Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Frank Schaeffer's Latest Book: Patience With God--Overview
This post is an overview of Frank Schaeffer's latest book, Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism), which came out in October 2009. Frank wrote Patience With God in response to readers of his memoir, Crazy For God, who wanted to know more about Frank's current spiritual understanding.
Frank's message in Patience With God is that fundamentalism doesn't work. It simply doesn't match reality. In Patience With God, Frank goes beyond religious fundamentalism to a way of faith that honors ambiguity. I would even say that Frank's writing itself honors ambiguity: Frank writes with enthusiastic patience, witty seriousness, and in his own words "hopeful uncertainty."
Frank knows fundamentalism inside and out. As the son of fundamentalist evangelical Christian missionaries Francis and Edith Schaeffer (founders of the L'Abri ministry in Switzerland in the 1950s), Frank grew up immersed in a fundamentalist worldview. There was only one right way to salvation, and it was imperative to communicate this one right way to others so that they, too, could be saved. During the 1970s and 1980s, Frank and his father helped establish the political religious right in the United States. They worked closely with James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell, speaking vigorously against abortion and even advocating civil disobedience when the law of the land contradicted Biblical mandates. Since then, Frank has rejected his former fundamentalist beliefs. He remains a Christian but now practices his faith within the Greek Orthodox Church, which emphasizes the mystery of God rather than certainty about God.
Patience With God unpacks fundamentalism for us--first, by taking us deep into the world of the fundamentalist in Part I. Frank's genius is to explore fundamentalism in both Christian and Atheist versions. Frank examines not only Christian mega-church pastor Rick Warren and Christian apocalyptic authors Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye but also New Atheists Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. Frank unearths little-known information and draws fascinating parallels, exposing--on both Christian and Atheist sides--the same bedrock of certainty, the same urge to convert others, the same denigration of those who don't accept the approved version of truth.
None of this matches reality, says Frank, for reality is full of paradox. How, then, do we find faith in a paradoxical world? Frank answers this question in Part II by opening his own life to us, particularly those people and events that have served as catalysts for his faith. With Frank, we experience the loving discipline and inclusive Christianity of Headmaster Gordon Parke at Great Walstead School in England. We chafe yet thrive under the tough love of the Drill Instructors at the Marine Corps boot camp on Parris Island. We struggle to embrace both the depth of love and the depth of loss at the death of Frank's dear friend John Bazlinton. We delight in Frank's sheer joy as he massages, bathes, holds, loves his infant granddaughter, Lucy. Frank sees hints--not certainties, but hints--of God's presence and love in all these catalysts.
Frank is a masterful storyteller. Patience With God reads with the rhythmic flow of conversation: Frank's discussions of ideas are interspersed with his delightful and often humorous stories. Frank sees Patience With God as a conversation about faith, a meeting place for those dissatisfied with fundamentalist answers, and a search for a spiritual path that matches reality--a path where paradox is honored and where faith and doubt coexist. It is an invitation into what Frank calls the Church of Hopeful Uncertainty.
My subsequent posts will explore ideas that Frank Schaeffer's Patience With God raises for me.