Skip to main content

Mere Orthodoxy exists to create media for Christian renewal. Support this mission today.

Schaeffer’s Legacy

September 23rd, 2022 | 3 min read

By Jake Meador

I am a former L’Abri student. Every time I visit Rochester, MN, I make a point of visiting Dr. Schaeffer’s grave. He’s something of a spiritual grandfather to me.

My most treasured book in my home library is a copy of Edith’s What is a Family? that she signed for me shortly before her death. I have studied with two men directly discipled by Schaeffer, one of whom saw him as a sort of surrogate father. I’ve spoken at length about his work and legacy with five other people who studied with him and knew him well. I do not know that I would be a Christian today were it not for his ministry.

So when some speak of recovering Schaeffer, I am thrilled. But let it be the real thing, the fully orbed man in his all radicalism and complexity.

This is who Schaeffer was:

  • The man who said you should spend 50 minutes listening to a person and asking questions before spending 10 minutes sharing the Gospel
  • The man who threatened to resign from his Presbyterian pastorate in St Louis in the 1940s if the elders tried to move the congregation out to the suburbs or if anyone in the church so much as made a black visitor feel unwelcome
  • The man who showed up at Wheaton College in 1968 to lecture on avant garde films and what they told us about the culture when Wheaton students weren’t allowed to attend movies per the student handbook
  • The man who, in the 1960s, told Christians to get serious about ecological care and environmentalism
  • The man who suggested once that Christian hospitality means doing things like washing your bedsheets daily because one of the homeless people you’re housing has a few STDs and she’s sleeping in you and your wife’s bed because all your other spare beds are taken
  • The man who taught Jerram Barrs and Bill Edgar, both of whom are marked by their gentleness and winsome approach to evangelism and outreach
  • The man who once debated Bishop James Pike, a kind of prototype of John Shelby Spong, and of whom Pike said after the debate “of all the evangelicals I’ve debated, he’s the first one to treat me like a person”
  • The man who taught Dick Keyes, who has written extensively against both progressive Christianity and fundamentalist Christianity and who has been a faithful member of a historic black church for decades while also leading the work at Southborough L’Abri
  • The man who taught Os Guinness, the poster-child for Frenchian evangelical classical liberalism
  • The man who distinguished between Christians who experience same-sex attraction and Christians acting on those desires and who said it is “cruel and wrong” to exclude celibate same-sex attracted Christians from church life
  • The man who founded a community of practically unconditional hospitality and outreach to hippies, beatniks, far left activists, and stoners
  • The man who spearheaded the evangelical effort to address abortion through a strategic partnership with C. Everett Koop, the future US surgeon general under Reagan who was one of the only prominent evangelicals in the 1980s trying to serve and love the gay men afflicted by HIV and AIDS

If we were to recover that legacy, the world would be shaken. But then, such is the state of things, so too would the church.

Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).