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The Mannishness of Man and the Imago Dei: An Analysis of Francis Schaeffer’s Anthropology and Apologetic Methodology

June 8, 2021
By Christopher Talbot

Editor’s note: this essay appears in the Spring 2021 issue of Eikon.


Much has been made in recent years of Francis Schaeffer’s apologetic approach, especially in light of his theological influences.[1] While questions persist as to the framework of his methodology, Schaeffer’s apologetic continues to influence and intrigue. Many have sought to place Schaeffer in a variety of different apologetic categories. To note, those who evaluate apologetic approaches have often focused on one’s cognitive faculties and epistemology. These various taxonomies include theological and philosophical discussions about the noetic effects of sin, and how optimistic or pessimistic one should be about the capabilities of human reason.[2] While these discussions are important, if one focuses only on mental capacities, the discussion will inevitably be reductionistic towards the whole human person. Instead, one should embrace a holistic view of man, grounded in a theological anthropology and demonstrated in both the theory and practice of apologetics. While this approach can be done with a variety of apologetic methods, Francis Schaeffer’s approach is persuasive in its nearly inimitable focus on the human person. Schaeffer was well-known for his care and compassion of people, which was ultimately rooted in his biblical-theological conviction. Therefore, I argue in this articlethat Francis Schaeffer’s understanding and conception of theological anthropology had direct implications for his apologetic methodology.

Schaeffer’s Anthropology 

Schaeffer wrote on a variety of subjects in his more than twenty books, including epistemology, art, culture, theology, and even Bible commentary. That said, his views are not always consistent across all his works. Therefore, much of what is offered here is an attempted synthesis of his writings across his literary corpus.[3] To be clear, whether his apologetic logically began with an anthropology or not, he understood Christianity as a system that begins with a few basic truths, which include, “the existence of the infinite-personal God, man’s creation in His image and a space-time Fall.”[4] He often referred back to the inherent nature of man, human personality, sin’s effect on mankind, and man’s responsibility in the universe. He believed a theological anthropology to be fundamental to the Christian message.[5] While Schaeffer spoke at length about the nature of man, it may be helpful to address his framework according to particular components and terms.

“The Mannishness of Man”

At the center of Schaeffer’s anthropological understanding is what he calls the “mannishness of man.” By this term, Schaeffer generally means the personality of man.[6] He writes, “Man has a ‘mannishness.’ You find it wherever you find man — not only in the men who live today, but in the artifacts of history.”[7] By “mannishness” Schaeffer does not offer a negative descriptor, but instead highlights man’s true humanity. This “mannishness” is something man can never escape because it is inherent in his nature. This quality is the touchstone for man’s experience with reality. Schaeffer writes, “It is true that . . . man has touched something, not nothing, but what he has touched is not God, but the objective reality of the external world and the ‘mannishness’ of man that God has created.”[8] He speaks here of man’s created nature placed there by his Creator.

Schaeffer understands this “mannishness” to be intentional, and not the product of blind, mechanistic chance.[9]He speaks of this expression in relation to Romans 1 and the appeal to human experience that is manifested in man.[10]Further, it is this truth of man’s inherent nature that is so critical in demonstrating the truth of the Christian faith.[11] The existence of this inherent nature is the reason Schaeffer argues man is able to do certain things even though he is affected by sin. He posits that man is still able to love, and still able to make things that are beautiful. He writes, “it is because they can still do these things that they manifest that they are God’s image-bearers or, to put another way, they assert their unique ‘mannishness’ as men.”[12] Further, this “mannishness” includes a longing for significance, love, beauty, and much more.[13] This longing culminates throughout Schaeffer’s work as a longing for meaning.

Man’s inherent nature as described in “the mannishness of man” is the internal truth that is then related to the form and existence of the external universe. He often reminded his readers that all of reality is connected. It is this conjunction of internal and external that he uses so well to demonstrate man’s existential longings and subsequent satisfaction.[14]The personal nature of man, the personal beginning of the universe, and a personal God, all walk hand-in-hand in Schaeffer’s theology and worldview. Connecting all of these aspects together is Schaeffer’s concern for the metaphysical, focusing on the nature of being, both in God and in man.[15] All of life is personal.

While he generally uses the term consistently, at times Schaeffer can convolute the “mannishness of man.” He is largely referring specifically to the inherent, internal aspects of man. However, at least once he explicitly states that the “mannishness of man” is simply what it means to be made in the image of God.[16] At times, it seems Schaeffer can be referring to longings beyond man, rather than certain inherent characteristics. In the end, though, when Schaeffer refers to man’s “mannishness,” he is appealing to his readers to recognize what it means to be fully and completely a human person.

The Image of God

Connected to this term of “mannishness” is the biblical phrase, “the image of God.” The image of God plays a significant role in Schaeffer’s understanding not only theoretically, but also practically. Jerram Barrs writes, “The conviction that all human persons are the image of God was not simply a theoretical theological affirmation for him, nor was it just a wonderful truth to be used in apologetic discussion.”[17] Since Schaeffer refers to various elements that may be included in the image of God, it may be best to understand Schaeffer’s anthropology as an integrated approach, utilizing and combining various components. When writing specifically on the image of God, he generally places a high emphasis on two functions: rationality and relationship. These two capacities serve his apologetic arguments well. However, he does include other facets as well, including dominion. Yet he argues for the inclusion of these elements not on man’s ability, but rather because of man’s role as a creature reflecting attributes of his Creator.[18]

To be clear, these components should not be understood as strictly functional. William Edgar argues that “it is clear from his statements that the image of God is constitutional more than functional.”[19] Edgar argues that for Schaeffer, the image of God is summed up in four attributes within man: morality, rationality, creativity, and love.[20] In other places Schaeffer includes in this list “significance.”[21] For Schaeffer, these attributes seem to be a part of man’s design. These are attributes placed within man as creatures made by his Creator; they are part of what it means to be human. While Schaeffer never writes systematically on this issue, these attributes seem to be grounded in man’s constitution.[22]

Some of Schaeffer’s clearest formulations on the image of God are found in his work Genesis in Space and Time. He writes, “What differentiates Adam and Eve from the rest of creation is that they were created in the image of God.[23] Schaeffer couches this language of distinction in contrast to naturalistic understandings of man, a common dichotomy found throughout his writings. Instead of a more mechanistic beginning, Schaeffer argues the Christian knows who he is, having a right understanding of his origin. Here Schaeffer implies that the image of God manifests itself in the possibility of fellowship and personality. He states, “because I am made in the image of God and because God is personal, both a personal relationship with God and the concept of fellowship as fellowship has validity.”[24] He also argues that the image of God makes communication possible, and that God can reveal propositional truth to those who are made in his image. He writes elsewhere, “I am made in the image of God. This being so, I am rational and I am moral; thus there will be a conscious and responsible behavior.”[25] Clearly, much is included in Schaffer’s understanding of the imago Dei.[26]

However, these comments concerning fellowship, personality, and communication are somewhat peripheral in his commentary on the image in Genesis in Space and Time. Instead, Schaeffer places an emphasis in this volume on man’s role in exercising dominion. He states, “Dominion itself is an aspect of the image of God in the sense that man, being created in the image of God, stands between God and all which God chose to put under man.”[27] Schaeffer picks this theme up in a later work, calling the practice of dominion mankind’s “lordship” over all creation — drawing a connection to Christ’s Lordship for the redeemed believer.[28] Even by implication, this understanding of man being engaged in the cultural mandate is seen throughout Schaeffer’s work, not least of which in his writings on art and cultural engagement.[29] He argues      that to be made in the image of God “means he can make moral choices. Also, man is rational. This means he can think. It also means that man is creative — we find that men everywhere make works of art. It is also the reason man loves.”[30]

For Schaeffer, the image of God contains man’s “personality” in which man has freedom and ability to influence history. He understands man to be a causal agent, able to influence the course of history with the choices set before him. Schaeffer states that even though man is a sinner, before any redemptive work of Christ is applied to him, he still has ability to do tremendous works and is not subject to the “wheels of determinism.” Thus, while Schaffer is certainly faithful to his Presbyterian and Calvinistic theology, he does not seem to subscribe to some form of meticulous providence or fatalistic determinism. Instead, his understanding of man is more akin to Anthony Hoekema’s conception of a “created person.”[31] Man is both dependent upon his Creator, and responsible for his own decisions.

Thus, Schaeffer’s understanding of the image of God is manifold. He does not seem concerned with an overly systematic approach here, and thus does not explicitly analyze the congruency between these various attributes. For Schaffer, though, all of the various components of the image of God are rooted in man’s personal nature, which is designed by a personal God, and has the potential to live in harmony with a personal universe. In other words, man was designed for harmony, both internally and externally.

The Effects of Sin

While Schaeffer had a strong focus on the image of God, he had an equally robust understanding of the effects of sin on man. As was his practice, Schaeffer gave this theological concept his own term: “the dilemma of man.” However, John Voss argues that there is some confusion here, stating, “There is a certain amount of ambiguity in Schaeffer’s use of the term ‘dilemma of man,’ but it is essentially this: man has moral motions, yet he consistently fails to meet the expectations of his own standards. The short-fall between man’s ‘nobility,’ or morality, and his ‘cruelty,’ or immorality, is man’s dilemma.”[32] To put it in more theological words, man’s dilemma is the existential tension he experiences that is rooted in an objective, true reality due to his sinful actions. He also refers to this tension and consequence as “man’s abnormality.”

The subject of man’s sinfulness and dilemma is present in much of Schaeffer’s apologetic. He states,

Christianity says man is now abnormal — he is separated from his Creator, who is his only sufficient reference point — not by a metaphysical limitation, but by true moral guilt. As a result he is now also separated from himself. Therefore, when he is involved in cruelty, he is not being true to what he was initially created to be. Cruelty is a symptom of abnormality and a result of a moral, historic, space-time Fall.[33]

Man’s abnormality is not intrinsic to the “mannishness of man.” If his abnormality was intrinsic, then man would have always been this way and there would be no hope for a solution.[34] For Schaeffer, man’s sinfulness maintains two prevalent themes: (1) true moral guilt before God and (2) separation in man’s fundamental relationships.

First, Schaeffer often stressed the importance of understanding man’s true moral guilt      and not just mere psychological guilt. Schaeffer challenges the notion that man simply has “guilty feelings” without standing truly and legally guilty for his sin before God. Of course, man’s true guilt manifests itself in real psychological guilt, but his moral standing precedes the emotions. Man’s abnormality is not simply metaphysical finiteness or psychological conviction, but a real moral and legal problem which requires an actual solution. Schaeffer writes, “Because man is guilty before the Lawgiver of the universe, doing what is contrary to His character, his sin is significant and his is morally significant in a significant history. Man has true moral guilt.”[35] Man, then, is a fundamentally moral creature made in the image of his Creator.

Second, Schaeffer often conceptualized man’s sinfulness as “separation.” Schaeffer listed four different divisions that take place because of man’s sin.[36] First and foremost was man’s separation from God by his sinful actions which results in his true moral guilt. From this separation comes all other divided relationships and leads to repercussions for the rest of reality. Second, man is separated from himself. This division is the reason for man’s psychological problems, which includes his psychosis and self-deception. In this category, consisting of man’s internal separation, Schaeffer not only includes epistemological implications, but sexual and physical effects as well.[37] Third, man is separated from his fellow man, which leads to sociological problems. Interestingly enough, here Schaeffer discusses the existence of two humanities: a godly (redeemed) humanity and an ungodly (unredeemed) humanity. Those who have been redeemed can experience the restoration of this division and live within in a new, restored community. Lastly, man experiences separation from nature itself. Here man has lost his full dominion and now nature often rules over him. Schaeffer writes, “The simple fact is that in wanting to be what man as a creature could not be, man lost what he could be. In every area and relationship men have lost what finite man could be in his proper place.”[38] Contrary to more reductionistic construals of man’s sin, Schaeffer understood man’s sin to have personal, psychological, sexual, physical, sociological, and even ecological implications — all because of the primary division between God and man due to the Fall.

In contrast to other views, Schaeffer argues that humanity still retains something of the image of God after the fall.[39] He argues that the fall does not affect man’s unique distinction from other things in creation.[40] Further, he contends that man retains the “mannishness of man” after the Fall. He still retains the image of God, although it is “twisted, broken, abnormal.”[41] He also comments on Romans 1:23, asserting that by sinning, man who was made in God’s image is now making God in his own image.[42] He did not believe the effect of sin to be some kind of philosophical abstraction. Instead of merely an existential lostness or hopelessness, he articulates man as a rebel against his Creator, with real moral guilt and responsibility.[43] Schaeffer understood sin to have real consequences in space and time.

Regenerate Humanity

Schaeffer is clear that the solution to man’s dilemma does not come from man; it comes from God. The solution rests upon Christ, the God-man, who through his death on the cross in space and time rectifies man’s true moral guilt with the infinite value of Christ’s life.[44] He understands participating in the Christian life, as a regenerate believer, to be a “restoration” of what one is meant to be — that to be a Christian is to live out the intended purpose of an image bearer. Christians experience something similar to the original order of creation, though now under a different covenant and dependent on Christ’s mediatorial work.[45]

Schaeffer understood the finished work of Christ to not only bring healing to man’s true moral guilt, but to bring substantial healing to all four fundamental relationships. That is, Christ’s work will bring “healing which will be perfect in every aspect when Christ comes again in history in the future.”[46] He understands our justification to be immediate upon regeneration, and all other healing to be taking place and to be fully realized in the eschaton.Summarizing much of Schaeffer’s thought on the topic, Udo Middlemann writes,

Only in the Bible is the human person addressed, valued, and respected as a thinking, responsible individual. Here are the roots for a genuine humanism, i.e., a concern for the human being who, having been made in the image of God, is now fallen and in need of God’s reliable information about all of life and redemption. This includes an explanation of the mandate for man to live, work, and create. Only in the Bible do we have enough information to know that the world is no longer what God meant it to be. We now live after the fall of man. God is not found in every aspect of history. We live by his word, not by what we find in nature. Neither earth nor nature is our model. They are also in need of redemption.[47]

Schaeffer understood the redemptive work on the cross to have multiple implications for Christian living. While the focal point is on Christ’s work, Schaeffer understood it to be the responsibility of redeemed humanity to partake in restorative work. Schaeffer believed that much of this healing work is done through the visible and transformational work of the church, the new humanity.

Holistic Anthropology and Man’s Responsibility

While not excessively, Schaffer does mention man’s constitution in his work. In agreement with much of the historic Christian church, he states that God made man both body and soul, and that redemption reaches the whole of man. Interestingly, it is in his short work Art and the Bible that Schaeffer discusses this element of anthropology. Schaeffer bases much of his discussion on the importance of art for the Christian on the fact that God made the whole of man, and that when God saves the whole of man, Christ is Lord over the whole of his life.[48] God created the whole man, and therefore God is interested in just that: his work of dominion, his ability to communicate, his love, his fellowship, his influence on history, and much more. Schaeffer pushes against a theological reductionism that may understand man as merely a soul to be saved. Man is both body and soul, and Christ’s work and lordship extends to both parts.

In light of his constitution, Schaeffer argues that man’s redemptive relationship with God is the only thing that can integrate the whole of the human person.[49] He states, “It has got to be the whole of man coming to know this is truth, acting upon it, living it out in his life, and worshipping God.”[50] The application of the gospel, in Schaeffer’s understanding, was comprehensive for the entirety of man and the whole of reality. Much of his ministry was focused on the reconciling nature of the gospel, and how the good news brought peace both relationally, spiritually, and existentially to the human person.

In synthesizing Schaeffer’s view, there are two related elements that highlight the internal-external dynamic: (1) man’s significance and (2) man’s responsibility. Man is the pinnacle of God’s creation, reflecting in his own personality a personal God “who is there.” Yet, man is also culpable for his actions, and maintains real moral guilt before God for his sin. The interplay between these two elements is a fundamental theme throughout Schaeffer’s apologetics.[51] Schaeffer, like much of the Christian tradition, understands man to be both the greatest creative work of God and also the agent of the historic Fall. This tension certainly speaks to the existential crisis Schaeffer often addresses. He writes about the universality of this crisis, stating, “Thus, when you face a twentieth-century man, whether he is brilliant or an ordinary man of the street, a man of the university or the docks, you are facing a man in tension; and it is this tension which works on your behalf as you speak to him.”[52] While each person is unique, they share a universal problem.

Man, then, is designed to pursue his fundamental goal, which applies to the entirety of his life. This purpose has in scope a holistic view of man. Schaeffer, clarifying man’s purpose in the world, writes,

[T]he Bible speaks of the purpose of our creation when it says to love God with all our heart and soul and mind. Yet this must be understood in the Scriptural framework. It is not to love God in the concept of a Kierkegaardian… leap. It is not to love God as though faith were something in itself. The answer, according to the Bible, is not a faith in faith, but a faith in one who is there and, therefore, it is a living relationship with him. It is to love God with all our heart and soul and mind, but definitely in the Biblical sense.[53]

Thus, for Schaeffer the end goal of man is to fulfill the greatest commandment. Just as Scripture commands, this is a love that includes our thoughts, affections, and will. This understanding of purpose, much like the rest of his anthropology, is not particularly unique, though he writes about these themes in a compelling manner.

Across these different aspects of anthropology Schaeffer does not depart from a historic, fundamental view of Christian theology. While his views are not always systematic, Schaeffer holds to a fundamental, and theologically orthodox understanding of man. That said, few apologists seem to spend as much time on the image of God and man’s inherent nature as Schaeffer does. He wrote with a particular concern for his fellow man. Thus, it is not Schaeffer’s theology that is unique, in and of itself. Instead, what may be particularly unique is Schaeffer’s faithfulness to apply this theological anthropology and his genuine love for people.

Methodology in Light of His Anthropology

As demonstrated, Schaeffer has a thoroughly orthodox anthropology found throughout his writings. In Schaeffer’s various apologetic arguments, whether they be metaphysical, epistemological, or moral, he places man’s personality as a central component to his thinking.[54] When a new issue would present itself in culture, Schaeffer’s main concern was often the place of the human being in the discussion.[55] The question, then, is how Schaeffer’s anthropology was brought to bear in his approach to apologetics. That is, how did his theology affect his methodology? One author posits the answer clearly, “His entire apologetic method was driven by compassion for every person whom he saw as created in the image of God.”[56] Much is made of Schaeffer’s epistemology, and his connection to Cornelius Van Til, J. Oliver Buswell, E. J. Carnell and others. Yet, these assessments too often offer a limited view of Schaeffer’s apologetic. In light of his thoroughly biblical anthropology, Schaeffer has a multi-layered approach that is both Scripturally faithful and culturally compelling.[57] In conceptualizing Schaeffer’s person-sensitive method, it may be helpful to think about two major components that are interrelated and complementary. Schaeffer’s anthropologically-informed methodology can be assessed by his (1) argumentation, and (2) his ministerial and personal practice.

First, while Schaeffer certainly avoided any formulaic approach to his own apologetic, he did write about apologetics in a variety of capacities. Discussing the differences between Buswell and Van Til, Schaeffer’s first point of agreement between the two apologists is that “Both sides agree that the unregenerate man cannot be argued into heaven apart from the Sovereign Call of God.”[58] Additionally, he concludes the article arguing “we should never forget either that none of us will be completely consistent until we are fully glorified.”[59] Schaeffer offered to his two former teachers a methodology with a theological focus on man. His unifying approach began with man’s situatedness in the universe.

While Schaeffer certainly had an epistemological emphasis in his apologetic, specifically seen in his “trilogy,” this epistemic conflict was not dealt with in the abstract.[60] Instead, Schaeffer argued that man senses this divided field of knowledge even at an existential and psychological level.[61] Whether or not Schaeffer better fits in a presuppositional or evidential school is still unclear.[62] What is clear is that Schaeffer sought common ground with the skeptics and doubters with whom he interacted.[63] He understood knowledge to be prior to salvation, and it is to be the whole person that understands the truth of the Gospel. Therefore, for the apologist to rightly engage in this kind of apologetic, he or she must be committed to the rationality of the Gospel.[64]

As Schaeffer held to a strong belief in the rationality of Scripture and man’s need to embrace its truth holistically, he also conceptualized his apologetic methodology with an understanding of each individual man’s “situatedness.” Following Schaeffer’s approach, one should seek to understand a person’s thought-forms and worldview in order to communicate to them clearly.[65] According to Schaeffer, each person comes to the Gospel within their own unique context, feeling the weight of man’s universal dilemma. As Colin Duriez mentioned, Schaeffer’s approach “was shaped in… context and hence was person-centered.”[66] Each man is unique, and yet, all of mankind shares the same inescapable questions of life.[67]

Schaeffer saw his anthropology being grounded in the special revelation of God. Rooting this demonstration of love for all people in the authority of Scripture, Schaeffer writes,

We who stand for the Word of God as without mistake not only when it speaks of salvation matters but also when it speaks of the cosmos, history, and moral norms, must be careful to live under the Word we say we hold so dear, and that very much includes love to those (many of whom are certainly brothers and sisters in Christ) who we think are making a dreadful and destructive mistake in their view of the Bible.[68]

He staunchly believed that if one is to hold to the truth and veracity of Scripture, then that truth has immediate and sustaining implications for the Christian’s life—not least of which includes demonstrations of love towards other believers. Schaeffer realized if the Christian faith were to be compelling, then Christians would have to live consistently with their stated beliefs. Additionally, if the Scriptures were true then it meant Christ’s Lordship extended to all of man’s person and work.

Further, Schaeffer understood his entire schema within the conceptual framework of a personal God and a personal universe. Personality is central to Schaeffer’s entire approach. He understood the answer to all of man’s longing, and ultimately the solution to man’s dilemma, to be found within a “personal infinite God and a personal unity and diversity in God… Christianity has this in the Trinity.”[69] A personal universe with a personal beginning from a personal God is the foundation for morality, epistemology, and metaphysics. Again, this is not an apologetic approach in concept only. Ultimately, this is the foundation upon which Schaeffer builds his Christian worldview.

Schaeffer demonstrates his intellectual approach in his writings, especially in his trilogy. Yet, it bears repeating that Schaeffer never explicitly laid out his own apologetic approach. While he gives enough in his writings for future apologists to emulate, it may be better to understand Schaeffer’s approach more in terms of how he did apologetics, rather than what he has said about apologetics. That is, to rightly understand Schaeffer’s apologetics, it is crucial to see how he operated his ministry throughout his life. As Follis suggests, “his approach was as much a part of his apologetics as was his argumentation.” Schaeffer, to his credit, seemed to live in harmony between what he wrote and what he did.

This leads to the second element of Schaeffer’s apologetic method, his practice. He demonstrated his methodology in consistent habit throughout his life. Jerram Barrs articulates this synthesis incredibly well, “The truth that we are the image of God, a truth that is at the heart of all his apologetic work, was for Schaeffer, a reason to worship God. This conviction of the innate dignity of all human persons had many consequences for Schaeffer. He believed, and he practiced the belief, that there are no little people…”[70] This commitment was demonstrated practically through his ministry and throughout his lifetime. He invited people into his home, consistently emphasizing and exemplifying grace-filled community. One of Schaeffer’s greatest legacies is his establishment of the L’Abri community. As Barrs himself observed, “He took a conversation with one damaged and needy young person as seriously as when he was talking with the president or lecturing before an audience of thousands.”[71] Schaeffer avoided the sin of partiality, understanding that the image of God in man was a reason to respect and dignify all people of every background.

The negative effects of not capturing this biblical vision for mankind were also on Schaeffer’s mind. Adam Johnson writes, that according to Schaeffer, “…when human beings are reduced to the mechanics of physics and chemistry, the person, as well as all personal significance, disappears.”[72] This flattening of the human person led to a dehumanization that had far reaching implications. Schaeffer had a particular concern regarding the naturalistic worldview, “whose view of reality reflects a materialist understanding of man in which he is merely the chance product of matter in motion. In short, man lives in an impersonal universe, according to the materialist, and hence personality is not intrinsic to existence. But then how does one explain man’s personality from the impersonal beginning, plus time, plus chance?”[73] He was concerned with the view of an impersonal, mechanistic universe that sees the world only in terms of utility. He believed, rightly it seems, that there would be myriad implications for man and his place in the universe if all was framed only in terms of matter and chance.[74] Schaeffer held a beautiful, dynamic understanding of man, even in light of man’s sinful, moral guilt. To him, naturalism flattened man’s significance and purpose.

Follis clarifies that while Schaeffer’s approach was not person-centered, it was person-sensitive.[75] He consistently kept his theological focus upon God, His work, and the reality of His existence. However, Schaeffer sought to make sure that the human person was taken into account when engaging apologetically. His “final apologetic” is a perfect example of this concern. This final apologetic is rooted in John 17:21 and is demonstrated in the visible unity of the church—which necessarily includes sacrificial, Christ-like love.[76] This final apologetic was not a hypothetical concept Schaeffer posited, but a practice he embodied. At the center of his work at L’Abri was “grace extended to everyone there. It was not a formless grace, but one structured by the intellectual and biblical teaching that pervaded.”[77] This final apologetic is mentioned throughout Schaeffer’s corpus, and is fleshed out in The Mark of the Christian. Echoing the sentiments of 1 Corinthians 13, Schaeffer argued that apologetics is useless if it is not driven by love—specifically a love for God and fellow man. Further, this is to be demonstrated in tangible ways, exhibited in substantial individual and corporate healing.[78] Schaeffer sought to demonstrate love and unity to all made in the image of God.

Schaeffer realized that being relational was a fundamental part of man, especially for Christians. Thus, his theology implicated his methodology in a communal way, as well. He modeled this relational focus at L’Abri. He wrote,

There must be communion and community among the people of God: not a false community that is set up as through human community were an end in itself… This is the real Church of the Lord Jesus Christ—not merely an organization, but a group of people, individually the people of God, drawn together by the Holy Spirit for a particular task… The Church of the Lord Jesus should be a group of those who are redeemed and bound together on the basis of true doctrine. But subsequently they should show a substantial ‘sociological healing’ of the breaches between men which have come about because of the results of man’s sin.[79]

Schaeffer, understanding man as a relational creature, sought to emphasize and practice the collective longings inherent in man. He not only understood this to be emblematic of what it meant to be a Christian, but also understood redeemed community to offer restorative work at a societal level.

One should recognize that Schaeffer’s concern for the human person extended beyond his explicitly apologetic enterprises. Even when Schaeffer was not seeking to share the Gospel with an unbeliever, his anthropology had practical implications. Consistently, as he was engaging the broader culture on a variety of issues, he prophetically spoke on a variety of issues that are still in discussion today: euthanasia, abortion, pollution, etc. In both Whatever Happened to the Human Race? and A Christian Manifesto, Schaeffer engages heavily in critiquing the practices of abortion and euthanasia as atrocities against human worth and dignity, while also thinking through possibilities for social action. In Pollution and the Death of Man, Schaeffer seeks to address ecological concerns that have implications for mankind. These issues were rooted in Schaeffer’s theological anthropology, many of them directly tied to man’s four basic relationships.

Schaeffer was not only concerned with easier cultural issues, given his cultural environment. Relatively unique within his more fundamentalist context, Schaeffer engaged in a level of racial reconciliation that was rooted in his theological anthropology. His wife, Edith, records that during segregation Schaeffer consistently sought to meet and fellowship with African Americans. Likewise, Schaeffer continually met with an older African American man who had worked as a janitor at the Schaeffer’s college. He would visit him up until his death, reading the Bible and praying with him.[80] Similarly, Barrs observed how the Schaeffers welcomed people of all races into their home at L’Abri, and how Schaeffer performed marriages for interracial couples, even to the dismay of his critics.[81] In his writings he points out the atrocities of the slave trade, and the need for social action that is grounded in the basis of Christian faith and willing to stand against social injustices.[82]

A biblical-theological anthropology was key to Schaeffer’s practice and certainly contributes to his continued relevance. Put succinctly, “Mankind as significant being, created in the image of God, stood out in Schaeffer’s theology; it is the Christian message of meaning and love and the clarifying biblical worldview that Francis Schaeffer stressed, which makes his apologetic so relevant in the twenty-first century.”[83] Schaeffer’s anthropology was interwoven throughout his apologetic arguments in a variety of ways. Further, his anthropology necessarily led him to certain social action. Suffice to say, on the topic of the image of God Schaeffer lived consistently with his stated beliefs.


While Francis Schaeffer was admittedly not an academic and saw himself as more of an evangelist than an apologist, he remarkably leaves behind a rich legacy concerning a theological vision for apologetic practice. Schaeffer’s views on anthropology are well within the confines of orthodoxy, and very much represent the confessional traditions to which he subscribed. In no demonstratable way does Schaeffer depart from the historic Christian understanding of man, whether in regard to the image of God or effects of the Fall. Instead, Schaeffer utilized a thoroughly biblical-theological anthropology in both his argumentation and practice. While he did not hold to overly unique views on the nature of man, Schaeffer is distinctive in the way in which he rightly manifested these beliefs into compelling argumentation and action. Because of this consistency, Schaeffer has influenced numerous apologists, philosophers, and Christians-at-large.

Yet, these are not just influences that offer lip-service to this man. Charles Colson, Os Guinness, Nancy Pearcy, and many others count Schaeffer as the primary influence on their theological and apologetic thinking. Further, L’Abri communities across the world continue to thrive. The Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Theological Seminary, Francis Schaeffer Foundation in Switzerland, and the Schaeffer Collection at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary all proclaim the lasting influence of this man.[84] Yet, one may inquire as to the uniqueness of his approach. The uniqueness, as it were, is found in the harmony between what he taught and what he lived. In his writings he clearly held the image of God in high regard. However, that belief affected both his written arguments and ministerial/personal practice. He was simply focusing on the “mannishness of man” and bringing “true truth” to bear in the reality in which man lives. Simply, Francis Schaeffer sought to see man as God sees him, and to respect the inherent dignity found in the image of God.

Christopher Talbot is an instructor and program coordinator of youth and family ministry at Welch College.

[1] See Kenneth Dale Boa, “A Comparative Study of Four Christian Apologetic Systems” (Ph.D., New York University, 1985); Kenneth Boa and Robert M. Bowman, Faith Has Its Reasons: Integrative Approaches to Defending the Christian Faith (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2005); William Edgar, “Two Christian Warriors: Cornelius Van Til and Francis A. Schaeffer Compared,” Westminster Theological Journal 57.1 (1995): 57–80; Bryan A. Follis, Truth with Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006); Joshua D. Chatraw, Benjamin K. Forrest, and Alister E. McGrath, eds., The History of Apologetics: A Biographical and Methodological Introduction (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2020); E. R. Geehan, “The Presuppositional Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer,” Themelios 8.1 (1972): 10–18; Brian K. Morley, Mapping Apologetics: Comparing Contemporary Approaches (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015); Thomas V. Morris, Francis Schaeffer’s Apologetics: A Critique(Chicago: Moody Press, 1976); Bill Nyman, “Francis Schaeffer’s Relevance to Contemporary Apologetics,” KOERS: Bulletin for Christian Scholarship, 85.1 (2020): 1–18; David Outlaw, “An Overview of Francis Schaeffer’s Worldview,” Integrity: A Journal of Christian Thought 3 (2006): 141–57; Jack Rogers, “Francis Schaeffer: The Promise and the Problem,” Reformed Journal 27.5 (1977): 12–15; Ronald W. Ruegsegger, ed., Reflections on Francis Schaeffer (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986); John E. Voss, “The Apologetics of Francis A. Schaeffer” (Th.D., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1984); James Emery White, What Is Truth?: A Comparative Study of the Positions of Cornelius Van Til, Francis Schaeffer, Carl F. H. Henry, Donald Bloesch, Millard Erickson (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2006).

[2] For various taxonomies, see: Boa, “A Comparative Study of Four Christian Apologetic Systems”; Boa

and Bowman, Faith Has Its Reasons; Steven B. Cowan, ed., Five Views on Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2000); Gordon R. Lewis, Testing Christianity’s Truth Claims: Approaches to Christian Apologetics

(New York: University Press of America, 1990); Morley, Mapping Apologetics; Bernard L. Ramm, Varieties of

Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976); Bernard Ramm, Types of Apologetic Systems: An Introductory Study to the Christian Philosophy of Religion (Wheaton: Van Kampen Press, 1953).

[3] It should also be noted that this is not an exhaustive examination of Schaeffer’s theological anthropology. What is offered here are the dominant ideas found throughout Schaeffer’s work. While not nearly as prominent as the terms and concepts mentioned here, Schaeffer does address sin’s effect on human affections, the noetic effects of sin, man’s desire for community, and more.

[4] Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, 1:122.

[5] Interestingly, William Edgar states that Schaeffer believed Ranald Macaulay and Jerram Barrs’ book

Being Human: The Nature of Spiritual Experience (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998) to fully reflect his major views on anthropology. William Edgar, Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 105.

[6] Morris, Francis Schaeffer’s Apologetics, 26.

[7] Francis Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, 2:11.

[8] Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 1:25

[9] Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 1:120.

[10] He mentions in a footnote regarding Romans 1:18–20 that ‘The context shows that this ‘holding the truth in righteousness’ is related to the ‘general revelation’ of the ‘mannishness’ of man and the external universe. See Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 389n2

[11] Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 1:123.

[12] Francis Schaeffer, Escape from Reason in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, 2:267

[13] Follis, Truth with Love, 42.

[14] Schaeffer, Escape from Reason, 1:267.

[15] Follis, Truth with Love, 42.

[16] Francis Schaeffer, “The Purpose of Our Creation Fulfilled,” PDF, L’, n.d.,

[17] Jerram Barrs, “Francis Schaeffer: His Apologetics,” in Bruce Little, ed. Francis Schaeffer: A Mind and Heart for God (Phillipsburg, N.J: P & R Publishing, 2010), 35.

[18] See John F. Kilner, Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015); John F. Kilner, Why People Matter (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017).

[19] Edgar, Schaeffer on the Christian Life, 89.

[20] Edgar, Schaeffer on the Christian Life, 89.

[21] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Finished Work of Christ: The Truth of Romans 1-8 (Wheaton: Crossway, 1998), 38.

[22] Edgar, Schaeffer on the Christian Life.

[23] Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, 2:31.

[24] Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, 2:32.

[25] Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, 3:329.

[26] This approach is similar to Kevin Vanhoozer’s. See Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014); Kevin J Vanhoozer, “Putting on Christ: Spiritual Formation and the Drama of Discipleship,” Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care 8.2 (2015): 147–71.

[27] Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, 2:34.

[28]  Francis A. Schaeffer, Art and the Bible in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, 2:376.

[29] This would include not only Art and the Bible, but also the works found in volumes four and five of The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer.

[30] Francis A. Schaeffer, Basic Bible Studies in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, 2:329.

[31] Hoekema writes, “[T]he human being is both a creature and a person; he or she is a created person… To be a creature… means absolute dependence on God; to be a person means relative independence…To be creatures means that God is the potter and we are the clay (Rom. 9:21); to be persons means that we are the ones who fashion our lives by our own decisions.” Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 6.

[32] Voss, “The Apologetics of Francis A. Schaeffer,” 75.

[33] Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 1:114.

[34] Francis A. Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, 1:301.

[35] Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 1:115.

[36] Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 1:164.

[37] Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, 2:69.

[38] Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, 2:70.

[39] See Kilner, Dignity and Destiny, 27.

[40] Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, 2:34.

[41] Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, 2:70–71.

[42] Schaeffer, The Finished Work of Christ, 38.

[43] Schaeffer, The Finished Work of Christ, 67–71.

[44] Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 1:116.

[45] Edgar, Schaeffer on the Christian Life, 105.

[46] Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 1:164.

[47] Udo W. Middlemann, “The Unusual Francis A. Schaeffer,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 6.2 (2002): 45–56.

[48] Schaeffer, Art and the Bible, 2:376.

[49] Schaeffer, True Spirituality, 3:335.

[50] Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 1:186.

[51] Edgar, Schaeffer on the Christian Life, 115.

[52] Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 1:133.

[53] Schaeffer, “The Purpose of Our Creation Fulfilled.”

[54] Morris, Francis Schaeffer’s Apologetics, 79.

[55] Edgar, Schaeffer on the Christian Life, 28.

[56] Nyman, “Francis Schaeffer’s Relevance to Contemporary Apologetics,” 11.

[57] Bill Nyman argues that Schaeffer’s approach is made up of five aspects, “firstly, the centrality of the Bible; secondly, the reasonableness of the Christian faith; thirdly, the importance of cultivating and nourishing relationships; fourthly, the conversations he was able to have with those who struggled; and lastly, the demonstration of the Christian life that served to show the truth of the Christian faith.” Nyman, “Francis Schaeffer’s Relevance to Contemporary Apologetics,” 9.

[58] Francis Schaeffer, “A Review of a Review,” The Bible Today, October 1948,

[59] Schaeffer, “A Review of a Review.”

[60] Schaeffer’s “trilogy” includes The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent. These can be found in the first volume of his complete works, or Francis A. Schaeffer, The Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy: Three Essential Books in One Volume, First Printing edition. (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990).

[61] Louis Markos, Apologetics for the Twenty-First Century (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010).

[62] It may be helpful to think of Schaffer as a “soft presuppositionalist” according to Chatraw and Allen’s paradigm. They understand a soft approach to not be “sealed off” from other approaches, but to emphasize the epistemic starting point regarding the potential of human reason. Joshua D. Chatraw and Mark D. Allen, Apologetics at the Cross: An Introduction for Christian Witness (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2018) 106—107, 117—121.

[63] Louis Markos writes, “[D]espite his presuppositional background, [Schaeffer] was at least half an evidentialist at heart… Schaeffer the apologist devoted much of his time and energy to engaging young bohemian skeptics at L’Abri. With great passion and vigor, he sought common ground with is dispossessed hippies by working to understand their countercultural art, literature, and film and trying to get to the root of their often rootless yearnings for truth.” Markos, Apologetics for the Twenty-First Century, 106.

[64] Follis, Truth with Love.

[65] Follis, Truth with Love.

[66] Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015), 246.

[67] Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 1:177.

[68] Francis A. Schaeffer, “Foreword” in James Montgomery Boice, ed., The Foundation of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 19.

[69] Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent, 1:283.

[70] Barrs, “Francis Schaeffer: His Apologetics,” 36

[71] Barrs, “Francis Schaeffer: His Apologetics,” 36

[72] Adam Lloyd Johnson, “Created to Know: A Comparison of the Epistemologies of Michael Polanyi and Francis Schaeffer.” The Westminster Theological Journal 79.1 (2017): 47.

[73] Eduardo J. Echeverria, “The Christian Faith as a Way of Life: In Appreciation of Francis Schaeffer (on the Fiftieth Anniversary of L’Abri Fellowship),” Evangelical Quarterly 79.3 (2007): 250.

[74] Stephen J. Wellum, “Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984): Lessons from His Thought and Life,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology6.2 (2002): 15.

[75] Follis, Truth with Love, 154.

[76] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, 4:189.

[77] Edgar, “Francis A. Schaeffer,” 518.

[78] Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 1:165.

[79] Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 1:166.

[80] Edith Schaeffer, The Tapestry: The Life and Times of Francis and Edith Schaeffer (Waco, TX: Word Publishing, 1985), 123.

[81] Jerram Barrs, “Francis Schaeffer: The Man and His Message,” Reformation 21: The Online Magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, 2006.

[82] Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, 5:328.

[83] Nyman, “Francis Schaeffer’s Relevance to Contemporary Apologetics,” 5.

[84] Edgar, “Francis A. Schaeffer,” 518-519.

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