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.