Thursday, December 30, 2010

Frank Schaeffer has Patience With God

Frank Schaeffer is a very divisive and controversial figure. For instance, I don’t agree with his outspoken left wing politics. However, I absolutely love to read Frank’s books. The semi-autobiographical Calvin Becker trilogy of novels were hilariously great fun to read as was Frank’s memoir of his time being raised to be a leader of the Evangelical Protestant world, Crazy for God.

For those that don’t know, Frank Schaeffer is the son of Evangelical missionaries and authors Francis and Edith Schaeffer. During the 1960's, the Schaeffer’s founded L’Abri, which means “shelter,” in the Swiss Alps. L’Abri was a place for young people who were trying to “find themselves” to come and study the Protestant Evangelical Christian world view. According to the book Hippies of the Christian Right Francis Schaeffer became one of the intellectual gurus of the so-called “Jesus People” movement.

Edith and Francis Schaeffer

Here’s my personal connection to Francis Schaeffer. Although Schaeffer died in 1984, he remains “a big name” in Evangelical circles. When I was in college at Mercer University Atlanta (formerly Atlanta Baptist College), I dated a girl who, besides being a staunch Southern Baptist and a member of Charles Stanley’s First Baptist Church of Atlanta, was very taken with the writings of the conservative Presbyterian Schaeffer. When my girl friend told me that Francis Schaeffer was her “favorite philosopher,” in order to impress her I immediately went out to the nearest “Christian Bookstore” and bought a five volume set of The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer (the girlfriend is long gone but I still have the books). The girl friend eventually broke up with me because I was too theologically liberal. However, I actually read most of the books.

In any event, before going to graduate school, my former girlfriend headed off to Switzerland for the summer to study at L’Abri. When she got back, I was fascinated to hear that Francis’ son “Frankie Schaeffer” was now alienated from the people who were running L’Abri and living down the road. She told me how when the students got there they were all told that Frankie’s house was off limits and that anyone caught going to Frankie’s house would be asked to leave. She then told me that this intrigued all of the students who all went to Frankie’s house anyway. Thus, the Bad Catholic’s “personal connection” with the Schaeffers.

Frank Schaeffer is a fascinating character. Once a leading Protestant Evangelical, he left that life in disgust and went to Hollywood to make his fortune making R-rated movies. After that career flopped, he began to write secular books and paint. Somewhere along the line, he converted to the Greek Orthodox Church. He also writes for the Huffington Post and occasionally goes on television to make outrageous left wing statements like “George Bush was the worst President of all times,” and stuff like that.

Frank’s last book (2009) which I recently read is Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism). To a certain extent, Frank likes to write the same book over and over again. Just like Crazy for God, this book is part auto-biography and part taking swipes at Fundamentalist Protestant Christianity. In this book, though, Frank begins by demolishing the so-called “New Atheists” (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett).

Richard Dawkins spreads his message.

First, the atheists. Schaeffer makes a convincing case that dogmatic atheism is just as much a fundamentalist belief as being a born again Fundamentalist King James Bible Only Baptist in Mississippi:

“What simplistic evangelical/fundamentalist theology tries to explain about creation, using God as the magical Big Thing, Dawkins does with brain-melting Big Numbers wrapped in meant-to-obfuscate and meant -to-intimidate science jargon. The problem is that neither religious fundamentalists nor Dawkins can explain any of what they claim they are explaining. Why? Because they are deep into the realm that Einstein was talking about: the realm “that our mind cannot grasp and this beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness.”

It turns out that Dawkins agrees with creationists who say
that it’s nutty to credit pure chance as responsible for the design of something as complex as life. But Dawkins says that whatever that something is it can’t be God, because “Then you would have to ask, who created the creator?”

. . . So Dawkins has invented a theology with a scientific sounding name. . . . There is no reason to have a God because in our limitless universe (or universes) anything is statistically possible, except for their being a God. Why? Because Dawkins says so. . . . Dawkins big idea seems closer to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy than to science.”

Just like he did in Crazy for God, Frank takes no prisoners when it comes to Evangelical Fundamentalists. In a chapter called “Spaceship Jesus Will Come Back and Whisk Us Away", Schaeffer says of the authors of the Left Behind series, Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye (both of whom Frank says he knew in the good old days): “If I had to choose companions to take my chances with in a lifeboat, and the choice boiled down to picking Tim LaHaye, Jerry Jenkins, or Christopher Hitchens, I’d pick Hitchens in a heartbeat. At least he wouldn’t try to sink our boat so that Jesus would come back sooner. He might even bring along a case of wine.”

Christopher Hitchens enjoys a cold drink!

I got a big laugh out of the part of the book where Frank talks about how Evangelicals love the writings of C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton:

C.S. Lewis lighting one up!

"Lewis was no American-style evangelical/fundamentalist but a high-church (in other words formal, liturgically inclined, and old-fashioned) Anglican with a strong bias in favor of the pre-Reformation Orthodox liturgy and Roman mass. He also had Hitchenesque appetites - lots of smoking and drinking that would have gotten him instantly dismissed from any American evangelical/fundamentalist institution. For instance, Wheaton College made faculty sign pledges to never, but never, smoke, drink, dance, or play cards, and it would never have allowed Lewis to work there. This makes the fact that The Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College sells itself as a “tribute to the importance of the literary, historical, and Christian heritage” of C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and other assorted authors rather ironic. None of these smoking, drinking, and distinctly non-evangelical authors could ever have taught there."

G.K. Chesterton enjoying a smoke.

In the final section of the book, Frank tells us that although he borders sometimes on atheism and agnosticism, he inherently knows that there is something more to life than just what we see. When he plays with his grand daughter or listens to a beautiful piece of music or looks up at the night sky he knows that we are more than just a random collection of atoms. Thus, he holds on to his Christian faith as expressed through the liturgy of the Orthodox Church.

Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer’s books fall into the same category as drinking straight Bourbon whiskey. It’s an acquired taste which some may find too strong to tolerate. Reading Patience With God is like sitting down and having a long rambling talk with good old Frank who is brilliant but is also something of a crank. I loved it and can’t recommend it highly enough. However, fair warning, Frank Schaeffer likes to step on toes and demolish sacred cows. Just like straight whiskey, Frank Schaeffer books aren’t for everybody.


  1. "Frank Schaeffer is a very divisive and controversial figure. For instance, I don’t agree with his outspoken left wing politics. However, I absolutely love to read Frank’s books..."

    Here's a review that proves there are still some people out there who can honestly disagree, but still enjoy someone else's work, and be fair.

    Thank you.

  2. Thanks Frank! I am honored that you have read my blog. Please come back.

    I am really looking forward to your new book on Sex. I have pre-ordered it from Amazon.

    God Bless You and Your Family and Happy New Year!

  3. Thanks for the review. I enjoyed it, though I must say that it is striking to me that in the panoply of Christianity's icons both you and Frank manage to mention, Jesus does not seem present, much less preeminent, among them.

    Alas, Christianity's digression from Christ seems to continue unabated.

  4. Thanks for the comment. If you will take a look at my blog you will see that references to Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross are all over it.

    If you look to the left just under the masthead you will see who the Lord of this blog is: "Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi: dona nobis pacem." (Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, give us peace.")

    I also think that the big quote from St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians about preaching Christ crucified might be a hint.

    If you mean to say that Christ was not pre-eminent to C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, then you have obviously not read Lewis and Chesterton.

  5. Francis Schaeffer was a LEGEND at Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX, in the 1980s when I attended. Come to think of it, all the respected theologians were non-Baptists. It was a bitter period in the history of the Southern Baptist church, I can tell you that. I finally decided one of my sayings was "Lord, SAVE ME FROM YOUR PEOPLE!" He did, luckily, and I am forever in His debt, of course, as we all are.

  6. Whiskey is a taste I have yet to acquire, however I became a "fan" of Frank Schaeffer in his right wing days: "Addicted To Mediocrity" which is still with the classics on my bookshelf.
    Churchill said: "It is one thing to change your mind, however it is entirely a different matter to attack those who followed your previous advice."
    As a "recovering evangelical", alot of Frank's experiences resonate deeply with me, and his over-the-top, in-your-face, sarcastic commentary is entertaining; however I hope to see him use his God-given creative brilliance in tackling deeper subjects than simply politically satirizing the religious right. He can do more and I look forward to reading it when he does.

  7. Thanks for the comment Loralee. Frank did a pretty good job of pummeling the "New Atheists" in this book and the last section on the sense of the divine in ordinary life was particularly good. So I think that he is doing a little more than just making fun of the Fundies.

  8. Very few things depress me more than hearing conservative Christians tout Francis Schaeffer as an intellectual. It's like hearing Wisconsinites talk about Rib "Mountain" - they don't even know what one looks like. Crazy for God conveys the strong impression that Francis and Elizabeth were intelligent and potentially vibrant people who convinced themselves somehow that God wanted them to be miserable. Frank is one of the very few people I can think of who had a genuine religious conversion. Most of the time nasty atheists convert to nasty believers or vice versa; Frank converted from being a nasty, judgmental fundamentalist to a moderate open-minded centrist. That's rare.

  9. "I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment, to be called an agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure." -- Clarence Darrow

    "The world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better, it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look Death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides." -- Carl Sagan