Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop's Invaluable Impact on Pro-Life Evangelicalism

By Dr. Richard Land

It is difficult to overestimate the incredible impact that Francis Schaeffer and Dr. C. Everett Koop made on evangelical Christians in the latter third of the 20th century. First Schaeffer, and then Dr. Koop, helped inform and energize a whole generation of evangelical Christians to engagement with a culture that had veered dangerously off course from its Judeo-Christian foundations. The pro-life movement owes them an enormous debt.

This culture's collective loss of its moral compass was nowhere more dramatically revealed than in the rapid implosion of its historic pro-life consensus in the late 1960s culminating in the infamous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in January 1973, and the pro-death culture of moral relativism it both symbolized and facilitated.

Francis Schaeffer exploded on the evangelical world in the 1960s. Having interacted from an evangelical theological foundation with the European world of modern philosophy through his and his wife's ministry at their L'Abri home and retreat center in Switzerland, Schaeffer was well-prepared to lead evangelicals to a new and deeper understanding of the titanic clash of differing world views swirling around them.

Returning to the United States in the mid-1960s, Schaeffer electrified evangelical students with his lectures and books (largely based on the lectures) such as The God Who Is There (1968), Escape From Reason (1968), He is There and He is Not Silent (1972) and Back to Freedom and Dignity (1973), which was a stirring refutation of behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity.

As an evangelical Princeton University undergraduate in the late 1960s, I, like so many in my generation, was electrified and galvanized by Schaeffer's challenge to rejoin the contemporary cultural and philosophical debate armed with what he called "true truth" that was true not only in our personal and church lives, but in every area of our existence 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Armed with Schaeffer's guide and atlas of the intellectual terrain, tens of thousands of evangelical students felt called to a life of ministry in the intellectual world of scholarship and cultural discourse. Schaeffer gave us a cultural grid for both understanding and interacting with a culture increasingly hostile to Christian presuppositions of truth and moral absolutes.

Francis Schaeffer has often been criticized in recent years for "oversimplifying" and for "simplistic generalizations." These criticisms miss the point of Schaeffer's significance.

Schaeffer was a "thinker" more than a "scholar." Where the "scholar" is haunted by the exception, the "thinker" is comfortable with the general rule and is more concerned with the big picture rather than the particulars of every case. The scholar sees the world largely through the microscope of his particular field of study, while the thinker views the world through a telescope that enables one to see general trends and seismic shifts in cultures and civilizations. Francis Schaeffer was the premier evangelical Christian "thinker" of the last half-century.

Nowhere did Francis Schaeffer see the big picture more clearly than on the issue of abortion and the brutalizing and dehumanizing impact of the pro-abortion movement and the philosophical presupposition upon which it was based.

Schaeffer had always opposed abortion, but the issue took on a new urgency for him in the wake of the Supreme Court's declaration of abortion as a constitutional right in Roe v. Wade. With the help and encouragement of his son, Franky, Schaeffer produced a 10-part documentary film series and an accompanying book entitled How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (1976).

Intended in part as a response to Kenneth Clark's very popular Civilization series, How Should We Then Live? was an extended look at how Western Civilization's rejection of Judeo-Christian moral values had led to the neo-pagan devaluing of human life as symbolized in the pro-abortion movement. The book, film series and accompanying 18-city seminar tour were a huge success and electrified the general evangelical public in much the same way his earlier work had stirred the evangelical university and seminary world.

Schaeffer increasingly devoted himself to the pro-life issue and almost immediately began work on a five-part film series and accompanying book and lecture tour with old family friend and world-renowned pediatric surgeon Dr. C. Everett Koop. The resulting Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (1979) combined Schaeffer's trenchant and powerful explanation of secular humanism's inexorable devaluation of human life with Dr. Koop's medically expert testimony to the horror that was abortion and its inevitable path to infanticide and euthanasia.

Once again, Schaeffer and Koop galvanized the evangelical general public and challenged them to become actively involved at every level of the pro-life movement. The combination of Schaeffer's theological and philosophical critique with Dr. Koop's medical expertise and international reputation as a surgeon and scientist had a powerful impact on evangelicalism from coast to coast.

They asked the questions that moved hundreds of thousands of evangelicals from the sidelines into the arena of the pro-life struggle: "If not you, then whom?" "If not this outrage, then what?" "If not now, then when?"

Dr. Koop went on to become President Reagan's Surgeon-General, elevating both that office and the pro-life issue in an unprecedented way in the eight years of his service. It is impossible to imagine an overwhelmingly pro-life American evangelicalism, and its unprecedented involvement in public policy on that issue, without the impact and leadership of these two towering figures.

Everyone devoted to the pro-life cause owes an incalculable debt of gratitude to Francis Schaeffer and to Dr. C. Everett Koop.