Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Book Review: "Patience with God" (Frank Schaeffer)

Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism)TITLE: PATIENCE WITH GOD
Author: Frank Schaeffer
Published: Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2009, (230pp).

This is a book by the son of the renowned evangelicals, Francis and Edith Schaeffer. Part philosophy, part memoir, the prologue right from the beginning aptly describes the mood of the entire book. The author meticulously highlights the various ideologies and theologies, and subsequently reveals his reasons for rejecting them. From New Atheism to the New Evangelicalism, anything that resembles a bigoted approach to thinking or believing is rejected. Instead, true to his Greek Orthodox tradition, Frank Schaeffer prefers the apophatic aspect of his faith. This is also known as negative theology. For instance, instead of saying God is good, apophatic theology says God is NOT evil. There is a subtle difference. This lies in not being too arrogant in what one claims to know, but to be humble about what one does not know. With this posture, Schaeffer allocates the first six chapters of the book, hanging out the fallacies of the New Atheists, symbolized by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris etc. He then pairs these 6 with the next 2 chapters that describe the other extreme, the Christian evangelical right, or the extreme Right. Both New Atheists and Extreme right evangelicals are lumped together under the same bucket called: "Fundamentals." According to Schaeffer, both are equally guilty of bigotted behavior. He supports Obama. He is against celebrity worship, categorizing Billy Grahams and the Rick Warrens of the day as such (96).

He attacks the evangelicals, even those his father supports, saying:
"The problem is that evangelical/fundamentalist faith revolves around two directives: Be successful and evangelize. That leads to bad choices. For instance, if you are trying to get people 'saved' through your writing instead of writing the best and truest books you can write, you are nothing more than a propagandist. Combine this with commercial interests, and not only are you just a propagandist, you are a gutless wonder who doesn't want to offend your market." (97)

He then summarizes that both atheists and the evangelicals are essentially similar.

"It might also mean that we should look for a less drastic alternative to fundamentalist faith in God than a fundamentalist faith in no God. Perhaps both atheists and religious fundamentalists have been looking through the wrong end of the same worn-out telescope." (14)

The second part of the book has a more gentler tone. It reveals intimate details of Frank Schaeffer's perspective of his famous parents, and why he does not believe the same way they have believed. He points out that his parents should not be overly hyped that they are perfect. In fact, he claims that his father is more interested in arts and culture rather than theology per se. He ends the book with a call to recognize that everyone is on a journey, both believers and non-believers. No one should claim they have the truth. He asserts that:

"The future belongs to the peacemakers." (226)

My Comments
Each chapter begins with a quotation of the famous Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkeggaard. This gives us a clue that Frank Schaeffer is also an existentialist. The two parts of the book contains two distinct tones. The first part is like an angry young man, frustrated by all the stubborn groups where each of them claims to have the truth. He refuses to spare any group, even himself about any attempt to proatively declare that truth IS. This is essentially the way that apophatic theology leads to, which is to claim "Truth is NOT" rather than "Truth IS." In this regards, I have some reservations to the manner in which Frank Schaeffer pushes his view. One may even accuse Schaeffer of being overly zealous about his application of his apophatic standpoint. While one can argues against the "TRUTH IS THIS" camp, likewise, the "TRUTH IS NOT" camp is not immune. In other words, if we can argue against the fundamentals about the way they uphold truth, we can also argue against Frank Schaeffer for the way he stubbornly say NO to all of the above.

This is why I also appreciate his closing statements.

"I think most people are better than their official theology and/or ideology." (226)
In a sense, I feel that the author is rebelling against the very forces that made his parents famous. His disillusionment with the religious proponents of the day, leads him toward the Greek Orthodox tradition. His unhappiness with the New Atheists leads him to brandish the New Atheists as being of the same mold as the fundamentalists Christian religious groups. He allows himself to react against the Warrens, the 'Left-Behinds' and all manner of beliefs that proposes something as a truth claim. In a nutshell, the apt summary of the book is, the key to being patient with God lies in this: "Whatever man proposes, Frank Schaeffer disposes." Schaeffer becomes a victim of his own accusations. It can even be baffling when the reader at some point realizes that as far as Schaeffer is concerned, the best way to explain things is NOT to explain things. Perhaps, Schaeffer will do well to write another book entitled: "Patience with Man." While this is a good book from a philosophical standpoint, I find it too emotional and angry to be comfortable with.

Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5.


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