January 18, 2021

Humiliation, Humanity and the Fifth Commandment: Can We Tell The Truth About Those Whose Sin Affects Us?

writing-2.jpgAlso of interest on this topic: “Does the Story Matter?” (From December of 04)

Here’s my original review of Schaeffer’s book, and a later link to an interview with Schaeffer.

“My father sexually abused me.”

“Both of my parents are in prison on drug charges.”

“My dad had another wife and kids in another town, and we just found out last year.”

“My mom slept with different men every night. I’m realizing she probably did it for money.”

“Our family almost starved because of my mother’s drug problems. The state finally took us away from her.”

“Two of my foster families had boys in them who sexually abused me.”

“My dad raises pot and makes meth. It’s just a way of life where we live.”

“My brothers sexually abused me for three years.”

“My brother is a sex offender who’s been in and out of prison.”

“My dad shot my mother, then shot himself. My brother and I were at school or we would be dead.”

“We moved every month. Mom just couldn’t keep a job because she couldn’t stay sober.”

“Mom is simply too unstable a person for me to live with. My grandparents had to raise me.”

“I was with my dad when he committed suicide.”

“Our pastor physically abused his children. I saw it many times.”

“One of my school teachers tried to seduce me into a homosexual relationship. I’m sure I’m not the only one.”

“My own porn addiction started with my dad’s addiction. It was everywhere in our home and still is.”

“I’ve never seen my dad sober on a weekend. Never.”

“Having a mother with severe mental illness is hard. I had to be the adult in our family most of the time.”

These are some of the stories I’ve heard in counseling over the years. All true, and many of them in multiple editions. Because of the particular population I minister to, these kinds of life-stories are common. They are the wall-paper of the rooms I inhabit. There is not a moment of the day I’m not surrounded by these stories and the people they belong to.

I’m a great believer in the intersection of story and life. I don’t know all that much about psychology or therapy, but I know a few things about story, characters, plot, conflict, development, complication, metaphor, symbolism, resolution, climax and the elements of a story. The Gospel is God’s story. The Biblical story is God’s story. The invitation of God is to join our stories with his, and to come to terms with the elements of our own stories in the context of the story that reveals a new world and new people in the image of Jesus Christ.

I encourage those I minister to to see their lives as a story, and the statements above present some of the elements which they must come to terms with in making their own stories meaningful and coherent. It is often these painful elements of their personal narratives that hold significant keys to other parts of their life stories.

In coming to terms with our own sin, we must come to terms with the sins of others and with the sinfulness of the human race. This is fundamental. There is no other context for the human story. We have sinned. We have been surrounded by sinners. We have been brought up, raised and taught by sinners. Those who love us most are also sinners, and some of them have done terrible things that have affected us.

Recent discussions involving my responses to Frank Schaeffer’s autobiography Crazy For God have brought these issues to the forefront of my mind. Is Schaeffer breaking the fourth commandment? Is he sinning against his parents? Should he be condemned for the pain he is causing to others by telling some of his own story? Does love and humility demand that Schaefer tell his own story without telling of the failings of his parents? These are important questions for those of us who believe in the power of a life story accounted and recorded.

Is it humiliating to parents and family to tell the story of a sinful family? Is the entire idea of telling an authentic story of our lives actual a kind of fetish, nurtured and fed by the publishing industry, media and the internet? Is personal authenticity and truthfulness a mask for cruelty, selfishness and phony self-justification?

All of these questions have been raised in the context of discussing Schaeffer’s book. My own writing on the web has been characterized as a kind of voyeuristic “expos(ing) your whole life to the internet” in search of some “hit” of authenticity. Such criticisms have long been raised against what I do here. (Interestingly, this is one of the topics I’ll be speaking about at Cornerstone ’08.)

These are substantial criticisms, and I agree with many of them. When I teach the Ten Commandments to students, these issues come up around two commandments: How can you honor your parents if they have not behaved honorably? How can you obey the command to tell the truth without being sinfully cruel? (“Mrs. Harper, your baby is rather ugly.”)

I’ve answered these questions in detail for years, and I am well aware that they contain many subtleties. In particular, the students whose stories are summarized above deserve an answer in how to come to terms with their own stories and still honor their parents.

There are several points I make in that regard. The Bible is brutally honest about the sins of its major characters, and this is because the truth about human sinfulness is a major theme of God’s story as he tells it. God is not sinning by telling the stories of sinful creatures. He is being truthful, honorable, merciful and loving. Adam, Cain, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Samson and Peter are our fathers, too.

God’s truthful telling of the human story is not accusatory, but factual. It is not self-justifying, but necessary for proper diagnosis. It is not humiliating to God or to human beings to speak truthfully about sin.

The idea that it is humiliating to talk about the sinfulness of our families is, in terms of the Biblical story, bizarre. This is who we are. The agenda to mask our sinfulness is a deadly spiritual poison. The strength of the Biblical worldview lies exactly here. If a person finds it humiliating that Frank tells of a marriage between sinners or that his father was depressed or his mother excessively zealous, they have abandoned the Biblical view of human sinfulness and substituted a false piety.

The story of the cursing of Ham is not telling us that it is always wrong to speak of the sinfulness of parents. It is telling us that we can selfishly grandstand our parents sins for derision and that is wrong. But to say the only choices are silence and sinful derision is simplistic.

If we want to honor our parents, we will be truthful about them, applying all the categories of the Biblical story to them: honor, love, mercy and sinfulness. It is in the context of telling us of his own repentance from sins against his parents that Schaefer tells of his parent’s sinful humanity. Those who find this “humiliating” have decided that the Bible’s view of human beings is, when we tell it, humiliating. Schaeffer does not “drag his parents through the mud” for resentment’s sake. Anyone who says so hasn’t read the book. Schaefer’s affection for his parents is deep and moving. His regret for his sins against them is genuine. But his commitment to not let the Schaeffer family be “icons” is also real, and while many in evangelicalism find this painful, I applaud it. We’ve had enough of the Ted Haggard version of evangelicalism. I’ll take a human Luther- flaws, failures, violence, racism and all- over the icons of contemporary reformed and evangelical celebrity worship. (I suggest any reader curious about Frank Schaeffer find his Book-TV lecture and note his attitude toward those whom HE ALLOWED AND ENCOURAGED to make his dad into a cult figure. Frank holds HIMSELF responsible for the distortion of his dad from a very tolerant man into a culture warrior.)

The second commandment we often discuss is the command of truthfulness. This commandment does not remove other commandments. Truthfulness is not an excuse for cruelty, self-justification, manipulation, whining or being hurtful to others. When I have been accused of advocating “authenticity” that excuses the worst kinds of hurtful, immature and selfish behavior, I want to respond that far from it, I feel all the weight of the command to love one another, etc. even as I encourage my students to tell the truth of their own stories.

Clearly, some Christians would prefer where the specifics of family or community sinfulness were not told in any published form. I understand the prudence of telling a story “behind closed doors.” I’ve never asked a student to come to our chapel and tell 500 other people that their father was a meth dealer. But some may choose to do so in the telling of their own story. I cannot take away that right. I can impress upon such persons that they must be loving, honorable, forgiving, merciful and respectful. I can warn them of the danger of voyeurism. But I cannot tell someone that their telling of how the Gospel story became their own story cannot include the truth about the matrix of human influences, actions and examples that made them the person they are.

There is no commendation or extra points for being “authentic” to the point of hurtfulness, cruelty and grandstanding. At the same time, there are no extra humility points either. Solomon did not recount his father’s adultery, but God did. Those who have a sinful or evil influence in their lives have to decide, in their own callings and living, what is the proper place to tell- or not tell- those portions of their stories that include the sins of others.

I can best apply this to my own life. When I speak of my father’s struggle with mental illness, I tell many things he did that are not flattering. For example, my father was so ruled by fear that he refused to allow me to participate in simple things like Little League and school trips. I have spoken about the racist atmosphere in my home when I’ve talked of my own journey to accepting others. I am not humiliating my father in these stories. I tell them while loving, honoring and applying the Gospel to him and to all who hear me.

The effects of my own telling of portions of my life story is always overwhelming. Thousands of people have written me in response to confessional essays on this web site to say that my writing has opened the door for them to accept the truth of their own lives, to not feel alone and to remake their own stories with the reconciling good news of the Gospel at a deeper level.

I understand some would not choose to do this. What I ask is that those who have, like Frank Schaefer, chosen to put their own story of guilt, grace and Gospel in context not be attacked as humiliators or promoters of cruel selfishness.

I long for a church that is as truthful as an AA meeting. At such a meeting I only have to say I am an alcoholic. But I may CHOOSE to tell my story in detail, parent’s sins included.

It’s a choice, and those who have done so have helped millions with the common grace of God. They have retold their life stories with sobriety and serenity at the center. They have described the story of human sinfulness with some detail added, but without cruelty or disrespect.

We are a long way from these kinds of churches, and many who read this would avoid such a church altogether. So be it. I can’t determine what is right in every case. I can only say that in my ministry, telling our stories truthfully builds a community of love and hope today where all are welcome to tell their stories- including the forgiveness and grief over ghosts of the past- because of the one who reconciles and forgives us all.

Jesus is not humiliated by the human story or by your version of it. He has a way of owning stories and making them another way of telling his own.


  1. A very powerful subject, indeed. It exposes the raw nerve endings of my guilt, and the pain that was inflicted upon me as well.

    The immediate effects of sin are terrible enough, but it doesn’t end there.

    Our sin is like a pinball. It careens into others and keeps careening far afield.
    One sin on my part may infect hundreds, even thousands along the line of human interaction.
    That is what’s so insidious about it. It is a plague of destruction and pain.

    Your point, Michael, about a church where sinners are sinners, and have both feet on the ground, is well taken, and very much appreciated by this one. I do not have to put up a pious front, for I am in the midst of those who are just like me.

    This is what strong (not watered down so we can manage it) law preaching does. It exposes us. Condemns us. It will not let anyone off the hook, no even for a moment. It abides no “good Christians”. But it does abide, repentant, compassionate sinners who are now free to love one another, in our sins. And to forgive, for it is with great joy, that we recieve our forgiveness.

    When it comes to my speaking of the harm others have done me, I try to follow the priciple of “do no harm”. If my speaking will perpetuate the pain, I do not speak. If it will help to heal, then I speak. If it’s a mixed bag, I weigh it all, then decide. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way because…I’m a sinner.

    Your thoughts and insights on sin and the damage it causes, places the work of Christ for us in stark relief.

    Sin, isn’t the easiest of subjects, but it must be brought out into the light by God’s law, and then obliterated by God’s promise of forgiveness.

    Excellent post, Michael.

    Thank you.

    – Steve

  2. This is of course not a topic limited to the Evangelical (or post-Evangelical) sphere. I am sure these are questions going through the minds of readers of Honor Moore’s book “The Bishop’s Daughter” which also deals with her father’s sinfulness.

    And it is not limited to celebrities, either. My wife is in the final phase of nine months of caring for her dying mother (which clearly fulfills the command to honor one’s parents) and yet is painfully honest about her mother’s shortcomings and sinful habits, which she (my wife) struggles against in her own life, having had them modelled all throughout her growing years.

    As you indicate, Michael, when we pretend that those we love and who have helped us along our spiritual journeys were sinlessly perfect we deny both God’s verdict on mankind as well as the grace of God which can use sinful, broken vessels.

  3. CAndiron says

    errata: should be fifth. I’m a big Ray Comfort fan :p

  4. errata: should be fifth. I’m a big Ray Comfort fan :p

    Unless of course you are a Roman Catholic or a Lutheran, in which case it is the 4th.

  5. Never call anyone’s baby ugly; your baby will look just like that.

    If the imonk knows who Ray Comfort is, I don’t think he’s ever mentioned him. He needs to review a Ray Comfort/ Kirk Cameron video for us sometime. Ray has a boldly unique way of holding up the 10 commandment mirror so we can see ourselves in it.

  6. The title of this is “Humiliation, Humanity and the Fourth Commandment.”

    According to Judaism, Greek Orthodox and most Protestants the 4th commandment is to keep the sabbath day holy. According to Roman Catholicism and Lutherans it is to honor your father and mother.

    Honoring your father and mother is the 5th commandment according to Jews, Greek Orthodox and most Protestants.

    I think that is the source of the confusion.

  7. Sin, when hidden in secret, typically grants our enemy a foothold in our life.

    I would welcome the embarrassment of having my sin become public in order to gain the freedom from the fear and guilt that comes with secret sin.

  8. Your title, Micheal! (the 4th commandment)

    By the way, thank you for this post. I found this greatly helpful. Thank you.

  9. Mairnéalach says

    I don’t have a categorical objection to “tell-all” style writing. We all have stories and they’re important.

    However– when does Proverbs 17:9 come into play?

    Or does it?

    I don’t know.

  10. Cameron,

    I believe the purpose of the preaching of God’s law on Sunday morning is to do just that. It is to expose us, reveal to ourselves, just what and who we really are.

    I think those secret sins often get supressed back down in our heart and mind.

    The stories in scripture are a grid that can be laid over our own lives. The skilled pastor and preacher can relate these stories to contemporary situations in a general way that will speak to each and every one of us.

    This opening us up to the truth leads to the death of that “old Adam” that has been trying to reassert him or herself all week long.

    In our prayer time before worhip, the worhip leaders will often pray, Lord, kill us, and then raise us again, with your Word here today.”

    I don’t think that the exposing of the sin actually has to be made public for the gospel to go to work on that person (to raise him again).

    But it certainly can be a great relief to the sinner to have his sins exposed. I think that’s what confession (to a priest or pastor) does.

    In our congregation, our confession is corporate.
    If someone feels the need to confess ‘face to face’, they are free to seek out the pastor, or another layperson (as is often the case).

    – Steve

  11. Steve- I’m talking about a person’s story as they might write or present it, not what is done in corporate worship.

  12. bob pinto says

    The topic was the 5th and sin. But my heart wails for those testimonies of wrecked and ruined lives quoted in the essay.

  13. This is the liability when anyone gets a “cult” fol,lowing be it MacArthur, Bell, Calvin, Arminius, Schaeffer, or anyone. It is one of the lessons we learn from God allowing John the Baptist to be taken away so that “He must increase and I must decrease” could occur.

    I also find intellectual apologetics as overrated and most suceptible to idol worship. When men quote MacArthur instead of the Scriptures there is a danger; when men come to a lecture wearing Bell’s glasses there is a danger; when men fawn over Piper as if he had some unique connection to Christ there is a danger.

    I find anyone who uncovers the sins of their parents as revolting and deeply unbiblical. Love covers a multitude of sins and by Frank’s own admition it was a self serving attempt at relieving personal guilt at the expense of his dead father and living mother. It is without conscience or merit.

  14. >by Frank’s own admition (sic) it was a self serving attempt at relieving personal guilt at the expense of his dead father and living mother.

    Where did Frank admit this? I’ve read five long interviews (see the Oldspeak interview) and listened to the CSPAN lecture (see the link) and he made no such admission or anything remotely close.

    Where did Frank say this book was a “self serving attempt at reliving personal guilt at the expense of” his parents?

  15. Frank admits to some of that in his book:

    “. . . did nothing to build the weird, cultic worship that follows him around in evangelical circles.

    … If that’s anybody’s fault, it’s mine because of [earlier actions that I took]. So maybe this [book] is a way of fixing a little bit of that.”

  16. If your “muted” revelations are meant as redemptive then maybe some latitude could be afforded. I would agree about the warning of human idolatry concerning doctrinal celebrities, however exposing intimate family details serves no purpose and is self serving. Many of the scenarios you provide may indeed outline the lives of unbelievers, not Christians.

    Many believers give tesimonies that include unpleasant details about their family relationships, but this book seems to be an amalgam of personal revelations and authoritative correction to the church. I would agree with Mr. Schaeffer’s premise about “pedestal” Christianity which is somewhat substantiated by some who object to his book, but I still remain unconvinced that some of the details served any purpose.

    Sometimes the publishers push for explosive details aimed at book sales so maybe that was inherant in this book. He has a story to tell about a larger issue than the strange lifestyles of his parents. “The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones”.

  17. Start at 35:35 of the c-span interview and listen for about one minute for the quote I referenced. Thanks, Brendt.

  18. Truth telling about what circumstances influence us the most is important. I understand how these situations can hurt, but if it had a great enough bearing to affect your life, it should have a great enough level of importance for people to gain the maturity to talk about it. I have a different style of Christianity than my Pastor father does, but we have learned how to disagree and still respect each other.

    What scares me is that when we look at situations in life and think God put us inside of them in order for us to learn some type of lesson. I grew up with the mentality and for years looked upon bad things in my life as “character building” exercises from God. It was not until my early twenties that I started thinking otherwise.

    I think has much as we need to learn about honoring our parents and truth-telling we may need to learn the right way to tell these stories. There are somethings that take years to be able to talk about in open without hurting those involved (such as parents). When I was a college minister many students had a problem with respecting parents that had hurt them. It was tough to tell them that they needed too, and one of the reasons was so that their family would see that this new found faith in their child was real, and that they were being transformed because of it.

  19. I think Os Guiness’ counterpoint at Books & Culture offers a worthwhile argument.

  20. Frank has said he’s taking responsibility for being the primary creator of the myth that his dad was a culture warrior. He feels what has been done with the Schaeffer myth dishonors what his own real father was like. You’re putting a twist on Frank’s use of “fixing things” that is, in my view, inaccurate.

    There isn’t anything shocking in the LEAST in the book, not unless you have a view of human nature that needs to check into the clinic of Christian realism.

    peace, MS

  21. Regardless of a different view point, I love your metaphoric word pictures.

    “not unless you have a view of human nature that needs to check into the clinic of Christian realism.”

    Great! The only thing that I would have added was:

    “not unless you have a view of human nature that needs to check into the Betty Ford clinic of Christian realism.”

    Thanks for the exchange.

  22. Michael,

    I do realize that you didn’t mean confessing publicly (and specifically)in church.

    I was trying to convey to Cameron that I believed that corporate confession in worship, coupled with a good dose of the law in a sermon could be freedom enough (sufficient) without having to open wounds that may go beyond the self, and might hurt others.

    I do realize that it is not the same thing, and that more freedom might be attained for the self in a public confession, but at what price to others? This is where I believe you started us off with your post, Michael.

    I guess in the end, it’s a decision that we must all struggle with ourselves.

    Thanks Michael.

    – Steve

  23. My daughter is in a theatre school and last weekend she did her final project which involved writing, producing and acting in a play. Her play was based on her and my relationship as it pertained to the warped messages I gave her about sexuality while she was growing up. Those messages were warped in part because of sexual abuse I experienced when I was growing up. My daugher sent me a copy of the play before we saw it but it was still a shock to hear my words coming out of someone else’s mouth.

    My daughter told the truth. The truth was painful to hear. I had one moment when I fouhnd myself grateful that she found a way to give voice to her story instead of carrying it inside. For the most part I could step back and say, ‘that’s the reality of how it was.’ and not feel shame about it.

  24. I must be missing something (maybe it’s a cultural difference?)I have read the book and (shock, horror!) really liked it (thanks to the BHT for putting me on to it in the first place) I thought Frank’s love and respect for his parents shone out of every page, despite his chronicling of the human reality of their lives. Do we have to pretend people are perfect to honour them? Isn’t that dishonouring to the God who declares us all sinful? Isn’t it honouring to say they were vulnerable, mistaken, sometimes confused by their own emotional baggage (who isn’t?) and they got some things wrong in ways which may have caused hurt, and yet they were people God used significantly? Isn’t that a truer and more beautiful picture? That they got some things badly wrong and yet love was still there, says something was also very right. I know of abusive parents who completely destroyed their kids’ ability to have any positive feelings for them.

    As to Frank’s motives well, it’s always dangerous to second guess someone else’s heart, but, apart from wanting to confess hiw own role in the development of the Christian right, I wonder if possibly something else is going on. Somewtimes we need to tell our own story out loud to reclaim our own history and deal with our own issues. And if our family are very public figures, that may need to be a very public telling. When a parent, or spouse, or other close person who has hurt you or scrambled you up in some way, is lionised by others and put on a pedestal, it’s a denial of your own experience. There are women who have major setbacks in there own healing by being constantly told what a lovely man their cruel, uncaring husband is, or how godly a sexually abusive father was, and so on .. That can be soul-killing stuff. And if a person has left a spiritual legacy, don’t we benefit more from it by knowing the truth about the person God used? Unless, of course, we would rather be the disciples of a certain teacher than disciples of Jesus ..

  25. I’m sorry Lynne, but I can’t have people who’ve read the book expressing an opinion. It just ruins the discussion. (jn++)

  26. ROFL! How does the rule go again? I must remain righteous by always condemning anything unorthodox without tainting myself by actually reading (or watching) it?
    Darn! the gate is way too narrow for a broad minded Aussie!

  27. I just finished the book.
    I don’t think I have an appreciation for the celebrity of Schaeffer’s parents, even though I read his father’s books.

    I found Crazy for God wonderfully unsettling. Haunting. This is one screwed up guy who takes a lifetime to come to terms with what is important.
    To find peace, forgiveness, contentment and joy as opposed to endorphin rushes.
    I didn’t see the book as being about his parents, I saw it as being about him, his journey, his discovery of grace, his upbringing in a sub-culture famous place called L’Abri.

    His wife is an amazing woman to have stood by him through his life, he thinks so too. His kids not being messed up as he was/is a testament to her and to his willingness to not do what his parents did and unintentionally exclude them at critical developments in their lives. The South African story is amazing.

    His siblings were okay with Crazy for God, they were more upset with Portofino if I read correctly. They gave him permission to put their lives and struggles in this one, which he did on their terms (speaks to his love and respect for them) and the limit of what they offer says much about the impact the work had on all of them.

    The story about his mom dancing paints more about God and love than a theological tome or all the religious smarts in the world. It is a piece of great love, respect and acceptance.

    This book is somewhat similar to Mel White’s last couple.

    His chapter on hiding in Hollywood tells me he was hanging on by a thread psychologically while he learned to let go.

    I’ve never met anyone who grew up in a perfect family, the fact I’m removed from some of the apparent celebrity status maybe makes it a different read.

    That a guy this messed up would find worship and a home in The Orthodox Church is not a stretch at all, if evangelicals see that as betrayal, tough; at least Schaeffer admits his madness. It isn’t pretty.

    I liked his understanding and observations of some of the ‘evangelical celebrities’ he did hang out with. They’ll never get out. He knows he’s an exception, not the rule.

    While I’ve seen outrage at this book, I figure some of the reviewers get angry at every and everyone anyway, and use just anyone as a punching bag. He’s merely another convenient target. And some of the outraged haven’t even read it.

    I liked this book, I liked his searching, his screwups his vulnerability, his confessions.

    The book sells well and is getting slammed because he is a celebrity to you all I guess. (I got a copy from a friend in Wales) It deserves to stand on it’s own, he is sadly realistic and honest about that not happening.
    Seems to me he has found his footing and can take the heat.

    The unsettling nature/content of his writing is a God send and draws me to Christ.

  28. That’s it. I can’t take any more.

    Everyone thought my Dad was such a wonderful guy. I never heard an unkind word about him from anyone.(the truth)

    All the years of my childhood were punctuated with “Your Dad, is such a great guy.” “Steve, you are lucky to have a Dad like that.” “We have never met a kinder, more gentle soul…” “George is the nicest person I know.”(the truth)

    Well, I’m gonna let the cat out of the bag… right here,and right now.

    My Dad was a …

    my Father was…


    Republican. (the truth)

    Man! That does feel better.

    You guys will still talk to me…right?

    – Steve

  29. Michael: I’m disappointed to see that you have left the paths of righteousness and reverted to the Reformed numbering for the commandments. :o)

    This is why I try to refer to “the commandment to honour your parents”, “the commandment against adultery” and so on, rather than using the numbers…

    However, another useful commandment to bear in mind here is the “commandment against false witness” (however you choose to number it!), in particular as expounded by Luther to include the duty to “explain everything in the kindest possible way” (or “put the best construction on everything”, as it is sometimes put).

    I think there is a place for “confessional” literature, but those writing in that vein need to watchful as to their own motivations in the light of the commandments (a) to honour one’s parents (which is principally aimed at adult children, rather than being intended as a tool for coercing young children into doing as they’re told), and (b) to speak in ways that build up our neighbour rather than tearing them down. Also, there is a danger of the church simply following the current fashion for “misery-lit”. Context and purpose are critical.

    I have no opinion on whether Frank Schaeffer has stayed on the right side of the line or not, not least because I’ve not read his book (and probably won’t), though I’ve found your defences more persuasive than most of the criticisms levelled at him.

  30. John H: Do you believe that a factual accounting of, let’s say, a parent’s drinking and its effect on childhood, is “misery lit” or otherwise inappropriate? Especially in the context of, for example, a talk at AA?

  31. Michael: no, not in the context you are describing. But equally, there are contexts in which that could be exhibitionism and/or “misery lit”. Like I said, context and purpose are what makes the difference – and not just the author’s purpose, but the publisher’s purpose and indeed the audience’s purpose.

    Indeed, it strikes me this whole discussion has focussed overly on whether/why an author should write about these topics. Equally relevant are:

    (a) why is the publisher publishing it, and how are they marketing it?; and

    (b) why is the audience reading it?

    And I emphasise again that this is just a matter of general principles. I am not making any application of this to Frank Schaeffer’s book.

  32. I don’t think Luther’s explanation to ‘put the best construction on everything’ means that we should avoid speaking difficult truths.

    I think Luther’s explanation is an exhortation to not ‘Spin’ a person’s deeds or actions in a negative way. ‘Gossip’, in my opinion, includes the ‘Spinning’ of someone’s action in a negative way as well as telling tales to people who don’t need to know.

    I’ve not read the book in question and so I don’t have an opinion one way or the other about it.

    I do, however, think that it’s important to sometimes speak difficult truths to the ‘right’ people (we often avoid doing this, myself included) while avoiding malicious gossip at all costs.

  33. NotLutheran says

    John’s Luther quote on the eighth commandment is exactly what came to mind for me when I first heard of the controversy of this book. We should do everything we can to uphold the good name of our neighbor. That goes doubly for what you don’t do.

    I can tell you, and have no problem with saying, that my father was an alcoholic and his alcoholism affected my childhood. There’s worse I could say, but I do have limits. Now, what do you know? You know there’s some nebulous “father” out there who was an alcoholic and it affected a real person (let’s presume that you know me, although you don’t). I would argue that my father’s reputation has not been sullied since you do not know even his name to attach the alcoholism to.

    Francis Shaeffer, on the other hand, was a public figure. With a good reputation. Now, horror of horrors, I haven’t read the book, but I have read reviews of it so my information should be correct as to what’s revealed in it. If I understand correctly, in this book Francis Shaeffer’s reputation is sullied a bit by revelations of alcoholism and spousal abuse, no? His reputation is affected by it, the reputation of a real man. If Frankie wanted to follow the Lord’s will, it seems to me one of the questions (among many) he should have asked is, “will this damage anyone’s reputation?” Being someone who HAS had his reputation slandered many times by things ranging from gossip to confidential truths spread in a professionally damaging context, I try to consider that question in anything I say or write.

    So do you see the difference between a book written by a no-namer about people we don’t know and a book written by a public son about his very public father? I understand, through my not-reading, that this book is not about bashing Francis but about Frankie’s personal role in the personality cult of Francis. But surely the fact that it contained so much against Francis’s good name is a valid worry for a Christian, isn’t it?

    Returning to the topic of my father, he died when I was at a young age. As the oldest of my brother and sister, I have the most memory of him. When I tell them about him, I don’t tell them of the angry drunk who got us kicked out of Disney World (although they know such stories). I tell them of the man who devoted all his life he could to us and loved us as much as a father can love his children. This is the good name I want my father to have, and no amount of getting this or that off my chest could make me humiliate him posthumously to those who knew him and loved him. If I can keep his name good among myself and my immediate family, surely it’s imperative upon other Christians to preserve the good name of a man millions looked to.

  34. If I understand correctly, in this book Francis Shaeffer’s reputation is sullied a bit by revelations of alcoholism and spousal abuse, no? His reputation is affected by it, the reputation of a real man. If Frankie wanted to follow the Lord’s will, it seems to me one of the questions (among many) he should have asked is, “will this damage anyone’s reputation?”

    I find this astounding: ‘Don’t tell the truth about someone’s alcoholism and spousal abuse because people might think he was not as moral a person as he claimed to be?’ You can’t be serious?

    I’ll start by saying I’m an out-and-out theological liberal. The kind who is supposed not to have any standards. Heck, I’m a woman minister, so you know I’m lost.

    As a theological liberal, I do not believe that anyone engaging in adultery, a dishonest lifestyle (financial extortion, for example), paedophilia, or spousal abuse, nor anyone addicted to substances, anger or compulsive behaviour should be engaged in teaching and preaching in a Christian assembly. Just for starters.

    Good grief. If ‘Don’t say true things because they are nasty’ is what the conservative church is getting up to behind the pulpit, no wonder they are banging on about getting tough on sin.

    I hate to say the words ‘Speak the truth in love’ because it more often seems to mean ‘Spin the truth into lies in revenge’, but really, we do need to learn to name the truth as the church.

  35. >Francis Shaeffer’s reputation is sullied a bit by revelations of alcoholism and spousal abuse, no?

    There is nothing about alcohol abuse in Crazy for God. Where did that come from?

    Spousal abuse? You’ll have to read it and decide for yourself. Frank is clear about what he saw/heard and didn’t see or hear.

  36. If we’re concerned about his reputation being harmed, what sort of expectations are we placing on our ministers, anyway? They’re only permitted a few token non-public sins to struggle with, unlike “normal” Christians? If, on the other hand, we expect all Christians to sin, why should we be shocked to find out some of the specifics? If someone looks really good in public, you have to know their sins are mostly private.

    I think most of the negative reaction is from those who don’t really believe that their pastors are just like them. If pastors were like us, then we’d have to hold ourselves to the same standards!

  37. Back in the day, and for many centuries before now (I believe), the unwritten but stainless steel rule was: “Women keep men’s secrets; children keep parents’ secrets.” That. was. the. rule.

    Different days now. Different world. Get used to it.

    Because now what was done in secret will be shouted from the housetops. Because what you have done to the *least* of these, including your wives and (by fathers and mothers both) your children, you have done to Him.

    Also because you shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free. Even if you’re one of the abusers. I never struck my child, but when she told me, as an adult, how some of my emotional abuse/ neglect had hurt her deeply, I was sick with remorse and guilt. I wanted to die. But now, we can talk about it. I can see the past through her eyes, and I have been able to tell her how sorry I am that I wasn’t there for her the way she needed me to be. We are past it. It was one of the most horrible episodes in my life, but it was the right thing for her to say and for me to hear.

    You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you sick. But then it will make you free.

  38. You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you sick. But then it will make you free.

    That’s for sure. Just make sure you don’t tell the truth to those who don’t want to hear it; or, in the words of Bill Watterson, the truth will set your teeth free. 😛

  39. Bror Erickson says

    It has been a while since I read Francis Schaefer, But what I remember is him pointing to Christ not to himself. Christ is the sinnless one who died not only to forgive the sins of all those people Francis reached out to, but Francis’s sins too.
    One reason so many of us hold onto Faith alone so tenaciously is it is the only thing that keeps us going, that gets us up in the morning. We have to live with ourselves and that isn’t an easy thing to do when you see your sin for what it is. If we were to live by the law alone we would be led into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. But we live by the word of God his Law and His gospel. We learn to run to the cross when the law bites us, and it makes it all that more precious to us.
    I haven’t read Frankie’s book, so i don’t know what sins his Father is guilty of, nor do I really care. I gre up in a pastor’s family, I’ve been around pastors, professors, teachers all my life, one thing I learned: they all need Christ as much as the rest of us do.

  40. Michael:

    It is providential that I came across your post today. Since last Friday I have been looking at the issue of suffering, of pain, of our brokenness on my blog. I sparked a bit of controversy by strongly asserting that suffering has no intrinsic value because, as St. Augustine asserted “nothing evil exists in itself, but only as an evil aspect of some entity because every actual entity is good [omnia natura bonum est]”. I linked a post to this one because your post put very powerfully and succinctly what I have read before.

    Last year, in preparing for a lecture, I read Cynthia Crusdale’s ‘Embracing Travail: Retrieving the Cross Today’ along with Rowan Williams’ ‘Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Story.’ Reading, digesting, and seeking to communicate these two books together was revolutionary for me.

    So, thanks once again for your realism, for your loving critique, and for so wonderfully communicating what it means (or should mean) to be Church.

  41. You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you sick. But then it will make you free.” Then, as Flannery O’Connor averred, it “will make you odd”. I think a lot of what is wrong with the Church is both our real and feigned normalcy.

  42. Michael, et al, first of all I must say how impressed I am of your prolific verbiage (meaning the most positive definition of the word verbiage). I’m somewhat new here and I barely have time to read one of your excellent articles and before I finish . . . presto, you’ve posted another thought-provoking one.

    I have much I wish I could say but life is so busy that I can’t keep up with my own blog. So here it is late at night, after an exhausting day and I am ready to crash but I feel I must type something.

    Ironically (considering this topic), I was at the LAbri – A Common Grace conference in Rochester, MN last week and have not caught up in my medical practice since getting back to town. BTW, Edith’s son-in-law shared that her dementia has progressed to the point, that I personally doubt if she will hear of Crazy for God and will certainly not read it. I think I mentioned before that I was living in Rochester when she was there and she gave me the copy of Frank’s book Sham Pearls Before Real Swine that he had sent her . . . having not cracked the cover.

    I’ve posted before how much I appreciate the work of the Schaeffers. Baring the sovereignty of God working through some other way, I would not consider myself a Christian today had it not been for the Francis’ books and hundreds of hours of his taped lectures. Yet, in paradox (something I haven’t even sorted out myself) I deeply enjoyed reading Crazy for God. I think I have even a greater appreciation for LAbri because I know that they are mortals like me. Okay, I’m being redundant.

    Frank himself, as the author, is a microcosm of God’s work in this world . . . a blend of the magnificent and the deeply flawed. Of course, Frank did not write the book out of completely honorable motives (nor can any of us do anything out of completely pure motives) . . . but I believe that much of his writing was so.

    I am a post-Evangelical (not theologically liberal) Christian trying to live in an Evangelical world. Why? Because the only other choice I have is to be very, very lonely. It is my sense that the Evangelical church longs for this level of honesty and it is a subliminal craving. Very few would admit it.

    One example of this is the fact that a “devoted” family in our congregation suddenly divorced last summer and left. People within the church were saying, “no one saw this coming.” I voiced (and no one seemed to comprehend what I was trying to say) that of course no one saw it coming because there is no place with this congregation that people can speak honestly about their imperfect lives. One of the church leaders commented that “Church is no place to dig up dirt.” If not within the church then where? Dear Abby? In a drunken stupor at the bar with non-Christian fellow workers?

    I really believe that it is our calling, as the Church, to create the safest place in the world. A place so safe that Christians can share the most honest parts of their lives. Not to be theatrical in our sharing but as a plea for help and for mercy and as an example of our complete dependence on the Grace which is in Christ . . . not by our own godliness . . .earned by following steps 1, 2 and 3. of the discipleship workbook.

    I still honor Frank’s parents . . . and my own, yet I am willing to fully admit their failures in my desire to live honestly, with distracting from that honor.

  43. The sentance in my last post (#42) should have read, “without distracting from that honor.”

  44. J. Michael Jones said: “I voiced (and no one seemed to comprehend what I was trying to say) that of course no one saw it coming because there is no place with this congregation that people can speak honestly about their imperfect lives. One of the church leaders commented that “Church is no place to dig up dirt.” If not within the church then where? Dear Abby? In a drunken stupor at the bar with non-Christian fellow workers?

    “I really believe that it is our calling, as the Church, to create the safest place in the world. A place so safe that Christians can share the most honest parts of their lives.”

    When I need to speak honestly about my imperfect life, I go to a 12-step meeting. I wouldn’t dream of telling the church people about my flaws, doubts, and rough places. The church folks love me and I love them, but what we do is not speak with total honesty. We pray and we share our griefs and some of our fears, but not anything that might be personally humiliating. I’m not sure why that is, but I do know that when I’m with my favorite church people, I am careful about what I say, lest they be hurt or offended.

    In Al-Anon and other 12-Step places, we’re way beyond that.

    Maybe it’s just like that old, rather snarky, 12-step saying: “Religion is for people who don’t want to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who have been there.”

  45. Bror Erickson says

    I really believe that it is our calling, as the Church, to create the safest place in the world. A place so safe that Christians can share the most honest parts of their lives.”

    All the more reason to bring back Confession and Absolution. And not to let the government interfere with mandatory reporting etc.

  46. Regarding H. Lee’s comments.

    First of all, I want to make it clear that I totally agree with you . . . but at the same time it saddens me. Not what you said (your choice of words) saddens me, but the reality of what you are saying if that makes sense.

    For one, I agree (and my experience with AA has been limited) that AA and Al-Anon are a great resource for resolving and healing and candid-icity (my own conned word). Their great honesty is to be admired and is so important to their success. But I wish that the church could offer the same. The reason is, while AA gives partial resolution (eg. depending on a higher force, venting, supporting each other) that true Christianity can give true and total redemption.

    What I am trying to say is that maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start church meetings with each person stating “My name is Mike and I am a sinner”—or we could add specifics, “lair, luster, envy-er” . . . or for some, maybe even “alcoholic.” But I don’t mean just having people sit in a circle and airing their dirty laundry week after week in a hyper- introspective way.

    Going back to my example of divorce. There is nowhere in our church (except for maybe the women’s Sunday school class) where any of the problems of the couple could be aired in an honest, accepting and pre-emptive way.

    Last year I had tried to start a home Bible Study with a focus on marriage. I’ve been happily married for 25 years, but our marriage has been far from perfect. We’ve weathered some horrible storms and know that even now it isn’t perfect (nor can it ever be). I really wanted this group to find a safe place to really open up and have us, as a group, help each other work through these things. I’ve led previous groups where this really happened . . . and it was so refreshing.

    To “prime the pump” I did a lot of very honest sharing about my own relationship with my wife and the very real things that we deal with every day. But the group would sit in silence. Okay, one wife (whom I knew was struggle with some things from comments she had made to my wife) did share a few things.

    Then two of the men, who were products of “Promise Keepers” and whom I think have the same “I am godly” complex that I carried for years approached me to let me know that they weren’t coming back. Their point was that they have “good Christian marriages” and we were just trying to dig up dirt, which offended them. So then a year later, suddenly there’s a divorce and another woman?

    It is my humble opinion that the Church (and not all churches) have had a misunderstanding about sanctification. I know that I did and the group I was associated with for a couple of decades did. We really thought that we could read the right books, study scripture enough, practice enough discipline and presto . . . we could be “godly” people who rarely sinned. But it was a farce. The church then ends up playing the game that “I am a good Christian,” and to maintain that façade, we can never reveal our weaknesses (like you can in AA). Then the dragons in the hidden places are never exposed to the redemptive love of Christ and the support and total acceptance of our fellow believers.

    I really liked your quote: “Religion is for people who don’t want to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who have been there.” But a better twist on it, in my opinion, is “Religion is for people who desire to be god-pleasing (winning his acceptance by our good behavior) and true Spirituality is for people who’ve been in “hell” and know that they could be back in hell at any moment (in other words their great accomplishments can’t save them from hell on earth) except for the grace of God.

  47. I don’t have anything to add. I just want to say that I have been tremendously helped by this post and the comments. Thank you. The Lord really used this to speak to what I am going through at the present moment, as I struggle to forgive (and spend time with) a very negligent and screwed-up father. For some reason, what I read here has helped me know how to handle the situation, even though I really don’t “know” anything more, other than how much I need the Lord’s grace, forgiveness, and wisdom.

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