Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

This is the blog area for the Evangelical Philosophical Society and its journal, Philosophia Christi.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bruce Little on the Francis Schaeffer Papers

We recently interviewed Bruce A. Little, a member of the Executive Committee of the EPS and professor of philosophy of religion at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, about the recent collection of Francis Schaeffer papers that are now under SBTS's stewardship. Bruce is also the author of Francis Schaeffer: A Mind and Heart for God (P&R Books), and most recently, God, Why This Evil? (Hamilton Books).

Broadly speaking, what is in this collection that philosophy and apologetics readers of Schaeffer could find interesting?

Well, I think everything. We have the personal correspondence, articles he wrote, notes for all his books and films, clippings with notations, tapes of the Friday night discussions at L’Abri and sermon notes. The material came in 85 boxes and two file cabinets. All of this gives insight into the thought life of Francis Schaeffer. I have been rather broad here, but we have just received the physical collection and there has not been time to go through everything, but it is my conviction that everything we have has relevance to understanding Schaeffer’s apologetic ministry---in one way or another.

What are the plans for this collection at the Center?

The library at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has assumed the responsibility for this collection in terms of housing and preparation. I still remain the director of the collection.  Southeastern is involved in all this work which is a great blessing as the seminary is assuming the entire financial burden for this.  Everything is to be digitized and in some cases transcribed. Once this is done, and everything is indexed, the collection will be ready for examination as part of our archival collection for purposes of scholarly research. None of it will be published as Schaeffer did not want that to happen and that is written into the contract we have with the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation. Also, I want to be clear. At this time we only have custodianship for the material, not ownership. Ownership belongs to the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation. There are conditions in the contract under which one day it could become the property of Southeastern.

How did this collection come to be housed at the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, for which you are the director.

Two years ago this November the Center organized a conference on Francis A. Schaeffer. It was the first conference ever just on Schaeffer—or so I am told. One of the speakers was Schaeffer’s son-in-law Udo Middelmann who is the president of the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation. It is the Foundation that has the legal ownership of the material This conference was the beginning of a relationship with the Middelmanns, but never as a way of having the Schaeffer material come our way. In fact, I did not even know that such material existed until I had a conversation with Udo and Deborah, a conversation they initiated. Of course we are honored that they would entrust these materials to us as preservers and custodians. We see this as something for the entire evangelical world, not just Southern Baptist.

Much has been written on Francis Schaeffer, some true, some untrue, some known, some speculated. How do you see this collection of unpublished materials contributing to both (a) knowledge of Schaeffer’s thinking and life and (b) his influence on twentieth-century evangelicalism

I think the significance cannot be overstated for those who have a serious interest in Schaeffer and 21st century apologetics. We all know that personal correspondence is large in understanding the thinking of an individual such as Schaeffer. As you say, a lot has been said about Schaeffer, some of which is founded on fact and others simply conjecture. This collection, I believe will be able to set the record straight for those interested in knowing the truth about his theology and his apologetics which are obviously interrelated.

In your estimation, what are the top three lessons that evangelical philosophers, apologists and theologians can learn from Schaeffer?

I am not sure I am good at making the judgment that these are the top three, but they are, if not the top three, on a very short list for that honor.

The first was his view of man: as Schaeffer says,  “I want to add here that evangelicals have often made a serious mistake by equating the fact that man is lost and under God’s judgment with the idea that man is nothing---a zero. . . . . . There is something great about man, and we have lost perhaps our greatest opportunity of evangelism in our generation by not insisting that it is the Bible which explains why man is great." I think this is enormous for apologetics. It makes the work of apologetics more than argument making and gives a human face which I find is often lacking in our apologetics today.

The second was his belief that Christianity was not just about going to heaven, it was about reality. So he was confident that when people tried to live against the way the world is it would push back at them. For Schaeffer, only Christianity could answer the questions of life in a way that was consistent with reality. Schaeffer would allow people to give him the best explanation they had and then he would should that that explanation failed to explain the way reality was ordered. He would have called this work, pre-evangelism. This approach to natural revelation I believe is extremely useful, especially in today’s philosophical climate.

The third was his insistence that the hallmark of Christianity is love and holiness. The first deals with the spirit in which we engage the unbeliever and the other with one’s personal life. Too often those of us with the truth tend to be something less than loving as we engage the unbeliever, we tend to be paternalistic and defensive. Furthermore, often we do not listen carefully or honestly. Schaeffer’s love for humanity as that which is made in the image of God spoke volumes to Schaeffer and how he engaged the unbeliever apologetically. I think we can learn from this.

You can learn more about Little's Center at SEBTS by visiting their website here.

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