The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Losing Patience with Frank Schaeffer

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"ArtIm:

It’s hard living in the shadow of a famous father. Some sons have done well (John Quincy Adams), while other sons have done very badly (Joe DiMaggio, Jr.). Hank Williams, Jr. was typecast as a “Hank Williams clone” of his famous father. His mother promoted him as “a Hank Williams impersonator, even to the extent of having stage clothes designed for him that were identical to his father’s, and encouraging vocal styles very similar to those of his father’s.” Hank Jr. had enough sense to break away from the charade. Frank Sinatra, Jr. has said that while his famous name opened some doors, “a famous father means that in order to prove yourself you have to work three times harder than the guy off the street.”

Frank Schaeffer, the son of Christian apologist, author, and social critic Francis Schaeffer (1912–1984), worked with his father on a number of high profile book and film projects (How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race?) that introduced pietistic Christians to a more full-orbed biblical worldview. But since his father’s death, Frank has been in a downward spiral into the void. Unfortunately, he is working three times harder for those who only care about his denial of his former evangelical past because it suits their purposes.

Frank has described his late father’s work as “a circus trick” in his book Crazy for God, a caustic memoir that he wrote in 2007 about growing up with his famous parents. Here’s how Os Guinness, a friend and associate of both Francis and Frank, tells it in his must-read review of Crazy for God:

The problem is not so much that Frank exposes and trumpets his parents’ flaws and frailties, or that he skewers them with his characteristic mockery. It is more than that. For all his softening, the portrait he paints amounts to a death-dealing charge of hypocrisy and insincerity at the very heart of their life and work. In Frank’s own words, his parents were “crazy for God.” Their call to the ministry “actually drove them crazy,” so that “religion was actually the source of their tragedy.” His dad was under “the crushing belief that God had ‘called’ him to save the world.” Because of this, his parents were “happiest when farthest away from their missionary work.” Back at their calling, they were “professional proselytizers,” their teaching was “indoctrination,” and it was unclear whether people came to faith or were “brainwashed” and “under the spell” of his parents. Frank’s own arguments in their support, he now says, were a kind of “circus trick.”

In reading Crazy for God, one gets the impression that it was Frank who was the hypocrite. If he saw all these things in his parents, he kept them to himself for profit. Consider these dedications to his parents to his 1982 aptly titled and self-descriptive book A Time for Anger. Was he lying?:

To my father:
A man of courage, conviction and Christian principle, who has stood faithfully in a world of cowardice and compromise.

To my mother:
A woman of vision, depth, and love, who has courageously provided a bright spot of humanity for her family and so many others.

Thank you both.[1]

So what are we to believe today about Frank’s repudiation of his father’s worldview? Is it as opportunistic as his enablement of his father’s foray into the anti-abortion movement and conservative politics? I wonder if Frank still gets royalties from the books and films he wrote and produced with his father, or has he also disavowed the economic principles in Is Capitalism Christian?,[2] a book he edited in 1985 that includes articles from some of the world’s finest free-market economists. (For my review of Crazy for God, go here.)

Frank has followed Crazy for God with Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion {or Atheism}. He writes in the Acknowledgments that it was the “several thousand people” who emailed their thoughts to him (“whether kind or rude”) on Crazy for God that prompted him to write Patience with God (229–230). One of the most irritating things about Patience with God is that it does not include any references to the quotations. This is odd given his penchant for identifying his sources in his days as an evangelical.

Patience with God is a two-part book. In the first Part, Schaeffer attempts to offer arguments against the New Atheists. He makes it clear that he disagrees “with the New Atheists and with religious fundamentalists” (x). So do I. It’s in Part 2 that he “goes postal” once again on his favorite topic: fundamentalists/evangelicals. I don’t see him disagreeing much with leftist ideologues who are probably snickering behind his back because the once-evangelical spitfire has turned his guns on the world that nurtured him. When he has inflicted the needed damage, they will discard him like the skin of a sucked out orange. They laud and praise his “coming clean” because he fills a need, a need to destroy certainty so they can implement a false certainly that they define and control. Frank’s struggles with his beliefs are personal to him. I respect that. If he had written a book about those struggles without the vitriol leveled against the fundamentalist and evangelical worlds that embraced him and he has since rejected, I’m sure most people would have understood. Many probably would have voiced similar struggles and thanked him for being so honest.

Frank writes that he is “no longer proselytizing” (xiv). Nonsense. As he wrote in 1982 in the subtitle to his book A Time for Anger, neutrality is a myth. He’s just proselytizing for a new faith. Frank was front and center during the “Reagan Revolution” of the 1980s. He embraced it with gusto. He has since given it up. But now he beats a drum for Barack Obama and a new revolution. There’s no neutrality. Frank used to write for evangelical publishers. Now he is a frequent contributor to the ultra-liberal Huffington Post. There is no neutrality. He writes the following in his Prologue:

None of these prolific email writers [who wrote to me in response to Crazy for God] seemed to bother to read my replies, to which I attached articles I’d written for the Huffington Post explaining in some detail why I was both pro-life and pro-Obama, given that I believed that his social programs might help reduce the numbers of abortions, just as he said that he hoped they would, and that, conversely, the Republicans had been cynically using the “life issue” to drum up votes while cutting funding for health care, contraceptives, sex education, and child care. Of course, I could have been wrong about all my political ideas on the subject, but I certainly hadn’t become a “leading abortionist,” as three of my email correspondents said I had (xvii).

The Republicans are political opportunists and the Democrats aren’t? Give me a break. As the present 2074-page (this week) healthcare care bill and Obama’s economic policies demonstrate, Frank is wrong, wrong, wrong. He knows better. His experience with Republican political shenanigans should have served as a warning not to drink the Democrat “Kool-Aid,” but he has by embracing a form of liberal fundamentalism. “The Religious Right has seduced millions of Americans with titillating hatred and lies: The earth . . . is not warming . . . an unregulated market economy is Christian . . . guns keep people safe . . . taxing the rich is ‘communism’ . . . national health care is ‘communist’” (xvii-xviii).

Let’s take the “lie” that the earth is not warming. Here’s the title of an article on the present state of Global Warming: “Climatologists Baffled by Global Warming Time-Out.”

Global warming appears to have stalled. Climatologists are puzzled as to why average global temperatures have stopped rising over the last 10 years. Some attribute the trend to a lack of sunspots, while others explain it through ocean currents.

Doesn’t a statement like this give us some room to be skeptical of Global Warming certainties that are moving us to draconian laws and restrictions? There are many scientists who disagree with the absolutist science behind Global Warming fears. Then there is the newly released cache of emails that seem to show that pro-Global Warming advocates have been suppressing contrary evidence.

We mustn’t forget the Global Cooling scare of a few decades ago. According to Michael Crichton, “in the first Earth Day in 1970, UC Davis’s Kenneth Watt said, ‘If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder in 1990, but eleven degrees colder by the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us in an ice age.’” There’s more. “International Wildlife warned ‘a new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war’ as a threat to mankind. Science Digest said ‘we must prepare for the next ice age.’ The Christian Science Monitor noted that armadillos had moved out of Nebraska because it was too cold, glaciers had begun to advance, and growing seasons had shortened around the world. Newsweek reported ‘ominous signs’ of a ‘fundamental change in the world’s weather.’”

I could go on like this, but you get the point. Frank has traded one form of fundamentalism for another. Frank has issues. I can respect that. He has doubts. That, too, I can understand. There are mysteries in the vastness of the cosmos. Once again, you won’t find me arguing with him. But his solutions are a dead end. The sooner he understands this, the sooner he will have a true word for the world.

Endnotes:

[1] Franky Schaeffer, A Time for Anger: The Myth of Neutrality (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 7.
[2] Franky Schaeffer, ed., Is Capitalism Christian?: Toward a Christian Perspective on Economics (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1985).

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