Thursday, August 06, 2015

Go Big, Then Go Home

Frank Schaeffer’s latest book is called “Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God: How to give love, create beauty and find peace”.

The “find peace” part is more than a little ironic. Since turning his back on Christianity in the late ’80s, Shaeffer has written 17 books (including a few bestselling novels) to go with the five he wrote while still claiming to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He’s penned novels, gone Hollywood, directed occult horror films and comedies, has been a Republican and a Democrat, has endorsed John McCain and Barack Obama, has gone by “Francis”, “Frank” and “Franky”, has been pro-life and pro-choice and today cannot decide from one moment to the next whether he believes in God or not.

With all these ricochets and u-turns in his track record, it’s at least faintly possible Frank Schaeffer is not the most qualified man in the western world to advise others on how to find peace.

A Little Background

For those with no idea who he is, Frank Schaeffer is the son of theologian and popular Christian writer Francis Schaeffer. He produced his father’s 10 part Christian film series How Should We Then Live? which made the rounds of evangelical churches in the seventies. The New York Times says it was a “sensation among evangelicals”, and I have no reason to doubt it. They also say the Schaeffer family subsequently became affluent, something I didn’t know but also have no reason to doubt. I saw much or all of the film series as a teenager in my own home church on Sunday nights one summer and while I can’t say it changed my life, it certainly seemed solid and serious.

Of course I was not big on discernment in those days. I might have a different reaction to it today.

This Is Not An Expose

I have no problem with Frank Schaeffer. That is to say, he’s not my problem to fix. If anything, the poor man seems terminally bewildered about ... well, almost everything. He has a (steadily diminishing) platform, and if he uses it to get attention and make a few bucks for his family, who can blame him? If he was dogmatic last year about something he categorically denies today, affected certainty may be all he has ever known. So I won’t be his judge. If he can’t make up his mind about truth today, he has an appointment on his calendar with the One he once called Lord and Master, just as we all do.

No, I’m more interested in the people who made Frank Schaeffer. Which would be us. Evangelicals. Perhaps all of Christendom.

To what possible end do we inflate the egos of men and women only to watch them come crashing down? To what extent have evangelicals made merchandise of the kingdom of God that we seem to attract frauds and pretenders like carrion draws blowflies? If the Lord drove moneychangers from his temple, what does he think of Churchianity and what it has produced? The early Christians were able to spread the gospel across Europe and Asia without the aid of parachurch empire-building, yet somehow today we can’t imagine serving the Lord without endlessly “growing the ministry”.

It’s go big or go home.

Whatever You Do, DON’T Muzzle That Ox!

Assuming Schaeffer’s account is true, there was little ox-muzzling at L’Abri, where he grew up into his father’s ministry. Important Republicans of the day were regular visitors: Barbara Bush, Bob Dole, Betty Ford. The Schaeffers were “wealthy and influential”. After his father’s death in 1984, when Frank began to have doubts about the reality of God, he doubled down and “faked it the whole way”.

Why? Schaeffer is blunt:
“If two lines are forming, and one has a $10,000 honorarium to go to a Christian Booksellers Association conference and keynote, and the other is to consider your doubts and get out with nothing else to do, what are you going to do?”
Clearly I grew up in the wrong evangelical circles if being the keynote speaker for the Christian Booksellers Association nets you 10 gees. But again, I am reluctant to place all the blame on Schaeffer, though he was certainly dishonest and opportunistic. Mark Oppenheimer of The Times says, “He faked it because it was easy, it was lucrative, and — rather poignant to say — he felt he had no other options.”

That’s a Problem

No other options? Really?

The problem is not just that men are happy to stand on pedestals if given an opportunity. That has always been true. The problem is that anyone within the Body of Christ today sees value in erecting pedestals in the first place.

The Times refers to Frank Schaeffer as “evangelical royalty”. I’m reminded of the words of Hosea:
“They made kings, but not through me.
    They set up princes, but I knew it not.”
For those invited to ascend the pedestals, there are always other options.


  1. Indeed. We are infected with a bigger is better mentality, and worship growth in all forms. A humble ministry, faithfully performed for decades, pales in comparison to the next big thing that the Christian masses latch onto. Evangelicals made Frank Schaeffer, but what concerns me is "who are we making today?"