2023 Study Project: A Dual Focus

I have finally landed on an official study project for the new year. It was not an easy decision as several great ideas were presented to me over the course of this year. It ultimately came down to two options: Francis Schaeffer or Deconstructionism. My usual schedule has me focusing on a historical figure or time period, but there were a lot of requests for a focus on deconstructionism. Undoubtedly those requests reveal the prominence of this issue. In light of the demand, I’ve decided to do a hybrid study project involving both subjects.

My year will largely center around studying Francis Schaeffer. He is a figure I have had interest in for a long time – since I first discovered him in college. So, I am looking forward to reading him first-hand, as well as interacting with some critical second-hand scholarship on his life and work. Generally, scholars believe that Schaeffer’s legacy can be broken up into two stages: the first stage focuses on the early years of his ministry in L’Abri and his outreach to the unchurched, dechurched, and searching. He had such a desire to bring the gospel to those who were genuinely struggling with faith. In this regard he may have a great deal to say to those who are deconstructing their faith. The second stage of his legacy focuses on Schaeffer’s role in the creation of the religious right. I will spend a great deal more time focusing on the former years in an effort to bridge the two topics that will make up the year long study.

Over the course of the year, then, I will also pick up some key volumes by deconstructionists and exEvangelicals to discover their process and approach, as well as their concerns with historical orthodox Christianity. Then I will attempt to discern how Schaeffer would respond to the modern situation and the modern struggles of faith. My suspicion is that the modern struggles aren’t that different from those that were common during the heyday of his ministry.

A dual focus is good in that it provides an immediate relevance to the historical research but also allows me to do more than spend twelve months reading deconversion stories (which I don’t think will ultimately be good for my soul). The dual focus gives me a chance to search Schaeffer for specific insights, while also appreciating the broader benefits of his life and work. It also gives me occasion to honor the weaknesses of some of his work. There has been a great deal of critique on some of his work for the religious right, and as that tends to be an issue that propels people towards deconstruction, I may find some unanticipated lessons here too.

The goal of this study is more than just historical or philosophical interest. The goal is to provide a framework for interacting with doubts today and offering guidance to those considering deconstructing. I believe that Schaeffer has much to teach us. I could, of course, be wrong and only research will reveal that, but I am excited to see what I can learn. I hope you will consider joining me on this journey.

Whatever weaknesses there are in Schaeffer – and there certainly are weaknesses – God used him to bring many people to faith, and to strengthen the faith of many others. I want to learn how God used Him and what made him so remarkable a figure in modern Evangelical history. I am hopeful that he can still help us today as we wrestle with the tensions and questions of modern faith.

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