Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Frank Schaeffer's Sex, Mom, & God

One of my favorite authors, Frank Schaeffer, has just come out with a new book: Sex, Mom, & God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway.

Frank is the son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, evangelical fundamentalist Christian missionaries to Switzerland, who founded the L'Abri ministry, where Francis Schaeffer provided thoughtful biblical answers to visitors' life questions and Edith Schaeffer served lovely dinners and teas and ministered to the more personal needs of the guests. Francis and Edith Schaeffer espoused a literal view of the Bible, a view that Frank has since rejected in favor of a spirituality that honors the Mystery of God rather than certainty about God. Frank has written about the shadow side of L'Abri in his memoir Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back.

In Sex, Mom, & God, Frank illuminates each word in the three-part title:

  • SEX: his unusually explicit and early sex education
  • MOM: his unusually creative and energetic mother, Edith Schaeffer
  • GOD: his conflicted relationship with the God of the (very literally interpreted) Bible

One of Frank's key messages in Sex, Mom, & God is that our thoughts are tethered to our feelings; that is, the carefully constructed intellectual framework of our worldview is often undergirded by strong emotions and psychological currents. In fact, Frank shows how, in his own life, Sex and Mom and God all generated feelings that led to the extreme Christian fundamentalist stance of his young adulthood during which he worked diligently (and angrily) to convert the United States to a Bible-believing nation, as well as to his later embrace of a God of Mystery, his growing comfort with not knowing the exact nature of Ultimate Reality, and his own life of creativity.

Now, here are some wonderful points about Sex, Mom, & God.

STORY: Frank is a gifted storyteller. Frank's stories are charming, outrageous, and often hilarious. Two of them particularly stand out. In one, Frank describes how he sculpted an ice woman and then tried to have sex with it as a child. In the other, Frank recounts
how his childhood bath-time was supervised by a kind-hearted babysitter who was obsessed with the Queen of England.

THOUGHT/FEELING CONNECTION: In Sex, Mom, & God, Frank juxtaposes stories and essays to illustrate his points. The essay-type parts of the book are fascinating. As a former extreme right-wing Christian fundamentalist, Frank understands that mindset from the inside. From his own experience, Frank knows that the intellectual gloss of fundamentalist thought is undergirded by strong emotions and psychological needs. Frank excels at making these thought/feeling connnections clear and vivid.

Having read Sex, Mom, & God, I now have a far better understanding of why it is so very difficult for fundamentalists to recognize the paradoxes of life and the possibility that there may be other equally valid ways to truth besides their own, of why the second generation of Christian fundamentalist preachers like Franklin Graham tend to become more extreme and strident than their fathers, and of why the pro-life and pro-choice factions have become so terribly polarized on the issue of abortion.

THE BLESSING IN THE SHADOW: This is the most wonderful thing about Sex, Mom, & God. Sex, Mom, & God is a gentler book than Crazy for God, where Frank, who is an inveterate truth-teller, reveals the shadow side of his parents and their ministry. In Crazy for God, we learn that Francis and Edith Schaeffer had some serious weaknesses that were kept hidden so as not to tarnish their Christian ministry. Now, in Sex, Mom, & God, we see the blessing in the shadow.

In Sex, Mom, & God, Frank presents us with some of the stories about Edith Schaeffer from Crazy for God, but in a very different light. A case in point is Edith's almost love affair with a sensitive young artist. It is fascinating to compare the way Frank tells this story in the two books. In Crazy for God, we see Edith's failing; in Sex, Mom, & God, we see Edith's courage and love for her family.

In Sex, Mom, & God, Frank honors his mother, Edith Schaeffer. Edith was a tremendously creative, life-loving, and energetic woman who was not able to fulfill her deepest longings because of her dedication to what she believed to be God's call on her life. On page 91, Frank describes his mother like this: "Edith Schaeffer herself was the greatest illustration of the Divine beauty of Paradox I've encountered. She was a fundamentalist living a double life as a lover of beauty who broke all her own judgmental rules in favor of creativity."

I especially love this sentence on page 91: "Mom was just so un-Edith-Schaeffer-like in person!" And I absolutely love Frank's response to his experience with his mother, also on page 91: "I simply chose to follow the 'other' Edith Schaeffer, the one whose heart was elsewhere than in the lifeless theories she paid lip-service to."

I, too, am very thankful that Frank chose to follow the "other" Edith Schaeffer!


  1. Thanks for the attention you've paid to my work.

  2. Thank you, Frank! Your work deserves a lot of attention!

  3. What a wonderfully written review, Karen. I'm looking forward to reading Frank's latest book very much. I agree he has a wonderful talent of using stories to illustrate truth beyond the legends.

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  5. I stumbled upon this while doing some other reading about the Schaeffers. I became a Christian at l'Abri. Francis and Edith Schaeffer had a huge impact on my life. Their authentic faith was contagious. They never pretended to be anything other than real, flawed people who were allowing God to use their lives. I, for one, am grateful they made the sacrifices they did to put eternal things ahead of their personal fulfillment. I discovered the reality of the historical Jesus Christ at l'Abri and came into a relationship with him in an atmosphere of love . The love for individual people, the love of beauty, and the love of God-breathed truth were woven seamlessly and powerfully together.