Truth with Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer
By Bryan A. Follis
Reviewed by Dr. Michael Vlach
18.2 (Fall 2007) : 250-251
For those interested in the ministry of Francis Schaeffer or apologetics in general, Truth with Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer is a helpful book. Bryan A. Follis, rector of All Saints’ Church, offers a heartwarming and intellectually stimulating presentation of the apologetic ministry of Francis Schaeffer, which he developed from his dissertation at Trinity College, Dublin.
Schaeffer possesses a mythical and even heroic status for many evangelicals today, a status that is rightly deserved. Yet, while Schaeffer has left much in the form of writings and video series, he and his ministry are often misunderstood. Follis, though, does a good service by explaining with precision and clarity the true Francis Schaeffer. This includes who Schaeffer was as a person and his approach to apologetics.
Follis shows that understanding Schaeffer starts with knowing what motivated him. Schaeffer, a convert from agnosticism, was driven by love—love for God, love for people, and a love for truth, a combination that is rarely found.
As well known as Schaeffer is because of his ideas, he was primarily a frontline evangelist, not an academic. Thus, Schaeffer’s theology of apologetics was not always air-tight, nor did Schaeffer feel the need to respond to every criticism. Schaeffer also did not believe that “there is any one apologetic which meets the needs of all people.”
While Schaeffer certainly did his share of speaking and writing to large audiences, he was at his best when he was engaging individuals. As Follis points out, so many were willing to listen to him because they knew he cared. Whether it was the maid at the hotel, the man with cerebral palsy asking nearly incoherent questions, or the disheartened and lonely visitor to L’Abri, Schaeffer carefully listened to individuals and reached out to them with the love of Christ. Any attempts to understand Schaeffer apart from comprehending his love for the person will certainly be unsuccessful.
Follis is also helpful in clearing up confusion about Schaeffer’s views and methodology. He shows how recent attempts to label Schaeffer as a presuppositionalist or evidentialist are inaccurate. He incorporated elements from both systems, but was not an adherent of either approach.
Schaeffer adopted much from the presuppositionalist, Cornelius Van Til, but he also differed with Van Til in significant areas. One difference was that Schaeffer was more open to allowing the unbeliever to question the truth claims of Christianity, something which Van Til opposed. In reality, Schaeffer forged his own apologetic method, one that Follis says is close to the verificational method. This approach starts with hypotheses and subjects them to various arguments to see if they are true.
One of the more interesting parts of the book is Follis’s description of how Van Til viewed Schaeffer and why Schaeffer was reluctant to engage in public dispute with Van Til. Follis also evaluates the critics of Schaeffer, like Clark Pinnock and others, to show that they largely misunderstood Schaeffer. Follis shows that attempts to label Schaeffer as a rationalist are misguided, especially since Schaeffer was so reliant upon prayer and the Holy Spirit. For Follis, to consider Schaeffer a rationalist is ridiculous because he lived his life so much in light of the supernatural.
Follis’s final chapter, “Conclusion: Love as the Final Apologetic,” is powerful. Here he shows how the apologetic of Francis Schaeffer can help today in the postmodern era. With keen insight, Schaeffer anticipated what is known now as postmodernism. Though one must be aware of the mindset of today’s postmodern, he or she is still made in the image of God and must be challenged to see the emptiness of his or her worldview and embrace Jesus Christ.
Follis offers helpful instruction on how a Schaefferian approach can deal with recent trends. Though Schaeffer was relational and emphasized community, he never did so at the expense of objective truth. Thus, Follis criticizes the church’s current fascination with postmodernism. He also singles out the emerging church movement as abandoning the importance of objective truth in its quest to be more relevant, mystical, and community-oriented. As Follis points out, Schaeffer believed that being relevant or community-oriented and committed to objective truth were not mutually exclusive. Both can exist simultaneously.
This reviewer found the book to be inspiring as well as informative. For dealing with such a large topic as the life and beliefs of Francis Schaeffer in a little over 200 pages, one could criticize Follis for not discussing this or that, but that could be said of nearly every book of this nature. What Follis intended to address, he did well.
One does not have to agree with Schaeffer on every detail to learn from him. For Schaeffer, apologetics was not just a theoretical or academic issue. It was personal and it was done in love, something all can learn from.