Tuesday, February 12, 2008


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


XLT said...

I'll have to grab a copy, thanks for the recommendation...


Mike said...

Very interesting post, Bill. I did a little more research and it seems that Franky is a little off the wagon, but that's just me talking--and I'm also a very imperfect being. But thanks for the post. I, too, will need to take some time to read this.

Bill Ball said...

Mike, I'd agree that Franky is probably "a little off the wagon," as you say. But that doesn't mean that his views are not to be taken into consideration. I usually read with a critical eye. To quote Norman Geisler: "There is only one Book I read to believe; all others I read only to consider."

Hang in there, I have more thoughts on both this book and his father's books.