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Taking the roof off: The apologetics of Francis Schaeffer

My parents had a hardback version of Francis Scaheffer’s How Should We Then Live? sitting on a shelf in our house. It was a large, beautiful book, but I never took the time to read it. Honestly, the title never made sense to me as a child, and I had little interest in reading anything that I thought could be difficult to understand.

Years later I enrolled in a Ph.D. program and once again encountered Schaeffer’s work. An entire seminar focused on the ethics of Schaeffer, and I had the task of reading virtually everything that Schaeffer had published. That seminar changed my life and the way I think.

“Taking the roof off” of worldviews

One key element of Schaeffer’s work that I found especially influential was his apologetic method of “taking the roof off.” Schaeffer argued that a person’s worldview is similar to a house; however, there is only one blueprint that can effectively explain all aspects of life and be lived out consistently—a Christian worldview. All other worldviews are defective in one way or another.

Taking off someone’s roof involves exposing the weaknesses and inconsistencies of his worldview. This is a necessary but dangerous task. When a roof is removed, Schaeffer states that “each man must stand naked and wounded before the truth of what is.” The reality of the world in which we live comes flooding in. Therefore, we must carefully deconstruct the roof so that the house can be rebuilt with truth.

Once the roof is carefully removed and the individual has encountered reality, it is time to reconstruct his house. This is where the transformative power of the gospel comes into play. Schaeffer writes, “The truth that we let in first is not a dogmatic statement of the truth of the Scriptures, but the truth of the external world and the truth of what man himself is. This is what shows him his need. The Scriptures then show him the real nature of his lostness and the answer to it.” No longer must one live according to the course of the world. The true truth of the gospel allows us to see the world as God created it. We recognize the influence of the fall and the impact of sin upon our lives, but the believer now has the Holy Spirit to help him make sense of it all.

Changing my approach to engaging with others

Since having encountered Schaeffer’s apologetic method, my approach to engaging others in discussions about life, ethics and theology has changed. No longer do I set out to win an argument or defeat my opponent. I learned to care for his soul and engage in conversation for the sake of long-term life change. The truth of reality hurts when an inconsistent worldview is deconstructed. However, we do not leave the other individual naked and wounded. We provide the answer to building a worldview that can weather the storms—the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ alone.

Francis Schaeffer was a man ahead of his times. When evangelicals were ready to adopt the arguments of abortion-on-demand, Schaeffer was calling us to protect children in the womb. When evangelicals were questioning the veracity of Scripture, Schaeffer was calling us to biblical fidelity. Interestingly, despite the fact that Schaeffer himself was a Presbyterian, he took an interest in the battle for the Bible taking place in the Southern Baptist Convention and personally encouraged some of the key leaders of the Conservative Resurgence to stay the course.

I am thankful for the work of Francis Schaeffer in my own life and the life of my denomination. To this day, I regularly recommend his work to my students. I encourage them to start with his trilogy—The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason and He Is There and He Is Not Silent. For those who want more, they can then move to his classic work How Should We Then Live? Those who take the time to read these books will no doubt walk away changed for the better.

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