My first exposure to InterVarsity Press came when a friend, George, handed me a copy of Escape from Reason by Francis Schaeffer over forty years ago. It was the original edition imported to the U.S. from Britain. I was in high school at the time and had heard of some of the philosophers and theologians and artists he mentioned. (Being raised Catholic, Aquinas was at least familiar.) Many were completely new, however. Even though I only had a vague sense of what he was writing about, I devoured the book.
The immediate impact was that Schaeffer’s book gave me a way to approach my fellow students as we engaged in
intellectual repartee. Here was a way to evaluate the failings of modern society and its path to despair. The alternative that the gospel provided was stark and compelling.
Or so I thought. Unfortunately, I was personally not so compelling. Though perhaps I was stark. After several years in a disputatious and confrontational mode, I realized that I was more interested in winning an argument than in winning a friend. But I do not lay the blame for that on Schaeffer. No, Schaeffer himself was well known for treating every seeker who came to him with great respect.
Nonetheless, Schaeffer ultimately gave me a great gift. Looking back, I think what stimulated me was that ideas mattered. They make a difference in how we see the world and ultimately how we live in it.
He also showed me that ideas have a story. They aren’t just abstract concepts that sit there inert. Rather there is a drama at work here. They have a context, often with larger-than-life personalities involved. Ideas grow out of conflict and necessity. People challenge each other across centuries—all seeking to make sense of the world we live in.
And I developed, changed and grew too. I don’t agree now with everything Schaeffer wrote, but I am thankful for his influence on me. He legitimized for me the life of the mind, a life that ultimately is to be in the service of the kingdom.
3 thoughts on “Schaeffer’s Gift”
I can’t remember the first time I heard or saw a book published by InterVarsity Press. But I have had its works in my library very early on. My library really took off about 1962, when I went to serve my first church. From a library of several hundreds of volumes, it has grown to over 12,000 volumes. Schaeffer’s writings became very much prized as I earned a Master’s in Intellectual History. At that time I was beginning to formulate the thought for development that if the Bible is inspired by God who is omniscient, then it should reflect a wisdom commensurate with that fact. Since those days, I have been able to follow up on that idea in a number of areas. One of the thihngs I discovered is how the precepts/ideas/truths of the Bible can make a believer balanced, flexible, creative, enduring, and magnetic or, to put it another way, mature. A person of maturity is one of the most attractive representatives for the Kingdom of God.
Clearly your library outstrips mine! And you were certainly nurturing the life of your mind long before Schaeffer started publishing, though he still had an impact. Thanks for that bit of your intellectual history.
The mind and the intellect are good gifts, but like everything else they are subject to abuse. A minister at Spurgeon’s old church in London had a message on humility, one of the first I have seen or heard on that subject in a long time. Other ministers have libraries that easily equal or even surpass mine by a large factor. Isaac Newton’s playing on the beach with a few pebbles while all around a vast ocean of knowledge continually breaks upon the shore (or something to that effect) reminds us of how little we know or can know. Someone says our advances in knowledge simply enlarge the area of our ignorance. Another spoke of the going through a door and finding 10 more doors beyond that one which you did not even know existed. There is something painful about knowledge, something mournful, great with grief, except the knowledge of God in a personal way without familiarity.
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