Absolutely True: the Hospitality of Francis Schaeffer
Written by Managing Editor on January 30, 2020
By Jesse Sumpter
The best way to summarize Francis Schaeffer’s ministry is one of hospitality. That might seem a strange way to describe a figure known for his intellectual work, but hospitality was the heart of his ministry. He practiced hospitality in various ways, but primarily at L’Abri, the home that he and his wife opened in Switzerland in 1955. While this home was marked by warmth and friendliness, the central principle that made it so hospitable was that it was built on the truth. That is what made Schaeffer’s hospitality so potent.
Today, there are many who are trying to create hospitality and community but they are building it on lies. Proverbs talks about this kind of false community as one of the great temptations for a young man: evil wicked men will say, “Come with us…we shall fill our houses with spoils” (Prov. 1:11 & 13). We find these wicked men appealing because they are offering us a chance to belong. They offer companionship and unity. In a world that seems so strange and out of control, who could be against that?
But Schaeffer understood that real community can only be built on the truth. Everything else is a mirage. Other forms of community might look good and beautiful, but they are still fake. Schaeffer pursued true community in two key ways: by seeking ultimate truth and by practicing personal communication.
Schaeffer writes in his book True Spirituality, “The real battle for men is in the world of ideas” (pg 121). This is not to say that the external world of actions is not important but to understand what Jesus says about the centrality of the human heart: Out of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:34). The source of our problem is our heart. The term heart includes the soul as well as one’s thoughts, desires, emotions. Schaeffer also says, “Moral battles are not won in the external world first. They are always a result flowing naturally from a cause, and the cause is in the internal world of one’s thoughts” (pg 110). The thoughts of our hearts need to be dealt with. The only way to deal with our hearts is with the truth. Without the truth, there is no way to build true community. Without the truth, people can only live in a lonely crowd.
Schaeffer knew that people are incredibly lonely. He writes, “The other man, the man without God, if he is going to be absolutely consistent to his position, may know that he exists, but nothing else” (pg 125). This is the great problem for the non-Christian: he might know that he himself exists but he cannot know about anything else outside of himself. He cannot know if the community around him is real. He is made to be with others but he cannot actually be with others. He is keeping himself from being personally connected to others.
In this way, the non-Christian is forced to try and build community on lies. But that doesn’t work. Schaeffer writes, “What man is has separated him from himself. The tension is within man” (pg 125). Community doesn’t help because man is still divided in himself. He cannot have true unity with others unless he is truly unified in himself. The internal problem of brokenness cannot be solved from the outside with more people. It actually compounds the problem because none of them have the solution.
Schaeffer knew that the lonely modern man needs ultimate truth. He writes, “There is no answer without an infinite reference point of a personal nature” (p 124). If we just have an infinite reference point but it is not personal, then it won’t fix the relational hole that we have. We are made for community so that infinite reference point must be personal. This is what the Bible teaches.
One time someone asked Francis what the reason is for being a Christian, he responded by saying, “There’s one reason and only one reason to be a Christian, which is that you’re convinced it is the truth of the universe” (p 109, Francis Schaeffer, Colin Duriez). Truth is the only way to true community. And this is not just a truth for me but this is the truth of the whole universe. A person must be fully convinced in his own mind and heart and see that it applies to everything in the world. Only a person who is fully convicted of this cosmic truth will be the most potent in his hospitality to others.
Schaeffer writes in True Spirituality, “But primarily every Christian is to be a demonstration at his own point of history and to his own generation” (pg 72). Each Christian must embody the truth for his friends and his neighbors. The first way to do that is to have a real and genuine relationship with the Truth. This means a deep and abiding sense of God’s present eye watching over every moment of every day. We do not live in a world that is an impersonal machine. We live in a relational cosmos that the living God upholds by his word of power. Truth is a person: he has ten fingers and ten toes. God is about making us have a relationship with himself. Schaeffer knew that Christians would be most effective in reaching the lost world if they had a constant sense of God’s personal presence in their lives. That kind of witness would be unstoppable.
Schaeffer’s daughter records at the end of his life, when Francis was on his deathbed, she was visiting with him. She says that he was going in and out of consciousness and “there were several occasions when he was much more lucid, and once I said, “Is it true?”–what a thing to say to a dying person–and he said, “It is absolutely true, absolutely sure” (p 204, Francis Schaeffer, Colin Duriez).
That scene captures the ministry of Schaeffer: a dying man who takes the time to answer the questions of another. And that question is the one that Schaeffer knew to be the most important one. Even on his deathbed, Schaeffer was practicing hospitality.
So how do we imitate Schaeffer and his hospitality? The answer is pretty simple. You don’t have to move to Switzerland to do it. You can start right where you are. Have people over, talk with people, invite them into your life and to the truth. This is not squishy “intentional living.” This is inviting people to meet the Truth. In this work, Schaeffer is a wonderful model: he was always speaking with others about the truth. He cut right to the heart of the matter. He knew it was foundational for everything else.
The truth is personal and everyone is longing to meet Truth face to face. This means I need to be open about how God has transformed me. It means I need to talk about how the Truth has changed everything in my life. This Truth has set me free. There is no other way to find true hospitality and community unless we find it in the Triune God. People are dying to know the truth. You have the chance to welcome them in and let them see the truth in real hospitality. Practice true hospitality like Francis Schaeffer.