Memories of a mentor: Francis Schaeffer (II)  

Posted by Denis Haack in , , , ,

Schaeffer believed passionately that historic biblical Christianity had something of substance to say into every sphere of life and culture. Nothing is neutral, in other words, but exists in light of Christ’s Lordship over all, just as St Paul argued, using terms that are so inclusive that the claim becomes exclusive:

He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:15-20).

This gave rise naturally to a theme in Schaeffer’s life and thinking that shaped his interactions with everyone he met. “Honest questions deserve honest answers.”

It’s a very simple idea, but surprisingly rare in demonstration. Rarely do people find themselves in places safe enough that honest questions can be easily voiced. Rarely are questions welcomed that call into doubt whatever orthodoxy—whether political, religious, philosophical—happens to be ascendant. Rarely are people given the grace of unhurried time so that the doubts festering in their souls can take the form of actual questions. Rarely are conversations open enough to pursue actual answers to the deeper things that matter most.

Rather than honest answers, most often quick responses are given to honest questions. Such responses are always tinged with either sentimentality or cynicism, satisfying for those who give them but insufficient for life.

Honest questions deserve honest answers. Such a conviction does not require humorlessness as if everything is equally solemn. Sometimes, hearty laughter together is the best answer, revealing as it does the folly that masquerades as wisdom in a broken world.

Honest questions are valuable because each questioner is made in God’s image. Honest answers are possible because reality is not a meaningless assortment of synaptic firings set in motion by the random events of an impersonal cosmos. Instead, life makes sense and reality holds together because God exists, has spoken in his word, and, in St John’s brilliant phrasing, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14).

So, we see as though through a glass darkly, as St Paul insists (1 Corinthians 13:12), which is certainly true, but that’s not the same as being in total darkness. A light shines in the darkness, St John reminds us, and the darkness, even at its most furious cannot put it out (John 1:5, 9). We ask honest questions, often reply, “I don’t know,” but the conversation can continue, asking questions of the question and exploring the possibility of answers.

Honest questions deserve honest answers. I’ve often thought that if demonstrating this was my only significance in life, it would be enough.

(to be continued)

Source: "Art Question Mark" online (

This entry was posted at Wednesday, June 29, 2011 and is filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


I grew up in a tradition in which questions were equated with doubts and were thus condemned out of hand. Just as important to me as Dr. Schaeffer's emphasis upon "honest answers" was his simple assurance that having questions is OK.

June 29, 2011 at 1:59 PM

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