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Crazy For God
by Frank Schaeffer
 
 
There have been tell-all books by the children of celebrities, it seems, since the printed word first went to press.  There are litanies of stories told by the children of ministers.  There are also films, like _Marjoe_, that tell of the business of ministry and the need to keep up fronts even though the faith conviction has flown long ago.  Frank Schaeffer's new prolific book, _Crazy For God_ attempts to give us something of all three of these kinds of stories.  The success of the book hinges on the distinction between an autobiography, that strives to be objectively accurate,  and a memoir, which allows for a great deal of subjectivity.  Given this distinction, this book is a successful and engaging story of one man's pilgrimage through the world created for him by his famous parents to a path of his own.  
 
The only son of theologian, author and minister, Frances Schaeffer and his equally prolific wife, Edith, Schaeffer, explores the terrain of a unique time and place from the sometimes skewed view of a gifted and intelligent young boy.  He chronicles the early fundamentalism of his parents as, in the late 50's, they leave the U.S. to establish a Christian commune in Switzerland, known as L'Abri, in order to explore the conditions of the church in Europe and the direction of the youth movement.  He describes the pious attitudes that sometimes confused him.  He tells many stories with humor and love.  He tells others with his own characteristic acerbic wit and sarcasm.  But, through all of this the humanity of everyone involved shines.  At the center stage is Schaeffer and his life with his two famous parents.  
 
Ironically, _Crazy for God_ allows for more love, respect and compassion for Frances and Edith Schaeffer than the sometimes sanitized and one-dimensional public figures they later came to be.  Schaeffer presents a full, human, and vulnerable picture of two people committed to their call, living through their imperfections, and giving love to their family and friends with tireless and imperfect passion.....
 
Frances Schaeffer comes across in this book with a sense of pathos and introspection somehow unable to be released except through walks in nature and engagement in all things cultural. Especially moving are his hikes with his son, their tours of Italy and his love of classic art and music.  Frances Schaeffer comes across like a lost child discovering a new world. Through his spirituality, intelligence and intuition, he brings many in both the evangelical world and the world-at large to that same new world he discovered.  
 
Frank captures the late 60's vividly in this book. Frances suffering with depression, needing quiet and drowning out the crowds in the house with the constant blast of classical music.  The counter culture hippies showing up in droves to talk long into the night.  Visits with people as unlikely as Timothy Leary lend a certain counter-cultural validation for L'Abri.  Shaeffer even recounts Jimmy Page showing him a copy of _Espcape From Reason_ saying that it was given to him by Eric Clapton.   But, most important, this period is portrayed as the time when L'Abri transformed from a culturally restrictive place to a counter-culture community open to all, no matter their beliefs or human frailties.  
 
It seems Schaeffer's main complaint, like many celebrity children who came before him, is the neglect he suffered in a dysfunctional family that was in the public eye, at least, a model Christian home.  His academic needs were virtually ignored.  At the time he suffered from dyslexia, no one knew what it was, let alone how to treat it.    According to this book, he had a distant father, a pious and sometimes cruel mother and a difficult and neglected childhood.
 
The last quarter of the book moves through time quickly and delivers an expose of the _How Shall We Then Live_ and _Whatever Happened To The Human Race_ tours that are none too flattering.  As the author accounts, it was decided by him and a gospel film producer to expose Frances Schaeffer's ideas to a larger audience through the production of PBS style documentaries along with public discussions and seminars.  Dr. Schaeffer's is further influenced by his son to enter the political arena and this is where the shift takes place.  The power brokers in the politically driven fundamentalist right media seize the opportunity to use Schaeffer's work to further their own agenda.  This leads to a blurring of Frances Schaeffer's original intention to influence culture in a positive way. The tragedy in this is that Dr. Schaeffer gives in to his son's influence and takes the lead in a polarizing debate that contradicts his earlier, more balanced approach. 
 
In the end, the book becomes a confession, as author, Schaeffer tells how he loses his faith, feels compromised by the Christian-right and eventually jumps ship in favor of making bad Hollywood movies. His short history of filmmaking, to those unfortunate enough to see his movies indicate that not only should Schaeffer never be allowed to make a movie, but to even see another one.  They were that bad. For man who devoted himself to artistic excellence, ending up the Ed Wood Jr. of the 80's is beyond contradictory and ironic, its just plain tragic.  
 
He is redeemed through the ability to write. His first novel _Porotofino_, a fictionalized account of his childhood.  In the writing Schaeffer finds his true gift and calling.   He also reveals the same conflicts and problems he experienced in his childhood, found in the lives of his own children
 
By the books conclusion, Schaeffer returns to a vague sense of faith through the Orthodox church, but leaves doubt as to the degree of his commitment and understanding of its liturgies.  
 
While Frank Schaeffer is admirably honest and an exceptionally gifted and engaging writer, he leaves the thinking and feeling person of faith with questions.   Especially left out in the cold are those people(like myself) who have read his father and mother's books and attended those milestone seminars.  While his father is portrayed with a degree of empathy and respect, why is Edith Schaeffer presented so unsympathetically?  At least in the public eye,  this portrayal certainly contradicts who she authentically appeared to be in public and in her writing.  The most sympathetic and one of the most moving chapters of the book is when she is 92 and dances and sings old jazz songs that she was forbidden to indulge in during her youth.  
 
Additionally and perhaps critically, Frank Schaeffer leaves us with no account of his own personal faith including an experience of conversion or formation.  This leaves the reader questioning what the nature of the faith was that he had to lose.  He did, however, account for his abandonment of his budding art talent in favor of becoming a warrior against abortion through his father's career.  It left this reader with the impression that his experience in the Christian faith was more about politics, money, and power than about a true calling.  This is the very criticism he levels at the Christian right, but it seems apparent, it was his sin as well.
 
But to his credit, Schaeffer doesn't attempt to let himself off the hook.  He makes a valid confession of deceit and his choice to live in poverty rather than return to Evangelical Christian culture.  Another irony of this book is that without parents like Frances and Edith Schaeffer, the author may never have discovered his talents, his family and his strong sense of identity, which was never in question throughout his childhood and his adult experience.  
 
Crazy For God may be a difficult read for some.  It may not be a necessary read in that it doesn't change the ideas or the impact of one of the great populist theologians and pastors of the 20th century.  However, it succeeds in giving a subjective view of both the joys and pitfalls of living with parents who were bound to make history.  But, we'll have to wait for a more balanced history and biography of Frances and Edith Schaeffer from a more objective and fair minded writer.  
 
Terry Roland

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