Today marks the fortieth anniversary of the death of Francis Schaeffer. Even those not familiar with this man known for “trademark knickers, often straggling hair, goatee, and intense scowl,” are indebted to his bookslectures, and films. Schaeffer articulated and demonstrated the reality of the Christian vision of life and the world through his teaching and through the L’Abri community he and his wife Edith built in the Swiss mountains.  

Among those he influenced was Chuck Colson, who referred to Francis Schaeffer as “one of the greatest prophets of modern times.”  

His clarion call for Christians to come out of the pews and engage the culture is as important today as it was 50 years ago when he first burst onto the scene. … He taught a generation of Christians how to put our culture and its practices in context. … It was Schaeffer who taught evangelicals about the dangers of relativism … [It was] Schaeffer who helped us to understand that Christianity isn’t only about doctrinal truth but about what he called “True truth,” the authoritative account of reality. 

In his decades of ministry, Schaeffer cultivated a greater appreciation for the arts among Christians, brought American Protestants into the pro-life movement, and encouraged a more robust life of the mind among evangelicals. 

After growing up in a non-believing home, Schaeffer came to faith in his late teens. However, after several years as a pastor in America and Europe, he nearly lost the faith he’d been preaching to others. Failing to see the reality of faith in the lives of Christians, himself included, he retreated to his prior agnosticism, committing to re-examine the doubts and presuppositions which led him to faith in the first place. 

He found that his doubts about Christianity were not as strong as the reasons to believe it was true. Questions remained, but his renewed faith was reinvigorated. He found that the Bible’s answers to life’s biggest questions, though not exhaustive, were sufficient. 

For most of the next 30 years, Schaeffer lived in Switzerland, inviting students, burned-out Christians, and wandering hippies into his home. His ministry became known as L’Abri, from the French word for “shelter.” There, he offered honest answers to honest questions.  

In addition to helping many individuals, these years of ministry, study, and reflection bore the fruit of lectures, books, and documentaries, all of which teased out the implications of Biblical truth for life. The documentary Whatever Happened to the Human Race? laid the groundwork for evangelical involvement in the defense of life and the opposing of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. His works on apologetics, theology, and culture, now decades old, proved prescient about what was to come. 

The Colson Center is among the many who owe a debt to Schaeffer’s legacy. In 2012, Chuck Colson and Dr. Timothy George described the substance of that legacy: 

Schaeffer’s challenge remains pertinent today. The mark of Jesus in us is crucial, and it is compelling. None of our activities—evangelism, social ministry, mission, and worldview work—will receive God’s full blessing if they are not guided by the “final apologetic” of demonstrating observable love for one another. Many of us have tried to pick up pieces of Schaeffer’s legacy. But no one has brought charity and clarity together the way he did. No one has spoken with the compassion, precision, and, yes, fierceness that Schaeffer brought to the task. 

Schaeffer demonstrated that “charity and clarity” must go together. His deep compassion for people and firm conviction in truth has left an enduring legacy. May we follow his example.  

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Dr. Timothy Padgett. If you’re a fan of Breakpoint, leave a review on your favorite podcast app. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to 

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/KatarzynaBialasiewicz
Publish Date: May 15, 2024

John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and radio host of BreakPoint, a daily national radio program providing thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

BreakPoint is a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. BreakPoint commentaries offer incisive content people can't find anywhere else; content that cuts through the fog of relativism and the news cycle with truth and compassion. Founded by Chuck Colson (1931 – 2012) in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends. Today, you can get it in written and a variety of audio formats: on the web, the radio, or your favorite podcast app on the go.