Q:— It looks like to me that each person has just resorted to demeaning the others and calling names. Is this what we have come to?
A:— A polemic is meant to stir controversy and get others to think about an issue they would rather accommodate or sweep under the rug. There is a time for tactful wisdom and tender love when dealing with Christians who have erred. But there is also a time to attack aggressively, because it is the only course that is left when compassion and understanding have failed to curb abuse and error.
For instance, Paul writes of the Judaizers, those who taught that converts from Gentile paganism still needed to be circumcised in order to partake of Jesus Christ’s New Covenant: “I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!” (Galatians 5:14). Here Paul makes a play on words saying that those who are behind the circumcision controversy ought to go the whole way and be done with it. In other words, “Go castrate yourself!” Paul doesn’t mean it literally, but he is using a clever pun. To be “cut off” in Greek (and English) is a way of saying to be “shut up.” He also recognizes that it is a waste of time trying to persuade some people. They just need to be cut off. It was not “unloving” for Paul to take this hard stance against heresy because he was protecting the peace and sanctity of young lambs who otherwise would be savaged by wolves if their error was allowed to roam free among the churches of Galatia.
Paul warns in the next breath about divisions. “But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” (Galatians 5:15). One could be misled by this. If Paul wants unity in the church, then why does he use such rough language to describe the Judaizers? Isn’t this fostering disunity? First, Paul had already spent enough time confronting these people. Second, doctrine offends; orthodoxy divides. Today’s pietistic Christians often want doctrinal orthodoxy without offense or division – but ironically, this is what doctrine is meant to do. Truth is the dividing line against all that is false. On the other hand, we can have tremendous doctrinal unity and covenant love with other Christians if we simply focus on creedal orthodoxy as we discuss our differences. As you may not know, I’ve written on this in my e-book, Why Creeds and Confessions?
Irenaeus, Tertullian and Martin Luther were just a few of the most notorious Christian polemicists in confronting heresy. Much of their harsher language is actually satire and parody. It’s meant to be tongue in cheek. But it is only funny if you understand the specific references, such as when Irenaeus in the second century catalogs the pantheon of Gnostic “aeons” with the names: Gourd, Utter-Emptiness, Cucumber, Melon. This is more along the lines of a Monty Python sketch than what is found in the usual patristic apology – if you get the joke, that is.
This tactic is often misunderstood by today’s Christians. For instance, I found myself in tears of laughter reading Gary North’s paper aloud to friends when it first came out. It’s so funny because it is so true. However, I am sure many found it harsh and offensive. Likewise, today’s Neo-Gnostics tend to portray Ireneaus as an intolerant boor. However, I like to think that Paul, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Luther and their ilk were a barrel of laughs to be around, unless you were promoting heresy in their church, that is.
When Gary first published his position paper on blasphemy excoriating the younger Schaeffer for his idiocy, Frank was still sought after as a speaker raising money for crisis pregnancy centers. (I am sure he still advocates CPCs, but I don’t know how many pro-lifers would want to hear him now.) I remember thinking back in the early 1990s that it was okay for Frank to raise funds to help save babies, despite his defection from Protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy. I too wondered if maybe Gary was being a bit too harsh even if it was in good fun. Now that Frank argues for legalized abortion and homosexual marriage, I think it was right on the mark. It’s merely the weakness of his deficient theology brought to a rigorously logical conclusion. Thankfully, most Christians are not that consistent. I’ll comment more on that in part three.
Polemics is also good for provoking a first stage of dialog. It is in one sense “guerilla warfare” that is meant to flush out and identify the enemy in order to engage him in a thesis-antithesis debate. I don’t expect to actually flush out Frank Schaeffer himself. He has bigger fish to fry than to deal with the likes of me. (But who knows?) What I hope to do is to categorize and critique his most egregious errors. And since there is nothing new under the sun, the reader will see that the same errors are repeated by other religious liberals such as Tony Campolo, Jim Wallis, Bill Hybels and Bill Moyers. Such postmodernist errors are also endemic in the Contemplative/Emerging Church movement.
Ironically, Frank Schaeffer’s entire style continues to be polemics. He often doesn’t know what he is talking about – and as the son of a famous theologian he has no excuse for his ignorance. In part three, I’ll outline some of Frank’s fallacies, which are all the more outrageous once you understand that he was steeped in doctrinal orthodoxy for many years.
Is Frank Schaeffer really a danger to anyone but himself?
Although few conservative Christians at this point take Frank Schaeffer seriously, there is the danger that some will give credence to his renunciation of his conservative political activism because it is coupled with the accusation that his parents, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, were insane, dysfunctional, abusive hypocrites.
I am also persuaded that Frank doesn’t mean a lot of what he says to be taken seriously. He is just trying to rile us up. And it’s always done with a condescending postmodernist know-it-all sneer. His first line of argument is ad hominem, strawman fallacy, and non-sequitur. Unfortunately, his arrogance is mistaken for real conviction by sympathetic listeners on the left. They erroneously believe he is a voice of reason crying in the evangelical wilderness, a true convert to progressive thought, one whom Jesus would approve. He complains that few on the left understand the Christian right. Only he does, because he was one of them. In fact, he helped found the Christian Right, he claims. Then he proceeds to get it all wrong. As Gary North points out, this was unnerving even when he was supposedly “on our side.” It is better in one way that he is attacking us now instead, because he is a buffoon.
The way that Frank defends himself to sympathetic listeners is to retreat into theoretical pluralism, which is that Kantian abomination that proposes that since the universe is chaotic by nature and our minds ill-equipped to know truth, then all knowledge is at best a theory or a model, but we can never know anything to be absolutely true. Theoretical pluralism is something that Frank Schaeffer would deny, but the self-deception of the human heart is something no man can fathom. Consider the following points.
First, instead of giving a reasoned rebuttal to evangelical theology and politics, he attacks the character flaws of his well-known family and acquaintances (even though these are unquantifiable, i.e., his parents were “crazy,” Billy Graham is a “weird” man, etc.) as if this negates their positions. Anyone who knows anything about theology, philosophy or history can see that he is factually challenged. He simply makes things up as he goes along regardless of how wrong it is. If this is not purposeful, then he is just stupid. And since Frank is reputedly quite brilliant, then he must be doing it on purpose or else he’s psychologically unbalanced. Or perhaps both?
Second, Frank writes a character assassination of his deceased father and 95-year-old mother Edith, who once confessed to Os Guiness that she even doesn’t read her son’s writings anymore because it just makes her cry. Think about it: Would you attack your mother in a book while admitting that she prayed for you every day of your life since you were born? Frank dishonors his parents by portraying them in their most dysfunctional moments. He defends it by saying in effect, “We are all dysfunctional. I am just doing Christians a service by helping them see it.”
Third, Frank claims in an interview with the Rutherford Institute that those who were there know his charges about his parents being abusive toward each are true.
Living in the community of L’Abri with people in our house and other workers coming and going, there are plenty of people walking around the world today who either heard or saw things that would make them draw that conclusion. That was actually not much of a secret.It’s easy enough to rebut him as Os Guiness does in a 2008 Christianity Today article.
I challenge this central charge of Frank’s with everything in me. I and many of my closest friends, who knew the Schaeffers well, are certain beyond a shadow of doubt that they would challenge it too. Defenders of truth to others, Francis and Edith Schaeffer were people of truth themselves. For six years I was as close to Frank as anyone outside his own family, and probably closer than many in his family. I was his best man at his wedding.
Os Guiness counters by saying in effect, “I was there. I was one of Frank’s mentors. And I know he is lying.” And then he gives a quantifiable example of one of his lies.
Fourth, when Frank loses ground due to confounding facts, he resorts to values-relativism. He’ll go on TV and defend same sex marriage. Then he’ll defend his stance later in another interview saying that homosexuals who want to be married are no worse than adulterers who want to stay in the ministry.
… he bucked at all formal education and serious tutoring, and his claim that he then received a “‘great books’ British university-level literature course” comes as quite a surprise to his tutor.
How do we respond?
The best way to deal with such relativism is to be irreverent, sarcastic and mocking. To Frank, the gift of language is a weapon by which to deliver an impressive front of intellectualism. In reality, it is just a smokescreen. There is little of real substance behind it. He attacks for no reason, retreats for a few months or a few years, then appears again to change subject just to keep attacking. He is the perpetual guerilla, never able to form a lasting front of resistance. And most of the time, it’s difficult to see who he is fighting. Perhaps he is really fighting himself?
If someone, such as Os Guiness, points out proof that Frank is a hypocrite for accusing the Christian right for lying when he’s a liar, he already has a retort handy, “Well, we’re all hypocrites.” Then he’ll say that there is no sin that is worse than any other, pride, lust, sodomy, adultery and fornication are all equally bad.
Well, no we’re not all hypocrites. We are not all liars either. It’s true that we are all sinners, but all sin is not equally bad. This is due to a faulty interpretation of James 2:10.
“For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.”
The point here of course is that since no one has kept the whole law, no one can be justified by the law. We are justified by faith; but “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). In other words, it is not true faith if on one hand we continue to justify ourselves by the law, or if we use grace as an excuse to continue in sin. The meaning is here not that all sin is equally bad. There are no “Christian homosexuals; Christian abortionists; Christian fornicators,” etc. Christians are sinners saved by grace.
“But those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21).
Of course, Frank is only a relativist when he’s defending his point of view against reason, evidence and logic. You can’t really ever win an argument with a relativist. All you can do is expose his worldview as nonsense. My goal here isn’t to portray the man as a traitor to the pro-life movement or to vilify him. The goal is to show the danger of his way of thinking because it is all too readily swallowed by a weak American Christian culture that is easily seduced by postmodernism in the form of irrational appeals to emotion.
I believe that Frank still cares more about the abortion issue than most Christians. It affects him on a deeply emotional level, but he is completely unprincipled. He says he is pro-life, but then says abortion should be legal. He holds forth the pro-choice apologetic of the Clintons: Abortion is a necessary evil; so let’s work to make it safe, legal and rare. He honestly believes that by attacking the pro-life movement’s errors (and I actually agree with some of what he says) he can gain the trust of the left and persuade them to be more reasonable in order to moderate their pro-abortion stance.
What we’ve tried up until now hasn’t worked, he reasons. It is now time to try finding common ground with the pro-choice advocates. Abortion is always going to be legal, so let’s work with the abortion advocates to reduce the number of abortions.
So he is seeking dialogue with the left to try to do some good. But in every case, finding common ground with the death industry is a false premise. He is actually sniping at his allies and comforting the enemy. And the moment he stands for truth his newfound friends will turn on him.
To court liberal commentators such as Rachel Maddow as though she were a sister in the Lord is abominable. Maddow openly mocks everything that is good and holy with a wry smirk out of one side of her face. In fact, he speaks to her as though she were more of a true Christian than those who actively oppose abortion. If Frank Schaeffer’s attempt to speak as an authority on moral issues on the Rachel Maddow show wasn’t so scarily bizarre and surreal, it would be funny. In fact, it should be seen as a new genre of political theater, that of “comic treachery.”
The best defense against this error is a good offense. You don’t win by dialoging with these people. You win by attacking their nonsense aggressively with scorn and mockery. And that is what I intend to do.