I have said before that I try not to use this platform to just link you to other reviews on the web…there is so very much good stuff out there, that I could do that all the time. I assume most BookNotes readers pay attention to reviews, thoughtful religious essays and cultural news, so I don’t need to alert you to every good thing that arrives each day.
Still, this week brought a book review and essay so urgent, so insightful, and so personally moving (for reasons that I trust will become clear) that I urge you to read it. Our esteemed friend Os Guinness wrote a passionate and wise review of Frank Schaeffer’s anguished and anguishing memoir Crazy for God that appeared in Books & Culture. He takes his old friend Franky to task for dishonoring Francis & Edith Schaeffer, (or here) for writing a book that is deeply dishonest and chastises reviewers who have applauded the books style without questioning its substance.
If you don’t subscribe to B&C read Guinness’ review here.
I hope I am not one of the reviewers that Dr. Guinness reprimands; I wrote in my remarks that I found the book very disturbing and insisted that we must not presume that we know that he is telling the truth. I wrote a “letter to the editor” in The Nation on-line that chastised that reviewer, a contemporary novelist, for taking all of Frank’s claims as gospel (about L’Abri and about modern evangelicalism) without using the reporter’s fair eye for ferreting out the truth. Other reviews and readers have lamented the anger and weirdness of Frank talking about utterly personal things about his parents, but few questioned his veracity.
I found Frank’s reflections on his early years often beautifully rendered (but not nearly as well written as the first reviewer in Books & Culture exclaimed, and, as I said in my review, the writing often devolved into shock tactics and the bluntly stated mediocre cliche. More so, I wrote both publicly and privately that I had reasons to mistrust him (and that I written to his journal and his publishers nearly two decades ago in protest to what I then considered to be needlessly incendiary rhetoric and unfair criticism of anyone that disagreed with his far-right views.) I have long lamented—and I know I am not alone—the shift in Francis Schaeffer’s tone and writing in the last years of his life; how he was co-opted by those who clearly did not understand his worldviewish take on cultural reformation. Crazy for God shows how Franky–filled with what Guinness calls self-loathing—pushed and promoted his famous dad in that particular direction, arranging meetings with Falwell, Robertson, et al. I found the book thrilling and fascinating at times, but shared considerable ambivalence about it. Thanks for those who have written heart-felt notes (mostly off line) about their anguish, and their appreciation for the warning I give as we’ve sold the few we have.
I must say again, though, that I could hardly but the book down, although I had to catch my breath sometimes, reading portions aloud to my wife as we shook our heads, and, on more than one occasion, had to catch myself from weeping over the sadness of the whole affair. We have read the Schaeffer’s own memoirs, letters, and other testimonials by those whose lives were impacted (as Os says, “without regret.”) This was to be the “insiders” report and in many ways it was. If only it was not so ugly, mean, and as Guinness explains, fundamentally wrong in attacking the truthfulness, faith and integrity of his famous parents.
Guinness gets it as right as I imagine we will. It is the most important, perhaps the only really important, review that has yet been done. He was there, living with the Schaeffer’s and serving as one of Franky’s best older friends, even serving as best man at his wedding. It has the ring of truth, and the passion of a great man of God, vindicating not the saintliness–not at all—but the truthfulness, of the famous leaders of L’Abri. Beth and I commend it to you.