Tears for fears


In April of 2007, I published an article about Francis Schaeffer in Christianity Today magazine. For our younger readers, Francis Schaeffer had a unique ministry to young intellectuals graduating from college in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Many of them were from evangelical homes with bigger questions than their churches or Christian colleges could handle. Schaeffer was the first Christian leader I encountered who was passionate about a biblical faith, but connected as well to the prevailing secular culture, and intelligent enough to speak into it.

From their chalet in L’Abri Switzerland, Schaeffer and his wife, Edith, held court as students from all over the world came to study and seek a meaningful faith. I wrote this article because I felt that in all the things that have been written about Francis Schaeffer I’ve noticed that not many people talk about his compassion for the lost, and that was his greatest impact upon me. Every few years I bring this article up again because of its timelessness and its emphasis on what continues to be missing in much of Christian mission in the world. So it’s time, again …

He was a small man — barely five feet in his knickers, knee socks, and ballooning white shirts. For two weeks, first as a freshman, and then again as a senior, I sat in my assigned seat at Wheaton College chapel and heard him cry. He was the evangelical conscience at the end of the 20th century, weeping over a world that most of his peers dismissed as not worth saving, except to rescue a few souls in the doomed planet’s waning hours.

Francis Schaeffer was hard to listen to. His voice grated. It was a high-pitched scream, and when mixed with his eastern Pennsylvania accent, resulted in something like Elmer Fudd on speed. As freshmen, unfamiliar with the thought and works of modern man, we thought it was funny. As seniors, it wasn’t funny any more. After we had studied Kant, Hegel, Sartre, and Camus, the voice was now more like an existential shriek. If Edvard Munch’s The Scream had a voice, it would sound like Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer, who died in 1984, understood the existential cry of a humanity trapped in a prison of its own making.

Schaeffer was the closest thing to a “man of sorrows” I have seen. He could not allow himself to be happy when most of the world was desperately lost and he knew why. He was the first Christian I found who could embrace faith and the despair of a lost humanity all at the same time. Though he had been found, he still knew what it was to be lost.

Schaeffer was the first Christian leader who taught me to weep over the world instead of judging it. Schaeffer modeled a caring and thoughtful engagement in the history of philosophy and its influence through movies, novels, plays, music, and art. Here was Schaeffer, teaching at Wheaton College about the existential dilemma expressed in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film, Blowup, when movies were still forbidden to students. He didn’t bat an eye. He ignored our legalism and went on teaching because he had been personally gripped by the desperation of such cultural statements.

Schaeffer taught his followers not to sneer at or dismiss the dissonance in modern art. He showed how these artists were merely expressing the outcome of the presuppositions of the modern era that did away with God and put all conclusions on a strictly human, rational level. Instead of shaking our heads at a depressing, dark, abstract work of art, the true Christian reaction should be to weep for the lost person who created it. Schaeffer was a rare Christian leader who advocated understanding and empathizing with non-Christians instead of taking issue with them.

The normal human reaction is to hate what we don’t understand. This is the stuff of prejudice and the cause of hate crimes and escalating culture wars. It is much more Christ-like to identify with those we don’t understand — to discover why people do what they do, because we care about them, even if they are our ideological enemies.

Anyway, Jesus asked us to love our enemies. Part of loving is learning to understand. Too few Christians today seek to understand why their enemies think in ways they find abhorrent. Too many of us are too busy bashing feminists, secular humanists, gay activists, and political liberals to consider why they believe what they do. It’s difficult to sympathize with people you see as threats to your children and your neighborhood. It’s hard to weep over those whom you have declared as your enemies.

Perhaps a good beginning would be to more fully grasp the depravity of our own souls, and the depth to which God’s grace had to go to reach us. I don’t think you can cry over the world if you’ve never cried over yourself.

To be sure, Francis Schaeffer’s influence has declined in recent years, as postmodernism has supplanted the modernity he dissected for so long. Schaeffer is not without critics, even among Christians. But perhaps, in the end, his greatest influence on the church will not be his words as much as his tears. The same things that made Francis Schaeffer cry in his day need to make us cry in ours.


This entry was posted in God's love, gospel of welcome, grace turned outward and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Tears for fears

  1. ” to discover why people do what they do”

    A subtle refocusing of the above line toward genuine introspection might indeed address, even resolve, some of the many ills we perceive as being at the heart of our societal woes and personal prejudices.
    If we don’t look at ourselves objectively and recognize that we may be part of the problem, then we’ll unlikely be part of the solution.

    Shedding tears, not only for the lost but also for own wretchedness, is absolutely necessary. It clearly proves both a human and a Divine nature resides within us. The cleansing effect is truly a miracle and a blessing. Joy does come in the morning…

    Depth of mercy! Can there be
    Mercy still reserved for me?
    Can my God His wrath forbear,
    Me, the chief of sinners, spare?

    I have long withstood His grace,
    Long provoked Him to His face,
    Would not hearken to His calls,
    Grieved Him by a thousand falls.

    I have spilt His precious blood,
    Trampled on the Son of God,
    Filled with pangs unspeakable,
    I, who yet am not in hell!

    I my Master have denied,
    I afresh have crucified,
    And profaned His hallowed Name,
    Put Him to an open shame.

    Whence to me this waste of love?
    Ask my Advocate above!
    See the cause in Jesus’ face,
    Now before the throne of grace.

    Jesus speaks, and pleads His blood!
    He disarms the wrath of God;
    Now my Father’s mercies move,
    Justice lingers into love.

    Kindled His relentings are,
    Me He now delights to spare,
    Cries, “How shall I give thee up?”
    Lets the lifted thunder drop.

    Lo! I still walk on the ground:
    Lo! an Advocate is found:
    “Hasten not to cut Him down,
    Let this barren soul alone.”

    There for me the Savior stands,
    Shows His wounds and spreads His hands.
    God is love! I know, I feel;
    Jesus weeps and loves me still.

    Pity from Thine eye let fall,
    By a look my soul recall;
    Now the stone to flesh convert,
    Cast a look, and break my heart.

    Now incline me to repent,
    Let me now my fall lament,
    Now my foul revolt deplore,
    Weep, believe, and sin no more.

    ~ “Depth of Mercy” by Charles Wesley

    Shalom, Peace…

  2. Toni says:

    Sorry it took awhile to comment on this rather long reading but, so full of great information we can all identify with then, now, and always. I have learned to believe more as I get older the idea you don’t have to like choices many folks have made and that would include beliefs you do not condone but, doesn’t mean you cannot still love them as a person no matter what. Each of us have some thing someone may not like but, their are folks who love us very much.

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