Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Best Review Of "Patience With God"


Book Review: Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism) by Frank Schaeffer

(Blogcritics Nov 10, 09)

Reviewed By Jordan Richardson

(Jordan Richardson is a Canadian freelance writer and maple syrup enthusiast. His film reviews can be found at the Canadian Cinephile's Reviews and his music reviews are located at the Canadian Audiophile's Reviews and News.)

As the son of Francis Schaeffer, Frank Schaeffer has been no stranger to the rigours of evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity. Francis believed he had the answers to the questions of the ages with his belief in fundamentalist doctrine and he was largely responsible for the rise of the Religious Right in American politics. As his son, Frank lived through and participated in the despicable intersection of religion and politics.

But with passing years came clarity and Frank has gone from the obnoxious assurance of fundamentalist religion to the quiet doubt and curiosity of a more open faith. As an author, film director, and blogger for the Huffington Post, Schaeffer’s life is a testimony that rings true for many of us who have found themselves on similar ground.

In his new book, Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism), Schaeffer goes well beyond the typical pat answers of specious Christians who allude to Christianity as a “relationship, not a religion” and deconstructs the eager certainty, venomous literalism, and widespread insincerity that taints and has since formed the mould for the modern evangelical and fundamentalist movements.

Not content to merely strike at one side of the aisle, Schaeffer also volleys a fair-sized wad of equitable critique at many of the so-called New Atheists. He gears up harsh criticisms for Richard Dawkins, chastising him for his “self-serving compassion” and slogan-bearing T-shirt sales, and guts Bill Maher’s cowardly Religulous for asking softball, juvenile Sunday School questions of easy targets. Schaeffer also offers up a biting if simplistic critique of Christopher Hitchens and rounds off the torture-hungry Sam Harris in brief fashion.

But Patience With God is not a book about pegging down the “New Atheists” or stacking the odds in the favour of his particular Belief of Choice. Instead, this book is a war on the evil concept of certainty itself. In applauding Daniel Dennett and his brilliant Breaking the Spell, Schaeffer tilts his hand not as an argumentative pundit against all things atheist but rather a critic against a certain brand of, well, anything.

For Schaeffer, he believes that the brand of vitriolic “evangelism” from the “New Atheists” sells their overall message short and, further to the point, erodes any opportunity for unity among people of faith and people without faith.

As hard as Schaeffer might be on the “New Atheists,” he reserves the bulk of his bile for the evangelicals and fundamentalists. Targeting the likes of Rick Warren, Franklin Graham, John Hagee, and the two cretins behind the senseless Left Behind series of “books,” Schaeffer is on the money when he describes their hazardous conviction and criticizes their pursuit of profit and political pragmatism.

In the chapter entitled “Spaceship Jesus Will Come Back and Whisk Us Away,” Schaeffer details the dangerous philosophy of the book of Revelation and offers clarifying history, all the while admitting that he’d much sooner choose to share a lifeboat with Hitchens than with Tim LaHaye or Jerry Jenkins. After all, Schaeffer notes, “He might even bring along a case of wine.”

Patience With God is part “sermon” and part memoir, interlacing Schaeffer’s quest for a united world filled with compassionate, knowledge-hungry folks with stories from his past and present. It is beautiful to read how some of his stronger spiritual moments come from holding his granddaughter or looking at the moon in the sky.

At the core of Patience With God is Schaeffer’s discovery of the “gift of paradox” and his general worship of the uncertain. His faith in God is couched in not knowing what or who God is rather than in identifying the deity (or perhaps deities) with a number of self-serving characteristics. His exploration of faith is one of existing in the universe, of unity with other human beings regardless of personal faith and conviction, and of compassion with an emphasis on tolerance and authenticity.

It is, indeed, a refreshing book and incredibly easy to read. While many atheists and religious people alike will feel targeted by Schaeffer, his is an even-handed approach that does well to strip away the childish shell of fighting over who’s “right” when the question can’t be answered. “The point is not to argue over how we got here but to agree to a better vision of where we want to evolve to now,” he says after linking Charles Darwin’s “liberating truth” with Jesus’ “selfless example.”

In the end, Patience With God is not going to be the magic answer or the key that opens the door to a united humanity. That is, however, not a failing of the book nor is it the failing of any of those men and women who have pleaded incessantly for compassion over wickedness, tolerance over bigotry, reason over ignorance, and love over hate for centuries. Instead, our lack of unity on issues of faith and, indeed, anything else can and should be blamed on nothing more than our frail, malicious craving to be right.


gmftech said...

.."frail, malicious craving to be right."

That sums it up perfectly.

thom schuyler said...

November 11, 2009

Dear Mr. Schaeffer,

Following a 30 year career as a songwriter and music industry executive I am currently serving as youth director at a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation in Nashville, TN. I also teach the master songwriting classes at Belmont University, continue to perform and also continue to write country, folk and gospel songs – a tedious task for a 57 year old in a young man’s town.

Several weeks ago I delivered a sermon on Daniel as part of a series of messages entitled ‘The Unusual Suspects’ delivered to our congregation by the associate ministers. A young adult visitor was intrigued by my thoughts and apparently spent some time investigating some of the odds and ends I had included in that sermon. Yesterday he contacted me by e-mail with compliments and questions and an Internet link to a chapter in your book entitled ‘Crazy For God.’ The chapter concerned your opinions on Jenkins, LeHaye, their Left Behind series of novels and the evangelical/fundamentalist preoccupation with the so-called second coming events.

My spiritual upbringing in a small North American Baptist congregation in Bethlehem, PA was soaked in end times preaching and teaching. Before Hal Lindsey was, I had been thoroughly indoctrinated in the apocalyptic point-of-view. The sudden appearance of The Late Great Planet Earth during my sophomore year in college simply provided a reasonably well-organized catalogue of events already accomplished or yet-to-be. For me – and those other Calvary Baptist members – Lindsey had little or no new information – only a fairly clear and fascinating presentation.

Reading your perspective on Jenkins, LeHaye, Lindsey and others in this chapter from your book was edifying for me. Your portrayal of evangelical/fundamentalists as delusional, paranoid, cultic, loony, semiliterate, wild-eyed, weird, anti-science, anti-education, anti-everything, superstitious, revengeful, self-pitying, whiny and more is antithetical to Romans 14. You have placed yourself on a throne of your own making. Any valid theological points you wished to make in this not-so-funny and intolerant bit of writing are invalidated by your arrogance and shallow broad strokes. One would have thought you would know better.

I am not writing to dispute your positions. Although I continue to hold the Daniel/Revelation/Futurist POV I do so quietly without guns or canned food stockpiled in our cabin in western PA. I feel your outright dismissal of these interpretations – an obsession and lifetime commitment of many with minds far more astute than yours and mine – is utterly hollow. I neither preach nor teach my futurist posture nor do I live my life awaiting the rapture. My service and my faith is based on Christ’s first coming. As I wrote in a recent journal: ‘When Christ plants his feet, once again, on The Mount of Olives, God forbid we be caught reading a copy of Left Behind; rather, let us be sharing a cup of water in His Name.’

I cannot tell you how disappointed I was with your writing. In a chapter of a book entitled ‘Crazy For God’ I sensed know kindness or grace and, frankly, no gospel in your message.

And, speaking of no kindness - have a nice time with Christopher Hitchens.

With Hope,

Thom Schuyler
Nashville, TN

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like Frank Schaeffer might be a Bahai.

Anonymous said...


Who's slandering now and being hateful? You just compared him to Hitchens. LOL

Seriously, Dispensationalism is a cult. It was not held by the early church but it was created right here in America.

thom schuyler said...


I will not argue your position on Dispensationalism; in fact, I share that posture. I was simply pushing back on what I consider very harsh and sophomoric commentary by Mr. Schaeffer.