Thursday, May 15, 2014

Remembering Francis & Edith Schaeffer

(This is an interview I did with the Schaeffers in 1982.
It appeared in the May 1983 issue of Christian Bookseller
Magazine [now Christian Retailing].
See "behind the scenes" information below*.
Francis died 5/15/1984. Edith died 3/30/13.)

Francis & Edith Schaeffer: An Interview

Well-known as authors, lecturers and out-spoken philosophers, the Schaeffers have a lot to share about their books and their beliefs in this interview by Stephen R. Clark.

Between the two of them, the Schaeffers have penned 30 books which have sold over 3,500,000 copies in the U.S. alone, and have been translated into as many as 21 languages. Not a bad record for two people who never planned to be writers, and who never refused an opportunity to minister.

What motivated you to start writing? What was your purpose?

FS: I had no intention of writing any books, no intention whatsoever. I had a lecture which I gave on speaking historic Christianity into the twentieth century. I gave it at many universities in Europe; Oxford, Cambridge, etc. Then I came over and I gave it at MIT and Harvard. And as I gave this lecture, I refined it.

I always had discussion, I like discussion very much. If I saw that things were not clear, or could be improved or even if I’d made mistakes, which everyone does, I would then repair and strengthen it. So then, at each place the lecture built up into something more clear.

Then I gave it at Wheaton College. And when I gave it there, they asked if they could put it out in booklet form. I made them promise not to give general distribution to it other than for their own student body, because I really, even up to that time, never had any intention of using it as a book.

But when I saw it in that off-set form, I saw that I had something. And I felt, then, a responsibility to make it into a book. I could see that it would be a useful book I experimented, and that became The God Who Is There. It just grew naturally out of the general work in the lecturing.

So then, each successive book was more or less out of a series of lectures?

FS: They grew in different ways. In general, up until How Shall We Then Live, yes, it grew out of a series of lectures. The lectures would be put on tape, and then I would refine it and give it again, maybe two or three times, and then take the final formula tape and work over it as a book

But then How Shall We Then Live was entirely different. I simply sat down and worked at it, along the idea of the book and a film.

Now that you see your complete works published by Crossway, how do you feel about that?

FS: It’s exciting, of course. And you must recognize that we re-edited all those, so it isn’t just re-published. I reedited 21 of them. A lot of people had asked me for this, because, they said, “the little ones will go out of print and we will lose them, and we don’t want to lose them.”

But the thing that impressed me, as I said, “Well, I’ll try,” is that when Jeremy Jackson and Randall McCulley both fed me ideas, and I went over to look at their ideas to see what I thought the books needed for bringing them up-to- date and improvements...we realized that, really, every one of the books, including the earliest one, was more contemporary at that time than when they were written all those years ago. Because then, they were ahead of time. And now we were right there. So the thing that has been my chief reaction is that of real hope that they will be very much used for the ‘80’s.

Mrs. Schaeffer, why did you start writing? How did you get caught up in all of this?

ES: I had no intention of writing anything either, but it happens to be that it was five years before my husband wrote his first book that I actually wrote the L’Abri story. But it was not published for five years.

My beginning of that book took place because of a friend who insisted that I had to write this story myself. That nobody else could write it.

She offered to give me a month’s money— and she didn’t know how she was going to live that month — to go to a hotel and “write some lovely stories.” At first I replied in the negative, saying that it was impossible. I couldn’t leave the kitchen, and I was needed, and soon. Then, suddenly, things dropped into place. My husband was asked to speak in America for the first time in some years, and he decided that the Lord would have him go. He said, “Why don’t you write that book while I’m gone?” At the same time, a girl who had been greatly helped in L’Abri offered to do a month of cooking, and my children, Deborah and Franky, agreed I should go.

It took a period of three or four weeks for all of these things to fall into place. Finally, I agreed. I went to the hotel and installed myself in the room. I had one month. I had never written a book I’d written family letters, and I had a boxful of my family letters, and another boxful of letters that I had written to my mother. It seemed a hopeless task. For ten days I read and paced the room, thinking “I cannot do it!”

And suddenly, on the tenth day, I sat down and started out, and I wrote. I wrote 21 days and got 19 chapters done. When I was done I carted it back home, and went to meet Francis in London.

The publishers I took it to said that it was a charming book, and something “almost happened in it.” In other words, Franky did not die of polio, we were not ousted from Switzerland in the end, the floods and avalanches did not wreck our house or kill any of us...and this caused them to say that nothing happened. After my husband wrote The God Who Is There, a man came to our conference and said that he was going to go into publishing and my book was his first book

Then it was taken by Tyndale House, and I wrote a twentieth chapter, five years later...and that was my first book. Now, each book has come about in a different way. But I never started out on my own. Each book was asked for by a different individual and I was really shoved into it...not against my will, but I sort of caught fire because somebody else lit the match arid waved it around.

Something that comes through your writings is the great sense of family that you two have developed, which is a very rare quality today. How do you do that? Do you have any secrets to share?

ES: It’s just that we have made lots of mistakes. And we would not put our selves as — and I even hate the words — role models of how the perfect family should be run.

With that being said, I would say that it takes a great deal of working at it. And I am thrilled to find my own children doing the same thing with their children. Such a thing as careful time, a certain amount of time each day unless it’s totally impossible, is vital.

It takes reading with them, vacations when no one else is with you, certain amounts of time alone so that you spend time becoming a family rather than just sharing it. I’m not saying that we did it perfectly, but it takes fighting for certain times alone; for privacy, and considering your children as important as other people. And I would say that this is where my husband shone. Also Fran’s answering the children’s questions individually. Susan had that in her book, that she remembers an instance from when she was about 12 or 13, and she said ‘I don’t believe in God’ and so on, and her father’s quiet and careful dealing with her questions as if she were 23, instead of as young as she was. I feel we must treat children as people, as human beings. If a three year old is going to be your friend for the rest of your life he’d better have memories of your don’t know when a child’s first memory is going to be.

And it isn’t that you’re perfect every minute, but treating your children as human beings pays off. And no two personalities are alike. You can’t lay down a law as to how to treat each child. Children are different, and they need different kinds of attention, different kinds of help. You need to be sensitive, praying for help. Ask the Lord to give you new ideas for this child who is three and who isn’t like the first two.

As time goes on, I think you need time set aside for just family. Our family reunion is the most looked forward to part of the year. Everyone sets aside their five days. Franky is a movie maker and a busy young man, but boy, that five days is precious. That will not be encroached upon by anything else. Whether it’s money or time, they put it aside so that we can all be together.

What do we do? We sit there and discuss everything. There is a tremendous variety of subjects, and to get through it all is a hard thing. And then we need to listen to the grandchildren’s’ latest activities.

FS: A sort of goal, in thinking about children, is to realize that you don’t have them very long. You don’t realize how quickly the time passes. So you have to take the time, you have to really work at it while you have them.

Then you will have them forever. You still have a parental relationship with the children, yet, at the same time, as quickly as possible, you work not to just dominate them but to let them be people as people, feeling themselves, with out them feeling that you’ve dominated them in a bad sense. So they come to you for advice. So that at a certain period, you become brothers and sisters in Christ.

ES: I’d like to add to what Fran has said, in that I feel that all along the way one’s attitude should be that of expecting to learn something from the child. Not feeling as if you’re always on a pedestal, speaking down to your child and then suddenly he comes to a point where, maybe, he knows enough to sit down and have discussions. But really having your ears open to the wonder of children. I think that kind of attitude of seeing through the child’s eyes some thing of the wonder you’ve either lost yourself, or never had because you were not the individual your child is, is important. That attitude of listening has got to be there.

FS: That’s not only true of children, but it’s true in working with people. I think the Lord gives gifts to people, and what I think has been most helpful to me is that, as people come to us from all over the world, and from many, many disciplines, is really listening to them as well as just talking to them and lecturing them.

As I listen to most Christians talking to non-Christians, what they do is lecture. They never listen. They’re not talking right to the place where the people are. They’re just giving them formulas. But the second thing is, very often, they’re missing a tremendous opportunity to learn.

Getting back to your you feel that there has been a recurring or predominant theme in what you’ve had to say?

FS: In talking about our books, and how they began, you must see that they formed one unit. The first books were very much ground breakers in the area of dealing with the Christian’s under standing of, and their dealing with, the problems raised by our music, cinema, philosophy and so on. I’m not saying that others hadn’t written on them, but in the evangelical, or fundamentalist or the “Bible-believing” roots of people, there wasn’t much dealing with this. So the books were pretty revolutionary.

I would express it as the Lordship of Christ in the totality of life, rather than a small area. A rejection of the platonic spirituality. The other books, then, grew out like spokes from the wheel, from that basis. I went from dealing with the Lordship of Christ in the area of art and music, cultural and intellectual things, to His Lordship in the area of government and law.

And then when Dr. Koop, Franky and I worked on Whatever Happened to the Human Race, we carried this a step further, expressly dealing with the place where a relativistic set of morals and arbitrary law and humanistic medicine came together at the point of human life.

Now, again, I had no intention of writing the Christian Manifesto. It never entered my mind. But as we had the seminars across the country, more and more people raised the question, “If these things are as prevalent as you say they are, then what is the Christian’s attitude towards government and even disobedience?” Again, this was revolutionary because most people had never thought of it. They just assumed that the Christian obeyed, period, paragraph.

It became clear that this wasn’t just a theoretical question. It had become a very practical question on the basis of what we had raised with the two previous books. So in each book’s case they have been almost extruded for the need of others rather than theoretically sitting down to ask “What can you write a book on?”

And you must realize that the first of these books was written in, I think, 1967. So only a relatively few years were spent in writing them. But, on the other hand, none of them has been written in a year or two. They have represented years and years and years of not only individual thought, but of answering questions in the hottest seat you could sit in, in Universities and so on across the world.

In relation to your cancer, how do you deal with that? There has been so much written lately on healing, and suffering how would you respond to another who has cancer and came to you saying, "Dr. Schaeffer, how do I deal with this?

FS: Well, actually, I have to think of this very practically. What you are asking me is not a question that I haven’t thought through. And I always begin the same place. It’s the place that has made it possible for our whole family to live with this. That is emphasizing the reality of the fall in an abnormal world. Not just as a theological position, but really living in the light of the fact that we live in an abnormal world.

Very often I find one of two reactions from people. One is, why has God done this to me, how could a good God let this happen. The other would be what have I done wrong that I have cancer. But I think either of these are faulty questions if you accept the reality that we live in an abnormal world.

When I found that I had cancer, naturally I didn’t like it. It wasn’t good news at all. But on the other hand I wasn’t surprised. Because we live in an abnormal world we all have all kinds of things that go along with us. I don’t believe for a moment that God gave me cancer. I think I have cancer because we live in a fallen world in which the whole cause and effect is out of joint, up to the level that we all know we are going to die. So even if you believe in healing – and I do believe God can heal in answer to prayer – you have to recognize that we live in the midst of a fallen world and we are not to be surprised that there is such a thing as death. Or, in this specific case, cancer.

Now then, you can turn this around and you have Romans 8:28, “All things work together for the good of those that love God, to those called according to his purposes.” But I think this is often misunderstood, and applied wrongly so that becomes destructive. It is applied as though, in a kind of magical way, things will work out for the good.

So spirituality becomes having this plastic smile on your face and everything is great, even when it isn’t great. Because all things work together for the good. But if you read the context and totality of Scriptures, something very different comes across – that we live in an abnormal world. I have cancer, but nevertheless God is so great – He is infinite – that He can reach down in the midst of the abnormal mess and bring something good out of it. Once you look at it this way, the whole thing changes. The whole perspective changes.

In my own case, if I could wave a wand and get rid of my cancer, I would wave it in a second. Because going through all this chemotherapy 12 days out of every 20 has its rough spots. But God has a right—and now we come to a crucial step-God has a right to put me where He wants to put me in the midst of the battle.

I am a total supernaturalist. I believe in the battle of the heavenlies. My cancer, the cancer of others, may have something to do with the battle of the heavenlies. And if God is my God and He is the one I say He is, He has a right to put me in the midst of the battle. I can see, in my own case, remembering al ways that I would get rid of the cancer if I could wave the wand, nevertheless there have been thousands of people who know me through my books and so forth, who have been encouraged because Francis Schaeffer has cancer. He hasn’t been healed completely, quote, unquote. And yet, he is going on in the midst of the battle and is being productive. So I can see the good that has come out of it in my case.

You do a lot of traveling and lectures, and speaking engagements. Why do you take on so much?

FS: I very much feel that it’s a crucial day that we live in. And I never speak on subjects just to speak on them. I’ve got a fire in my bones about these things, because I really do believe that we’re aw fully far down the road and we need to speak with courage. I feel somebody must lecture on these things, and not just drift down the road. Somebody has to say, “Now, wait a minute.” The Christian answer should not be taken for granted to be a driftwood-pacifism and a soft view. If anybody asked me what the biggest problem among those of our age, I am 70 now, at the moment was, I would say it is having the wisdom of the Lord to know what we should say yes to, and what we should say no to.

Switzerland is our home, and left to ourselves we would just prefer to stay there more. And yet I feel, we both feel, that we are working on the cutting edge. That being so, we have our responsibility to ask the Lord what he wants us to do...even though left to ourselves we would prefer to spend more time back in Switzerland. So we are in Switzerland about two-thirds of the year, and traveling for about one-third of the year.

*On this day in 1984, Franis Schaeffer passed away after a long struggle with cancer. I was reminded of this after stumbling across On Francis Schaeffer by Bruce Little. Above is the interview I did with them two years prior.

Oh, what a sophomoric interview! I met the Schaeffers and did the interview in Dallas, Texas during the summer or 1982 while attending my second CBA Convention as the editor of Christian Bookseller Magazine.

I had read most of Francis' books and was in awe of the opportunity to meet him and Edith. 

For reasons that still are not clear to me, when it was time to go to their hotel for the interview, I chose to take the bus from the convention center. I guess it seemed the economically responsible thing to do, but a taxi would have been a much better choice.

It was about 80 or 90 in Dallas and the bus didn't seem to be air-conditioned. And then, I got a little turned around and had trouble finding the hotel. I was late, hot, and sweaty when I arrived. Their publicist met me in the hotel lobby and hustled me up to their room.

Now, keep in mind, this was before cell phones, digital cameras, or chilled bottled water were ubiquitous. The only technology I had with me was a small cassette tape recorder.

When I got to the room I fumbled my explanation for being late, apologized humbly, and tried to hide the fact that I was soaked under my sport coat. However, I couldn't hide the thick sheen of sweat on my forehead, and pretty much all over my face.

To my amazement, Edith fussed like a mother hen over me. She got me a clean hand towel to wipe my face, profusely apologized for not having anything cold to drink, but did offer me some chilled fruit.

Francis sat, somewhat impatient, until we were all settled. But he was gracious and kind as he answered my lame questions. In fact, I asked one that was completely off the mark -- I apparently confused him with someone else -- yet they both gently worked through my clumsiness.

This was a stark contrast to an experience I'd had trying to do a phone interview with Henri Nouwen who abruptly hung up on me when he decided I hadn't read his books and so had no business talking to him. I guess everyone has bad days.

At any rate, we concluded the interview and I made my way back to the convention center. Later, again with graciousness, they autographed several copies of their books that I had brought with me. Edith added whimsical drawings of mountains and birds to illustrate her message and signature. I still have those books.

Including the 5 volume set that was the point of the interview. My goal is to get a fresh set (now available only in paperback) and re-read them. Why a fresh set? For two reasons. First, during a move the box they were packed in got wet and the books suffered water and mold damage. Second, I'd like to read without having to read around my old notes and underlining.

Schaeffer's writings have had a significant impact on shaping my own thinking on faith and culture. I cannot recommend his books highly enough. He was a good man and his voice is missed. I was honored and humbled for the opportunity to meet both he and Edith.

Have you read anything by Francis or Edith Schaeffer? Have a fond memory of an encounter? How have their writings impacted your faith? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!


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