Friday, February 22, 2008

Frank Schaeffer's Crazy for God, self-pity, evangelicals and the culture war

Overall I think there's nothing wrong with Frank Schaeffer's self-pity in terms of reflecting a cultural millieu in which he grew up. Not to say that the Schaeffer family itself was somehow riddled with self-pity, though perhaps just Frank. ;) No, what I mean to say is that there is a sense in which though he is not part of the evangelical/fundamentalist fold any longer Frank Schaeffer is a reminder of the embattled or self-pitying perspective evangelicals and fundamentalists have had for decades. It's part of a tendency I've noticed growing up in the background. It's not necessarily unusual, dyed-in-the wool people of any stripe tend to get this way. When I read people in all seriousness writing about how the United States died with the ascent of Ronald Reagan it's the same kind of paranoid self-pity and self-regard I have seen in people who made the same shrieking claims about Clinton.

If Christians trust that the leaders in charge are placed there by the will of God then they can be thankful for any Bush or Clinton or Reagan or Carter who gets into office. Funny how people are better at paying lip service to that concept in the United States then they are at coming close to living it out.

So while I detect some self-pity in Frank's wistful remembrance of his early paintings it's not like he doesn't know it's maudlin self-pity. So, hey, we've all been there. We've all made decisions we deeply regret if we're even as young as 22 or 12. It doesn't matter what age, the temptation to self pity is there. And sometimes, perhaps, self-pity and repentance can appear ever so slightly similar to the untrained eye that cannot discern the heart of the person who is speaking or writing. Since Frank notes that there's some maudlin self-pity in his own book I don't think I'm being unfair, and it's not like I can't possibly sympathize.

And it's not as though we who identify as evangelicals or fundamentalists haven't been guilty of the same thing any time we have talked about how no one believes in real heroes or godly principles anymore or who we are in the holy barracks staving off the hordes of the unclean in some last ditch effort to save our children from endemic godlessness. You don't even have to be evangelical to have that attitude. You could be a Catholic, an atheist, a Muslim, Orthodox, Shinto, Buddhist, etc.

To the extent that Schaeffer's writing is breezy and sloppy I'd say he doesn't fare any worse than Mark Driscoll, for instance (yes, I've read some of his stuff because I live in Seattle and one can't live in Seattle without having at least a vague idea that a pastor named Mark Driscoll preaches and teaches here).

Any author will have some good and bad moments as a stylist, after all. Piper tends to repeat himself ad nauseum and think that by saying the same thing multiple times it's saying something slightly different each time. That's okay, it was a custom in ancient Christian writing, too. It's not like Augustine didn't say the same thing a few times over. Since authors are human they get to have personal literary ticks that might be annoying. Schaeffer's happens to be that he rambles and, again, a person may ramble and still be a genius (like Augustine) not that Schaeffer per se is a genius.

Which is to say I'm still reading through Crazy for God here and there and it's an interesting read and I think a necessary one. Since I'm Protestant I'm not so big an advocate of the veneration of saints to see any reason Francis Schaeffer shouldn't be taken down a peg or two. See, in my estimation this doesn't make Francis less of a saint. Christ must increase and we must decrease. If Frank has a providentially appointed role to play in this then praise be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that Frank has burst the bubble just a teensy bit about his dad. And if Frank is wrong on something or distorts or misrepresents something he seems to have cheerfully admitted it in advance. That's more than some Christian authors have managed to do. Would have been nice if John Macarthur had done that in a revised forward to Charismatic Chaos.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Schaeffer on Schaeffer, continued, "The Little Shit from Switzerland"

Interesting nickname Frank got, and interesting that he volunteers it in Crazy for God. Still more interesting that he seems to have no qualms more or less admitting he deserved the nickname. Something tells me that Frank has been more circumspect and fair than some of his pre-emptive critics may believe. That he notes that with a maudlin sort of self-pity he did some good paintings is telling, because even for a generally generous reader assuming good will Frank does drip with a bit of self-pity here and there in the book, more for things he wishes he hadn't done (it seems) than for what his parents did or didn't do.

I'm in section 3 and if I could have made any recommendation that Frank wouldn't have listened to, it would have been to trim section 2 a bit. Of course one's memoir is one's own and you can write in it whatever you wish so I suppose section 2 may yield unpredicted significance by the time I finish the book. It helps to establish what some of Frank's non-fans may be at pains to dispute, that Francis and Edith could be very hands-off parents in both good and terrible ways. But this is something to blog about later.