August 21, 2014

Recommendation and Review: Crazy For God by Frank Schaeffer

404_frankschaeffercrazyforgod.jpgUPDATE: This reviewer totally gets it.

Crazy for God is available at many bookstores.

A really good review and the C-SPAN program link.

I just closed the cover on the 400 pages of Crazy For God and I probably shouldn’t be writing anything until I have more perspective, but I want to write now, while my impressions are fresh on my mind.

This is an important book. No matter what you hear or what associations you have with the name Franky Schaeffer, don’t avoid this book. The personal flaws of the author, and his decision to tell the truth about his life, do not get in the way of what this book represents: truth-telling. Truth telling that can be frightening in its honesty and delightful in its beauty, but truth-telling none the less. And in the end, grace filled, reconciling truth telling.

Every evangelical leader and parent needs to read this book. What Schaeffer has done is so rare in the evangelical world that you need to grab ahold of it now, before it vanishes under a pile of the usual nonsense.

I’ve dog-eared 30 pages of this book, and any one of them are worth quoting. There are some real zingers, some tearful portraits, some rants, some plain and blunt revelations and many glimpses of Christ.

You see, we don’t tell one another the truth in evangelical culture. We just don’t. We cannot be depended on to tell the truth and we are quite likely to stone the author who does. I’ve learned this first hand with a few forays into truth telling. When you tell the truth you make some people very angry and they are going to label you as apostate, liberal, dangerous and so forth.

The fact is, however, that we need to hear the truth so we can tell ourselves, our families, our children and one another the truth.

We’re full of a lot of lies, mythology, hype, spin, exaggeration, fund-raising, fictional testimonies and cover ups.

Our marriages aren’t what we make them look like. There’s abuse. There’s contempt. There’s neglect. There’s workaholism. There’s keeping up appearances.

There are secrets behind closed doors. There are bruises on the arms of mom. There are the shouts behind the walls. There are slapped faces, emotional affairs, desperate concerns for money, and lies. More lies.

There’s using religion to abuse children. There’s a dozen windmills we’re determined to fight even though they are windmills, not giants. We act like we’re sure of everything because we have the Bible, but in private we’re still trying to figure out what the Bible means. Many of us hold opinions in contrast to what we say in public or tell our children. Frank’s revelation that his father was always accepting of homosexuals and found himself despising many of the culture warriors he worked with isn’t about hypocrisy. It’s about the fact that evangelicals are much less concerned about who you are than what you believe. When Francis fires his own son-in-law for not teaching inerrancy at L’Abri, it is pathetic, because at his core, that was not how Francis Schaeffer lived his life.

We’re highly invested in appearances and living falsehoods. We believe and revere celebrities who, by and large, are people we ought to have nothing to do with. We’re (stand by) easily led and gullible, and we don’t want to be told that. Thousands of us will show up and believe pretty much anything said by our favorite preachers and teachers.

We need to hear the truth, because we’re a mess. We’re not worse than other people, we’re just LIKE other people and we don’t want to admit it. We’re very, very human, and our children know it.

Our children know it. They are seeing a story and that evangelical specialty, “protecting the children,” doesn’t work. Schaeffer’s book reminds us that our children are living their lives, too. All tangled up with our own, and seeing far more than we realize.

Frank Schaeffer is getting knocked around for saying bad things about his father and mother, but nothing is as obvious to me as the love he had for his parents. Forgiveness and reconciliation are everywhere in this book, and expressed in beautiful ways.

We all must forgive our parents. If we are parents, we must ask our own children to forgive us. We are all human beings, sinners and beggars. When Schaeffer finds the confessional in his Greek Orthodox tradition, he says he was finally able to start apologizing to his own family. Will we ever learn this lesson? Or will we just continue down the insane road that assumes somehow everything is all right because we have a collection of Bible verses propping us up?

Does Schaeffer’s personal experience color much of his story of growing up in L’Abri and founding the Religious Right? Yes, absolutely. This is a highly personal book, with details of failures, sex, desperation, stupidity and the insanity of being evangelical royalty. It will shock and offend many conservatives. It isn’t hard to see the opinionated, indulged jerk that occupies most of this story. He’s still there, but he is not the same person. Like Shakespeare’s Prospero, he has come full circle and embraced the pleasures of a reconciled, contented life.

It is also a book that is profoundly human, deeply self-forgiving and saturated in grace. It will do you good. It will do all of us good, because it will remind you that your life and your children’s lives cannot be untangled. In the end, they are left with the good and the bad of what we have given them, done to them and failed to do.

Schaeffer gives us dozens of reasons not to like him. You can sense that the arrogant young man understands why so many people found him selfish. There is no bragging in this book, and no glorifying sin. The honest language and detail do nothing as much as make “Have mercy on Frank, a sinner” an obvious and necessary prayer.

But that is exactly what Schaeffer wants. It’s what he has to say at this point in his journey. This isn’t the story of abuse in a marriage or hypocrisy in political life. It isn’t the story of the madness of evangelical fame. It is the story of the triumph of grace, contentment and forgiveness. It’s a profoundly hopeful book. Hopeful and helpful.

You won’t admire Schaeffer. You won’t want to see him as an evangelical leader. You won’t go Orthodox. You won’t toss your Schaeffer books. No, you will go home, look at your children’s pictures and wonder what story you’ve written with them.

Schaeffer recalls many good times with his dad, but none more poignant than his final good-bye. “I love you boy.” What moves the reader is that, with all that has gone on, all the human frailty, these words are what matter most.

If you need to keep worshiping evangelical icons, then by all means, avoid this story. It will tarnish your legend. If you want to hear the story of grace, faith, hope, love and forgiveness that we all long to live, then read this book.

Thank you, Frank. It was time and money well spent.

(For those who care, I bought this book with my own money. It was not a review copy.)

Comments

  1. Hey Michael,

    Thanks so much for reading and writing about Schaeffer’s “Crazy For God”. I want to recommend it highly but am afraid that the folks who read it won’t have the open-mindedness to deal with it.

    Aloha,

    Chris

  2. parishioner says:

    If you listened to the public radio interview of Franky Schaeffer, you’ll know he’s honest about his questioning God’s existence and his participation in church and prayer only out of habit.

    If you read his book, you need to keep in mind that this is where he is. He has no faith, only a tentative hope, and so he feels comfortable portraying his parents as having no faith. He unhesitatingly portrays them as Christian con artists, and those influenced by them as brain-washed.

    If Franky ever comes to faith, perhaps he will write another book that actually reflects his and his parents shortcomings in light of the truth. In the meantime, readers should keep in mind that he acknowledges no Truth. (Os Guinness’ review is good food for thought when it comes to Franky’s versions of the “truth.”)

    With no standard by which to examine his or others’ behavior, his book reads like exhibitionism. He delights in revealing every salacious detail of his sexual proclivities. The first time you read about where, when, with whom and to which imagine he masturbated, you scratch your head over why he felt the need to give you every detail. As you keep turning the pages, you’ll discover that his need to open wide his metaphoric trench coat never goes away, and you’ll go from scratching your head to feeling sick over his bondage.

    His lack of mature discernment and discretion shouldn’t be lauded as some kind of humble honesty. There is much obvious mean-spiritedness in his portrayals of his parents. I’m sure he would join you in saying he’s just being “truthful,” but his vindictiveness isn’t well hidden. The fact that he mentions that he loves his parents doesn’t negate his clearly mixed motives.

    At this point in his life, Franky Schaeffer is an exhibitionist, not a truth-teller. If and when he gets to the point where he knows the Truth, perhaps he’ll write something with proper perspective concerning his and his parents’ struggles. Until then, if you pick up one of his books you’ll read about how all Christians are power-hungry fakes, and nothing spiritual can be known for certain–and as a bonus, you’ll be treated to intimate vicarious knowledge of every type of sexual behavior to which he’s ever been inclined.

    But then, I’m just a close-minded prude who arrogantly believes that Jesus is who he said he is.

  3. Since when does the word of an outsider who happened to see a family’s facade up close (Os Guinness) trump the remembrances of a member of the family?

  4. Jody, I’m with you. Has no one seen human folly up close? Does no one consider that evangelical leaders and “heroes of the faith” are just as susceptible to folly, sin, chemical imbalance, and delusion as anyone else (Frank S. included)? Is hagiography the only reading material open to evangelicals? Get a grip folks. This sort of thing is not unique to the Scheaffers.

    Frank details Edith’s own upbringing which is awfully sheltered and narrow. Out of that she brought forth an amazing life, family, and ministry and at great cost. Furthermore, how many of us are old enough to remember the pressures put on those in “fulltime christian service” in the ’50′s, ’60′s, and ’70′s? I’m a little older than Micheal and I remember. The Scheaffers are a product of an even more stilted and crimped time in conservative protestantism that so many today have no frame of reference for. And I disagree with Frank on politics and Iraq, BTW which isn’t importamt. He NAILS life as a missionary.

  5. parishioner says:

    Jody, I didn’t say Os’ remembrances trump Frank’s, I said they were good food for thought.

    It’s possible the most important sentence in this book is on p.324, where he (literally) parenthetically admits that earlier in the book he made statements which were not true. He had taken the reader on a grueling trip with him in L.A., where he starves himself, and shoplifts for food. It’s difficult to read, and very manipulative of Frank not to be up front about what was really going on until the end of the book. You’ll miss his confession if you blink. He admits on p. 324 that his actions were not the product of sudden extreme poverty, but the product of a “depression fueled fantasy.” If Frank is periodically divorced from reality to the point of causing himself physical harm and to the point of breaking laws and risking arrest, are we really to believe that the rest of the book is factual and not equally the product of fantasy?

    Frank has a habit of playing fast and loose with facts. In interviews, he mentions his sister Priscilla’s supposed support of the account in the book, while neglecting to mention his sister Susan and he are estranged because of it. Further, in the book he goes out of his way to portray Priscilla as someone who will not say a negative word about anyone, even concerning how her husband was treated. Yet we’re asked to believe that Priscilla’s “endorsement” is solid and objective.

    In the book, Frank tells of his parents’ reluctance to address his constant sexual activity, even describing one time when his father walked in on him in bed with a girl and nothing was subsequently said. In the book, he makes clear that his parents’ silence was a product of their own unresolved feelings of discomfort and hypocrisy, since Edith concedes that she and Francis were themselves sexually active before marriage. This is a common enough phenomenon in Christian family dynamics–the problem is the way Frank has now become disingenuous about the matter. After the book’s publication, when asked by interviewers why he thinks his father didn’t initiate a conversation about his obvious sexual behaviors, he changes the answer–now he says it’s because his “father wasn’t judgmental.”

    Convenient, isn’t it? Abstinence, chastity, holiness in sexually–he decides to suddenly portray his father as caring about none of those things, and those who do as “judgmental.” It’s the product of another depression fueled fantasy. Not able to come to terms with his sexual urges (even after marriage, longing for teen-age girls), he fantasizes his father into a man who condones his every sexual move. Sure, his Dad threw things, swore at his mom and struggled with suicidal urges, but when it comes to sexual matters, he has only blessings for Frankie. Sorry, Frank. No matter how much you try to fantasize your Dad into that kind of man to relieve your conscience, you’re not off the hook. You need to surrender your sexuality to Jesus and repent. No matter what you tell yourself about your Dad’s opinions, he isn’t going to be your judge. Your judge is your heavenly Father, and you know his opinions and care for your sexuality well enough.

  6. How do you know Franky Schaeffer is telling the truth or that he is trustworthy?
    Why are you so anxious to take the word of a man who puts his self interest before others as true?