Who's the major figure behind the election and re-election of George W. Bush? On one level, the visionary Karl Rove. At a deeper level, a theologian most Americans have never heard of: Francis Schaeffer, who 50 years ago this month founded an evangelistic haven in Switzerland, L'Abri.
Over the next quarter-century, Schaeffer changed the lives of many disaffected young people who stopped at L'Abri and found an intellectual pastor who dealt with their hardest questions. He summarized his answers in notable books like "The God Who is There" and "Escape from Reason," and then turned to political matters in his book "How Should We Then Live."
Published in 1976 and then turned into a film series, that book -- along with the impetus of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision -- pushed many evangelicals into political and cultural involvement. Schaeffer brilliantly summarized the history of Western civilization and explained problems in philosophy, science and culture. He concluded that if Christians stayed aloof from political and cultural debates, Western civilization would go down the drain.
In a follow-up book, "A Christian Manifesto" (1981), Schaeffer argued that:
The people in the United States have lived under the Judeo-Christian consensus for so long that now we take it for granted. ... We have forgotten why we have a positive balance between form and freedom in government, and the fact that we have such tremendous freedoms without these freedoms leading to chaos. Most of all, we have forgotten that none of these is natural in the world.
Schaeffer went on to describe two tracks, and did not predict which would be dominant down the road. He wrote:
The first track is the fact of the conservative swing in the United States in the 1980 election. With this there is at this moment a unique window open in the United States ... and we must take advantage of it in every way we can as citizens, as Christian citizens of the democracy in which we still have freedom.