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.
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.
"After a careful reading of an advance copy of the book two months ago, Deborah and I were very impressed with the many places where Frank Schaeffer honors his parents and their life. Deborah's own memories of her childhood, written independently (and which Frank uses in full in the book), surprisingly do not differ that much from those he states as his own. We were very moved by this excruciatingly honest and often very funny memoir."
WORLD: You confess at the beginning of this book that it is a memoir. Given the inflammatory nature of much that is in the book, wouldn't you have been better served to do the research of a historian or biographer?
SCHAEFFER: To represent myself as an objective historian or biographer would have been false. In attempting to be honest, I thought it better to simply admit up front that these were my impressions, and let the reader take them for what they're worth. I didn't want to speak with an omniscient voice. That wouldn't be fair. And there is nothing in that book that I have any worries about as being not true, as in did not happen. Believe me, after 23 drafts of the manuscript, this is not just shooting from the hip.
WORLD: Your family, especially the relationship between your father and mother, has been depicted as the ideal evangelical family. That's not the picture you paint here.
SCHAEFFER: My mother and dad were opposite personalities. Mom was someone who tended to fight with my father through her children. That was not unique to Edith Schaeffer. But my mom and dad were humans. Within the household there was a rivalry. The Schaeffer household was one of flesh and blood.
WORLD: But why not let these family matters remain family matters?
SCHAEFFER: When you write a book like this, you have to choose between loyalty to the reader and the truth as you remember it, or to some sort of airbrushed propaganda. I chose loyalty to the reader and loyalty to the truth.
WORLD: You say that for years you wrote airbrushed propaganda for the evangelical market.
SCHAEFFER: Absolutely. With, by the way, the best of intentions. But that's what it was. I had a point of view and I would ignore things that didn't fit my point of view. That's the problem with those on both the left and the right. They self-censor, for reasons of survival. They choose not to write things that they know to be true but which might offend their target audience. I've tried to stop doing that. I'm not saying I always do that, that I've achieved some sort of impartiality. But I try to write as I see things and not as it will help a particular ministry, or my career, or will sell a book to the evangelical bookstore chain.
WORLD: Yet, underneath your disdain for what you believe is the artificiality of evangelicalism, you still hold many of the same beliefs. You're still a practicing Christian. You are still pro-life, though you're not politically active on that issue anymore. You've remained married to the same woman for almost 40 years now. You still have a high regard for authenticity and truth. You're a writer and painter. Some would say that the apple hasn't fallen that far from the tree.
SCHAEFFER: That would be a fair assessment. The difference is that I no longer say what I say or write what I write based on whether it will improve my chances of getting on Dobson's radio program.