Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 12/28/2009 by Bob Kellemen.
Not Recommended. For all his insights into the new atheism, Schaeffer's views on God, the Bible, Evangelicals, and salvation leave much to be desired.
Frank Schaeffer is the "prodigal son" of Francis and Edith Schaeffer-leading Evangelical thinkers of the 1970s and 80s. Among his earlier books, Frank's Crazy for God is his tell-all expose of everything he thinks is wrong with the "Religious Right." The sub-title of that memoir says it all: How I Grew Up As One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take It All (Or Almost All) of It Back.
Having deemed the faith of his parents hypocritical and unreasonable, Frank now journeys to discover a faith of his own. Like all people, Frank sees his own faith as the happy medium between competing extremes. Thus, Patience with God unfolds in a three-fold way.
1. It deconstructs the "new atheism", declaring its logical and experiential fallacies.
2. It deconstructs "modern Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism", declaring its logical and experiential fallacies.
3. It constructs Schaeffer's new faith system, declaring the higher virtues of his way of
Choosing His Extremes
For "new atheism," Frank includes representative authors Sam Harris (The End of Faith), Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell), Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), and Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great). These new atheists have been called "fundamentalists" for their insulting attacks, their intolerance of anything spiritual, and their absolute certitude-"We're right and you're wrong!"
For "modern Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism," Schaeffer chooses authors Rick Warren (A Purpose-Driven Life) and Jerry Jenkins/Tim LaHaye (the Left Behind series). (I know, many would be hard-pressed to label these authors as Fundamentalists, but Franky does.) According to Schaeffer, Fundamentalists/Evangelicals practice intolerant, politicized, ugly religion with absolute certitude--"We're right and you're wrong!"
Faith as certainty--logically being able to prove your view and disprove the views of others--is the link Schaeffer makes between new atheism and Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism. Both, according to Schaeffer, are old fashion, modernist or pre-modernist, and thus literalist. They both seek to pronounce grand, final theories about life. They both follow
the impulse to find The Answer, a way to shut down the question-asking part of one's brain. Fundamentalists don't like question marks. Fundamentalists reject both Christian humility and postmodern paradox. In that sense an atheist too may be a fundamentalist. And a fundamentalist wants to convince others to convert to what fundamentalists are sure they know (p. 9).
How Many Ways Are There to Say "There Is No God!"?
After introducing the two enemy combatants, Schaeffer spends chapters 2-6 exposing what he sees as the errors of new atheism. Many Evangelical believers will likely be right there with Schaeffer cheering him on.
Schaeffer exposes new atheism's faith--faith in science. He exposes their tactic of taking the worst of religious history and bigotry, ignoring the best, and then building a caricature of faith in general and Christianity in particular. He exposes their dogmatic, demeaning, "my-way-or-the-highway" childish mentality. With great humor and tragic reality, Schaeffer also reveals the monetary motive behind much of the new atheism. "Huckster" is too kind a word for what Schaeffer describes in chapter 3. While Evangelicals might applaud Schaeffer's brief exposé, there are better, more detailed responses in the book market (see below).
What's His Beef with Fundamentalist/Evangelicals?
To understand Schaeffer's issues with Evangelicals, it would be best to read the aforementioned Crazy for God. There truly isn't a lot of substance in Patience with God that explains Schaeffer's beef with Evangelicals. Schaeffer spends less than half-a-page "engaging" Rick Warren and The Purpose-Driven Life before he launches his diatribe against him.
I'm no apologist for or against Warren or this particular book, but for someone (Schaeffer) who is so anti-judgmentalism, he sure makes a number of unsubstantiated judgments about the motives of Rich Warren's heart. "His church is very much about him" and "He's the star in a cult of personality that fits the celebrity-worshipping temper of our times."
In the chapter (entitled "Spaceship Jesus Will Come Back and Whisk Us Away") on Jenkins/LaHaye and the Left Behind series, one of Schaeffer's primary gripes is the huge marketing thrust of the series. Schaeffer thus rips the new atheists and the modern Evangelicals for their penchant for pushing their wares, yet, he mentions his previous books scores of times and makes it plain where you can purchase them...
His Personal Journey
In the second half of Patience with God, Schaeffer shifts from his two-fold deconstruction of the new atheism and modern Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism to his construction of his own faith. It is in this section that most Evangelicals will likely have the most problem with Schaeffer. He can pick apart our own failures and fallacies, but when he picks apart the Bible...that's another matter. (I know, I'm a Fundamentalist/Evangelical for even saying that!)
Having said that, there are some things I appreciate about Schaeffer's personal journey. He's not afraid to talk about doubt. Honestly, his candor is refreshing. I agree with him--by definition faith is not certainty. So we have questions. We doubt. We wrestle with God. The Bible depicts this--in the Psalms, in Lamentations, in Ecclesiastes, in many places. I applaud Schaeffer for his honesty and I resonate with many of his struggles and questions.
However, Schaeffer's answer to his doubt is to deny that any answer whatsoever is ever possible. In fact, he concludes that new atheists and Fundamentalist/Evangelicals alike are "dim." Anyone who thinks there is a "truth" that we can count on to find answers within the midst and mist of our doubts lacks intelligence.
The really smart person, the really postrmodern person, according to Schaeffer, eschews rational answers and instead pursues experiential meaning. Schaeffer's basic message in Patience with God is, "I know there's something more than me, something grandly spiritual, because I it when I hold my precious infant granddaughter."
I neither decry nor deny experience. It is one of the ways of knowing that Frank's father, Francis, taught about: revelation, rationalism, experience, and empiricism. But what makes Frank's one way--experience--superior to any of the other ways of knowing? We're never really told. Plus, isn't the whole point of Patience with God to expose the evil of anyone who claims that his way is superior?
It is Frank's views on revelation that will most irk, irritate, and infuriate most Evangelicals. He does not believe the Bible is inspired, inerrant, literal, accurate, dependable... He deconstructs the God of the Bible, including Jesus, until He becomes unrecognizable. He then attempts to legitimize this by "cherry picking" select quotes from select Church Fathers to attempt to link his views of the Bible and God to their views.
Yes, some of the Church Fathers talked about "mystery" and the paradoxes of faith. However, it's a long road from the paradox of an infinitely holy God revealing Himself in the mystery and paradox of the Cross--of a suffering Savior--to the road that Frank Schaeffer suggests is the only valid route to knowing God.
Frank Schaeffer is welcome to wrestle with his beliefs about God. But once he's done that outside of the context of Bible, it seems odd that he insists on retaining the label "Christian." Once you strip away the Bible's revelation of God in Christ, is what's left "Christian"? When the Apostle Peter struggled with many of the same struggles that Frank Schaeffer experiences, Peter's response was, "To whom shall I go? You alone have the words of life?"
Either Jesus speaks authoritative, sufficient, inspired, inerrant words of life, or He doesn't. Either we cling to faith in the One Who claimed in the Bible that He was the way, the truth, and the life, or we don't. Either we believe that we cannot live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God, or we don't.
Why do we have to make knowing God truth or experience? Why can't knowing God be truth and experience? I take my experience of doubts, struggles, questions, and concerns personally to God through His Spirit, by His Word, in the company of His people. If that makes me "dim," so be it.
Believing the Bible to be true does not eliminate paradox, confusion, questions, thinking, mystery, or doubts...at least not for me. It does offer faith in the midst of my doubts. Nor does believing the Bible mean that I worship the Bible. It means that I worship the One Who has chosen to reveal Himself in the Bible. Nor does saying that I believe the Bible to be true imply that I'm claiming that my interpretation of the Bible is inerrant. It means that I recognize with humility my own finite, person-specific, culture-saturated interpretations of the inerrant Word of God.
Believing the Bible to be God's revelation of Himself to humanity doesn't eliminate my experiential relationship to God. It maximizes my experience of God Who says His Word is our bread of life which we are to feast upon by living the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), with our love abounding more and more in knowledge and depth of insight (Philippians 1:9-11), as we share together in the Body of Christ both Scripture and our own souls (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
There are better books critiquing the “New Atheism. Find dozens of suggested titles here: http://bit.ly/66bhmT