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.)