Franky Schaeffer: a confused conundrum.

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Franky Schaeffer is a difficult conundrum. I invited him to speak at Covenant College in the mid-80’s when I was a student and spent three days with him. He was very sharp, well read, not much of a sense of humor. Sensitive to what people thought (even though he loved to irritate them).

He gave an address that I will never forget that was very powerful: basically that the fall of the Soviet Union was the fruit of 500 years of the godless Renaissance finally failing for good. He had great moments.

I subscribed to his Christian Actviist publication as an avid pro-lifer, but a couple years in, men in long beards and black robes started appearing on the cover. What gives? Franky had become an Eastern Orthodox Christian. This was my first introduction to someone I knew becoming Orthodox, which I later became. I respected Franky’s intellect and background, so it certainly caught my attention.

But a few years into my Orthodoxy it became clear that other Evangelicals who had become Orthodox stopped mentioning or claiming Franky as a poster child. His attitude was hardly saintly, nor of the Orthodox way, and his trashing of his parents not very appreciated. Most of us from our Evangelical backgrounds appreciated the fact that we had found Christ in our traditions, believed godly people could be found there, and were not rebelling from them but rather looking for a firmer foundation for the true Faith we had been introduced to.

At the beginning of the video I posted here, Schaeffer identifies himself as “a survivor of polio and a fundamentalist, evangelical upbringing.” Hardly. As Franky got more shrill, other voices finally began to emerge. The best response I ever read (which I can never find online) was from his brother-in-law Os Guiness in Christianity Today. He provided a touching account of Franky and Francis’s relationship, but noted that the younger Schaeffer was hardly the victim of Fundamentalist abuse. Rather, Francis and Edith never disciplined the young boy, let him run wild at L’Abri, and he became quite spoiled. In Guiness’s words, Franky, rather than being a victim of fundamentalism, instead “was the poster child for Dr. Spock.”

I don’t really know for sure Franky’s financial situation, but his last couple decades of trashing his parents and Evangelicalism seems be a variant on the theme of shucking and jiving for reactions and cash, similar to what he admitted he did as an Evangelical speaker (15.00 mark). He accused others of the same, but he should speak for himself: I think James Dobson believes very much his message.

Franky doesn’t sell many books the past 15 years if his message is in line with Orthodox Christianity, emphasizing “Blessed are the poor in Spirit.” But he definitely needed to do something different than those movies, which were gosh awful terrible, so boring you didn’t want to watch more than 20 minutes.

And his representation of Orthodox Christianity is unfortunately incorrect. at the 21.00 mark of the video, he says Eastern “Apophatic” theology stresses “not knowing.” This is quite misleading and arguably the exact opposite. In fact, it was Western theology that had stressed the inability to truly know God himself, and therefore the best we could do is to know “about” God. Thus, the intellectualism and scholasticism of late Middle Ages and the Reformation emerged, which still affects us today with church leaders looking more like John Calvin than Francis of Assisi. The true virtue is apparently encyclopedic knowledge.

Eastern Christianity never believed that. The belief has always been that God himself is knowable: through prayer, ascetism, faith, the sacraments, charity, love, obedience, humility, etc. Knowing God, therefore, is more of a struggle, and it is more mystical than a rational certitude, which Franky hints at, but it is by all means true knowledge. This “apophatic” theology, while always emphasized in the historic church for 2000 years, was championed in the 14th Century by Saint Gregory Palamas of Thessalonika, whose cathedral and remains I had the privilege of visiting a couple of years ago. He taught that we cannot know God in his essence, since we are creatures, but we CAN know him in his energies. His whole point—the point of apophatic theology—is that we CAN know God.

Franky is really screwing up by misrepresenting the historic church.

He also said in this video that he doesn’t “pretend I have the Truth or something like that.” Well, now Franky is the hypocrite, because as an Eastern Orthodox he sings the following words at the end of every liturgy: “We have seen the True Light, We have received the Heavenly Spirit, We have found the True Faith, Worshipping the Undivided Trinity, who has saved us.”