Sunday, December 23, 2007

Crazy for God

Franky Schaeffer has written the one book I'd like to read right now: Crazy for God (subtitle: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back... ). It's a memoir that does what I wish I could do but don't have the street cred to back it up. He writes a book that exposes the unintended consequences of aligning Christian moral ideals with political power in America. He exposes the dark sides of venerated evangelical leaders through the eyes of a son raised in the context of a Christian icon in his father (Francis). In short, with love and pain, he tells the truth.

I got to thinking about all the Schaeffers and the incredible influence they've had on me. I spent two different brief stints at L'Abri in Switzerland: the first in college for a week in 1982 and then the following summer for just over two weeks in 1983. I spent hours listening to Dr. Schaeffer on tape, I ate in their home and the homes of their children, I read as many Dr. Schaeffer books as I could both at L'Abri and when I returned home. I learned that culture and faith need not be at odds. I learned that Christians were supposed to be thinkers with questions, not apologists with answers.

In the fall of 1982, I read A Christian Manifesto by Dr. Schaeffer and for the first time understood that faith was supposed to make a difference in politics, in the larger culture. I do remember harboring some apprehension about the sweeping statement that if the government supported Christian moral values through legislation, it would be good for everyone because these laws would be based on truth (even if secular Americans didn't see it that way). I remember asking myself and my Campus Crusade leader if that posture precluded pluralism, a sacred, primary value in America. I had my doubts, but I still found the book challenging and compelling reading. It's interesting to remember that moment of pause and anxiety, and then to see what has become of the Religious Right. Even so, the How Then Shall We Live? series (conceived by Franky Schaeffer) combined with Reagan's election to office twice led me to my right-wing Republicanism which remained unabated until about two years ago.

In the following years, I joined the Los Angeles L'Abri chapter and attended their local workshops. When I married, I wore out my copy of Hidden Art by Edith Schaeffer (who taught me how to make housework an artistic expression, not the drudgery I had assumed it had to be). When I had children, one of the first books I read was by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay called For the Children's Sake where she unfolded a vision of a liberal education - one rich in the arts, music, nature study, literature, composition and nurturing. Our leaders used her book for a Bible study at the Anaheim Vineyard even though up to that point, it had only circulated in homeschooling circles that I knew of. That book had a profound ripple effect in my life and I can say without question that Brave Writer would not be the business it is without that early influence of the Schaeffers on how I viewed a rich education for children. In 2001, I attended a L'Abri conference in Minnesota to hear Susan speak. I also got to say goodbye to Edith in a serendipitous and memorable encounter.

All this to say: when a Schaeffer speaks, I listen. Franky used to bug me. He has a strident (at times caustic) writing voice (which sometimes seems the inheritance of sons whose dads are larger than life public figures - they have to shout to be heard). I remember Franky's conversion to Greek Orthodoxy, I remember his writing about films.

This latest book is something else. He's telling the truth... truths that have been hidden in the dysfunctional family called the evangelical church. I've been blowing my whistle on this movement in my own way for the last seven years. It's not easy. Loads of people want to limit your experiences, tell you that your version of faith was an aberration, that you misunderstood, that the people are the problem, not the theology or ideology, that you are just bitter or had bad experiences, and so on. In other words, evangelicals largely act like siblings in an alcoholic family: pretending it's not as bad as it really is.

I read this linked interview with Franky and want to share it with you. Read the whole thing. Perhaps I'll write more about particular parts of it later. I know I'll be ordering the book today. Peace.


Bilbo said...

Hi Julie,

As you know I have been heavily influenced by the Schaeffer's as well. While Franky may have rubbed you the wrong way I found him absolutely electrifying in person. I once watched him work a crowd up into a frenzy in L.A. back in the 80's...and his book Addicted to Mediocrity was one of the most significant books I ever read.... Yesterday I bought the book and find it interesting read, especially for anyone who has a connections with Francis Schaeffer...but...I also think the book is worth the read for anyone interested in in and outs and ups and downs of those of us who have tried to make sense of our faith in a shifting postmodern culture...So far I have really enjoyed and appreciated Franky Schaeffer's vulnerability and attempt to tell it like "he" sees and has experienced it. Here is a comment by Franky in his prologue..."My life has been one of all-consuming faith--not my faith, but the faith of others that I seem to have caught like a disease and been almost obliterated by. What does God want? I am still trying to find out"...

Dave said...

I haven't been nearly as immersed in the Schaefferian world as either of you two (Julie & Bilbo) but that tradition has impacted my life quite a bit as well. Several books by Francis and his colleague Os Guiness were recommended to me by older Christians when I was first converting/assimilating into the Christian subculture. I had a lot of questions about how my previous experiences in the counter-culture were to be incorporated into my new life as a believer in Jesus. My questions were complicated and "deep" enough that it seemed like Schaeffer was the best place to steer me, in the judgment of those kindly elders who first received me. And given the alternatives, I suppose that they did the best they could. But like Julie, I also had my moments of hesitation about just where the recommendations of FS and his allies would lead not just me but the country.

Years later, after I was married and had children, we wound up in a PCA church that was founded in the early 60s and along the way had adopted an intentionally Schaefferian approach - his collected works had a prominent place in the church library and held significant influence in the preaching we heard when we first joined up.

That's still the church our family attends though I keep my involvement there to a minimum because I concluded about 10 years ago that the conservative Presbyterianism espoused by the session was not compatible with my own view of life or Christianity. Obviously, this comment indicates how intertwined my life continues to be with Schaeffer's legacy, even though I have numerous conscientious objections to that tradition! I don't think Schaeffer is quite as "front and center" as he once was in the life of the congregation but the influence is still there.

I kind of doubt that I'll put this book on the top of my list, though I look forward to reading responses to it from each of you. I read "American Theocracy" earlier this year and that satisfied, for now, my appetite to take a prolonged look at the inner workings of the evangelical power establishment - even though Kevin Phillips is nowhere near the insider that Franky Schaeffer is. I think it's basically a good thing that the curtain is being pulled back a bit. Maybe it will soften up the hardened ideological core that still seems so resilient in many of the intellectual leaders of the Christian Right... or at least give permission for a few people who are caught in its grip to think things through a bit more freely and fearlessly.

Kansas Bob said...

Thanks for the link to the interview Julie ... I have been concerned for years about the religious right leaders that Frank speaks of.. I just saw Huckabee in a clip that shows him preaching at John Hagee's church.. a sad Schaeffer legacy.

Don't think that I'll read the book.. I am already a bit too jaded :(

carrie said...

I got a B&N gift card for Christmas, and I think I'll by Franky's book. I'll check back because I'm interested in what you have to say about it.

sjimeta said...


I read your blog from time-to-time as I think you write very thought provoking articles....but a recurring theme I see is one about how people have fallen short of the exepected glory....which leads me to wonder; were you following people (leaders in Church) or were you following God? Granted, people in leadership positions are supposed to be live a certain lifestyle as they are leaders, but at the end of the day, all men are going to be accountable individually and leaders are only there to guide and provide oversight for your growth process. Every believer is expected to have a relationship with God - the most precious thing - sounds trite I know but I find that to be a safe place.

I'm not trying to be all 'preachy' but Franky's comment about the fact that his faith has been the faith of others is quite disturbing. The onus is on Leaders not to force people to accept faith, but to challenge "their flock" and unbelievers to actively reason and come to a place where they are certain that the life of faith is indeed one that they are convinced is true (not by peer pressure) and want to pursue or else you end up with jaded, bitter and disillusioned people.

Everyone believer must make sure that their 'calling and election' is sure - it ain't playing church - it is real stuff.

All, don't be jaded, find your 'first love' and reach out for that dynamic connection and let that be your ultimate light.

julieunplugged said...

sjimeta, if you can tell me what you mean by following God, I might be able to answer this question.

As far as I understood/understand faith, I was following God (what I understood that to mean at the time), not people.

sjimeta said...

Following God meaning that you verified every teaching and instruction that you recieveed and were at peace (without any doubt). If believers do not verify the instructions they receive (as the Bereans did), you end up in a dangerous situation. Praying everyday is not enough.

If there is a cause for concern, every believer must verify that instruction given has a philosophy rooted in God's value systems. I say this because repeatedly (and I don't want to come across as preachy - just want to show you how I feel both leaders and followers should live) Paul makes a case that his teaching is backed up by truth and not lies and we must follow NT patterns.

Programs and Seminars that are not value based (and the values I'm referring to are those extracted from God) but are crowd appealing and mentally appealing are very dangerous.

Also, did you 'hear from God' (this may lead to another discussion) at all regarding the direction you were supposed to take when you were immersed in the Schaeffer World?

Kansas Bob said...

Hi sjimeta.. thought I'd jump into the discussion.. speaking for me of course :)

I think that new believers listen to their leaders much in the same way that children listen to their parents. Sometimes the leaders, like parents, are not always the best people to train their followers. The journey to maturity is often like the one to adulthood.. in a sense we have to distinguish that inner voice from the ones that shout to us on Sunday mornings.. and other times as well. I suggest that people who haven't made this journey might be spiritual children of sorts.. but I could be way off.

sjimeta said...

Understood Bob.

I'm actually extremely furious and angry at a lot of leaders who have caused a lot of people who made themselves vulnerable (as is expected of any one who gets saved) and then just trampled over them with inacurate teaching and non-exemplary lifstyles. Leadership has to be taken seriously or else you end up with damaged people.

Faith must make sense - I do not subscribe to blind faith as many people often state. For example, after careful examination of truth and evidence, and out of the principle of following truth, I no longer celebrate "Christmas". Many of my friends and family say "I've lost it" - but my response is that it is not biblically based but is based on a tradition that is "shaky" and is not based on truth as I know it. While on the surface it may seem 'nice' to set aside a day to focus on what "Christ has done for us", I choose to focus on Christ every day of my life by applyting his values to my life; therefore, "Christmas" is no more special to me than say a random day during the year like November 2nd.

If our faith is founded upon truth; how do I present a faith to a non-believer who seeks the truth and then tell him that our faith requires us to celebrate Christmas on December 25th which isn't based on truth (but is based on tradition and symbolism)? If I were a truth seeking non-believer, I wouldn't listen to me!

Our faith must make sense or else we are doing ourselves and others to come a great disservice

passinThru said...

Have you actually read this book? I did and it made me sick. The focus of the book is overwhelmingly on unmasking his famous parents as dysfunctional, hypocritical people who raised him all wrong. He tells of how his mother discussed her sex life with him from a young age, he peppers the whole book with 4 letter words, describes Susan as a mean overbearing abuser, and describes his sexual addicton from the youngest ages including fairly vivid descriptions of maturbating in the bushes with a friend at age 8. I could go on but won't. He is clearly an angry and bitter man.