Tuesday, January 22, 2008

family legacy, Christians, and mediocrity

Something that strikes me about Frank's almost agnostic tone in Crazy for God is that it at some point it doesn't matter who your parents were, it does not necessarily follow that a hero of the Christian faith will raise a child who is also a hero of the faith, too. Samson's parents raised a stupid horny brute of a man and while it may be tempting for people to say they dropped the ball in raising Samson this is reading into biblical text more than can possibly be warranted. Samuel was a man of God who raised horrible sons. Saul was an insecure, insane king who turned from the Lord who somehow managed to raise a son who was a great ally to David. David was said to be a man after God's own heart and yet many of his children were foul. Solomon had wisdom like no other and yet his kids were apostates of a peculiarly pathetic kind. As Paul put it, fleshly descent from Abraham hardly meant one is a child of the promise.

While some would see this as bad reasoning it's not unbiblical and more to the point, if children choose a path of sin after parents have done the best they can it's wrong to blame the parents. This doesn't excuse sin in the parents, of course, but as the Lord told Ezekiel, He will punish sons for their own sins and fathers for their own sins. Of course if the mystery of lawlessness weren't so mysterious we wouldn't need the greater mystery of Christ to save us from it, which is to say I'm not going to pretend to know much more than what I have learned studying Scripture and the lives of others around me, to say nothing of my own life.

Now, supposing for the sake of argument, Frank Schaeffer does not live up to his father's legacy this is a modern reminder that it doesn't matter how good a Christian you may seem to be or have been, it's no insurance policy on the faith (or lack thereof) in your children. As Ecclesiastes framed the matter so starkly, there is wisdom but the wisdom literature itself has limits. Job is a corrective to the idea that the Christian faith is based on what amounts to sympathetic magic. A Christian upbringing can increase the odds but is no substitute for the work of the Spirit.

So even if I suppose that Frank is not a chip off the old block or a disgrace to his father's name. Well, in a sense my response is "So what? This is what we see in Scripture." In Christ our family is not necessarily flesh and blood but those whom Christ provides us. Ideally it's awfully nice to have it both ways and to have flesh and blood family and family in Christ all at the same time but life and death are what they are and not everyone has the beenfit of Christian biological family.

Obviously Christians can and should raise their children to love the Lord but one doesn't even have to be a parent to observe that this an act of faith, not of certainty. I can't help but wonder since I am not a parent where the line is between really trusting the Lord that your kids will follow Christ and a form of religious inculcation that is essentially Pavlovian. Raising your kids to believe in Scripture, love Jesus, and avoid sin doesn't mean they won't end up becoming atheists or homosexuals or drug addicts. The world is just too mysterious and God's ways too mysterious. Raise up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it but sapiential sayings have their limit. Wisdom from the Lord is not necessarily the same as a promise from the Lord. Job and his comforters discovered this, as did the Preacher. For Francis Schaeffer's legacy, not everyone who imbibed worldview discussions came out the end of it a Christan and Francis Schaeffer was always honest enough to admit that this was a real risk in that approach, a risk that some others may not have taken to heart.

Something that has been on my mind lately is to compare Crazy for God to Addicted to Mediocrity. I'm not going to beat around the bush, AtM was essentially an earnest mediocrity indicting mediocrity. It's not as though there is no place for that but I wonder if at some level the problem is in indicting mediocrity itself. How do we define mediocrity? Every Lutheran named Bach is a mediocrity in the wake of Johann Sebastian, after all. Is this why you could search high and low across Germany and possibly not find a single person named Bach who is a professional musician?

What did Frank actually accomplish writing Addicted to Mediocrity? I don't really know. Did converting to Orthodoxy change anything? Somehow I don't think that's likely. For that matter is the charge that mediocrity is bad entirely valid? If we are to not think of ourselves more highly than we ought what if some of us are mediocrities? Wouldn't it be fairer to have a realistic view of ourselves than to suppose we are more than mediocrities? If Frank thought evangelicals were not living up to the legacy of his father what was he doing? It might well have been the pot calling the kettle black. It might also have been the nose deciding it was not a part of the body because it was not an ear. Tough to say, but Frank's earlier book left me thinking that the objections against mediocrity were too passionate and repetitive to leave me thinking Frank had the actual answer.

So in a way Crazy for God is a relief to read. If Frank has come through the other side of Addicted to Mediocrity able to admit he has had at best a middling career is that bad? Since I haven't paid attention to anything he's done since Addicted to Mediocrity up until now I don't feel particularly bad saying that if Frank had done more I might have paid any attention. Now, to be fair, I have spent a lot more time watching anime, collecting Miyazaki films, importing chamber music for classical guitar from Europe, and collecting old blues recordings to pay much attention to Frank. At the risk of belittling him by taking his earlier argument seriously, I was too busy finding what was excellent to be distracted by a mediocrity (which is not to say I'm not a mediocrity myself, I'm probably less than that). But perhaps in that respect I did Frank Schaeffer the favor of ignoring him in favor of all the great music and literature I discovered that he had nothing to do with.

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