The year 1976 continues to reverberate throughout evangelical Christianity. The towering giants of the evangelical world at that time seemed to see our world in increasingly hopeful terms. The urgent cultural crises of the 1960s appeared to be in recession.
As we now know, it was not really so. In 1973, the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision, legalizing abortion on demand nationwide. Larger intellectual currents were setting the stage for a massive shift in the culture. Evangelicals were wearing “I Found It” buttons and building massive megachurches, but the culture was shifting toward a hostile secularism that would not be fully apparent for a generation.
Still, some saw it coming. I turned 17 in 1976 and was facing my last year of high school and trying to figure out the world around me. An apologetic crisis had troubled me for a couple of years by then, and I needed help. I was already facing some of the issues and questions that would soon explode onto the American scene.
Thankfully, I did get help, and from multiple sources. D. James Kennedy introduced me to the writings of Francis Schaeffer. At that point, I had not met Schaeffer, but his writings were a form of theological rescue for me. They gave me a way of understanding how the Christian faith related to and answered the questions of the world around me.
In 1976, Schaeffer released How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture, and I bought one of the first copies. I read it from cover to cover with intensity, knowing that Schaeffer was telling the story of Western civilization.
How Should We Then Live? was both a book and a multi-episode video project, just like Lord Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, a 1969 series on the history of Western society told from a humanistic perspective. This was not a coincidence. Schaeffer was deliberately answering Clark and telling a very different story. The subtitle of the book made that clear—The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. That was virtually the opposite of Lord Clark’s story. Schaeffer did not disagree with every argument of Clark’s Civilisation, but he did disagree with many of Clark’s arguments and, more importantly, with Clark’s humanistic interpretation of the main story.
Francis and his wife, Edith, founded and directed L’Abri Fellowship, a ministry in the Swiss mountains, drawing disaffected and confused young people from around the world, presenting them with the gospel of Christ, and answering their questions with a rational and demonstrative apologetic for biblical Christianity. While other leaders were building the evangelical empire, the Schaeffers took in scores of long-haired and intellectually agitated young people, engaging their minds and interpreting the culture.