Saturday, February 16, 2008


After reading Frank Schaeffer’s book CRAZY FOR GOD (see 2/12/2008), I felt the need to reexamine his father’s writings. Had I missed something in them, some flaw inherent in his thinking, something that had been in them all along, that I had overlooked?

As I said in the previous blog, Francis Schaeffer’s books had a profound effect on my thinking as well as my views of the ministry, and yet I had noticed some changes in direction in his later books and films.

I must admit that I had read his last two books: A Christian Manifesto, 1981 and The Great Evangelical Disaster, 1984, rather cursorily, so I felt I now needed to reread them critically.

As I have said elsewhere of another author, it is with fear and trembling that I venture to disagree with this saint. But I must! Forgive me for oversimplifying. While Francis Schaeffer spoke clearly to the problems of his (and my) generation, I believe his viewpoint was extremely limited in at least two ways:

First, I don’t believe he was really a “world Christian.” His views were limited to the west. He didn’t seem as concerned about “whatever happened to the human race,” as he was about whatever happened to the west: Europe and America. While this has made his writings extremely relevant to us, they don’t seem as relevant to the rest of the world, or to our overall thinking.

Because of this narrow focus, it’s easy to view certain past eras as golden ages (though he constantly denies doing this): the early (western) church, the Reformation, the American Revolution; and to paint them in a bit too glorious colors. Everything that deviates from these pictures is seen as a decline in culture and a cause for hand-wringing.

Second (again I write with fear and trembling), Francis Schaeffer did not seem to be a Biblicist first, but second. His biblical views are filtered through the Reformation He based much of his argument on scholars and authors (Christian and secular) with whom he was in agreement. Now there’s nothing wrong with this as a tool for debate, but it seems that he almost baptized some of these arguments with a “thus saith the Lord,” even though they had little if any biblical support and may even, I believe, run contrary to Scripture. This especially shows in his later writings.

Some examples (pages referred to are those in A Christian Manifesto in volume 5 of The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer):

Referring to the works of some of his 19th century heroes, he says, “both of them said something very firmly: If a law is wrong, you must disobey it. Both of them call, when it is necessary, for civil disobedience” (page 453). Well and good. We have plenty of biblical precedent for this. See Acts 5:29, where Peter says, “We must obey God rather than men.” But in the very next paragraph, he quotes Finney regarding “the right and duty of revolution.” I fail to find any biblical warrant for that remark.

He says, “In almost every place where the Reformation had success there was some form of civil disobedience or armed rebellion” (page 470). (Schaeffer almost seems to equate the two.) Then he goes on to list approvingly all the heroic and bloody victories of the Reformers and their allies. He quotes Jasper Ridley, “The theory of the justification of revolution is Knox’s special contribution to theological and political thought” (page 472).

Where was Schaeffer going with all this? “There does come a time when force, even physical force, is appropriate. The Christian is not to take the law into his own hands and become a law unto himself. But when all avenues to flight and protest have closed, force in the defensive posture is appropriate” (page 483).

When does he feel it is right for the Christian to take up arms against his government? Apparently for defense, if I’m reading the above quote correctly. But how does this square with what Jesus said? “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also“ (Matthew 5:39); “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44); and “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

The holy wars of the Reformation period can possibly be justified in retrospect by what they achieved, but this sounds like an argument of “the end justifies the means.” In his other writings Schaefer recoils in horror from that sort of situation ethic.

When we take up arms in the Name of Christ, we set ourselves on a slippery slope. If the wars of the Reformation can be justified, what about the Crusades? The Inquisition? What about the mutilation and hanging of Quakers by Schaeffer’s beloved Massachusetts Puritans?

But Schaeffer goes even further. “It is time that we consciously realize that when any office commands what is contrary to God’s Law it abrogates its authority” (page 493). He goes on to say that when this happens, God “requires” us to respond, apparently with force.

Wait a minute! Paul tells the Roman Christians, many of whom would soon face martyrdom under Nero, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves” (Romans 13:1, 2). Nero was appointed by God, yet much of what he commanded was “contrary to God’s Law.” Nowhere does Paul or any other biblical writer, Old Testament or New Testament tell us that a ruler could “abrogate its authority.”

If the actions recommended by Schaeffer are to be taken, who gets to decide when and how? The Religious Right? The Religious Left? Catholics? Protestants? (Anyone who has a gun or a bomb? -- Uni’s question.) This is what’s going on throughout the Middle East and Africa. Do we really want a Christian Jihad?

When we come to Schaeffer’s last book written in 1984, we find that he has retreated a bit from what he wrote in 1981, although he does not reverse any of his previous statements. In The Great Evangelical Disaster, he comes down rather harshly on evangelicals, but at least doesn’t advocate an armed rebellion. (Good thing, or some of us would be dead – Uni.)

Schaeffer states his theme: “Here is the great evangelical disaster – the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth. There is only one word for this – namely accommodation: the evangelical church has accommodated to the world spirit of the age” (page 320, volume 4). He speaks of two accommodations: on Scripture and on “the issues.” He contrasts accommodation (which he feels evangelicals are involved in) with confrontation (which he feels they are not involved in).

He seems to blame evangelicalism for the moral problems of our age. Though he expects evangelicals to confront these issues, he is not exactly clear how we are to confront, other than by speaking out. And could our speaking out have much, if any effect on our culture?

A couple of chapters in Frank’s book were interesting to me, and I suppose comforting to him. In chapter 56, Frank tells of how he had said goodbye to his father a week before his death. It was a brief tale of reconciliation and fond memories. The other was chapter 54, wherein he describes his father as expressing regret over his alliance with what he felt were “lunatics, psychopaths and extremists” of the Religious Right. This, however, never showed up in Francis’ writings.

I have greatly respected Francis Schaeffer and will continue to do so. I respect the man who said “the real battle for men is in the world of ideas.” “The local church or Christian group should be right, but it should also be beautiful.” I feel that he will be remembered for his earlier writings and ministry. It’s too bad, but many, both those who agree with him and those who disagree, will remember him for his later harsher works and extremism.

Bill Ball

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Double Vision

Jesus had a lot to say about money. In fact, it has been claimed that He spoke more about money than about heaven or hell. That sounds true, though I must confess that I haven’t bothered to check the accuracy of that claim.

However, in many of the passages where He makes reference to money, He was not speaking of money per se, but was using it as an illustration of relative values: the parable of the minas or pounds (Luke 19:11ff); the talents (Matthew 25:14ff); the steward (Luke 16:1ff); and so on.

But He did have some very important things to say about money and our relationship to it. He did not, as many preachers do, tell His hearers how much to give; nor did He make pleas for funds for His ministry; neither did He tell them that God wants them to be rich; nor to “name it and claim it”; He didn’t even lead seminars on financial management.

No, when Jesus talked about money, He rather gave His hearers warnings about it, not about how they must control it, but about how they must not let it control them.

Probably the most familiar passage is the one in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19-24):

“Don’t treasure up (or ‘stop treasuring up’) for yourselves treasures on the earth, where moth and corrosion destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But treasure up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor corrosion destroy and where thieves don’t break in nor steal, for where your treasure is there your heart also will be.”

“The lamp of the body is the eye. If then your eye is clear, all your body will be enlightened, but if your eye is evil, your whole body will be darkened. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

“No one is able to serve two lords, for he will either hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You are not able to serve God and Mammon.”

A few notes:

The word “destroy” is the same word that is used in verse 16 of those who “disfigure” their faces when fasting.

The “evil eye” seems to speak elsewhere of an attitude of greed or envy toward someone else (20:15; Deuteronomy 15:9).

The word “serve” literally speaks of the service of a slave.
The word “mammon” is an Aramaic word that first appeared during the Intertestamental period. It is related to the Hebrew word “amen” (which means something like “it can be trusted”) and has the idea of that on which one puts one’s trust. By Jesus’ time, it had come to represent a material object of trust and almost always had a bad connotation. Modern translations such as “money” are close, but don’t quite do the job.

Jesus doesn’t tell what the “treasures in heaven” are. We’d have to look elsewhere to find out what these are. But it’s pretty easy to figure out what the “treasures on earth” are. They are those things that are perishable, that are subject to corrosion. They are things that we put our confidence in and yet they are capable of being lost.

Is Jesus telling us that we shouldn’t have savings accounts? IRAs? 401ks? Stocks? Retirement accounts? I don’t think so. Elsewhere in the parables mentioned above, He speaks of investing money. In fact, in 25:25, the slave who doesn’t invest is called, “You wicked lazy slave.” I know this passage is a parable, yet there it is.

I believe that Jesus is telling us that we cannot make money or any material object our lord and still claim to be His disciples. It is impossible to have two lords – we can only have one lord!

I don’t believe that most of us deliberately choose to serve self and self-centered material goals over Jesus. It’s that we attempt to serve both them and Him, and when we attempt that we always end up serving the other.

Rather, we are to subordinate all our material goals to His Lordship!


Browsing through a book store last week, I saw a book that caught my eye. It was titled CRAZY FOR GOD, and subtitled “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,” by Frank Schaeffer.

I immediately wondered if this was the same person as Franky Schaeffer who was the son of Francis Schaeffer and had produced some of his father’s documentaries. It was. I purchased the book and read it through over the next few days. I had to!

Before I write about the book I need to say a few things about Francis Schaeffer, the founder of L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland, Frank’s father. I first came across his books in the late 60s. I was in my early 30s and was attending a Bible church in Houston, which had become my home in 1966, Uni and I had come out of what I now consider a very rigid church background (one of those churches where the concern was more about what you don’t do than what you do). I was enjoying my freedom and reading everything I could get my hands on. Francis Schaeffer’s books were those that helped to open my eyes. Here was a man who held to the truth and inspiration of the Scriptures and would demonstrate their relevance to our culture. He helped dispel my fundamentalist fear of the world around me. He could do intellectual battle with the philosophers of the age and hold his own.

And at the same time he challenged his readers to love and be open to the lost young people around us. I took his description of his experience as a challenge: “In about the first 3 years of L’Abri all our wedding presents were wiped out. Our sheets were torn. Holes were burned in our rugs. … Blacks came to our table. Orientals came to our table. Everybody came to our table. It couldn’t happen any other way. Drugs came to our place. People vomited in our rooms. … How many times has this happened to you?”

So Uni and I opened our home to young people for a weekly Bible study that usually lasted till the wee hours of the morning, and was often populated with some rather strange characters. Some of them went off to L’Abri. Some had already been there. We were involved in what was known then as “the Jesus Movement” and Francis Schaeffer was our patron saint.

Later I went off to Dallas Seminary, a bit older than and feeling a bit hipper than, my fellow students. Francis Schaeffer and his writings took a back seat to my studies. Later he came to Dallas with his first documentary series, “How Should We Then Live?” My classmates were introduced to someone whom I had known for years. He introduced us to the abortion crisis. A few years later I saw him again as he presented his second documentary, “Whatever Happened to the Human Race?” which aimed, more specifically at the issue of abortion. There seemed to be a subtle change in his message. He was going from a sort of confrontational evangelism to more of an advocacy of social action, even political action.

After that, Francis Schaeffer took another back seat in my thinking. I was pastoring, teaching at a Bible college and involved more and more in biblical and theological studies, though I can honestly say my reading of Francis Schaeffer had changed my thinking permanently.

I found though, that Francis Schaeffer’s language was being adopted by the Religious Right and it troubled me. Schaeffer had spoken of “secular humanism” as a way of thinking that needed to be dealt with on the spiritual and intellectual level. Now radio and TV preachers were condemning those “sekaler hoomanists” right along with those “homasekshals” and “aborshnists.” I also heard rumors that there had been a falling out at L’Abri after Francis’ death in 1984. What had happened?

So now, perhaps, I felt, this book would answer my questions. It did, though I found the book extremely disturbing.

First of all, the major portion is not about what the subtitle and the cover blurbs suggest. It is mostly about Frank’s growing up. He tells his readers that it “is a memoir, not a biography.”

It is about growing up with two very flawed parents who were attempting to serve the Lord in a very difficult situation. It is one of those tell-all memoirs wherein the writer tells us more than we want to know. Somehow he feels that we the readers need to know all about his childhood and teenage sexual fantasies and adventures. Leaving those aside, however, I found that the book filled in many of the gaps in my knowledge of Francis Schaeffer and L’Abri.

Frank portrays his mother Edith, as proud and controlling – much different from the loving mother of a happy family as portrayed in her writings. He presents his father Francis, as withdrawn (except when expounding to a group of people), frequently angry, even abusive to his mother. He seems to have little good to say about Edith, but has a sort of love/hate attitude toward his father.

This is the sort of memoir that I suppose anyone could have written, though not with the same skill as Frank. I could have said things like this about my family. Uni could have about hers. I suppose our kids could have too.

However, I don’t know if Frank understands what his book teaches, at least what I got out of it: grace! Francis and Edith were very flawed people. They were sinners, but more than that, they were saints (in the biblical sense, not the usual religious sense). Like David, Samson, Abraham and most of the rest of the people in the Bible – or those we meet in history books – they sinned greatly, they had character flaws, yet God in His grace chose to use them.

Though I agree with many of Frank’s criticisms of preachers, the Religious Right, legalistic churches and the church in general, I have to recognize that this is what God uses – what someone somewhere referred to as the spastic body of Christ. This is grace as Paul often used the term – that God would choose to use him, flawed as he was. “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

What is most disturbing about the book, however, is not the tell-alls, not the humanizing of well-known saints, but the doubts it raises about the author. Has he ever really understood or experienced that grace? He later joined and is a member of a ritualistic church and that’s OK, but he seems to find comfort in the ritualism and not in the God of the religion, whose existence he seems to occasionally doubt.

The book is worth reading by anyone who wants insights into L’Abri’s ministry or the Religious Right. But it is even more worth reading for the person who is attempting to carry on a ministry and raise a family at the same time.

Bill Ball