Crazy for God (Carroll & Graf Publishers: New York, 2007), by Frank Schaeffer, is a brand-new memoir written by the son of the famous evangelical writer and evangelist, Dr. Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984). I first heard of the famous Francis Schaeffer, who was already a sensation on the Wheaton College campus in the late 1960s, when I arrived in January of 1969 as a transfer student second-term sophomore. He represented the intellectual and spiritual hopes and dreams of our younger evangelical generation, desiring so much to free ourselves from the influence of rigid and separatistic fundamentalism and the anti-intellectual pietistic, conservative Christianity we had grown up with as teens. I have thus always been grateful for his life and reading this memoir by his son made me no less grateful in the least. We have a portrait painted here, warts and all, but the end result of this deeply personal account is one that makes the late Francis Schaeffer quite appealing to anyone with an ounce of grace still in them.
Frank Schaeffer, now a 55 year-old author with serious fiction and non-fiction to his credit, explains in this breezy and easy-to-read book how he grew up "as one of the elect, helped found the religious right, and lived to take it (or almost all of it) back." (This is the actual subtitle of the memoir.) Frank Schaeffer, as many readers well by now, converted to Orthodoxy about fifteen years ago and immediately became an advocate for his new faith and practice, often doing so in ways that felt almost as triumphalistic as the way he had promoted his dad in evangelical days. His early Orthodoxy, presented in books, articles and oral presentations, was not nearly as appealing as it now appears in this new memoir.
Schaeffer, as is also quite well known, grew up the youngest of four Schaeffer children in Switzerland’s L’Abri, an idealistic missionary community established by his parents. By the time Franky, as he was known then, had reached nineteen, his dad and mom had achieved world-wide fame as best-selling Christian authors. After making quite a mess of his early life, trying to figure out who he was and why he chose to live in the way that he did, Schaeffer went through several radical phases, even becoming a petty shop-lifter with no deep hope for the future at one point. By the time he was twenty-three, and married with a child that had admittedly been conceived out-of-wedlock, Franky had directed two multi-part religious documentaries that made both his father, and young Franky, very popular with American evangelical audiences. Cal Thomas once said Franky was "the best speaker in America." Speaking in large arenas all across America young Schaeffer did get to know such prominent leaders as Pat Robertson, Jack Kemp, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy and James Dobson. The further he moved into the center of this growing evangelical world the more alienated he felt personally. This is the part of the story that is told in the first half or more of this moving memoir. The story is grim, tragic and way too real to make comfortable people feel good about it. It will thus be very easy for evangelicals to attack Schaeffer’s life and to lay the blame for most of what he experienced on him alone. (He takes the blame for his own indiscretions and stupidity and does not engage in "blaming" others for his own sins and silliness!) But he is honest, brutally honest, in telling the reader how he remembers events and people. He calls Dobson, Robertson and Falwell "empire builders" and "anti-American religious revolutionaries." He says the religious right was motivated by a "morality" that was used "for nakedly political purposes." He refers to their approach as based upon "anti-American self-righteous venom" after 9/11 and recalls Robertson and Falwell describing God’s judging of America because we had become "faggot America." In it all Schaeffer sees such leaders "rooting for one form of apocalypse or another." In private, Frank says that his late father referred to Dodson, and others like him, as "idiots" and "plastic" men. They were, says Frank again citing his father’s private words, "Way too right-wing, really nuts!" And, he adds that Francis once said, "They’re using our issue