Sunday, August 23, 2009

Frank Schaeffer's Memoir: Os Guinness

Os Guinness objects to Frank Schaeffer's memoir, Crazy For God. Os served as a L'Abri worker and knew Frank's parents, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, very well. He has tremendous respect for Francis and Edith Schaeffer. Os was also close friends with Frank Schaeffer when Frank was a late adolescent and Os a young adult. Here, I will examine some of Os Guinness's objections to Frank Schaeffer's Crazy For God.


Os objects to Frank's questions about his father's motives. Specifically, Os objects to what Frank says about his father's decision in 1951, a year of doubt and questioning for Francis Schaeffer. Francis Schaeffer spent this year re-examining the whole structure of Biblical thought and subjecting his doubts and questions to the Biblical view. In the end, Francis Schaeffer concluded that the Bible rings true and that he could continue to teach the Biblical system as he had been doing, with full intellectual integrity.

In Crazy For God, Frank wonders whether his father's decision in favor of Biblical truth might also have been influenced by the fact that teaching the Bible as truth was his father's means of livelihood. In Francis Schaeffer's case, to conclude that there were holes in the Biblical system would have meant not just a change of religious faith but the need to search for a new way of earning a living and supporting his family. Frank suggests that these practical considerations may also have influenced his father's decision.

Os Guinness believes that, in suggesting that Francis Schaeffer was motivated by anything other than a deep intellectual conviction of the Bible's truth, Frank has harmed his father's teaching legacy. Os himself is fully convinced of Francis Schaeffer's intellectual integrity, and he believes that Frank is completely out of line in suggesting a lesser motive for his father's decision to stand on the Biblical system.

Here is what I would say. Crazy For God is a memoir. What Frank has done is exactly what one does in a memoir. One examines an aspect of one's life and explores its meaning from various angles, seeking greater understanding. Parents are huge influences on our lives and therefore figure prominently in many memoirs. If you're writing a memoir and you remember that your father made an important decision and gave certain reasons for his decision at the time, but you now see other factors that could have influenced him, you would of course discuss this in your memoir.

Os Guinness seems to be saying that Frank doesn't have the right to delve into his father's motives in his memoir because Frank has a famous father who left an important teaching legacy. I, on the other hand, could write a memoir that questions my father's motives all I want because no one has heard of my father. I would say that Frank (or anyone) has the right to write a memoir that does the things memoirs do whether or not he has a famous father.


Os Guinness seems to be stuck with an image of Frank Schaeffer based on his relationship with Frank years ago when Frank was a late adolescent and then a young adult. Frank himself admits to the rough edges of his personality. Frank himself tells us that he could be arrogant, harsh, and even cruel. This is the Frank whom Os Guinness knew. I believe that Os sees this younger and harsher version of Frank as the author of Crazy For God. I also believe that this view actually causes Os to misread the text.

For example, Os describes Frank's portrayal of the woman who tutored him with elementary school work as cruel. When I read this passage, I see nothing cruel about Frank's description of his tutor. I do see that Frank describes his own cruel behavior toward her. He describes deliberately embarrassing his tutor, and he describes her reaction. But nothing in this passage invites me to laugh at Frank's tutor or to be amused by this incident. On the contrary, in the context of the memoir as a whole, I would say that Frank now regrets this behavior and the discomfort he caused his tutor. I'm amazed that Os reads this as a cruel description of the tutor. Instead, it's a description of Frank's own cruelty, which he now regrets.

The Frank Schaeffer who wrote Crazy For God is not the young, arrogant, harsh, and sometimes cruel young man that Os Guinness knew years ago. Frank may still have some rough edges (as do we all), but he has opened himself to grace, which has operated deeply in his life and transformed him into a kind person, one who desires to serve. Frank is also a truth teller, one who directly tells the truth as he sees it. And he turns as sharp a lens upon himself as he does upon anyone else in his memoir.

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