Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hidden Art Book Club: Francis Schaeffer's Style

Francis Schaeffer could also be explored as a case study in the crippling evangelical weakness for spiritual celebrities.

Much of American evangelicalism consists of independent parachurch organizations founded by ambitious spiritual entrepreneurs.

These organizations depend on popular support so they must project favorable public images of themselves. This typically involves lionization of the founder, which usually traces back to the founder’s own self-promotion.

Ever since George Whitefield crafted the public persona that made him the first true celebrity of the British North American colonies, American evangelical entrepreneurs have followed his lead.

Schaeffer was no exception.

He created and maintained the public persona of a countercultural sage come down from the mountain with a new word of wisdom from the Lord.

Such a mythic image could only be sustained through the art of illusion.

This began with his costume.

I copied the above paragraph from an article published in the Evangelical Studies Bulletin Issue #70 (Winter 2008-09).

I found the photo of  Schaeffer in his co-authored book, Whatever Happened to the Human Race.  When I heard him speak in 1979 or '80, he was dressed as pictured.  

Bonus link about judging the book by its cover.

Postscript ~
I *like* Francis Schaeffer and do not mean to disparage his reputation by sharing Michael Hamilton's insightful review of two Schaeffer biographies.

Post-postscript added 3/10/15
Link to article about celebrity pastors


  1. Have you read the Franky Schaeffer books? I was thinking about them last night. Never bothered. I do imagine he was a difficult man to live with but I wonder at those who criticize Edith. I think they are placing the victim values of our culture on her unfairly. What do you think?

    1. Here's how I answered Brandy who also inquired ~

      There are a fair number of recognizable folks (Os Guiness) who have commented on Franky's book. I have not read the supposed tell-all and dont plan to. Even if a small portion of his claims is true, I think it is highly disrespectful of Franky to have written so publicly. I choose to think like this journalist ends her article ~ positively

      Basically I think there is so much to glean from both F & E that I can overlook their shortcomings or take them with a grain of salt.

    2. But I was intrigued by the premise of this review of the two books where the author addresses parachurch organizations and their influence on society/culture.

      I mean, off the top of my head, I can think of no less than a dozen such *ministries* and ... contemplate/ponder

    3. One more comment...

      makes me think of the book Marriage to a Difficult Man: The Uncommon Union of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards

      Big personalities usually have a big weakness as well ;-)

  2. This is fascinating. That's a rather scathing review. I'd never really thought of Mr. Schaeffer's "look" as affected, or as an illusion or a costume. I assumed he liked dressing like a Swiss man from a slightly earlier time.

    I weary of the trendy look of modern pastors, with their black tshirts and goatees. If they really prefer that -- even if they lived alone on an island -- that's different. But it's such a predictable costume. I'd never heard the phrase "ambitious spiritual entrepreneurs," but there's some aptness there. My husband calls this kind of church situation a "personality cult." You can always tell b/c the people are excited about the man, not the kingdom. And when he leaves, the ministry falters.

    1. I agree, M.K.

      My point is sharing that line is that fashion/clothing communicates...

      Be advised.

  3. "New word of wisdom from the Lord" being the key phrase. If it's "new", it's probably not True. I feel like that was mentioned in last week's sermon...

    Also, your bonus link is broken!

    1. Exactly!

      Thanks for the heads up about the link. It's corrected now.