Saturday, December 6, 2014

Considerations ~ The Whole-person Ministry of Francis Schaeffer

A recent Facebook post honored the work of Francis Schaeffer and the wonderful gift God gave his church through this man and his ministry. The post identified that there had been a gradual shift from the early years of intellectual focus, to the later years of ministry to “emotionally needy Christians.”

I have only benefited from Francis Schaeffer’s ministry through his writing, and the two film series that introduced me to him in the late 70’s (How Should We Then Live? Whatever Happened to the Human Race?). However, in reading the comments to the post, I was troubled by a disparaging remark that showed appreciation for the early years of intellectualism, but a distaste for “holding the hands of emotionally needy Christians.”

I have witnessed so many heartbroken Christians experience further hurt by the insensitivity and self-protection of the heartless, stuck-in-left-brain, intellectualism of fellow believers that I felt (thought?) it would be helpful to clarify that this whole “emotionally needy” side of God’s children is equally important to the intellectual needs of people coming to Christ.

The fact that God created our immaterial being with heart, soul, and mind, and our bodies with two quite different (but wonderfully compatible) brain hemispheres, makes clear that God deals with us as whole people, both intellect and emotions included on level ground.

While much could be said about the maturity of the apostle Paul in both thinking and feeling at the same time, I would simply summarize by quoting his God-inspired words, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Admitting to an inability to do the latter shows just as much need as the “emotionally needy Christians,” that are missing out on the church’s impartial devotion to both sides of this exhortation.

With all this in mind, I wrote a response to the post, hoping to encourage anyone who would think that the left-brained, self-protective declaration was somehow more scriptural than Francis Schaeffer’s example of weeping with those who weep. Just in case you know what it is like to have someone disparage your emotional needs, or you know someone who has experienced greater hurt when they tried to share their hurts with the church, or you sincerely believe that Jesus would not give any room for our emotional needs in his church, please consider the following.

“I highly recommend that you find Francis Schaeffer’s book of letters that were compiled after his death (Letters of Francis Schaeffer). It appears that he could teach all of us something about weeping with those who weep. He seemed to be able to relate to people out of his heart, soul, mind, and both sides of his brain, all at the same time.

“When I first began dealing with people in the church who were faced with crippling memories of abuse, I discovered that the church was exactly as described, unwilling to weep with those who weep (hold the hands of the emotionally needy). I think that Francis Schaeffer’s example, as expressed through his letters, might encourage all of us to put off our self-protective stance, and open our hearts to bearing one another’s burdens however those burdens come.

“I have only met Francis Schaeffer through his books, and can only imagine what he was like to those who came to him with their heartaches and sorrows. I suspect from the letters that people came to him because he was a branch of the vine who made them feel like they were coming to a man who was being conformed to the image of Jesus from one degree of glory to another.

“I am sharing this because a post that seemed aimed at honoring a man and his ministry (as we ought), seems to be diminished by honoring a self-protective stance towards God’s heartbroken children that was quite out of character from the man being honored. If we look closely at why the shift from the intellectualism of the early years, to the whole-person ministry of the later years, I suggest that we have a testimony of a man becoming more like Jesus our Savior. People felt like God was finally giving them the ministry they could not find in their churches because people were not willing to leave their comfort-zones to bear such burdens.

“Francis Schaeffer obviously opened his heart to the emotional needs of the people who came to him. And, he did this as one of the greatest thinkers God had given to his church in the past generation. If such feeling made sense to him, perhaps there is more to learn from a man whose legacy lives on, and still has so much to teach.”

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

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