July 21st, 2008
Duriez, Colin. Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008. 221pp. $24.99. Buy From Westminster Bookstore
Colin Duriez was fortunate enough to not only have studied under Schaeffer when he was younger, but he was also able to interview him about his life when Schaeffer was near the end of his time here on earth. In this authoritative biography of one the great philosophical minds of the 20th century, Duriez writes from much oral history from many around the world who knew Francis Schaeffer. He also used the archives found in the Presbyterian Church of America as well as the many other writings by Francis Schaeffer and other family members. Needless to say, the subject of this book was studied and researched exhaustively before pen was put to paper.
Colin Duriez has written numerous other books ranging from literary works (six books) to biographies (three if you include this one) and a history book entitled AD 33: The Year that Changed the World. When Duriez writes a biography, you get the feeling that he attempted his best to walk a mile in that man’s shoes.
Summary of Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life
The book is a bit different in that it approaches the earlier life and “career” of Francis Schaeffer with much more detail than most other biographies. The chapters are broken down chronologically into eight sections. The first six sections comprise the first forty-eight years of his life (before L’Abri) while the final two chapters blitz one through the last twenty-four years of his pilgrimage.
Colin spends a chapter detailing his childhood leading up to Schaeffer’s role as a pastor and denominationalist in what would later come to be known as the PCA (Presbyterian Church of America). Of interest to some readers may be learning how much J. Gresham Machen influenced the young Schaeffer in his ministry. During this time in his life, he resided in St. Louis, Missouri.
The middle chapters detail the travels of the Schaeffer family from Holland to Switzerland and stops in between. By the end of the book, we wind up in L’Abri where Schaeffer set up a school of sorts to teach people how to wrestle with the culture and to look at situations from another’s point of view.
Perhaps the most poignant part of the book is at the very end where Duriez shares his interview with Schaeffer from 10 September 1980. In this interview, Schaeffer takes a very introspective look back at his life. This conversation is an interesting peek into the person we know as Francis Schaeffer. What is most amazing is to see how Schaeffer lived what he believed and how what he believed impacted his worldview thus changing his life forever.
Critique of Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life
I thought Duriez did a wonderful job of showing the early life of Francis Schaeffer to an audience that may not be aware of how the man came to be the man we know. What I would have liked to have seen is a bit more detail on the final twenty-four years of his life. I realize there is quite a bit of writings regarding this time frame in Schaeffer’s life, but I believe we all would have been blessed all the more to have read it from the detailed mind of Colin Duriez.
The writing style was extremely engaging. I could tell that much of what was written down came through oral history and conversation. Rarely was there a dry paragraph in the book. What I mean by “dry” is that most biographers feel the need to quote extensively from the works of the person about whom they are writing. While Duriez does quote extensively from Schaeffer, he does so strategically and with great care.
This is a must read for anyone who wants to know what made this prophet of the 20th century tick. Not only is this book a quick read, but it could easily serve as a devotional of sorts. Many Christian college students would do themselves a favor if they were to pick this book up and read it from cover to cover and plumb the depths of one of the greatest minds (not limited to just Christianity) in the 20th century.
Francis Schaeffer still helps people understand what they believe and why they believe it even 25 years after his death. We would all do well to sit at his feet and learn how God used this man to reach so many people.