Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Crazy for God (Book #63)

Frank Schaeffer grew up and came of age as a child of the evangelical Christian "aristocracy" during a time of transformation. Crazy for God (2008) is his memoir of his childhood, his decade or so as an evangelical "superstar," and his eventual abandonment of an absolute, highly politicized, Calvinist evangelical faith for the rituals and mystery of the Orthodox tradition.

He's the son of the founders of L'Abri, a mission/community in Switzerland that's had a huge, yet subtle, impact on American evangelicalism. For example, the area director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Philadelphia during my Penn years was at L'Abri as a young man around 1970, and he never stopped raving about the profound impact it had had on his life. A lot of the 1960's and 70's "Jesus People" passed through L'Abri--which gives me a tenuous connection to the place myself. My church, Bethany Presbyterian, has been around for over a century, but it was revitalized by Jesus People, and I think you can still see the movement's influence in Bethany's quirky mainline-yet-evangelical nature and informal yet contemplative worship.

All that is early Schaeffer, what L'Abri was during the 50's through the early 70's, and overall it's a good thing. (I'm speaking from a perspective not unlike Schaeffer's current theology--I have more questions than answers, and I don't remotely consider myself part of the Religious Right, but I continue to seek God and find comfort and joy in being part of a church community.) But then the elder Schaeffer, with his son urging him on, got involved in the conservative politics and celebrity culture of the rising Religious Right...

Crazy for God has raised some hackles in the church, and in some cases I can't blame people for being offended. Schaeffer has mellowed with age, but he hasn't entirely shed the elitism and intellectual snobbery his brainy parents raised him with, and I couldn't help reflecting that the ordinary American evangelicals he all but calls inbred "sheeple" are, well, my kin, seeing as how I was raised Southern Baptist and have roots in the red clay of central Alabama. But it's still a worthy memoir of a dysfunctional childhood and an informative tour of the last five decades of evangelical Christianity.

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