Francis & Edith Schaeffer, L’Abri, & Future Disciplemaking

I intended to continue a series on the Pre-Socratics and Plato this week. It will have to wait because the Lord put another blog on my heart. For the past several years, these blogs have been on political philosophy and theology. One of the major issues our society faces is the decline in community. This decline is found everywhere, and it lies behind the decline in many institutions. This blog is about discipleship and theological education but can be extended to other areas. Rebuilding and building a community is a central task of our era in every area of life.

Impact of Francis and Edith Schaeffer

Just after the Second World War, Francis Schaeffer, a Presbyterian minister and graduate of Westminster Seminary, felt called to move to Europe as a missionary to an increasingly religiously alienated and unchurched population. After a time, Francis and Edith Schaeffer began opening their home in Switzerland as a place where people might find satisfying answers to religious questions and a practical demonstration of Christian hospitality. [1]

The Schaeffer home became a place where people could find answers to their questions and a practical demonstration of Christian care. In other words, iL’Abri began as a community of Christian Love and Truth. Theologian and writer Os Guinness writes of Schaeffer, “I have never met anyone with such a passion for God, combined with a passion for people, combined with a passion for truth. That is an extremely rare combination, and Schaeffer embodied it” [2]

I am among those who benefitted from the life and work of Francis and Edith Schaeffer though I never met them nor visited L’Abri. [3] In the 1970s, I was part of a small Bible study one of the teachers and founders of which had been at L’Abri. My wife, Kathy, visited L’Abri briefly while in Europe. In my early years as a disciple, I read and profited from the books of Francis and Edith Schaeffer.

In Crisis of Discipleship, I acknowledged his impact on my  life:

Francis Schaeffer moved to his family in Switzerland and created a community known as L’Abri. Over the years, many people came to L’Abri and participated in the community. Many came to Christ and became Christian leaders. Scholars have critiqued some of the things Schaeffer taught. However, it is not possible to deny the reality and importance of L’Abri as a healing community. Francis Schaeffer was important in my early Christian walk as both a writer and example. Today, while I do not agree with many of his ideas, his example of relational discipleship continues to be important to me and to all Christians. [4]

L’Abri was successful in reaching so people precisely because it combined Christ-centered, Biblically sound, and theologically informed teaching with a transforming community based upon deeply sharing the love of Christ. Schaeffer was not a scholar. He was an apologist. For many young people, he was a window into the Christian faith and important in early faith development.

What Made L’Abri Life Changing

What made L’Abri so successful and life-changing for so many people? Without going into detail, it seems to me that there are three factors:

  1. A Community of Love created through Edith Schaeffer’s unselfish hospitality which eventually became a characteristic of the community itself;
  2. A Foundation in Historic Christian Faith and Doctrine; and
  3. A Conversational Process of questions and answers conducted in the context of a relatively small group. [5]

Community of Love

The term “L’Abri” means “Shelter” in French. The concrete “L’Abri founded by Francis and Edith Schaeffer embodied the notion of a shelter in which lost seekers of a generation in Europe could find refuge, companionship, community, and training. As one former student put it, “…L’Abri was a genuine community where Christian faith was practiced.” [6] This former student, while recognizing some of Schaeffer’s limitations concludes:

L’Abri lived up to its name for me – it was a true shelter that fortified me in the truth of historic Christianity: its intellectual heritage and its practical piety. It exhibited the reality of living before God by faith, and seeking to worship and serve him as a whole person in the community of God’s people. [7]

The purpose of L’Abri was: “To show forth by demonstration, in our life and work, the existence of God.” [8]Schaeffer believed that the Spirit of Love that Christ embodied required they welcome visitors into their home in Huemoz, Switzerland. From this initial hospitality,  a community of discipleship emerged characterized by common meals, communal interaction, common work, and study. As the years have passed, I have come to see that the community Schaeffer created, both physical and the relationships that the community nurtured was and remains the most important element of his legacy. He and Edith are both gone, but the community remains and continues to touch people.

Historic Christian Faith and Doctrine

Schaeffer was committed to communicating  historic Christian faith to a new generation. He affirmed the truth of Christian doctrine and committed to acting upon this truth in daily life. This essential conviction is stated in the “basic principle of practical operation” of L’Abri, which involved a commitment to exhibit in word and in deed: the reality of the existence of God, the character of God revealed in Christ and. the reality of supernaturally restored relationship among those who, through faith in Christ, are brothers and sisters. [9]

Schaeffer put his educational theory as follows:

True Christian education is not a negative thing; it is not a matter of isolating the student from the full scope of knowledge. Isolating the student from large sections of human knowledge is not the basis of a Christian education. Rather it is giving him or her the framework or total truth, rooted in the Creator’s existence and in the Bible’s teaching, so that in each step of the formal learning process the student will understand what is true and what is false and why it is true or false. It is not isolating students from human knowledge. It is teaching them in a framework of the total Biblical teaching, beginning with the tremendous central thing, that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. It is teaching in this framework, so that on their own level, as they are introduced to all of human knowledge, they are not introduced in the midst of a vacuum, but they are taught each step along the way why what they are hearing is either true or false. That is true education. [10]

Many people, myself included, have critiqued the limitations of the scholarship and theology of Francis Schaeffer, but no one can deny that he was interested in communicating “the Faith Once Delivered” from a Reformed perspective. [11] Before he died, Schaeffer wrote twenty-two books with an apologetic focus involving faith, Bible, theology, philosophy, and culture. He taped innumerable teachings and sermons over his years of ministry. In recent years, the scholarship of Schaeffer has been attacked from many quarters, including among evangelicals. This critique often forgets that Schaeffer was not a professional philosopher or theologian. He was a missionary and apologist—a practical practitioner of the art of evangelism and disciple-making. Like the Apostle Paul, he was a restless person, who in later years spent his time traveling around the world carrying the message of Christ.

Conversational Method

From the beginning, L’Abri was about conversation and dialogue. People came with questions, and those questions were discussed in small groups, in casual conversations,  and in larger sessions  Dr. Schaeffer led. One writer puts it this way:

[Francis] Schaeffer’s style of connecting authentically with his conversation partners is legendary. [H]is unique conversational style of apologetics emerged out of his own concerns over how Christians address their differences and disagreements with each other. … Anecdotes abound with respect to the conversations Francis Schaeffer had with others that led to profound thought-shifts for the other person. He had a special way of bonding with that person on a level that created trust and openness. Dorothy Woodson, one of L’Abri’s first workers, explained it this way: “When Mr. Schaeffer would talk to you, there was nothing else in the world that was going on. He was totally focused on you and what you were talking about and was very involved, very interested. It wouldn’t matter who the person was. I’d never seen that degree of concentration and having that kind of attention with anybody else. [12]

Shaeffer did not just teach. He listened intently to the questions being posed and tried to respond in a way that allowed the Christian message to be heard by an individual. Schaeffer’s attention to people, his conversational style, and his interest in answering questions and dealing with the actual concerns of people are what set his apologetic ministry apart. Schaeffer created a place at L’Abri where people were free to bring questions and explore the possibility that the Christian faith was true and also to grow in that faith.


The example of Edith and Francis Schaeffer is of continuing importance for the church today and for anyone who wants to think about a possible future for disciple-making and theological education. I have noted that a few details, even some basic ideas of Schaeffer. can be questioned. It is unlikely that his exact approach would work in contemporary America. What cannot be doubted is the basic soundness of a program involving sound teaching, dialogue, and community. One visitor wrote:

Even more than the excellent teaching content of L’Abri, its transformational communal life may be its most powerful component. Each day has a set structure that typically includes time for personal study, work to sustain the community, group discussion over a meal, and recreation. [13]

I think that there are three basic lessons to be drawn from an examination of L’Abri relevant for discipleship, and training pastors and lay leaders in the 21st century.

  1. Theological depth;
  2. Communal experience; and
  3. A conversational method of teaching and sharing the Christian faith.

In order to make disciples and prepare future leaders, lay and ordained, congregations and groups require good teaching content, communal life, and openness to discussion or, as I put it, dialogue. In the context in which we now live communication of truth cannot be accomplished without the creation of a community. Young people are hungry, not just for truth or even primarily for truth, but for a life-transforming community—which can only be found in the church or similar institutions and only finally in the Kingdom of God, the ultimate life-giving community.

L’Abri’s success and the Schaeffers’ approach are a critique of “information-only” teaching methodologies and programs, which characterizes much theological education, including much “online training and discipleship.” L’Abri was a place, a physical space made beautiful and life-giving by the work of the community and especially by Edith Schaeffer. As churches and denominations ponder the future of disciple-making and theological and other leadership training, the importance of a place that houses a healing community of Christ cannot be overlooked. When people came to L’Abri they entered an environment that was conducive to change and growth, an environment that was physically, emotionally, and spiritually healing for many. The creation of such places is one of the most important objectives of our day and time.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] L’Abri Fellowship, “The Early Years” (downloaded January 27, 2023).

[2] Id.

[3] Before I was a Christian in the early 1970s, while backpacking through Europe, I met a young man who just returned from L’Abri. He urged me to go, and I almost went. Unfortunately, I made a bad decision, went to Amsterdam instead, and returned to the United States. It was a big mistake.

[4] G. Christopher Scruggs, Crisis of Discipleship (College Station, TX: Virtual Bookworm, 2022), 84.

[5] For those interested in a doctoral-level analysis, see Adam J. Rasmussen, “Francis Schaeffer and Educational Ministries at L’Abri: A Historical-Conceptual Study with New Qualitative Research,” Dissertation In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirement for the Degree Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Studies (Biola University, CA, 2019) at (downloaded January 27, 2023). See also, D. G. Blomberg, Apologetic Education: Francis Shaeffer and L’Abri (Downloaded January 27, 2023).

[6] Gregory E. Reynolds, Your Father’s L’Abri: Reflections on the Ministry of Francis Schaeffer” Banner of Truth at (Downloaded January 27, 2023).

[7] Id.

[8] Edith Schaeffer, L’Abri (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1969), 15-16..

[9] “The L’Abri Statements,” pp. 3-6 (1997), originally found at Accessed May 18, 2018 found at Mi Young Gerin Eeaton, The L’Abri Fellowship and the Spiritual Principles of Vital Community Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 19 (2018), 33-49 found at January 27, 2023).

[10]  Francis A. Schaeffer, “Priorities 1982”. Speeches given at the L’Abri Mini-Seminars in 1982 found at (downloaded January 27, 2023). This material is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission. Copyright by Francis A. Schaeffer, 1982, “Priorities 1982”. Two speeches given at the L’Abri Mini-Seminars in 1982. Permission is granted for non-commercial purposes only, not the be reproduced for financial gain in any form. For additional information write to: Franky Schaeffer V Productions, P.O. Box 909, Los Gatos, CA 95031.

[11]  There are critics of Schaeffer’s scholarship, style of apologetics, and political associations. For a mostly critical review, see Molly Worthing, “Not Your Father’s L’Abri” Christianity Today March 28, 2008. January 27, 2023).

[12] Ted Lewis “Bridge-Building Conversations: Common Elements in Relational Peacemaking and Francis Schaeffer’s Apologetic Ministry” (downloaded January 28, 2023). The original quotation is found in Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008),145.

[13] Jim Watkins, “Christianity, Culture and the L’Abri Community n Transpositions: Theology, Imagination, and the Arts,” July 23, 2012 found at (downloaded January 27, 2023).