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Growing up Schaeffer

Religion | Crazy for God is a tell-all memoir in the best and worst sense

Issue: "Mission: Impossible?," Oct. 13, 2007

Frank Schaeffer has long been l'enfant terrible of the evangelical world.

The son of Francis Schaeffer, for years known as "Franky" Schaeffer, is-now that he's approaching 60-no longer l'enfant. But, as his new book Crazy for God makes clear, he remains terrible, in both the best and worst senses of that word.

The 400-plus-page book is a memoir of growing up Schaeffer at L'Abri, the center founded by Francis and Edith Schaeffer in Switzerland. The Schaeffers and L'Abri, French for "the shelter," have become a part of the legend of post-World War II evangelicalism. Theirs was a place where, according to that story, brilliant young seekers from around the globe could take time out from modernity to find Jesus at the feet of a goateed Francis Schaeffer. It was a Rivendell for hippies.

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The Schaeffers themselves did not discourage these ideas. Francis took to wearing knickers when he traveled to England or the United States on speaking tours. Edith's books, including Tapestry and L'Abri, both recorded and perpetuated the story. And, to be sure, many hippies and budding intellectuals did find Jesus there. Intellectuals such as Os Guinness, Harold O.J. Brown, and Hans Rookmaaker have said their relationship with the Schaeffers and L'Abri was seminal in their lives.

To his credit, Frank Schaeffer doesn't deny the life-changing influence of his parents. He just says it's not the whole story. He told WORLD, "My parents were human beings. Humans are not perfect. The Schaeffer household was one of flesh and blood. They were sinners like everyone else. But they worked through their doubts and struggles. They opened up their home to strangers. They treated everyone equally. I continue to think my dad was a heroic figure. In some ways, the struggles no one wants to know about made them all the more exemplary."

But Crazy for God emphasizes non-exemplary parts. Frank Schaeffer writes of being left virtually to raise himself at L'Abri. And for every person who found Jesus at L'Abri, there were others for whom the place was little more than a "crash pad." The sometimes beautiful, often confused young women who came to L'Abri became fair game for the teenage Franky, as this passage makes clear:

"I lost my virginity to Mandy, a beautiful twenty-year-old. . . . Our 'relationship' lasted for about three months. Kathy-the-virtuous [Frank's nanny] used to pound on my bedroom door when she knew we were having sex, trying to make me behave according to the principles L'Abri officially stood for. My parents, as usual, were nowhere in sight, either to reprimand me or to tell me to use condoms. How their failure to be effective parents squares with Kathy's worship of my mother and father as people oh-so-wise, I don't know."

This warts-and-all strategy includes such liberal use of profanity that Crazy for God can be described-be forewarned -as R-rated. Schaeffer also bites the hand that fed him during the years that he earned millions of dollars as a writer, speaker, and filmmaker in the evangelical subculture. He scorns James Dobson and particularly Pat Robertson, as in one passage about the 700 Club: "The floor director was . . . silently counting down on her fat fingers so Pat could wrap things up for the break. . . . Pat wrapped up the Word of Knowledge right on cue! Since a Word of Knowledge is as direct a message from God as you can get . . . it interested me to learn that God made sure his Word fit the time slot."

But these passages show more disdain for the actors than the script. Schaeffer-though he no longer describes himself as an evangelical-still embraces the Christian faith, is solidly pro-life, and does not approve of premarital sex, neglectful parents, or sham spiritual experiences.

In fact, for all its lurid details, Crazy for God is in many ways an affirmation of Francis and Edith Schaeffer's worldview, a conclusion Frank Schaeffer admitted in an interview with WORLD: "In many ways, theologically and philosophically, I still believe much of what I believed in those days, and what my dad believed. But I've thrown overboard the cultural baggage."

No golden age

WORLD asked Udo Middelmann, president of the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation (and the husband of Francis Schaeffer's daughter Deborah) about Frank Schaeffer's new book. Middelmann responded:

"Both Francis and Edith Schaeffer would be appalled if anyone assumed that either their family or their work was in any way part of a golden age of perfection. Frank's statement that his parents 'were human beings. Humans are not perfect' is no different from Dr. Schaeffer's frequent warning against expecting a golden age anywhere, including the church or organizations such as L'Abri, this side of the return of Christ.

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