Saturday, May 28, 2011

Frank Schaeffer's Sex, Mom, & God: The Blessing in the Shadow Part I

What impresses me most about Frank Schaeffer's latest book, Sex, Mom, & God, is that Frank has moved from revealing the shadow in his Christian fundamentalist upbringing to revealing the blessing in that shadow. In this post, I will explain what I have seen over the years of Frank's parents' ministry and later of Frank's books. In my next post, I will focus specifically on how Frank's latest book reveals the blessing in the shadow.

Frank's parents, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, were U.S. American evangelical fundamentalist Christian missionaries to Switerzerland, where they founded the L'Abri ministry. L'Abri, which now has branches all over the world, began at the Schaeffer home in the beautiful Swiss Alps, where people would come to ask heartfelt life questions that they were struggling with. At L'Abri, the guests would receive well-thought-out biblical answers provided by Frank's father and the lovely hospitality of Frank's mother.

Francis and Edith Schaeffer complemented each other in the L'Abri work. Francis Schaeffer was a scholar not only of the Bible but also of popular culture and of art history. He could discuss the songs of Bob Dylan, the poetry of Alan Ginsberg, the philosophy of Timothy Leary, and the art of Salvador Dali, and he could show how the Bible provides answers to the issues raised by these contemporaries. Edith Schaeffer served lovely dinners and teas, provided spiritual counsel, and generally ministered to the more personal needs of the L'Abri guests. The Schaeffers also opened their home to people in need, particularly to unmarried pregnant women. The Schaeffers helped these young women through their pregnancies, accompanied them during the birth of their babies, and coached them through the initial months of motherhood.

Francis and Edith Schaeffer were also prolific authors. Francis Schaeffer's books set forth the ideas on which L'Abri is based, and Edith Schaeffer's books describe the personal side of the ministry. I read almost all of Francis and Edith Schaeffer's books as they were being published, mostly while I was in my twenties. This was at a time when I was trying to follow a version of Christianity that had some fundamentalist overtones.

I loved what I knew of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. Their ideas and life seemed to validate what I believed. Francis was so clear and logical, and the entire Schaeffer family was so dedicated to their Christian beliefs and to following the Lord. When I speak of the entire Schaeffer family, I mean Francis and Edith Schaeffer's four children (Priscilla, Susan, Debby, and Frank) and all their grandchildren. I learned about this through Edith Schaeffer's books. Priscilla & John Sandri, Susan & Ranald Macauley, Debby & Udo Middlemann, and Genie & Frank Schaeffer--all were raising wonderul Christian families.

So, with Francis and Edith Schaeffer's books, I absorbed the attractive side of the L'Abri ministry, filled with the light of logic, beauty, and love. Then, I learned that Frank Schaeffer is now writing books with quite another take on L'Abri. In his Calvin Becker novel trilogy and in his memoir Crazy for God, Frank writes about the shadow side of this ministry. Here are some of the things we learn in Crazy for God:

  • Francis Schaeffer had a mood disorder that caused him, at times, to be angry or depressed. The anger often took the form of physical abuse of Edith. The depression often took the form of threats to kill himself.
  • Edith was a powerhouse of energy who wore out her daughters and other L'Abri workers, none of whom could keep up with her. The eldest Schaeffer daughter, Priscilla, actually suffered several complete nervous breakdowns.
  • Edith overloaded her children with sexual information that was inappropriate for their ages.
  • Francis and Edith Schaeffer neglected Frank's education because they were so busy with L'Abri.
  • The "call of God" bound Francis and Edith Schaeffer to the L'Abri ministry and prevented them from enjoying professions that would have been much more fulfilling for them: art history and popular culture scholar for Francis and dancer for Edith.
  • Powerful chains bind professional Christians, especially second-generation ones, to their ministries and make it very difficult to break away when disillusionment sets in. These chains include the need for certainty, the perceived lack of preparation to do anything in life but continue the work of their parents, and the access to money and power.

All of this and more is revealed in Frank Schaeffer's Crazy for God. What a different picture of L'Abri this gives us! L'Abri was not simply a place of truth and love, as depicted in Francis and Edith Schaeffer's books. L'Abri also had a dark side, a shadow side.

But even this doesn't complete the picture. Recognizing the light and recognizing the dark is not the end of the story. Frank demonstrates this in his latest book, Sex, Mom, & God, which goes a step further. In Sex, Mom, & God, Frank reveals the blessing in the shadow. In my next post, I will show how Frank reveals to us the blessing in the shadow.

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