(Photo credit: Pete Unseth, Wikimedia Commons)
I know that I have not posted much this fall. My time has been taken up with Academic Dean duties here at Trinity Christian College. I had hoped to get some writing done on chapter four of my book, but that hasn’t happened. In other research project news, however, I did propose a paper for LauraPalooza 2019. John Miller, Bill Anderson, and I are also looking at doing a session proposal for the Midwestern History Conference. And last week, a group of professors at Trinity read the first chapter of my book and give me comments on it. I got some great critiques and words of encouragement.
Over Thanksgiving break I read a biography in the series from Eerdmans publishers that I’m writing for: Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America by Barry Hankins. It’s a very good book. I met Hankins at a meeting of the Conference on Faith and History (CFH) a while ago. He is the Chair of the History Department at Baylor University in Texas. The book came out in 2008. Since then, he has written books on the 1920s, American Baptists, and Woodrow Wilson.
Francis Schaeffer was a Presbyterian pastor during the twentieth century. He became a missionary to Europe and ran a Christian study center called L’Abri in Switzerland from the 1950s to the 1970s. It became a place where young Europeans who were questioning the meaning of life could come and hear Christian answers to their questions. Francis talked with them, Edith made them meals, and they could stay as long as they wanted. The theme of his teaching was that only Christianity provided philosophically supportable answers to the most important questions of life. He spoke cogently about art, culture, philosophy, politics, and many other topics. Eventually, L’Abri employed a large staff and thousands of young people from the United States and Europe visited. InterVarsity Press turned some of his talks into books, and during the 1960s he spoke at many Christian colleges in the United States. A number of the students who heard him became Christian scholars and college professors as a result of his inspiration. In the 1970s his son Frank Schaeffer and he made two movie series: How Should We Then Live and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? The first gave a history of western thought and culture, described where it had gone wrong, and gave instructions for how Christians should respond. The second was about the dangers of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.
Hankins’s biography was a trip down memory lane for me. I grew up in a home and a church where people read Schaeffer’s books and talked about them. My Mom read books by Edith. I remember reading Schaeffer’s books—I can only remember Escape from Reason and A Christian Manifesto specifically, but I know that I read more—when I was in high school and college. Both movie series were shown at my church. I think that I would give Schaeffer some of the credit for why my best friend in high school and I both became academics (he’s now a Professor of Political Science). For us, Schaeffer made the idea of studying culture and history from a Christian perspective cool.
Once I became a historian, I went back and re-read several of Schaeffer’s books. I found that they have a number of historical arguments and assertions that I just don’t think are correct. Schaeffer wasn’t a trained historian. He was a pastor, and he tended to use stories about the past to make the points he wanted to make about the world, God, and Christian answers to life’s questions. Other Christian historians have also found his historical narratives wanting, even those who were launched on their path to becoming academic historians by hearing Schaeffer speak or reading his works. Hankins notes this. It’s a fascinating story.
As I read Hankins’s biology, I also thought a bit about its structure in relation to what I am planning for my book on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life. In many ways, Hankins’s biography is very different than what I think mine will be. Only one small section of one chapter is about Schaeffer’s childhood, mainly because there are few sources about it. I am projecting that three of the eleven chapters in my book will be on Laura’s childhood. Also, three of the main chapters of Hankins’s work are thematic: they’re about Schaeffer’s works on 1) philosophy, 2) culture, and 3) the Bible. The chapters are not chronological; the time periods covered overlap. I think that my book will mainly be chronological, and the chapters will be pretty self-contained.
This is likely the last post that I’m doing during 2018. I hope that everyone has a blessed Christmas and a good start to 2019.