Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Thoughts on Frank Schaeffer interview

So why was I so fascinated by the Terry Gross interview with Frank Schaeffer?  I'll try to briefly summarize (and by the way, I missed the first part when he apparently spoke about being pro-life but keeping abortion legal, so I have no opinion on that).

I only have time to do my best from memory, forgive me that I cannot quote him directly.  

His candid testimony of growing up at L'Abri, the son of one of the most influential Christian thinkers of his generation . . . he said that people would come up to him and want to touch him, because he was the son of Francis Schaeffer . . . but that he saw the side of his dad that Christian culture never knew, and that no one is his family ever spoke of.  His father suffered from depression, was often suicidal, violent, and angry.  He talked about seeing his father scream at and even hit his mother, and then go down and preach a sermon.  I felt that he told this very honestly and graciously, portraying his father simply as a man who struggled with sin and despair just like everyone.

His decision to leave evangelicalism and become Greek Orthodox.  He described the liturgy of the church as pebbles that the waves of time have tested and smoothed, and compared it to evangelicalism that is based on the personality of a leader.  And, because churches are so heavily dependent on that person, when there is a moral failure, or problems arise, or that particular leader leaves, the church falls apart.  This made me pause.  Though I can see the flaws of orthodoxy, I can appreciate the value of history and tradition, and I have to agree with him that there can be flaws in the way our churches can become personality-driven.

His choice to not become an atheist.  This was perhaps my favorite part of the interview.  I loved his honesty.  Terry Gross asked him why he didn't leave the faith completely, and he said that he just doesn't know why . . . he said that he doesn't know what part of him makes him want to believe in God, whether it is how he was conditioned from the way he was raised, or whether he really does believe.  All that he knew, he said, was that if he were to make the choice to become an atheist, the first thing that he would have to do is pray and ask God to help him to be an atheist, and that for some reason his day isn't right when he hasn't begun it in prayer.  I was glad to hear an intellectual, skeptic viewpoint who still found that his faith had survived.

He also said a lot of good stuff about politics, his life at L'Abri, and how the Religious Right began with great sincerity and compassion, what happened when spiritual pride and quests for power entered, and how it ended as such a wreck.

I don't know why this interview so impacted me.  Maybe it is what Frank Schaeffer represents:  the son of the man who so greatly influenced the generation of Christianity that I was raised in; a thinker, philosopher, artist . . . who has lived through much of the glory and the hypocrisy attached to faith, and has emerged honestly, humbly, admitting failure, but still clinging to something ultimately Good and True.

I grew up hearing about this man Schaeffer, who people claimed was a prophet.  I leafed through books on my parents' shelf with fascinating titles, "How Should We Then Live,"  "True Spirituality," "He is There and He is Not Silent."  In college, I was influenced by his book "Art and the Bible," one of the only books on art that I found from an evangelical perspective.  And there was Frank's book on Christianity and art, "Addicted to Mediocrity."  When I got married I poured over Edith Schaeffer's book, "L'Abri," and dreamed of ministry so natural as home, and friendship, and shared meals, and curiosity, and conversations.   

His book Crazy for God is on my list to read, and I'm buying it for my dad for Christmas.

I did try to search for other blogs discussing this interview, but aside from the typical Laodicea insults and some liberal mainstream accolade, I didn't find much to chew on.


charrette said...

This is all so fascinating to me. I want to look for that book, Addicted to Mediocrity. I find a particular settling for a lower aesthetic in most religious art and would love to explore that idea. I also want to read about L'Abri and Crazy For God.

I love the way you think.

Ryan said...

Hey Jess,

This sounds really interesting. I'm going to find a spare moment today and check out the interview. Thoughts forthcoming. Be well.

Ruth said...

I used to subscribe to the Fresh Air podcast but I canceled my subscription because I got so far behind that I knew I could never, ever catch up. This does sound like an interesting interview.

Bridget De said...


I listened to it this week, but had a much different reaction. My main thought after hearing it was that I don't understand how/why his faith changed. I understood that his father was struggling with depression and was 2 different people at times, but I was surprised at not really hearing a moment of decision. Also, he felt a bit guarded in his words...perhaps because as he said, it took him a long time to make these thoughts public and put some of the hard stuff on paper.

That being said, I had never heard of Schaeffer until this episode of Fresh Air. I didn't grow up knowing him as a right wing evangelical, but I could definitely relate to his thoughts on liturgy and not starting culture wars, etc. He reminds me a lot of some of the young evangelicals coming into their own now--people who have more pro-life issues than abortion, those who see shades of gray where others might see black and white, etc.

Anyway, the interview left me wanting to know more.

Becca said...

"Addicted to Mediocrity" was a life changing book for us. It recommended "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television" which also changed our lives. I'll have to check out his interview. Thanks for the link.