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Posts Tagged ‘Jerram Barrs’


From the 20th century, Francis Schaeffer cast a long shadow that is still seen in the 21st. L’Abri and his disciples like Os Guinness, Jerram Barrs, and Nancy Pearcey continue his work. I enjoyed his book True Spirituality, but got bogged down in He is There and He Is Not Silent. I’ve been meaning to read some of his other books.

As a result, I decided to read Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality by William Edgar on my study leave. Reading a book in this series has been my practice for the last few years. As I consider our changing place in American culture, I thought this would be a helpful read. In some ways it was. In other ways it wasn’t as helpful as I’d hoped.

The book was written by one of his disciples: William Edgar. Edgar was a college student seeking truth when he visited L’Abri and met with Schaeffer. Francis was instrumental in his conversion and growth as a Christian. He teaches apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

He begins the book with that personal reflection of his experience with Fran, as close friends like Edgar called him. This volume is not hagiography, however. He’s honest about Schaeffer’s shortcomings. He tries to present a balanced volume, and I believe he succeeds.

One of the flaws that Edgar mentions is his interaction with Cornelius Van Til, who was his professor for a time. Their apologetic method was very similar, but they seemed to dwell on their differences. In Edgar’s opinion they often talked past one another, as is often the case in such debate.

He then moves to Schaeffer’s life in two parts. The first is his early life, and life after the beginning of L’Abri. Little is known of his ancestors prior to his grandfather’s arrival in America in 1869, after the Franco-Prussian War. He apparently burned all of the family records.

His father only received a 3rd grade education. He apparently was a thoughtful man, as Fran would later reflect that working-class people could be deep intellectually. He worked hard, including time in the Navy. They attended a Lutheran church and believed the gospel. They would struggle financially even as they tried to leave behind the poverty of their parents. As a result, they only had one child (Francis). No books were in the house. The only vacations were trips to nearby Atlantic City.

In addition to this obstacles, Francis likely had dyslexia. Despite this he had a thirst for knowledge. He was driven by consistency. He wanted it to all fit together. He had an interest in Greek philosophers. He read the Bible through so he could reject it with integrity. Instead he became convinced that it was the most consistent way of looking at life that answered all the big questions.

At college he met Edith, who grew up in China because her parents served as missionaries with the China Inland Mission. This experience may have influenced L’Abri’s position as a “faith mission” (not sharing financial needs with others but simply praying for them). They both attended a meeting at First Presbyterian Church to hear a Unitarian attempt to refute Christianity. She responded to him citing J. Gresham Machen and Robert Dick Wilson from the new seminary down the street. This caught Francis’ ear and attention. He walked her home and requested she break off a date with another young man to go out with him. They were well suited for each other and complemented each other well.

Francis would end up at the new seminary, Westminster, as a student. There were two issues that the seminary left open: the millennium and Christian liberty. This would become a big issue in the also new Orthodox Presbytery Church in addition to the seminary. The last exam that Machen administered was to Francis, at his bedside.

Some in the community forming around Westminster and the OPC were historic premillennial and abstained from Christian liberties. They struggled with those who weren’t so inclined. It was not enough for them to separate from the Presbyterian Church in America (the liberal northern denomination that no longer exists and not to be confused with current PCA), and they separated from the OPC to found the Bible Presbyterian Church.

This was pertinent for his spiritual crisis. Schaeffer realized that he was not gracious and kind to those with whom he disagreed. He realized he was wrong. Hopefully most of us come to this understanding as we age in years and mature in Christ. That is counter-cultural in this age of outrage. It is one thing Edgar probably could have spend more time.

While the pastor of a church in St. Louis, God seemed to be calling Schaeffer to Europe. When he left St. Louis, his friend and one of my former professors Elmer Smick took over his responsibilities. At this time Schaeffer met Martyn Lloyd-Jones who similarly called evangelicals to leave the Church of England. He also met C. Everett Koop (who treated his daughter) and Hans Rookmaaker who would become life-long friends.

Image result for L'AbriSchaeffer talked much culture and was often critical. His views were not the conservatism of, say, D. James Kennedy, but those of the revolutionary. While they may have overlapped at points, Schaeffer wanted Christians to buck the trends and lived in a counter-cultural fashion. This was to exhibit the reality of Christianity.

His spiritual crisis in 1951-52 resulted in True Spirituality. It was about living in the reality of Christianity. We are really guilty, and Jesus has really made atonement for sin. Schaeffer stressed the authority of Scripture. “Wherever it touches upon anything, it does so with true truth, but jot with exhaustive truth …” He focused on propositional truth as conveyed by the Scriptures. The Bible spoke about how things really were.

A large part of his apologetic was to point out to people how their worldview didn’t match up with their lives, and often couldn’t. He looked for the inconsistency, the borrowed capital (as David Bahnsen calls it) of their view. He wanted to bring people to square with reality.

“All of us battle with the problems of reality … Reality is not meant to be only creedal, though creeds are important. Reality is to be experienced on the basis of a restored relationship with God through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.”

This brings freedom to the Christian. We are free from the bonds of sin and the bonds of legalism to live free in Christ to live godly lives of faith and love as expressed in the Ten Commandments. That is because we’ve been delivered from the Law’s loud thunder. Still sinners, we have both died with Christ and die daily. Self-denial is a central reality in the Christian life.

As subversives we sometimes have cobelligerents: people with whom we agree on a particular issue but do not share the Christian faith and worldview. This seems to be his view of common grace. We both see the truthfulness of this issue and work together even though we don’t see all of life the same way.

Prayer was an important and ordinary part of life at L’Abri. Edgar draws heavily here from Edith’s writings. He often does this since her writings were more about the practical aspects of their lives while Francis was looking at the bigger pictures. This was one of the ways their writings complemented each others’. Prayer is one of the ways we show we believe in God- we rely on Him in prayer. The cross invites us to ask for His help.

In terms of guidance, Edith writes that they didn’t really have a long range plan for L’Abri. They responded to the challenges that came their way. As finite people, making grand plans we can’t actually accomplish didn’t seem to make sense to her. As I face the realities of pastoral ministry, this seems to be what happens no matter how much I want to plan long-range. Cavman plans and God laughs.

Edgar then moves us into the topic of affliction which will surely come upon Christians in various forms. He addresses how Schaeffer dealt with Albert Camus’ dilemma as expressed in the plague. Do you fight against God to seek a cure or against humanity by rejecting one? Schaeffer sees this as a false dilemma. God loves humanity and to fight for a cure would be to fight on God’s side. In Camus’ atheistic world, there is no way to evaluate good and evil, there is no standard of justice.

Schaeffer had a complex relationship with the Church. He loved the Church as Christ’s bride. But he was critical of the ways the evangelical church strayed from its calling. Many who spent time at L’Abri would struggle in church life as a result. Schaeffer would not point to external problems like modernism or liberalism as the Church’s biggest threat, but to trying to fulfill its calling the power of the flesh. The middle class evangelical church is also risk adverse. We don’t want to risk our middle class life and compromise as a result.

“Schaeffer taught the general principle of form within freedom, an freedom within form- especially in the church.” They were not antitheses but needed on another to be meaningful. Jesus has set us free and life finds form within this spiritual freedom. We have patterns that emerge. Within those forms we are able to enjoy a measure of freedom. As one who needs to know the boundaries but wants to play within them rather than be straitjacketed by them, I grasp this. Form is meant to be a guide, not stifling.

“Unlimited freedom will not work in a lost world; some structure and form are necessary.”

He then moves into engagement with the world. This is the application of a revolutionary Christianity to a fallen world. His expectations were not perfectionism- either in the Christian life nor in society. The historical (having taken place in space & time, not simply the belief of the Church) Christianity has historically changed the cultures in which it has taken root like yeast affects dough. It speaks to the issues of any day, calling society and individuals to forsake sin.

As I noted, this book stirred up an interest to read more of him. I saw ways that I had been greatly influenced by what I have read of his. Or picked up from professors who read him.

I tended to see this book as more like Schaeffers views on a variety of subjects than how to live as a Christian in this world. It seemed less than helpful in this regard. It seemed too philosophical at times. Perhaps it was just how Edgar structured the book, and the big themes he addressed. I was left without it making a big impression on me as other volumes in this series have. Interesting? Yes. Impactful? We’ll see.

“I have never met anyone anywhere like Francis Schaeffer, who took God so passionately seriously, people so passionately seriously, and truth so passionately seriously.” Os Guinness

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Books on prayer are always a risky proposition.  They tend to raise some sort of controversy, whether they want to or not.  The Prayer of Jabez got lots of heat.  It was a little book, and wasn’t intended to be a treatise on prayer.  Did Wilkenson over-state his case?  At times.  But the book was not heretical like some people (at least in my circles) made it out to be.  Could have done without all the hype that spawned an industry.  Or take E.M. Bounds.  Some people love his stuff.  I just end up feeling guilty.  It only points out that facts that my prayer life is not like Martin Luther and John Calvin’s.  Not so helpful for me.

It is into this conflicted world that Will Davis Jr. released his latest book on prayer- Pray Big: The Power of Pinpoint Prayers.  I’m not sure what I was thinking when I asked for a review copy.  I guess I was hoping it would help my prayer life.  I’ve seen some reviews on Facebook- some people like this book, alot.

There were warning signs.  One of the blurbs on the back is by Don Piper.  Yes, Don.  He of 90 Minutes in Heaven fame.  The book that apparently has spawned its own cottage industry of calenders and devotionals.   Call me old-fashioned, but I’m thinking that if there is something about heaven God wants me to know, it will be … in the Bible!  So a guy who has functional issues with the authority of Scripture really likes this book.  Not a selling point for the likes of people like me.

Initially I had some agreement with Pastor Davis.  Most evangelicals are pretty superficial in their prayers.  “Bless Josh” is not really what the Father is looking for.  It reeks of a lack of thought both in knowing God and knowing Josh.  I also agree with Pastor Davis that Scripture should direct our prayer life.   Our areas of agreement began to dissipate quickly.  So quickly that I never finished the book.  The reason was there were unconstructive thoughts arising.  I felt I was being overly-critical.  Perhaps I wasn’t, but I decided for my own sake to stop reading.  Little did I realize it had it’s own cottage industry.

What was the problem?  I’ll mention 5.

(more…)

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Jerram Barrs strikes again!  His book The Heart of Evangelism is a fantastic look at evangelism that truly gets to the heart of the matter.  He brings the same humble, gracious style to the subject of prayer with The Heart of Prayer: What Jesus Teaches Us.  He addresses topics that often seem to be guilt-inducing.  But he recognizes the internal and external obstacles to both evangelism and prayer.  He writes as a fellow struggler sitting at the feet of Jesus instead of as an expert practicioner.

Jerram focuses on Jesus’ teaching on prayer, so this book serves as a nice counterpart of D.A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation, which focuses on Paul’s prayers.  These 2 men are very different, and both books are excellent though different.  This book is very accessible to lay people.  He tackles issues like public and private prayer, fasting, persevering in prayer, and Jesus’ prayers for His people.  He includes an appendix on mysticism.

This is an encouraging book.  It is also a humbling book.  That is a great combination.

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Here are some of the quotes I ran across as I looked at this parable.  The parable is simple, yet humbling in so many ways.  It exposes our tendency toward self-righteousness, and points to God’s incredible disposition towards mercy toward the humble.

From Turning Your World Upside Down by Richard Phillips

“Pride is one of the greatest and most deeply embedded sins in human nature.”  Richard Phillips

“Pride is the worst viper in the heart … nothing is so hateful to God, contrary to the spirit of the gospel, or of so dangerous consequence…”  Jonathan Edwards

“The Pharisee is self-righteous because his standard of comparison is other people, and especially those who stand out in depravity.”  Richard Phillips

From Love Walked Among Us by Paul Miller

“Self-righteousness is like bad breath.  Others can smell it but you can’t.”

“Getting in touch with your inner tax collector makes room for God’s energy in your life.”

Jerram Barrs’ book The Heart of Prayer provided this great one.

“The most basic of all sins is seeking to live independently of God: to live pretending that we do not need him, to live as if we owned the world, to live as if we could make happen whatever we desire, to live as if we were in full control of our lives.”

And lastly there is this gem from Concerning the True Care of Souls by Martin Bucer.  It bears much meditation and attention, though it is quite simple.

“Thus the health and life of the inner man consists in a true living faith in the mercifulness of God and a sure confidence in the forgiveness of sin which Christ the Lord has acquired and earned for us.”

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With a slight let up in work, I can get to work on the new box of books that just arrived from the Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore.  Here’s what I got:

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I was working on a Sunday School curriculum today for January.  In my denomination, this January will be Evangelism Emphasis month.  So my sermons and SS will be about evangelism- the need to, motives to, how to etc.

The second lesson is on how both word & deed are essential to evangelism.  Sadly, I recently heard an otherwise good radio show that treated them as antithetical.  In looking for some good quotes I opened up my copy of Jerram Barrs’ The Heart of Evangelism.  If you haven’t read it, this is a great book that I probably need to read about 5 times in a row so God can get it through my thick skull.  Jerram thoughtfully and gently explores lots of helpful avenues including addressing barriers between the church and the world, contextualizing the gospel, etc.

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