Tuesday, May 29, 2007

It Wasn't Falwell. It Was Francis Schaeffer

From The Huffington Post to The Weekly Standard, articles have appeared (some downright evil, some irenic) about the legacy of the late Jerry Falwell and his impact on the American scene--especially on the electorate.

First, a disclaimer: Falwell and I weren't on the same page when it came to separatism, eschatology and charisma. But he was far more than the cardboard cut-out that he's been made out to be. His faith was real, deep and strong. He had a passion for the lost and a special place in his heart for alcoholics. Very early on, Thomas Road Baptist established a home for alcoholic men.

But it wasn't Jerry Falwell who established the movement that the Moral Majority expressed. It was Francis Schaeffer. It was Schaeffer's writings and films (How Then Shall We Live? [1976] and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? [1980]) which inspired a generation of students and believers to re-engage in the political process.

Falwell's strain of social involvement was rooted in early 20th century fundamentalist pietism which regarded socio-political engagement as useless at best and harmful to the gospel at worse. Schaeffer's background was in the Reformed tradition which emphasized, in the tradition of William Wilberforce and Abraham Kuyper, the supremacy of Christ over all areas of life.

Falwell's success in mobilizing millions of American believers to engage in the social and political issues of the 1980s and beyond was inconceivable apart from Schaeffer--who died in twenty-three years ago, in 1984.


Anonymous said...

Glenn -

I'd nominate an earlier voice; that of Carl F. H. Henry. Read 'The Uneasy Conscience of Fundamentalism'; it is still relevant today.

One thing I missed from the all the Falwell retrospectives is how he changed the landscape. Before he stood up and spoke up and organized, the 'main stream' (left) of the religious community got all the attention. Falwell broke that monopoly.

<>< Ron Troup - rltroup@netzero.net

Glenn Layne said...

Good observations, thanks, GL