Review: Crazy for God by Francis Schaeffer (Memoir).
One of the leading evangelical theologians and philosophers of contemporary times was Francis Schaeffer. His son, Frank Schaeffer, was once a leader in the evangelical movement along with his father Francis but has since distanced himself from the evangelical movement. Crazy for God is Schaeffer’s raw memoir of life as a Schaeffer. The volume is sure to offend many on a number of levels:
- There is a steady stream of strong profanities throughout the work, mainly as utilized by Frank.
- There is a steady focus on Frank’s sexual escapades – which were frequent – and a hefty focus on his obsession with ogling the opposite gender.
- Frank portrays his mother (Edith) as controlling, perfectionistic, demeaning, and self-centered. Not a flattering portrait for one of the leading female evangelical figures.
- Frank portays his father (Francis) as depressed, physically abusive, suicidal, demeaning of fellow evangelical leaders, and questioning of his own faith.
Some will be disappointed by Francis Schaeffer’s breaks with traditional evangelicism while others will be elated. For example, Schaeffer believed that homosexuality was a physiological/biological issue rather than primarily a sin issue. While he didn’t support homosexual relations he also didn’t believe that salvation would cure one of homosexuality.
He also was privately frustrated with the actions of numerous well-known evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Depending on where you sit, this is either a positive or negative to Schaeffer’s ledger.
I’d recommend the volume as a worthwhile read to anyone who is serious about honestly evaluating their life. The work can be either overwhelmingly depressing or an opportunity to consider the junctures at which evangelicalism has gone astray, and more importantly, how we as individuals are perhaps perpetuating sin in our midst that fosters hatred toward the gospel.
Not that this was why Frank wrote the book – nor what one will necessarily draw from the book. Rather, one has to be intentional in reading the volume to use it for positive purposes – for it certainly can push us into a cynical perspective which I think offers little hope or opportunity for the future of the gospel.
For those who choose to read the volume, here are a few guiding thoughts that I found helpful while reading the book and hope may be of use to you as well:
Frank Has Deep Wounds.
Frank doesn’t hide the wounds he has received throughout his life – many at the hands of his parents (figuratively). As someone who has been deeply injured at times by others I could empathize with Frank’s woundedness…but also recognized the ways in which my woundedness affects what I say and write and how Frank’s woundedness likely affected his writings.
When we are deeply hurt it is the hurt that bubbles over and spills around. As time passes we gain perspective and the ability to reflect and bubble over some of the better aspects of broken relationships – but the hurt is what has the deepest well and seems to flow unceasing.
Frank’s portrayal of his father demonstrates both a deep love and respect for him as well as a deep injury. It provides keen insight into who Francis Schaeffer was but also fails to portray Schaeffer as he was. I think Frank acknowledges this within his book and interviews following the book. He is portraying his subjective experiences, which provide insight into the complete reality – but must be considered one component in creating a complete portrait.
Hope in God, Not Man.
Frank’s book can make one feel like evangelicalism is all a sham. Similar exposes can do the same in almost any sector – political, religious, and so on. Yet the issue exposed here is not God’s failure, but rather God’s faithfulness to a broken people. Crazy for God in many ways reflects the same story as is found in Scripture. Who was the man after God’s own heart? King David. Yet, compared to David, Schaeffer looks like a saint!
That said, the deeper theological issue which concerns us is why the believer’s life is not more transformed by God. Why do we continue to struggle with the depression, the anger, the self-centeredness, the pride even after we are saved? Is the Spirit of God impotent? I suspect that the answer to this question for now is faith. I would like to answer it and believe developing theories in systems theory and so on provide remarkable insight, but that our human intelligence is incapable of understanding the manifold and infinite ways in which God is intimately involved in and working through His creation…but I have faith that God is not impotent, that He is able, and that He is moving.
Self-Deprecation as Excuse.
Some years ago I began sharing more openly a number of my struggles – including that I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Major Depressive Episodes and Dysthymia. At first I felt proud (and received with cheery heart applause) that I was courageous enough to share my weaknesses. As time passed I realized that while the better part of me was sharing to provide transparency, to encourage others that to struggle is not to be worthless, that there is hope, and so on that on the lower part of me there was the desire to excuse and explain my failures. To push my weaknesses off as not my own.
There is something self-preserving about explaining why we are the way we are. I think it is oftentimes healthy. There is no use pretending we can live up to others expectations. Schaeffer’s book has a good bit of self-depreciation and blatant honesty thrown in. As with everyone, I am sure he struggles between the higher and lower calls of his nature.