The Loveliest Tribute to My Dad — Francis Schaeffer — I’ve Ever Read



I wrote about the real Francis Schaeffer in my memoir Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back  and received many wonderful emails and letters. I also got some rather nasty ad hominem criticism from some of my father’s evangelical followers and especially from several evangelical leaders who have made their “professional” religious careers by associating themselves with his reputation. But most people beginging with my editor (who like most of my secualr readers had never heard of Dad until I wrote about him) believed that I’d  folded a tribute to Dad into my memoir about the rise of the religious right and my family’s part in it.

However the most wonderful tribute to Dad and to my book came last Sunday, long after it was published several years ago. When I got this email (used by permission of the writer) I wanted to share it. It really speaks to who Dad was and to the man I knew and loved. I’ve reproduced it here unedited. And BTW I do not know the writer, it came as the say “out of the blue.”


“From: Steven Gabbard
Sun, Jan 13, 2013 1:31 am
I saw your recent articles on Alternet and ordered Crazy For God on my Kindle. I stayed up and finished it last night. I really enjoyed it. I admit I read it for the juicy insider bits about American evangelicals. But the parts I ended up enjoying the most were the parts about your father during the sixties. It was like ‘wow, I would’ve like to have met that guy’. His not being racist or homophobic was refreshing. I found myself thinking that if I had known someone like that when I was younger and searching, I might have taken Christianity more seriously than I did. It was because of the bigotry and anti-intellectualism that I saw practiced by the Christians in my family that I dismissed Christianity when I was an adult. I am an atheist now and quite content to remain one. But if things had been different 30 years ago and I had met someone who was charming, intelligent, and socially enlightened like your father was during the sixties, I could see that it was possible that I might have taken a different path than the one I walked. That thought is an uncomfortable one. We like to think that we arrive at our deepest convictions through logic and much soul searching. But happenstance plays a larger role than we like to admit. I had to put the book down at one point and face the fact, ‘things could have been different’. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that so clearly before.

Anyway, that was what I got when I read your book. Wanted to share it. I’ll pick up another one of your books soon. It’ll probably be Portofino, that one sounds interesting.

Your new fan,
Steven Gabbard”


Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back .

To book Frank Schaeffer to speak at your college, church or group contact him at 

About Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer is an American author, film director, screenwriter and public speaker. He is the son of the late theologian and author Francis Schaeffer. He became a Hollywood film director and author, writing several internationally acclaimed novels including And God Said, "Billy!" as well as the Calvin Becker Trilogy depicting life in a fundamentalist mission home-- Portofino, Zermatt, and Saving Grandma.

  • Bill Sahlman


    • Frank Schaeffer

      Bill, thanks a lot. Best, Frank

  • Tom Gulotta

    That’s very touching. I can honestly say that I am someone who did go down that other path in large part because of your father and because of some of the people he influenced like Mark Heard and Mike Yaconelli. It wasn’t the politics that attracted us, it was the compassion and love of art and culture and the idea that if God is real then this life matters. I’ll always be grateful to your dad that during a time when I was very tempted to throw out the whole mess I found someone so clear-headed and humble to inspire me to hold onto Christ and his love.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Tom, I wish I could pass that on to Dad, he’d love the note. Thank you from me and for him. Frank

  • http://patheos Threeten2yuma

    Frank, I wish I had met your Dad . . . and your Mom. I’d be a better person today, I’m sure. Maybe one day I will meet them both . . . and also be a better person . . . if fairy tales do come true! Love, -3:10

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi threeten2yuma, as always good to hear from you, and thanks for reading. F

      • http://Patheos threeten2yuma


        My possible imaginary Friend, “Jesus,” told me through this tribute to your late father that I need to be more like Francis and less like Frank if I ever hope to reach people for Him, especially people like my new found gay-secular humanist-atheist friend, Jim, with whom I had some lengthy and interesting dialog in the comments section of your recent article on “America’s White Male Republican Evangelical Magical “Thinking” Racist Problem, etc.,” after I’d initially termed the piece “asinine” but also intemperately referred to your “stridently leftist ass-kissing fans.” I believe that your Dad (as well as Jesus) would have accurately employed the former adjective in expressing a thoughtful opinion, but you (and me) like to use some more colorful descriptions of people or ideas that are ultimately counter-productive, albeit possibly entertaining, at least for us, don’t we?

        But I’ve seen the light, Brother! I’m doing a full 180 and repenting of my former sinful ways in public (and, hopefully, also private) discourse, and I’m gonna walk the Road to Glory from now on and bring along as many as yet still damned dear souls as me and The Good Lord can get to follow Him. So join me, Brother, join me! And let’s us pay the ultimate tribute to your good ol’ Dad that it’s humanly possible to do!

        It is indeed true that God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform! Love, -3:10

        • http://Patheos threeten2yuma

          Oh Mary!
          I think I just came off again like a pompous ass! Sorry. Reformation is hard work. But I’m gonna keep trying. Keep prayin’ for me.

          • http://Patheos threeten2yuma

            I know your dear Mom would.

  • Michelle McConnell

    I’ve loved your books and hearing you in person, as well. I think this realization that “things could have been different” is striking… admitting that fact introduces a “flex” to our lives, to the things we’ve (up to that point) seen as solid. Unsettling, of course (I immediately think of Javert) but doesn’t have to be negatively so.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Michelle, thanks for the note anf I was also struck by the wonderful tone of the note. I wish we all had the ability to admit our “certainties” aren’t always so certain. Best, Frank

  • Gordon Schultz

    I am very happy to read this. I, too, have people in my history that are far, far from me theologically and politically but whose sheer decency, personal honesty, and genuineness continue to move and enlighten me to this day.

    I am also glad to hear this about your father. I read his early books as a college student and found myself disliking him without knowing him. I was a student of philosophy at an evangelical college (North Park in Chicago) and knew that most of what he wrote on the history of philosophy and theology was simply wrong. I felt at the time that he must have known that, but preferred the power and fame coming from misrepresentation more important than honesty. I am glad to learn of a more nuanced and even open-minded person than I had imagined. Thank you for posting this.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Gordon, thansk for the note, and as for Dad as I put it in one of my books I think he was a far better person than his theology if you know what I mean. Those who had personal contact knew another man than the “official” Francis Schaeffer in the books. Best, Frank

  • Ric Schopke

    As a young Christian entering the world of teaching and performing in the Arts in the
    late 60′s-early 70′s, I found your father’s writings thought-provoking and inspirational.
    His book “Art and the Bible” was and remains a part of my foundational thinking.
    I’m grateful.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      hi ric, thanks for reading and if I could I’d pass along the good word to Dad. Art was his only true intelectual love. It was far and away more interesting to him than theology. I know. He dropped everything when I was 15 and took off to Florence with me to show me the musuems. Best, Frank

  • Derek

    Frank, I read Crazy For God years ago when it first came out and have been haunted by it ever since. I think you did him a great service by the way you wrote about him. It is no surprise to me that he wasn’t perfect, and hearing about the problems he had behind the scenes only endeared him to me more. As an evangelical myself, the way you captured evangelicalism at the crossroads was heartbreaking to me. I wish evangelicals would have followed your father’s lead and not those who eventually ended up galvanizing it around American politics and anti-intellectualism. When I think about L’Abri in the 60′s, my heart aches. It sounds like a leftover patch of Eden, where humans were able to come and allow themselves to be in awe through the arts and by engaging their minds. It is my dream to replicate that spirit wherever and however I can. Your dad continues to inspire me, even now that I have read about his shortcomings as well. Who am I to judge, I’ve got my own. Thank you also Frank, I believe he would be proud of you and your unflinching honesty. While I don’t always agree with you, I always find your work to be worthwhile and important. That’s something else I learned from your dad, engaging all viewpoints with charity. I wish more people in this country could learn it as well. Thanks for all you do.

  • simon

    Frank, how many have lost faith because of fundy evangelicalism. Its a tagedy really.

    thanks for sharing that email. clearly he was affected negatively by evangelicalism. its also interesting that he said that things could have been different had he met your dad. on the other hand its ironic that your dad helped to start the whole religious right movement. and this is perhaps one of the most anti intellectual and anti cultural movements in history.

    do you think that evangelicalism and protestantism more generally will be consigned to the fringes of society?

    • http://Patheos threeten2yuma

      Oh but why stop there, Simon? How about the showers and then the ovens?

  • Yvonne

    Steven, I thought similar thoughts when I read it! When we were all reaching out back then, there was a condemning and judgmental system waiting to get us. I cam to faith much later in life so I can tell you it’s never too late. Today is your day — so put the “what if’s” aside and jump right in the wonderful world of a loving God that is awesomely into his creation.

    Great article Frank! Thanks for sharing your dad with all of us!

  • Carol

    A fine tribute as well, in my eyes, was the story of his being on his deathbed and you put paintings all around his bed. I could have interpreted this incorrectly, but when my Mom was in the nursing home where she eventually died, I went with her to music therapy. For all of her life until 86 years of age, she played piano. Music therapy, at the end of her life, was the only thing that brought to light of life or comprehension to her face. She was ready to leave, but I so wanted her last days to have meaning for her. Frank, I’ve gotta tell you, your books made so many wonderful things real to me, and that scene is one. It is amazing, with all your descriptions of boyhood male sexual activity that would have made me put the book down at one time in my life, that I enjoyed them enough and saw enough beauty in them (and truth) to buy nearly all of them. Haven’t read the one about ‘Jack’ yet. I agree with the gentleman whose tribute you posted that L’Abri sounds like an oasis. But you made a fine tribute to your Dad by posting those paintings because you knew he loved art, one that is lasting in my mind. Yet another point is how wonderfully liberating it is, for me, to have come away from reading your books with a new realization that people who do terribly aggravating things can at the same time be beautiful people. For me, that means my unruly tendency to rudeness maybe hasn’t annihilated my soul. God forgives and sets me up again every day.

  • Everette

    Francis Schaeffer did listen and that is a large part of the battle. I am still learning from him today. What he said in 1982 at D. James Kennedy’s church has come to pass like he said it would. He cited the Jan 11, 1982 article from Newsweek about abortion. This is the point that I think that many pro-abortion advocates are today. Take a look at this recent article, “SO WHAT IF ABORTION ENDS LIFE?: I believe that life starts at conception. And it’s never stopped me from being pro-choice,” by Mary Elizabeth Williams published by on January 23, 2013. In that article Williams asserted:

    I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life. And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice.

    I would put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time — even if I still need to acknowledge my conviction that the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing.
    Schaeffer made this point back in 1982. He saw that people just don’t care if it is murder or not. Thanks for posting this letter Franky. It opens up another side to your readers.

  • herewegokids

    My parents were missionaries too and I know well that the private reality is often much different than the public face…always, really. It doesn’t mean they’re hypocrites, it just means they’re real, flawed human beings. I thank you for having the courage to let us look behind the curtain. Your folks I’m sure are proud of you. I’ve only read Portofino (which you suggested) but I think it’s time to open up Crazy for God.