Mar 30, 2013

Edith Schaeffer, 1914 - 2013

Edith Schaeffer has died at the age of 98. 

Schaeffer co-founded L'Abri with her husband Francis, and was a monumental figure in late twentieth century American evangelicalism. She taught that homemaking and hospitality were important Christian ministries, and that art and beauty should have a cherished place in contemporary Christian life. According to Schaeffer, God was creative and brought beauty into the world and Christian women, through feminine service to their families, could do the same.

Tim Challies, pastor of a Baptist Church in Toronto, writes a brief history of L'Abri, and Schaeffer's role in that work: 
In 1948 the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions sent the Schaeffers to Switzerland as missionaries. In 1955, after identifying significant disagreements with IBPFM and subsequently withdrawing from that organization, they decided to simply open up their home and make it available as a place to demonstrate God’s love and provide a forum for discussing God and the meaning of life. They called it L’Abri after the French word for “shelter.” By the mid-1950’s up to 30 people each week were visiting. 
Edith had an integral role in maintaining the home and mentoring those who visited. She wrote or co-wrote twenty books, including Affliction, a book on suffering, and the autobiographical The Tapestry: the Life and Times of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, each of which received the Gold Medallion Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (in 1979 and 1982 respectively).
Os Guinness once called Schaeffer "the secret of L'Abri."

World Magazine explains that for Schaeffer, Christianity could be expressed through hospitality, since "hospitality meant a real love for strangers, and having time for them when she didn't have time for them: 'Sit at our dinner table, have a meal with us, sleep in our beds, under our roof.'"

Schaeffer's son, Frank, who has been very critical of his parents, notably in a book titled, Sex, Mom and God, writes that his mother was a paradox, embodying both the best and worst of Christian fundamentalism:
I trust my mother’s hope-filled view of death because of the way Mom lived her life. Mom first introduced me to a non-retributive loving Lord who did not come to “die for us” to “satisfy” an angry God but came as a friend who ended all cycles of retribution and violence. Mom made this introduction to Jesus through her life example.  
Mom was a wonderful paradox: an evangelical conservative fundamentalist who treated people as if she was an all-forgiving progressive liberal of the most tolerant variety. 
Mom’s daily life was a rebuke and contradiction to people who see everything as black and white. Liberals and secularists alike who make smug disparaging declarations about “all those evangelicals” would see their fondest prejudices founder upon the reality of my mother’s compassion, cultural literacy and loving energy.
For a sense of Schaeffer's impact on evangelical women, one only has to look at the many reader reviews of her work on Goodreads and

Of her book, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, for example:
  • I read this book when I was a young wife 26 years ago and it still inspires me today. All of Edith Schaeffer's books have had a huge impact on my life. Expressing beauty everyday where ever you are is one of her ideas that I think about all the time.
  • it's light, but inspiring, and makes you feel like cleaning up at home, baking a loaf of bread, and inviting friends over for coffee and conversation.
  • My pastor's wife gave this book to me when I graduated from high school, w-a-y back in 1974. I've read quite a few books about homemaking since then, but this one is timeless. It remains, hands-down, the best book on home arts that I've ever read. Filling a home with beauty does not require a lot of money, it requires a lot of love. Edith knows how to stimulate creativity by sharing examples from her own life such as creating makeshift furniture, feeding people, filling a home with music, welcoming guests, incorporating art in the home, caring for a sick family member.
  • When I first picked up this book, I wasn't to excited to begin reading... But as soon as I cracked the cover, I was hooked. And not only that, but I found myself being inspired to use my talents to enrich myself and others. Even though I'm not really 'artistic' I was encouraged to use whatever talents I have to their fullest extent and enjoy the process.
  • She was my mentor by books.... If your husband brings someone home unexpectedly for dinner and all you can do is dump tuna on a plate in the shape of a can, she has help for you.
At the end of her life, Schaeffer lived with her daughter and son-in-law in a small southern Swiss village called Gryon.