Not Your Father’s L’Abri

Don’t miss Molly Worthen’s article “Not Your Father’s L’Abri” in Christianity Today. Among other things, she notes that currents residents at L’Abri are ambivalent about Francis Schaeffer’s legacy and are fond of the writings of emergent church leaders. Some excerpts:

“During one lunch at L’Abri, Rauchenstein led a discussion of biblical inerrancy over ham sandwiches on homemade bread (despite its meager budget of 2 Swiss Francs per person, per meal, L’Abri feeds visitors well). Students hunched forward in their chairs. They offered ideas about what it meant to interpret the Bible literally or call Scripture inerrant. Some strayed into fairly liberal territory; a quiet Presbyterian boy sitting across from me, fresh out of Southeastern Bible College, looked stricken. . .”

“Though they sometimes come seeking debate, students and workers today have no use for Schaeffer’s presuppositionalist apologetics, which he adapted from the teachings of his professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, Cornelius Van Til. Van Til’s aim “was to show the non-Christian that his worldview in toto and in all its parts must logically lead back to full irrationalism, and then to show him that the Christian system provides the universal which gives a valid explanation of the universe. . .”

“Not Your Father’s L’Abri” – by Molly Worthen (Christianity Today)


  • Bryan L

    That was a really interesting article. It sounds like L’Abri was once a great place to be but because Schaeffer changed it kind of went downhill and then it went in an opposite direction after that that wasn’t any better.

    A few parts from the article were interesting:

    “Following the massive success of the series How Should We Then Live?, Schaeffer continued his pattern of cutting scholarly corners and reshaping history to support his own arguments. In the early 1980s, he hired John Whitehead, founder of the Christian libertarian Rutherford Institute, to research a book about the Christian foundation of America. The result was a historically dubious but highly influential volume entitled A Christian Manifesto (1981).
    Schaeffer was outraged by evangelical historians’ refusal to support the book’s claim that the Founding Fathers had acted out of explicitly Christian motivations. “He had written Manifesto not as a dispassionate historical treatise,” historian Barry Hankins wrote, “but as a tract in the culture wars.””

    “The workers, who meet with students one-on-one each week to guide their studies, struggle to pull them out of their own heads. “For a lot of people, [L’Abri] is more about personal spirituality, which makes sense—that’s the way religion is branded in the U.S.,” said Jasie Peltier, a tall blonde from Houston who became a Christian at L’Abri when she came four years ago. Peltier tutors mostly female students, and though she’d prefer to talk about philosophy and theology, she usually ends up talking about boys. “No one has a clue what ‘authenticity’ is,” she said. “They think it’s spilling your guts, purging. They think, I’m going to be real here, and being real means sharing, over-sharing.”

    Bryan L

  • brian l.

    I didn’t like the article. It “backhandedly” bashed Schaeffer who was one of Christianity’s greatest thinkers. CT is becoming increasingly liberal…sigh…

  • Alex Chediak

    I attended a few (USA) L’Abri events in 2003 and 2004 and perceived a shift in theological underpinnings (on egalitarianism and the nature of God, for example).

    BTW, World magazine has an interview with Udo Middleman, which (if memory serves) deals with his view of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

  • Brett

    Why is there such a tendency to call everything liberal that is critical or that you disagree with? Many take this whole “liberal vs. conservative” thing entirely too far. Don’t you know Jesus was liberal?

  • Ken

    Brett: brian l. may correct me if I’m mistaken, but I believe he’s using “liberal” in the sense that Machen did in his book “Christianity and Liberalism,” referring to theological liberalism. Machen makes the case that liberalism in this sense is not Christianity. brian l. is not the only one unhappy with CT’s drift over the years.

  • Darius

    Brett, you keep saying Jesus was liberal. In what way was He liberal and in what ways would He support theological or political liberalism today?

  • Brett

    Ken, if that is the case, then I am fine with it. However, I find it doubtful that CT is drifting towards more and more non-Christian beliefs. They may be less favorable towards conservatives, be they reformed or whatever, and they may be more critical of this camp, but to claim they are liberal in the sense Machen uses it goes a wee bit too far in my mind. I just have a conviction that the word gets tossed around too much and we call everybody who doesn’t agree with us either “liberal” or “fundamentalist” or something like that.

    Darius, thanks for asking. The definition of “conservative” would be something like the following:

    Seeking to conserve or preserve; Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.

    Jesus in no way fits this description, in fact, he was quite the opposite. The Pharisees sought to preserve the traditional view of the oral and written law, and to live by it rigidly. Jesus was about reform, change, opposing traditional views, establishing something new. I would personally say this makes him very liberal.

    I by no means want to portray that we should all seek to be as liberal as we can be, but (as is commonly believed) I don’t believe we should seek to be as conservative as we can be either. The church in America needs reform, change, new nuances and ways of doing things in order to meet people where they are at in the culture. We should always be reforming as the times change, not necessarily in our belief (though this may happen in some areas), but in our practice and thought, both theologically and politically (though not tied together).

    I’m just taking a stab at this, but those who seek to be conservative want to hold on tight to what those who went before us that we admire believed. We seek to hold on tightly to beliefs that (e.g.) Augustine, Anselm, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards believed. I am not saying this is a terrible thing, but its just not the pattern I choose to follow b/c I think these men were wrong on some issues and we should be careful to rip all of our theological beliefs from other men throughout history and not the text itself. Now, certainly there are some essentials that we always want to hold on to (resurrection, deity of Christ, inspiration of Scriptures), but many people make this list entirely too long and discard any evidence leading them in different directions b/c they seek to be conservative.

    In what ways would Jesus support theological or political liberalism today? I really can’t speak for that, but our current state of affairs in both academia and the world I believe merit a great deal of change and reform. We can’t try to conserve and get back to the “good ol days”, but we must know and understand the times and meet people where they are at via change and reform…not preservation. In any case, when we say “conservative” it’s not like we’re really talking about preserving all of Jesus and the NT’s convictions, but rather our own history’s convictions that is only a few hundred years old. Baptists seek to preserve their roots, Methodists seek to preserve their roots, Presbyterians seek to preserve their roots (good ex is the situation at WTS), so this is hardly preserving the biblical text, but rather our own traditions. The Pharisees sought to preserve their traditions as well, and Jesus had some pretty harsh words for them, as I feel he would have for many traditions we have as well in our own day.

    Interact with that a little bit and we will continue discussing. I feel like this can’t be wrapped up in one post and is an important issue since so many of us (like myself) have been taught to strive to be conservative our whole lives. Thanks for the questions.

  • Debbie Mosley

    I would say Jesus was radical, not liberal. He didn’t fit in with the religious fanatics and he ate with sinners. He said to love your enemies.

  • Darius

    If you are only referring to secondary traditions, then I agree completely. Many (but not all) of the differences between Baptists and Methodists and Episcopalians is in the traditions and style that each of those denominations follow. Theologically-speaking, Protestant evangelical churches should remain pretty conservative, conserving the deep theological roots built over the years by Edwards, Luther, etc.

    I wouldn’t say Jesus was liberal or conservative. Probably like Debbie said, He was radical. He was conservative where it was appropriate (holding to Old Testament law) and He was liberal when necessary (re-interpreting other Old Testament laws after they had been warped by the Jewish leadership).

  • Brett


    We are in much more agreement than disagreement here. When you say, “Theologically-speaking, Protestant evangelical churches should remain pretty conservative…” I would agree with the phrase “pretty conservative”. I believe that most think we should be rigidly conservative though, and I think this is a mistake. Also, I look at theology being a dynamic process and not static. As time passes on and on, some beliefs should change (minor ones mainly) due to advances in scholarship, archeology, criticisms, and building on what those who have gone before us have done.

    I certainly don’t believe that Edwards, Luther, etc have captured what the Christian faith is in its essence. I believe we should give weight to these men, learn from them, but always with a critical eye. However, “pretty conservative” is the key, and I would agree with you here. Not very conservative, not just conservative, but pretty conservative.

    Also, I believe Jesus was radical as well, but I believe his radicalness made him liberal. He was only conservative in regards to the original intent of the OT Law, but this was not popular thinking nor would it be considered conservative in the 1st century, but rather very liberal. We can look at it and call it conservative, but to the people living in his time period it was anything but conservative.

    I’m curious why others in our faith believe that our goal should be to be conservative, most of the time as conservative as possible. Do they speak in regards to our traditions? The theology of the early church? What do they mean, and why is this so important?

    Nibb High football rules!

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