I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Good Book for a Bad Crook

I just saw this video: it seriously made me laugh! The old lady gets mugged and says, "If you shoot me I'll go to heaven and you'll go to hell!"

Ha! Truly an lol moment for me!

Interesting to watch the end of the video: pastors and church leaders across America all hyperventilating and jumping up and down with joy; they are ecstatic at the thought that Jesus stopped the robber in his tracks!!!

So, friends, watch for this old lady to have a book deal in the near future....then a devotional guide....then a blog....then some tee shirts, that is, if we do the marketing right. But we need a catchy slogan. What do you think? Is The Good Book for a Bad Crook the next American Christian fad???? How about Blessings for Bandits? Or perhaps The Prayers of a Pilferer is the key! Other thoughts? If we come up with a good idea, I will personally step forward and volunteer my superb writing skills for the task of ghost writer.


Dru Johnson said...

millinerd wrote a great article for FirstThings about why Frank Schaeffer (son of Francis) is so disgusted by things just like this (Christian sensationalism). But his wisdom at the end of the article as to how we act in light of this is priceless. Definitely worth the read: http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=985 .

Jonathan Erdman said...

Good article, Dru.

Here's a good quote: "I had literally fallen over myself to make fun of a branch of Christianity that—I knew from personal experience—could transform lives. Yes, only an insider can know the ugly secrets of American evangelicalism. But what’s more, and what made mine more of betrayal, is that only an insider can know how much of it is undeniably good, sometimes even mystically so. I was such an insider, and rather than cherish and protect my memory of evangelicalism, I was willing to portray it in the worst possible light for some laughs."

I believe that Evangelicalism will die, and this for the good of the body of Christ. But as the Scripture makes clear, love is the quintessential characteristic of lives changed by Christ. So, failing to love brothers and sisters who are a part of the corrupt system is the quintessential failure.

Thanks for the link, Dru.

I am interested to read Frank's book. Have you read it?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ah, here is a link to your post with more thoughts on the issue.

Emily said...

Jon, I see you're using an actual picture of yourself now. Nice move.

Dru Johnson said...

I have not read the book in order to honor the request of friend. Some people who knew Francis also knew his weaknesses as a sinful man and do not attempt to gloss them. However, Frankie's 'attacks' are so cutting that they have apparently caused very deep hurt within the community of his former friends and current family. I know people who know Frankie and they pretty much all have the same take on him.

I saw an interview with him on 60 Minutes or 20/20 where he was speaking about his son's choice to leave an elite college path and join the USMC. I did not know it was Frankie they were interviewing and the reporter was extremely careful to conceal who his parents were. They were only described as 'missionaries to Switzerland'. They even showed a childhood picture of Frankie with his parents, but they stopped short of showing their faces. It was bizarre to say the least.

My only impression of the interview was that this man was obviously angry at his own parents. Then I finally peiced it together and realized he was Francis Schaeffer's son. But his anger towards his parents overrode everything he was trying to say and that was before I knew who he was.

So honestly, since I don't have any romantic visions of Francis Schaeffer (as I know several people who worked and lived with him for years), I only see most of Frankie's work as passive agressive patricide. Os Guiness, who was Frankie's best man and a very close friend of Francis, takes Frankie to task on firstthings.com over his less than genuine motives in his writing.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Wow. That's interesting.

I never had much invested in FS one way or the other. I started to read him once, but my interest was never held long enough to finish.

I do think that it is unfortunate that Frankie is ripping his father like this. It is one thing to purposely point out a man's faults and another to do so with cruelty, bitterness, and/or glee.

Unfortunately, though, it was the mark of 20th century Christian leaders (and perhaps leaders, in general) to put themselves on pedestals. So, in some ways, this kind of thing is the result of their own doing. In fact, it seems likely that one of the reasons that Frankie has gone on the warpath is that he is bitter, and he knows that these attacks will hit his father (and others who operate(d) the Evangelical machine) where it hurts. For example, if I had a son and he grew up and hated me, pointing out my weaknesses and faults wouldn't be a way to get back at me b/c I make my weaknesses a part of who I am and I try not to hide from them.

I guess this is all speculation, though, in regards to Frankie. Perhaps I will read the book at some point, who knows?

Dru, is this (the chance that one's children might grow up to hate you) another reason to avoid marriage??? Just kidding with you! :)

Dru Johnson said...

It's not a reason to avoid it, but it is certainly a frightful and sobering possibility. Right?

Clearly the egocentric evangelical leader creates their own demise. However, judging by Os Guiness' retort, Frankie's demise was just the opposite. Apparently, he was spoiled wroughten and allowed to become too egocentrically influential in his father's thinking. This is also what some speculate lead to Francis' later years focusing on extreme Christian conservative politik.

The Schaeffer house, as many households with older parents and unplanned younger children, was supposedly too pediacentric. This pediacentrism has obviously infected much of American parenting to this day.

I think this might be why Paul commends elders and leaders who lead well in their own homes. He advises that leadership in the church begins in the home and is tested and approved in the home. In fact, he puts the proven leadership in the home (specifically with children) as a mark of a church leader. Hence, Paul almost presumes an effective father to be a central trait for an elder. I'm not sure how he dealt with single folk.

Francis Schaeffer should have been (and possibly was) called to account on these grounds alone. But radicals in radical times often find themselves on the outs with divine 'bureaucracy'.

chris van allsburg said...

i wish the same had happened to an elderly woman who was raped repeatedly by an intruder in Holland near where I live. she goes to central avenue crc there. from what i understand, she is doing well.

i am glad for this woman's courage.

i do also hope she is not exploited, but as long as christians take a soteriological instead of a regal approach to the kingdom, church and culture, evangelicals will primarily be concerned only with the saving of souls, and follow charles finney.

Dave said...

Hey guys,

I thought I would pass along this link for further reflection on Frankie Schaeffer.


It's actually a sort of overview of the Os Guinness review, but I thought it might be helpful anyways.

ktismatics said...

I'd never heard of this book by Frank Schaeffer until dru referenced it. The reviews split predictably: evangelicals with rightward leanings regard Frank as a bitter, mean-spirited brat who's out to smear his father's rep; those of a more secular or religious-liberal bent see an affectionate and even-handed effort to portray his parents as real people rather than icons. I suspect what's most interesting about the book is Frank's behind-the-scenes insider's look at the shaping of the religious right in America, which might be more inflammatory than anything the guy has to say about his childhood.

Jonathan Erdman said...


FS was reformed, was he not???

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sorry, upper case "R": Reformed!

daniel said...

It is interesting to come across this tangent regarding Franky Schaeffer. In his book Fake Pearls for Real Swine he takes on the American Church for these and other reasons, however in this book he is very honouring towards his mom and dad.

When Frankie and his family were in South Africa a number of years ago to shoot a movie, they rented my grandmother's home which was next door, and our families got to know one another. During this time the Schaeffer's were very honouring of their parents and heritage and gave us many books written by Francis and Edith, including some signed copies.

Francis Schaeffer's books are very widely read in South Africa and quite influential, although the defense of reason that Francis Schaeffer felt so strongly about is less convincing now imo. I've just read an outstanding book by John Eldredge Waking the Dead that takes an opposite view to Francis (without attacking him directly) and seems more accurate.

These two books, Fake Pearls for Real Swine by Frankie Schaeffer and Waking the Dead by John Eldredge are the two most outstanding books I've read this year although they are completely different if not opposite to each other. I heartily recommend them both.

It's always quite a step forward when one can read a book and not agree with everything yet be moved to action and growth.

Personally reading the First Things article in Dru's link my feeling is that Frankie is being picked on. His honesty is being taken advantage of. Is it because he used to be a great supporter of First Things but has now changed his mind? I don't mean to be cynical. I have respect for people with the courage to change their minds. I don't buy the whole story that he has turned on his parents.

(Millinerd's description of falling over himself to take a photo made me wonder what attitude he was in at the time, and if a sobre-minded assessment of self would not yield more than the ironical conclusion.)

Well, I read Os Guiness's review of Franky's book too. Maybe the critical attitude that Franky adopted towards "American Evangelicalism" (like any generalization, a pretense) has become such a habit that he writes automatically in this mode no matter the subject matter.

The greatest hallmark of the Bible is its brutal factfulness and honesty. Nobody's flaws are glossed over and hidden. I think these reviews of Frankie's new book Crazy for God miss the point, but then I'd have to read the book myself to be sure. That day will no doubt come.

It comes down to your view of truth. Os has a frightened point of view, as if showing the real, weak vessel (the Schaeffer family) makes the impact of God's word and power less reliable - when Os says:

"Francis Schaeffer, in his son's portrait, lacked intellectual integrity. There was a lie at the very heart of the work of L'Abri, and the thousands of people who over the decades came to L'Abri and came to faith or deepened in faith, were obviously conned too."

That's an absurd conclusion. Anyway enough from me.

daniel said...

BTW the reviews of Franky's new book Crazy for God at amazon are much better and more even-handed than the Os Guinness's that was referenced at First Things.


Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel, That's a very interesting perspective on Frankie and Father.

Personally reading the First Things article in Dru's link my feeling is that Frankie is being picked on. His honesty is being taken advantage of. Is it because he used to be a great supporter of First Things but has now changed his mind? I don't mean to be cynical. I have respect for people with the courage to change their minds. I don't buy the whole story that he has turned on his parents.

Makes me all the more interested to read some of his books.

Maybe Frankie was more sympathetic early on, but then changed his mind? Maybe he just got fed up with the Evangelical Machine approach and became a bit jaded.

Thanks for your input.

Dru Johnson said...

I typed up a fairly pointed response yesterday, but it somehow was deleted. The gist was, none of us really have the insight or authority to gauge Frank or Os' history. I don't think many people are worried about defending Francis Schaeffer or glossing his weaknesses. None involved are that naive.

The real question that we should address, which I think is posed by Frank himself, is how does the evangelical community critique itself? That is the part of millinerd's article that Jonathan appropriately picked up on. Frank's book is admittedly fictionalized in part. So it offers us some reality and some of Frank's naturally distorted history, neither of which are distinguished for the reader.

Those who knew Francis, Franky, and L'Abri were fully aware of all the problems attending that community. I never felt like anything Frank says is novel, but rather the expected sinfulness of a man and woman like Francis and Edith. So it seems that critiques of a church community or leader, when they seek to be based in historicity, should be redundant to the ongoing discipline of the church.

This is the issue that most people who knew Francis and Franky take issue with. Francis' failures as a husband and father appear obvious to those involved, and yet the son seems to dredge it up repeatedly. Without knowing anything else, that just smacks of hurt that was never dealt with. I personally look at his upbringing and think how I would have killed to have such a functional family. I think this is why we see the evangelical reaction in this particular mode of 'picking on' Frankie, if we could even fairly assess such a thing. Plus, some people just flat out think Frank has the history wrong.

If you have ever known an eccentric person who recasts a shared history to the advantage of their present agenda, it is supremely frustrating to speak otherwise of their claims without sounding defensive and contentious. In other words, minds prone to hear conspiracy will never have a 'reason' to think the case is otherwise. Detractors of the conspiracy are always then lumped in as confederates of the conspiracy. It appears this is how the friends of Frank and Francis feel.

Again, I could care less what some liberal or conservative reviewer has to say about Frank's book and/or agenda. I do think that people who are close friends and who 'faithfully wound' are worthy of a closer hearing than some outside observer. The rest of us can lob hearsay and speculate ad nauseum without accomplishing much.

Who knows whether Frank is 'right' or 'wrong' to keep banging that particular gong after all these years. I do know that these books have been hurtful to his immediate family, but that should not be immediately inveighed against their usefulness. It just seems that a functional christian community (which is obviously fraught with dysfunction) should be able to look at most external critiques like these and proclaim, "Well duhhhh!!"

ktismatics said...

Okie dokie, I picked up the book from the library yesterday. It's got a cute picture of a young, smiling and unbearded Francis holding baby Frank on his shoulder. So see, you can tell he's fond of the old man.

daniel said...

Ktismatics, you are always so quick on the draw.

Something I've been thinking of recently - as Christians bemoan "mediocrity" in the Church(which has been one of Frank Schaeffer big topics over the years apparently), are we not called to be excellent in relationships - and does it matter if our film/art/music/novels/blogs don't quite cut it by the world's standards?

There is a price to pay for great art, and its often at the cost of one's closest relationships.

If I am forced to choose between being Beethoven and being a good husband and father, I would suggest God desires me to go for the second option: considering I am a husband and dad already, I better do it excellently!

If that means I can't put the time into music because I'm putting my family first, so be it.

So the whole mediocrity issue can be misleading. What is being measured? To reiterate, many examples of excellence in the world come at too high a price. Or what does the panel think?

At least Beethoven was focussed and didn't drag a wife and kids into his artistic tornado.

Although its been mentioned that the Schaeffer's were "pedicentric", maybe in the end they weren't family centered enough; Maybe we all need to value relationships a little more too.

ktismatics said...

Okay, I finished the book last night so I can at least give some impressions. Frank does regard himself as having been somewhat ignored by his parents when he was a child. However, he seems genuinely fond of his parents, and he acknowledges that he was rather a pain in the ass as a kid. So: was his failure in the English boarding school a result of the poor quality of the homeschooling his parents arranged for him, or was it because he just wasn't a very good or motivated student? Frank seems to have gotten along fine with his parents when they were home, but the two of them always went on speaking tours together for weeks at a time. His mom told him (!) that his dad insisted on having sex with her every single night so she had to go with him, but Frank thinks the two of them were competitive as to who had the biggest impact as Christian writers and speakers.

Frank heaps abuse on himself for encouraging his father to ally with the religious right. He saw his father as interested mostly in culture, only secondarily in Biblical studies, and not at all in politics. Frank became obsessed with the pro-life issue, which got him hooked in with the fundamentalist media stars and the Republicans who together moved evangelicalism into the political arena. He says that his dad thought that guys like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell were idiots; Frank said they were exploiting Francis Schaeffer for intellectual credibility. Anyhow, Frank persuaded his father to take a stand for the unborn, and the fundamentalists built a right-wing coalition around that single issue. Through his alliance with these guys Francis got more fundamentalist in his own theology, and L'Abri lost its openness.

I can see why Os Guinness (about whom I know nothing) wouldn't like the book since Frank calls him a "Schaeffer clone."

ktismatics said...

Frank says this about his faith:

When I left evangelicalism, it certainly was not because I was disillusioned with the faith of my early childhood. I have sweet (if somewhat nutty) memories of all those days of prayer, fasting, and "wrestling with principalities and powers." We might have been deluded, but we weren't unhappy. And there are a lot worse things than parents who keep you away from TV, grasping materialism, and hype, and let you run free with your imagination.

I think my problem with remaining an evangelical centered on what the evangelical community became. It was the merging of the entertainment business with faith, the flippant lightweight kitsch ugliness of American Christianity, the sheer stupidity, the paranoia of the American right-wing enterprise, the platitudes married to pop culture, all of it... that made me crazy. It was just too stupid for words.

Frank connects his long downward spiral to the time when, at around age 20, he quit painting and became producer then director of the movies about his father's books. He got on the fundraising circuit, the speaking tours, the political bandwagons, etc., encountering a bunch of phonies, becoming a "professional" Christian. His ticket out was trying to make it in Hollywood, which failed. But then he started writing novels, devoting time to the craft by himself rather than putting on a performance. He said he was tempted to return to the fold, to reconvert, mostly to restore the fame and money that he'd given up by walking away, but he didn't do it. Then he got his first novel published, and he settled in to his current life.

Jonathan Erdman said...

And so castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually

ktismatics said...

It's a pretty good book, quite entertaining. The guy doesn't really dwell on ideas very much -- he's mostly a story-teller. Sounds like he's happy with the Greek Orthodox Church. And I don't have to go to church more often than I can stand. When it starts to feel like religion again, I just drop out for a few months, then wander back.

daniel said...

Kt, your review's the best.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sounds like Frankie practices a healthy dose of church fasting, eh?

Dru Johnson said...

I would one last time draw your attention to the fact that we are not in a position to judge Frank, Francis or Os. Os quarrels with the historicity of Frank's novels and Frank doesn't seem as concerned on those particular points.

Honestly, this whole conversation sounds more like gossip than dialogue (and maybe I've fed into that and for that I am sorry). But if you buy into either Os' or Frank's account, they are both hearsay. I am still interested in the grander problem of one brother in Christ leveling public charges against another brother without the use of biblical means of discipline (i.e. outside the structure intended for such things by Christ).

But to read Os or Frank and think that you can somehow judge their hearts based on hearsay goes well beyond any biblical wisdom on these matters. I am an elder and have had to ferret through trickier dysfunctional circumstances than the Schaeffer family. It is difficult to judge the heart of men and women when you are intimately involved and called to judge their hearts (as Paul instructs Timothy), much less when you are an ignorant spectator.

Here, we have one dead man who cannot defend himself, his wife who is not able to defend herself, and two old friends who have a fundamentally different interpretation of their shared past. It appears very 'bandwagonish' in such a situation to favor one view of history over the other when we have had contact with absolutely neither.

Again, I think the topic of concern should be how do we AVOID these kinds of engagements in the future of the church. Americans (God have mercy on them)generally think that their entire life should be made into content for a one-hour Barbara Walters special. The blogdom only encourages such centrifugal conversations. But is this how the church should conduct itself?

Should my brothers conduct a media campaign when they've found me in sin? Should I go public with what I know about so-and-so? How did we get to the place where these questions are even relevent?

My gut and experience tell me that brothers in Christ should not engage in a public discourse of private sin. I would not want my sin and failures to be treated this way and I hope none else would. Plus, it contradicts Jesus (Matthew 18, 1 Tim 5, 2 Tim 2, etc.). And I believe the argument that says, 'Well, he opened himself up to scrutiny by being a public person," is deeply ingenuous.

But I will leave this lie (or is it lay?).

Jonathan Erdman said...

Dru, I don't share the same concern as yourself, and I wonder why.

You said: My gut and experience tell me that brothers in Christ should not engage in a public discourse of private sin. I would not want my sin and failures to be treated this way and I hope none else would.

Maybe this is where I disagree. I don't mind my sins/failures being discussed in public discourse. To me, the notion of a "private sin" is dangerous. I say this both from biblical interaction as well as experiential failure. 1 John is perhaps the primary text, in which we are encouraged to live a life "in the light." What does being "in the light" mean, if it does not mean that one's sins are forgiven and that one no longer need hide them in the darkness?

The dichotomy between public and private is one that many of my pastor friends nurture and protect. I can understand your reasons, but I fundamentally disagree with them. I think protecting a public image that is at odds with one's personal life only continues to perpetuate the artificial Christian world that we have created. This artificiality is why many go on Church fasts.

Regarding Frank/Frankie/Os, I don't think I've ever really cared about the "real" story. My concern is more with how each relates the story and what we can learn from it. I don't want to take a morbid interest in it and tantalize my desire for gossip; rather, I think the way each relates the story strikes a chord with my experience in Evangelicalism and the way in which the generations interact.

There is much to learn here and I think we can learn it without putting down other believers, though I certainly give you much respect for wanting to protect against morbid curiosity of the tabloid variety. If I have sounded as though I am encouraging discord amongst believers, I humbly apologize. There is enough discord that already exists, and it is up to us to learn from it.

Dru Johnson said...


I am sympathetic to the possible false dichotomy of a public/private sin view. All sin affects everyone, so in that sense, all sin is 'public domain'.

I make a constant effort to include my own sin in my preaching and it is good to be open about our shared need for Christ's healing. However, Jesus himself is sensitive to the handling of a brother's sin and this is what often differentiates gossip from concerned conversation.

I would like to hear your take on Jesus' instructions to go privately and confront your brother in his sin (Matthew 18)? Jesus commands us to begin in private and slowly escalate for the sake of the brother in question. Presumably, this process maintains the dignity of both parties (as the confronting party can often be wrong about what they are confronting).

In my experience, if the intention is 'to gain your brother' (which is contingent on a relationship where he can 'hear you'), then the stumbling and error of normal relationship can be subsumed into that process. However, I'm not sure if conversations like this one (not specifically this one, but ones like it) are intended to 'win our brother'.

Though,I should disclose my hand. I have been on the receiving side of someone who went public a sin issue. Their story was not true in content or perspective. They had refused to listen when confronted and turned it into sin issue on my part (even claiming that I was a heretic for what I taught). They decided to be very public about it and therefore controlled the story that everyone was hearing.

In my younger days, I would have worn that label ('heretic') as a badge, except for the utter destruction it brought to the entire church.

Because of Paul's counsel to the church's, we decided it unwise to attempt a counter-history campaign. We simply followed the guidelines of discipline as desribed most pointedly by Jesus and Paul. While that person's discipline had to come, the damage of 'the story' they had spun did its work.

I can no longer say anything that doesn't appear to be defensive or concealing. In an effort to maintain the proper bounds of that person's dignity, I don't feel like everyone in the church/world needs to hear everything, just the important parts that are meant to instruct the church (per Paul). But what appears to be my silence on the matter just feeds conspiratorial minds.

As Elvis says:
"We cant go on together
With suspicious minds
And be cant build our dreams
On suspicious minds."

ktismatics said...

From Frank again:

The Greek Orthodox have access to the sacrament of confession. As the years went by I found that confession helped me draw a line under sins that had more or less tortured me. For instance, I confessed to the times I had slapped Jessica (his oldest child). Then Jessica and I had several talks that ended in tears, forgiveness, and all those things that faith is supposed to do...

The basic prayer of the Greek Orthodox Church, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!" has become a personal mantra... It doesn't matter what I think. It is a question of what I am. And I am grateful. There is plenty to feel guilty about. I don't see guilt as a hang-up to be cured, but a truthful statement of my condition. And prayer seems to me to be the only logical response, not the cure but the answer.