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Classic Book of the Month: What is The Mark of a Christian?

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WORLD Radio - Classic Book of the Month: What is <em>The Mark of a Christian</em>?

Francis Schaeffer’s short book on “the final apologetic” in John 13 can help Christians thrive in the new year


Downtown Montpelier, Vermont. Denis Tangney Jr/E+ via Getty Images

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, January 2nd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: WORLD’s Classic Book of the Month for January.

You may have heard of apologist Francis Schaeffer. He wrote numerous bestselling books throughout his ministry, including The God Who is There and True Spirituality. Reviewer Emily Whitten says a lesser-known book by Schaeffer might be his most helpful resource in 2024.

EMILY WHITTEN: Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer spoke those words back in 1977 as part of his film project, How Should We Then Live? At that time, Schaeffer was well-known by evangelicals for his defense of truth and Judeo-Christian values. In the 70s and 80s, he was especially vocal on the pro-life cause, rallying lethargic Christians to fight Roe v Wade.

CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO: And in abortion itself, there is no abortion method that is not painful to the child.

In our Classic Book of the Month titled The Mark of a Christian, Schaeffer defines his idea of the “final” or ultimate apologetic to a dying world. In the book’s first pages, he quotes John 13. Read here by Andy Lepeau:

LEPEAU: A new commandment I give to you that you love one another as I have loved you, that you also love one another by this all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.

Former Intervarsity Press editor Andy Lepeau says Schaeffer originally wrote The Mark of a Christian as one chapter of a longer work. Early on, Schaeffer felt it needed more visibility. His editor, James Sire, resisted at first, but he soon began to see the chapter could work as a stand-alone book.

LEPEAU: I mean, it's something you can read in an hour. And, and, and the structure is clear, the message is very focused. And, and so it is, it is a little bit different than your typical 250 page book. But yes, I think it would be a great volume to start the New Year off with.

Schaeffer’s message is brief but powerful—and often comes from his personal experience with other Christians. Lepeau reads here from a section titled “Visible Love.”

LEPEAU: What divides and severs true Christian groups and Christians but leaves a bitterness that can last for 20, 30 or 40 years is not the issue of doctrine or belief, which caused the differences in the first place. Invariably it is the lack of love and the bitter things that are said by true Christians in the midst of differences.

Former professor William Edgar published a biography of Schaeffer in 2017 called Schaeffer on the Christian Life. He says Schaeffer valued both orthodoxy and orthopraxy—or right beliefs and right actions. Back in the 1960s, Edgar became a Christian under Schaeffer’s teaching—so he certainly appreciates Schaeffer’s commitment to right thinking and doctrine.

EDGAR: And he a he connected Christianity to all of life, art politic politics, you name it and he was just a riveting to listen to because he had thought about just and everything. And you know, we Harvard kids thought we were pretty smart, this guy, you know, he ran circles around us because he knew not only more than we did, but he knew how to think about them.

Edgar also saw Schaeffer and his wife show a radical kind of love for others.

EDGAR: They were loving to absolutely whosoever came up there and they had this prayer. That they would accept people who came up to their chalet as being sent by God. But that meant if some guy came, who was a drug addict and got sick in their living room, he was from God and there was a reason to be there.

Orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Scheaffer spent a lot of his time speaking against the errors of liberal Christianity—errors that overemphasized love to the point of compromising doctrine. But he’d also seen many of his conservative friends make the opposite error.

EDGAR: He dearly regretted the hard nosed approach he'd had before where they, they were maybe correct in doctrine, but they didn't have any love.

In The Mark of the Christian, Schaeffer points to Paul’s wisdom in confronting both errors. In 1st Corinthians, Paul “scolds” the church because they did not discipline a man “in the midst of fornication.” But in 2nd Corinthians, when it seems that the man has repented, Paul “scolds them because they are not showing love toward him.” Schaeffer explains that God calls us to love other Christians, especially when we seek to correct them.

LEPEAU: We should never come to such differences with true Christians without regret and without tears. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Believe me? Evangelicals often have not shown it. We rush in being very, very pleased it would seem at times to find other men's mistakes.

This book is only 60 small pages written in a conversational style. While that makes it accessible, the book cleaves much unsaid and may feel uneven in its focus on love. Those new to Schaeffer might read a biography like William Edgar’s to get a fuller context of his ministry, including his vigorous defense of Biblical truth.

Schaeffer admits this side of heaven, we’ll never perfectly reflect God’s love. That’s why he pleads with his readers to seek forgiveness when they get things wrong and be quick to forgive–something Schaeffer modeled to his listeners.

In the second edition of The Mark of a Christian, editor James Sire recounts the story of a Yale student who began to “aggressively” question Schaeffer during a talk. Afterwards, Schaeffer didn’t avoid him, instead he immediately sought him out.

LEPEAU: That was not a one time event. Schaefer would do that over and over and over with anyone who came to him with, with questions and who was I mean, a genuine questioner, even if they were an aggressive questioner, someone who had a lot to, to, to say on the other side and to say it strongly, he, he was incredibly patient and loving, he cared for these people.

Our Classic Book of the Month, The Mark of a Christian by Francis Schaeffer, has challenged me and prompted me to ask this question—how can I better show God’s love to others especially “those of the household of faith”? As we head into a new year, it’s not a bad question to ponder.

I’m Emily Whitten.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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