, and were now ready to start writing significant works.
Some of Schaeffer’s scholarship and viewpoints have been critiqued over the years. Many of his early disciples have moved on to other perspectives. But the courage he showed in taking the life of the mind seriously, in making it as much a part of Christian discipleship as prayer or service to the poor, has left a heritage that we can be grateful lives on vigorously in 2010.