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Francis Schaeffer and a World in Desperate Need

By Lane T. Dennis, PhD, Crossway, President and Publisher

Today, May 15, marks the 25th anniversary of Francis Schaeffer’s Homegoing that is, the date at which Schaeffer died of cancer, leaving this life in space and time, and going into the eternal presence of the Lord.

I can think of no better way to mark this occasion than to read and reflect once again on Schaeffer’s sermon titled “The Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way,” which we are posting online, and which may be found in his book of collected lectures and sermons, No Little People (Crossway, 1993; originally published in 1974).

I often come back to this remarkable sermon by Schaeffer, to regain my bearings and to recommit to what is essential and foundational about Crossway and about my life personally. In fact, I selected this sermon as the basic document (after the Bible) for our Crossway management retreat at the beginning of this year and again as the basis for the Crossway board meeting in April.

This sermon is especially important for two reasons: First, because it is so easy for us to get off track, to be influenced by the fallen and destructive ways of the world in its rebellion against God; and, second, “Because,” as Schaeffer explains, “the world is hard, and confronting it without God’s power is an overwhelming prospect.”

This was powerfully brought home to my wife Ebeth and me a couple days ago, when we went to see a play in London. I won’t mention the name of the play, except to say that it had been given ravingly favorable reviews for its depiction of modern life in London. About fifteen minutes into the play, however, Ebeth and I decided that, for all its reputed brilliance, we needed to walk out and leave due to its blatant and relentless assault on moral standards and on Christianity in particular.

The play nonetheless dramatically demonstrated how utterly lost and morally degenerate the world is, and the desperate need for the gospel. It was heartbreaking to see the degeneracy of the characters in the play, and even more so the hear the audience embracing the degeneracy with its affirming laughter. It is shocking to see how far the world is willing to go todayto throw over every moral restraint and to embrace every form of perversion. It was an example of the kind of thing that would often move Schaeffer to tears, in his compassion for the tragic “lostness” of man apart from the Christ.

But there is another related tragedy, as Schaeffer pointed out, that is perhaps even greater that is, the tendency of Christians to fail to understand the utter lostness of the world and instead to embrace the world’s methods for doing the work of the Lord. Thus Schaeffer wrote, “The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.” “If we do not want to waste our lives,” Schaeffer continued, “then we must understand the importance of having a humble, quiet heart and the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Schaeffer’s following summary paragraph has been especially important (and convicting) to me and something that I pray will always be foundational to the work we do at Crossway. “Is it not amazing,” Schaeffer writes, “though we know the power of the Holy Spirit can be ours, we still ape the world’s wisdom, trust its form of publicity, its noise, and imitate its ways in manipulating men! If we try to influence the world by using its methods, we are doing the Lord’s work in the flesh. . . . The key question is this: as we work for God in this fallen world, what are we trusting in? To trust in particular methods is to copy the world and to remove ourselves from the tremendous promise that we have something different — the power of the Holy Spirit rather than the power of human technique.”

With this in mind, I want to acknowledge very clearly that every significant thing that has happened in the work of Crossway over the last three decades, since it was founded in 1979, has been the result of the Lord’s provision, not the result of our own cleverness or “human technique.” This is true with regard to the extraordinary authors we have had the privilege of publishing, as well as the publication of the ESV Bible and the ESV Study Bible. We have seen the hand of the Lord, demonstrated repeatedly, often in dramatic ways that we could never have begun to engineer ourselves – to God alone be the glory.

Schaeffer was not a flawless man, but we can benefit greatly today from his commitment to historic Christian orthodoxy, and for his compassion to reach this desperately lost generation with the only hope there is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the truth of God’s Word, lived out across the whole spectrum of life, in compassionate response to the degeneracy of the world and the tragic consequences this has in the lives of people everywhere. With this in mind, I would commend this sermon by Francis Schaeffer as one that has profoundly shaped the work of Crossway and that has likewise provided a frequent checkpoint and challenge to me personally to do “the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way,” in the power of the Spirit rather than the power of the flesh, and for God’s glory alone.

Read The Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way.

May 15, 2009 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Church History,Company Updates,Evangelicalism,Life / Doctrine,News | Author: Crossway Staff @ 6:21 am | (14) Comments »


  1. [...] Way” had an important effect on the vision of Crossway. You can read Lane’s explanation here, and Crossway posted Schaeffer’s sermon online for your [...]

    Pingback by In Light of the Gospel » Blog Archive » Schaeffer: The Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way — May 15, 2009 @ 11:06 am

  2. I wonder… do most younger, serious Christians now not know of Francis Schaeffer or his work? If so, that is a tragedy. I *strongly* encourage those who have never read his books to start. Schaeffer saw postmodernity coming before almost anyone else, and he addressed it in passionate, loving, thoughtful ways.

    The first three of his books (Escape From Reason, The God Who Is There, and He Is There, and He Is Not Silent) are available individually (having been reissued with great introductions) or in a one-volume book titled The Francis Schaeffer Trilogy. I bought The God Who Is There in the reissued edition and found the lengthy introduction very helpful and informative.

    Younger Christians (I’m 35), read Schaeffer and watch his DVDs! You will find a Christian *treasure trove* which will serve you well in an increasingly post-Christian America and Europe.

    Comment by Christopher Lake — May 17, 2009 @ 1:18 am

  3. Lane-

    Thank you for posting this from Dr. Schaeffer. One of my roles these days is assisting the work of a public policy group (www.aproundtable.org), and Dr. Schaeffer had a profound impact on the forming of this group some 30 years ago through Dr. David Zanotti. By the way, I’d love to see an audio (or radio) documentary produced highlighting the life and ministry of Francis Schaeffer. The problem might be where to stop– it would have to a be a series!

    Comment by Wayne Shepherd — May 17, 2009 @ 4:31 pm

  4. Christopher:

    I owe a great debt to Francis Schaeffer. He helped shape the way I think about my Christianity. I cannot wait to thank him when I get there. But, I am not a young Christian in any sense of the word having attained to the age of 63 by the grace of God alone.

    You may be right about the current generation of younger Christians when you wonder if they have heard of him. But, take heart because I know a few 20 somethings that are ardent Schaeffer fans.

    The good news is that there are many clarion voices, saying much the same thing as Schaeffer, sounding forth today. I speak of men like Mark Driscoll and John Piper to name a couple.

    But Schaeffer may be somewhat more prophetic in that he was raising the call more than 30 years ago. Praise God for his saints. What a privilege to be in the company of Gods people, down through the ages.

    Comment by Doug Hawkinson — May 18, 2009 @ 11:18 am

  5. [...] From a recent Crossway Books blog post: [...]

    Pingback by Michael Krahn : The Ascent to Truth » Francis Schaeffer: "Aping the world's wisdom..." — May 20, 2009 @ 8:37 am

  6. I’m a young Christian who was exposed to Schaeffer at a fairly young age (I think I was about 21). I had heard of him through a musical group called the Orange County Supertones (who sing a song called ‘Escape From Reason’). This and one of their other songs provoked me to borrow ‘Escape From Reason,’ and the book became key to my understanding of philosophy and of contemporary Christianity as well. This kind of serious intellectual thinking is needed in American culture. We grow up thinking we don’t need (or can’t understand) philosophy, and drift without the tools required to build a serious worldview. I look forward to reading more of his books (once I finish The City of God).

    So now at 26, I’m doing my part to change the world, and Schaeffer was a big part of that. I recommend what I have read of his to anyone who needs a scholarly introduction to Christian philosophy, and an introduction to thinking God’s way (instead of trying to think to God’s conclusions through the world’s thought process). May God raise up more philosophers with such an understanding of contemporary and orthodox thought. The world is changing under our feet, and we need the tools to survive. Praise God for Dr. Schaeffer and the others who carry on that legacy.

    Comment by Ben — May 20, 2009 @ 12:59 pm

  7. I am one of many blessed by FAS. I read all his books as they were published but this leaves me with one question I have asked and no-one not even the family have given an answer. Why was his booklet on baptism left out of his collected works?

    Comment by Graham Weeks — May 23, 2009 @ 7:03 am

  8. [...] Read thoughts from Lane T. Dennis and an excerpt chapter entitled The Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way here. [...]

    Pingback by Crossway.blog » Schaeffer’s “No Little People” Available for Free on the Kindle — July 1, 2009 @ 9:44 am

  9. [...] grateful for his life and work here at Crossway, as Schaeffer’s legacy continues to have a significant influence on our publishing ministry. It is a great privilege to publish his complete [...]

    Pingback by Francis Schaeffer’s 100th Birthday | Crossway — January 30, 2012 @ 9:21 am

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