Fathers and Sons
On Francis Schaeffer, Frank Schaeffer, and Crazy for God.
by Os Guinness
If asked what is the deepest relationship imaginable, many people would say it is between lovers, or between husbands and wives. The case can be made, however, that from a Christian perspective, no relationship is more mysterious and more wonderful, yet sometimes more troubling, than that of fathers and sons. The depth and wonder begin with all we know of the relationship of God the Father and God the Son, while the troubled aspects stem from the Fall. Consider Absalom's rebellion against King David in the Old Testament, Edmund Gosse's exposure of his father Philip, the Oedipal drive in the writings of Sigmund Freud—and now Frank Schaeffer's Crazy for God, a memoir that is his personal apologia at the expense of his famous father, Francis Schaeffer, who was the founder and leader of the worldwide network of L'Abri communities.
Frank Schaeffer unquestionably adored his father, just as his father passionately adored him. Having lived in their home for more than three years, I have countless memories of this, including the sight of the two of them wrestling on the floor of the living room of their chalet, and ending with a fierce hug. Yet no critic or enemy of Francis Schaeffer has done more damage to his life's work than his son Frank—a result that one might not be able to infer from many reviews of the memoir, including that which appeared in the previous issue of Books & Culture.
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."
Commenting on the time when Francis Schaeffer went through his watershed crisis of doubt in 1951, which he claimed was pivotal to his faith and work, Frank says it was never resolved with any integrity: "Somehow he convinced himself to still believe." His father's "stunted" theological convictions "he held on to more as emotional baggage … than for any intellectual reason." Really? "Left to himself, Dad never talked about theology or God … . God and the Bible were work." And he was different when away from L'Abri altogether: "Dad never said grace over meals. It was as if Dad and I had a secret agreement that away from L'Abri, we were secular people."
And so it goes. With such a son, who needs enemies?
Read the whole review at CT