Sunday, September 25, 2011

“Crazy for God”

Frank Schaeffer is the only son of Francis Schaeffer, who was a household name, for many conservative Christians at least, in the 1970s and early 1980s. The elder Schaeffer (1912-84) is still well known for establishing the influential L’Abri Community in Switzerland (in 1955) and for books such as The God Who Is There (1968) and He Is There and He Is Not Silent (1972). 

Francis Schaeffer is also the author of How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (1976), which was made into a ten-part documentary film series the next year, and A Christian Manifesto (1981), both of which encouraged Christians to be more actively engaged in politics.

Congresswoman Michele Backmann has cited Schaeffer’s film series as having a “profound influence” on her life and that of her husband Marcus. And much earlier, Jerry Falwell said, “If it were not for Francis Schaeffer, we would never have gotten into politics.”

For many years Frank worked “hand in glove” with his father. For example, he directed the film series mentioned above. But things changed. In 2007 Frank published an autobiography under the title Crazy for God: 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. 

Earlier this year, Frank published another memoir: Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible’s Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics—and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway. (Frank seems to like long and catchy subtitles!) 
In this latest book Frank Schaeffer discusses growing up with his parents and their role in the rise of the American Religious Right, arguing, among other things, that the root of the “insanity and corruption” of that force in U.S. politics, and specifically of the religious right’s position on abortion, is a fear of female sexuality.

In his theological/religious books, humility is one of the primary themes that Frank emphasizes. The lack of humility is one of the main problems with fundamentalists who are “crazy for God.” But he also is critical of the contemporary atheists who also show a serious lack of humility.

In Sex, Mom, and God, Schaeffer writes about being “adrift in an ocean of uncertainty.” But, he goes on to say that “perhaps that’s the only honest place to be. No one ever blew up a mosque, church, or abortion clinic after yelling, ‘I could be wrong’” (p. 73).

Frank Schaeffer is still a Christian, but no longer an evangelical. Since 1990 he has been a member of the Greek Orthodox Church.
And Schaeffer is no longer “crazy for God.” In fact, after reading Sex, Mom, and God, I remarked to June, “Franky thinks highly of sex and his mom, but not so highly of God—at least the way God is understood by most conservative Christians.”

His main criticism is of both conservative preachers and politicians who seek to use God, or God-talk, to boost their own finances, prestige, and power. That is an important criticism we need to pay attention to, for there are such preachers and politicians among us now, some looking hungrily toward 2012.

Invitation to those who live in the Kansas City area:
Schaeffer will be speaking at the downtown branch of the Kansas City Public Library at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 27 (Tues.), at an informal luncheon at William Jewell College at noon on Sept. 28 (Wed.), and at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City on Sept. 28, also at 6:30. All three events are open to the public and free of charge, except for $5 for lunch at WJC.


  1. Here is the e-mail message from a Thinking Friend in Texas:

    "Frank Schaeffer's books are worth reading. Wish I could hear him, but Kansas City bit far."

  2. And from my esteemed Thinking Friend in Kentucky:

    "I wish I could attend that WJC lecture. Maybe God does have a way to get through to fundamentalists!"

  3. I'm, of course, pleased to hear about Frank Schaeffer's work and his books, which I've not read. I remember reading one of Francis Schaeffer's books while in seminary and thinking that this is no way to do theology. I wrote a lengthy critique of it at the time, but I no longer remember what he said in the book, and doubt that I've still got the critique. (Those were hard-copy days. :)
    I suspect that what we're getting, and will continue to get, in the world is conservative and liberal Christians basically canceling out each others' voices. In the modern period running up to the Enlightenment, nations realized that it's much easier to maintain stability if the Christians have no power. Thus edicts of toleration and the U.S. move into separation of church and state. It's probably still true.
    But it makes if very difficult for us to bring a prophetic Christian voice to bear on our many collective problems.

  4. Biology has a concept called "regression to the mean." The offspring of any extraordinary individuals tend to move back towards the average. Unusually tall parents are likely to be taller than their children. Unusually intelligent parents are likely to be more intelligent than their children. It is not surprising that radical parents have more moderate children. By the way, it works on both ends, think about famous atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair being the mother of a Baptist preacher (William Murray).

    I suspect this happens to conservatives more than to liberals, for the simple reason that the cultural mean has been itself moving in a more liberal direction. That movement in turn has been driven by advances in science, technology, and general scholarship. One thing is for sure, children will continue to surprise their children.

  5. I was pleased to hear and speak with Frank Schaeffer yesterday after following him for several years. Indeed he was quite humble, likable and respectful to all, but seemed to lack a foundation from which to build other than a disrespect for his past and some pragmatic observations - a gentle, left-leaning anarchist.

    A wise mentor warned me of this outcome early in my personal sojourn.

    I am glad I was able to attend.