August 18, 2011
My first exposure to InterVarsity Press came when a friend, George, handed me a copy of Escape from Reason by Francis Schaeffer over forty years ago. It was the original edition imported to the U.S. from Britain. I was in high school at the time and had heard of some of the philosophers and theologians and artists he mentioned. (Being raised Catholic, Aquinas was at least familiar.) Many were completely new, however. Even though I only had a vague sense of what he was writing about, I devoured the book.
The immediate impact was that Schaeffer's book gave me a way to approach my fellow students as we engaged in intellectual repartee. Here was a way to evaluate the failings of modern society and its path to despair. The alternative that the gospel provided was stark and compelling.
Or so I thought. Unfortunately, I was personally not so compelling. Though perhaps I was stark. After several years in a disputatious and confrontational mode, I realized that I was more interested in winning an argument than in winning a friend. But I do not lay the blame for that on Schaeffer. No, Schaeffer himself was well known for treating every seeker who came to him with great respect.
Nonetheless, Schaeffer ultimately gave me a great gift. Looking back, I think what stimulated me was that ideas mattered. They make a difference in how we see the world and ultimately how we live in it.
He also showed me that ideas have a story. They aren’t just abstract concepts that sit there inert. Rather there is a drama at work here. They have a context, often with larger-than-life personalities involved. Ideas grow out of conflict and necessity. People challenge each other across centuries—all seeking to make sense of the world we live in.
And I developed, changed and grew too. I don’t agree now with everything Schaeffer wrote, but I am thankful for his influence on me. He legitimized for me the life of the mind, a life that ultimately is to be in the service of the kingdom.