About six months ago, my interest was piqued when I heard that Frank Schaeffer was working on his memoirs. While I’ve never read any books by his father, Francis Schaeffer, I am well aware of the influence he has had on Evangelicalism over the last 30 or so years, especially during the 70’s and 80’s, with books like How Should We Then Live?, its correlating video series, and the Whatever Happened to the Human Race? videos (that he did with Frank). His influence remains strong today, especially in the Reformed world, where places like Covenant Seminary offer several classes on different periods of Schaeffer’s life and work. My interest grew when I heard that the working title was How I Helped Found the Religious Right and Ruin America. The title it eventually went to press with is 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.
After my pre-ordered copy from Amazon arrived on my doorstop the beginning of November, I started it the first chance I had. At 400+ pages, it is not a quick read, but not a hard read either. Although, for most of the book, Frank recounts his memories without trying to draw many conclusions from them, so, about halfway through, needing something more reflective, I set it aside and picked up Frederick Buechner’s The Sacred Journey. (I’ll have a review of that coming later, as well as of the other two memoirs Buechner has written that I read last week, Now and Then and Telling Secrets – I could talk about them all day). One friend that I recommend Crazy for God to commented, after finishing it, that it didn’t seem like Frank was a deep thinker. Through the first half of the book, I would agree with that conclusion, but I think he does get a little more reflective toward the end and spends more time musing about why he is where he is now and probing into things a little.
In the first two hundred pages or so, there were just two things that stood out to me. In chapter 25, Frank spends some time writing about prayer and his impression, as a child, of why they prayed at L’Abri. He talks about the one day of the week that all the family members were supposed to sign up to pray for one or more of the designated thirty minute time slots so that someone would be praying all day long, how his mom frequently piously declared, while signing up for several hours, that she “couldn’t understand how someone could talk to their best friend for only thirty minutes”, while his Dad would put his name down in just one of the slots. He then touches on an issue (that he returns to at the end of the book) that has come up in conversations with a couple of my friends recently. We’ve talked about how much our lives today, our faith and habits, are in large part a result of our upbringing as much as anything else. It is who we are, not necessarily what we believe. To get beyond that, to develop a deeper faith, requires a desire for something more and a commitment to searching. And that is ultimately where I think Frank fails, at the end of the book. But I’ll write more about that later.
Back to the book, Frank ends this section by writing “What is strange is that today, in my totally “backslidden” state and long after I rejected the faith of my youth, or rather the faith I was supposed to have had in my youth, and have become “horribly secular” and write for “liberal publications” and have “questioned everything,” I do pray a lot. The habit of faith can’t be rejected so easily. Mom won. It doesn’t matter what I think. It is a question of what I am.”.