Tuesday, January 22, 2008

thoughts on Frank Schaeffer's Crazy for God, chapter 15

This chapter, particularly, interests me because it encapsulates one of the most important themes that comes across in the book, that those we revere as saints were just crazy, fallible people corrupted by sin. This does not, however, lessen their humanity or their capacity to influence people for good.

I had come across people complaining that this b0oks is poorly written and slags Francis Schaeffer. Since Francis Schaeffer is dead at any rate anyway I don't see how he would feel he has suffered any indignity through his son writing a memoir, even a memoir that mentions that his father was hot-tempered and abusive to his wife, or that his mother was often a self-righteous grandstanding woman and that the whole family was apt to judge people for not having the right doctrinal beliefs.

This can sound suspiciously familiar to someone who grew up in a background like that. What I find striking that is not borne out in Schaeffer's memoir yet (but suspect I will) is that children who grow up in such a setting tend to carry on that sort of legacy of a spiritual superiority complex that masks a virtually innate uncertainty about the reality of Christ. Doctrinal and political purity are necessary to ensure that one's faith is actually real, or one must search for that church which is the most real and apostolic and authentic and authoritative because the reality that there is no tangible evidence apart from the witness of the Spirit in one's own life is too disturbing a foundation for the reality of Christ. Not to say that there is no evidence whatsoever but a professor who was also a minister once explained to me that Christians can be tempted to explain faith in Christ on the basis of statistical rather than convergent probability. It is by faith we even accept that God created the worlds.

Schaeffer's most interesting comment is also patently obvious, every human has a dark side. In our desperation to have a hero, someone to look up to, we settle on amazingly fallible people, people who have grave and even terrible flaws. And we look to these people to be the voice of God to us within this life.

That we make the most important decisions of our lives with a paucity of information, decisions like where to go to college, who to marry, what our beliefs about the universe itself will be, that people hold up a man like Francis Schaeffer who had an honorary doctorate in theology that in itself was basically not worth very much as a hero of the Christian faith can't be avoided. That decisions that make the least sense rationally can work out the best could be chalked up to intuition, and some statistical studies have suggested that simple guesswork can be best--it may be that the brain can handle complex decisions more readily through hunches and guesswork than conscious thought because the brain cannot handle all of the mess of information in sequential order but can respond to, as it were, the gestalt presented.

What is most intriguing is how Schaeffer writes about the mysteriy of human need, how religious leaders must become in the mind of their devotees more than the sum of their fallible and even awful parts. What he writes is that this is not a sign of hypocrisy in the person who is made a saint, it is a sign of the sheer desperation of those who appointed them saints.

I am not at a point where I find much value in treating Christians of any kind as heroes to be looked up to. It simply isn't necessary in the sense of, say, a child looking up to his parents or wanting to be like Superman. That's not necessarily wrong to do and Scripture says in the Psalms that it is good to make the godly men and women of the land your heroes. But that is not the same as trusting in Christ himself. If we cannot love our neighbor who we have seen we most certainly cannot love Christ, whom we have not seen. If we cannot see Christ in our neighbor then will we see Christ? If we appoint fallible people as saints whether in our own hearts or at the acceptance of those who have come before us it is hardly a bad thing, but it does not benefit it us in any way to forget that the saints are no better than us. Their example is not in who they really were but in that they sought Christ.

I still respect the influence and legacy of Francis Schaeffer not because I would have wanted to meet the man (I basically wouldn't and would consider meeting him unnecessary); and not even because I agree with that much of what he had to say any more; but because of his eagerness to follow the Lord and to continue doing so. I think Frank Schaeffer's book is a necessary antidote to the kind of veneration of saints that Protestants pretend they don't do.

I don't think paying respects to the influence of godly men and women is in any way problematic but I don't think any saint's reputation suffers by pointing out that they dragged themselves through the mud. It is Christ's goodness imparted to the saint that makes them a saint, not the frequently corrupted and sinful desires of the saint himself. Even Scripture itself reveals that it is possible to become important in God's people simply for killing the right person at the right time but most people these days would not suppose you attain memorable status in the people of God these days just by killing the right uncircumcised Phillistine. A mudering philanderer who covers his tracks and brings disaster on his people be disobeying God is, nevertheless, described as a man after God's own heart.

So far Crazy for God is a bit sloppy but I don't expect precision in a memoir from the son of Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer's own books were not really all that precise in the way that someone like Bonhoeffer or Stott or Augustine were precise, all in drastically different ways. What has interested me in the book is the fracas about how Frank, as described by reviewers, feels culpable for turning his father toward the Christian Right and having a disproportionally large contribution to the Christian rightwing evangelicalism he now detests. I can't help but wonder if a lot of clucking done about Frank Schaeffer's book comes from people who don't think he's theologically or politically conservative in the right ways. That Frank thinks the current war is stupid and illegal probably won't be welcome to any soldiers who support the cause but then this underlines my observation that saints (and I do not suppose Frank Schaeffer isn't one just because people have claimed he has disgraced his family legacy) are severely messed up people.


Anonymous said...

You said: "What I find striking that is not borne out in Schaeffer's memoir yet (but suspect I will) is that children who grow up in such a setting tend to carry on that sort of legacy of a spiritual superiority complex that masks a virtually innate uncertainty about the reality of Christ. "

I knew one of the Schaeffer daughters and have spoken with another, and your suspicions here are off base. Neither of these women's lives even hints at a "spiritual superiority complex" whatsoever.

I wouldn't believe everything Frank Schaeffer says . . . . not by a long shot.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Actually, I suppose by way of clarification, I'm reading Crazy for God with an eye directed back toward Addicted to Mediocrity. The evidence bearing out my suspicion is Frank himself, not the daughters.

I wouldn't believe everything any of the Schaeffers say by a long shot but that is its own topic and it's not about various attempts at character assasination real or ascribed so much as that since no Schaeffer is ever going to be Jesus they must decrease as He increases.

I wouldn't blame Francis for being upset if he found out Tim LaHaye traded on his ministry and legacy to sell a few crappy books, for instance.

Anonymous said...

Well, Addicted to Mediocrity was one of the most mediocre books I've read!

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

heh, so you see, we're more in agreement than you thought. I'm glad you complained because your complaint helped me see that I needed to clarify where I've really been going in blogging about the book. So thanks. I trust you've read the more recent entry about family and linking Frank's two books to explain what I started saying here.