October 19, 2012

Frank Schaeffer is a “Christian Atheist”

Usually Frank Schaeffer’s talks follow a predictable pattern in which he describes how he followed in the footsteps of his prominent evangelical father, Francis Schaeffer, became disillusioned with the “Religious Right,” and now learns about God mostly through his relationship with his grandchildren. Recently, however, Schaeffer candidly discussed his personal theological views at Revolution NYC, an emergent congregation in Brooklyn, NY.

Over the past couple decades, Schaeffer has distanced himself from his family’s evangelicalism, and describes himself as Eastern Orthodox. But during his talk, Schaeffer told Jay Bakker, pastor of Revolution NYC and son of former televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker: “I describe myself as a Christian atheist.”

“That describes the arc of my feelings in any given day … Why can’t you be an atheist some days and love God other days?” He attempted to explain this contradictory statement with an analogy: “There are days I’m married, there are days I’m not married. There are days I love my wife, there are days I fight with my wife … Why when it comes to theological questions, certainty is given a premium when nothing else in life works that way?”

As a “Christian atheist,” Schaeffer subscribes to a very limited version of “Christianity.” He described his low and selective view of scripture:

“If you take the Christian teaching seriously that Jesus is the son of God, then obviously his life is the lens through which you read the rest of scripture and pick and choose what you will do and not do because he said there are parts of the law that are bull****. [Jesus said] ‘The law says [do this,] but I say don’t do this.’ So therefore, read the Bible expecting to edit it and get rid of the crap and stick with the stuff that fits with the life testimony, which ends with Jesus saying ‘Forgive them for they know not what they do.’”

To Schaeffer, “Evil is only evil because it’s ugly. There is no such thing as bad actions there’s just ugly actions … When we say evil, it’s not a constant … we’re at a primitive way station on the way to something else.” He continued: “The answer to evil is not now. The answer to evil is in the future that you can’t see and that’s where I think faith comes in.”

He views Jesus as a hopeful example toward which humans may evolve and emulate. According to Schaeffer, “who we believe Jesus is is not the point” Instead, “We are on a way station, on a journey that God is also travelling as a creator. This is not ‘it.’ We’re only getting the first glimmers of ‘it.’ The first real sign post for me is ‘Forgive them for they know not what they do.’ That’s a new command.” Schaeffer told the congregation: “There really is ethical evolution … Follow that path of ethical evolution that will eventually get us to an intended end point.”

For Schaeffer, the real problem is certainty about any belief. He derides both Christian “fundamentalist” and atheists for holding their beliefs with conviction. To avoid the appearance of inconsistency, he admitted: “That’s my personal view, I can’t prove any of it.”


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  • Pudentiana

    It is time for Mr. S. to have his name changed legally so as not to pollute his parents’ name any further. Perhaps he should look in the family line of Zeus.

    • Donnie

      I’m sure John Shelby Spong would be glad to have him as an adopted son.

  • Eric Lytle

    This shameless publicity w—- keeps pushing the envelope further and further. Other than his doing a striptease in a cathedral to the music of “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” what’s left? Is he tryin to set some sort of Guinness record for Bitterest Man in the World?

    • http://ourgirlsclub.blogspot.com/ Ginny Bain Allen

      Misery loves company, and Frankie wants us all to join him in his.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.s.robb James Robb

    Uhhh, I can’t even think of what to say here. A “Christian atheist”? Perhaps it would be better for him to call himself a “functional atheist with a Christian background,” or, perhaps, a “functional atheist with a Christian point-of-view.” It’s a stretch.

  • Donnie

    The message of people like Schaeffer is far more dangerous than that of hardcore atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. The “new” atheists will openly mock and deride Christianity and Jesus with no remorse. You don’t have to think twice about where they stand. Charlatans like Schaeffer preach a far more dangerous message that sounds close to Christianity but is something else entirely on closer inspection.

  • http://www.welcometodayspring.com Robert

    Broken man reaches insanity in its purest form when tormenting the truth and anyone who believes in it is his only joy.

  • Eric Lytle

    Donnie, I agree with you, but I don’t think His Bitterness has all that much influence, thanks be to God. A ranter like him does get attention, briefly, but I don’t think many wavering Christians will lose their faith because of anything he says.

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  • Mark

    Schaeffer is, of course, using his father’s good name to gain publicity (and riches) for himself. If there is “ethical evolution” Schaeffer appears to be going in the wrong direction. Why does he appear to have so little regard for his father’s work and legacy?

  • Ray Bannister

    Sounds like Franky’s latest pronouncement is an attempt to sound like Carl Sagan. I’m waiting for him to go on Oprah and declare he’s a transvestite Satan-worshipper, at which point O-woman will look into the camera, to her imitation of Deep Rumination, and say, “And what would Frank’s evangelical father say to all this? We’ll be back in a moment . . .”

  • Ben Welliver

    I wouldn’t normally comment on someone’s physical appearance, since it’s their ideas, not them, that are under discussion. But I can’t help but notice how Schaeffer’s face has really hardened in the past few years, very stern, cold, almost masklike, like he’d lost the ability to smile or laugh. Some people, especially saints, wear their age well (think of Mother Teresa), but Schaeffer’s anger and bitterness have taken their toll. As C. S. Lewis put, “you cannot hide the soul.”

    • http://thymebeganinagarden.wordpress.com ginkirk7256

      Exactly! Misery loves company, and Frankie wants us all to join him in his. Of course he doesn’t have the joy of the Lord!

    • Liza Zajac Whitehead

      Reminds me of the following:
      “President Abraham Lincoln was discussing with an adviser a possible new member of the cabinet. Lincoln said he did not want him, citing as his reason, ‘I don’t like the person’s face.’

      ‘But, Sir, they can’t be responsible for their face’, the adviser responded.

      ‘Every person over forty is responsible for their face’, replied Lincoln.”

  • cynthia

    Frank tried Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy and know answers.Maybe we should be easy on home.

  • CKG

    “There are days I’m married, there are days I’m not married. . .”

    One wonders what his wife is thinking when he says that. . .

  • http://twitter.com/DilloTank Will Erickson (@DilloTank)

    Mr. Schaffer does not understand that if he fights with his wife, he is still married to her? Mr. Schaffer is an idiot.

    A Christian can have intellectual doubts. One must decide what one chooses to believe in. The term “Christian atheist” is an oxymoron. Mr. Schaffer needs to commit ton one idea or the other. Or, simply call himself and “agnostic”

    This article is a waste of my time.

  • J P Logan

    ” . . . There are days when I’m not married.”
    Those would be the days his wife is smiling. She must have nerves of steel, or lots of Paxil.

    It was a stupid analogy, to put it mildly, but bitterness does have a way of curdling the brain. Father spends his life creating; son spends his life destroying. Guess which activity shows the image of God in man?

  • http://codyuwatson.wordpress.com codyuwatson

    I just read his “Crazy for God”. It is a sobering view of parenthood. It also sobers us when we look at fallen believers and take our eyes off Jesus. Yet he does look at Jesus’ last words on the cross. So maybe it is that he divorces Jesus from the written Word. Reading his book you see how he got caught up in celebrity. It is sad picture, but rather than condemnation it should bring compassion like the Father had for the prodigal.

  • J P Logan

    You’re being very generous, Cody, but nothing wrong with that.
    The Father had compassion on the prodigal, true, but the son “came to himself” and admitted his sinfulness before returning home. I don’t see that happening, given Schaeffer’s pride and conceit, but anything is possible with God, and conversion is always open till we draw our last breath. Maybe something can melt the ice in Schaeffer’s heart. I wouldn’t want to die if I were in his present condition, he has a lot to answer for.

  • cynthiacurran

    This is my take on Frank. He found a lot of hyprocracy with Evangelicism. He tried eastern orthodoxy which is still angered with the west for not helping Constantinople and if the west helped the orthodox had to become Roman Catholics. He being a westerner didn’t find peace in Eastern Orthodoxy this happens.

  • http://junglehope5.wordpress.com Lana Hope

    Mr. Schaeffer may be wrong about somethings, but thankfully, the Bible never says we have to have our theology right, or that we can’t ever doubt, to enter the kingdom of heaven.I have not ready Crazy for God yet, but I imagine there is a lot of truth in it.

  • john haggerty

    ‘He is there and He is not silent.’ Frankie would do well to return to his father’s work. He might also read ‘Doubt’ by Os Guinness, ‘God, Where Are You?’ by Gerard W Hughes and ‘Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of JM Nouwen’ by Michael Ford. The sermons by Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones can also be downloaded, and they are a great help to Christians during times of trial. Take up your cross and follow the Saviour.

  • George Waite

    So he venerates icons of Hitchens and Madalyn Murray O’Hair now? Why bother?
    Clearly someone who’s in love with his own voice; he’s lost any faith but not the urge to tell the rest of us how to live and how awful we are.
    Pathetic. And it’s been done, and done better, so many times before.

  • David Th. Stark

    He thought he knew what Christianity is, but seems to have never gotten it right. He rejects a straw man evangelicalism that exists only in his own mind. The best way he could ever honour his father’s memory would be to stop talking.

    • Debbie

      Very, very sad. I was at L’Abri and one of many who were greatly influenced by Francis Schaeffer and the entire experience. The only book of Frank’s that I’ve read is Crazy for God and my main take-away was how incredibly angry and bitter Frank is. And I couldn’t agree more with the previous post about his facial expressions. And…much of what he has to say just comes across as “gibberish”. One day you’re married; next day your not. Huh? What the heck does that mean?

  • Mick Bysshe

    I don’t see anything to be alarmed about here–perhaps I wish he had more charity towards his parents and other religious conservatives. No need to blow a trumpet about their alleged sins and foibles. Christian atheism has been around along time thanks to Thomas Altizer. Perhaps he will have a more robust world view about 2020 when his thoughts have jelled a bit more.

  • ettm

    Frank is so eager to make a point and so angry with the world that he is willing to misquote scripture; he wrote, [Jesus said] ‘The law says [do this,] but I say don’t do this.’ What Jesus is quoted as saying is, ‘The Law says this, but I say to you….’ There is a difference.

    Frank is getting a hearing because of his parents and those who deride “evangelicals.” It is time someone told Frank that he is ‘light'; the more he carries on with such diatribes the more bizarre he turns.