Frank Schaeffer: Prince of the Scorn Merchants

I’ve written before on the hot market for scorn of conservative evangelicals.  The immediate provocation was a post from Rachel Held Evans which was unfair, I thought, to evangelicals who oppose gay marriage, but I tried to make clear that Rachel is a minor and periodic offender.  Compared to the strains of scorn one finds every now and then in her writing, there are other writers who offer a veritable symphony of scorn and disgust and paranoia when conservative evangelicals are under discussion.

One such scorn artist is Frank Schaeffer.  He published a shameful screed against Christianity Today after the magazine published a negative review of a film — Hellbound? — made by his friend, Kevin Miller.  I don’t say “shameful” lightly.  I try to avoid terms like that.  But he, truly, should be ashamed of what he wrote.  He won’t be.  But he should be.

Recognize first that Frank Schaeffer — son of conservative Christian intellectual icon Francis Schaeffer, founder of L’Abri and author of several influential books on faith and culture — has deep, complex and undisclosed personal relationships here.  It’s not my place to disclose them, so I won’t, but it’s worth noting that Frank does not disclose them either.  He grew up in the company of Christian leaders, many of them in the publishing world.  There are countless untold stories here of the people he has burned — including some currently at Christianity Today — as he has grown increasingly radical in his rejection of anything resembling an evangelical orthodoxy and “establishment.”  It’s not a flattering metaphor, and I apologize for that, but Frank is like a wounded bear that attacks anyone who vaguely resembles the person that hurt him.  You feel for the bear, because you know he is hurt and has lost his way.  On the other hand, you cannot stand idly by and let the bear maul the innocents.

At some point, Frank concluded that conservative evangelicalism is a stain on the face of planet Earth, and he began to hate it.  If you think I’m being too strong here, read what he wrote.

He refers to CT’s staff as “keepers of the flame of second-rate Christianity,” the “gatekeepers of the smug evangelical world.”  Although CT is actually closer to the center than many evangelical publications, Frank calls it a “little obscure rag on the Christian right.”  Of the reviewer, Mark Galli, Frank writes: “Overall I would say Mark Galli is really upset he wasn’t interviewed. This review sounds a lot like a ‘What about me?’ protest.  Then he re-writes a sentence from Galli to read thus:  “It never seems to have occurred to the filmmaker that there are thoughtful, careful, irenic evangelicals like ME, like ME who even wrote a book on this and who is editor of a VERY IMPORTANT magazine filled with VERY  SERIOUS articles on a pretend world by people LIKE ME who believe in hell and may have some pretty strong reasons for doing so and have PhD s and everything in Hell Studies and all…”

He alleges that Galli sought to “cash in” on the discussion around hell that Rob Bell provoked — and yet Frank has written on any number of controversial issues as well.  Was he seeking to “cash in”?  Galli’s book has mostly positive reviews on Amazon (3.4 out of 5 stars, which is pretty strong for a book defending an unpopular position), but of course Frank only quotes a one-star anonymous review that complains about Galli’s writing style.  He describes the book tendentiously as seeking “to defend the evangelical establishment view of a literal hell, say the kind of hell all those Jews gassed in WWII went to seconds after they died because  they never ‘accepted Jesus.'”

In the even more furious and flailing version of the essay he published on Huffington Post, he calls CT “pro-hell, pro-damnation, pro-retribution.”  When some readers object to his tone, his answer is essentially “put on your big-boy pants” and he calls Christianity Today “a multi-million dollar organisation of bullies picking on one brave film maker.”

This has to be called what it is: childish and shameful.  There is nothing loving, nothing gracious, nothing redemptive about Frank’s tone here.

Frank’s first objection is that Galli is not “disinterested.”  Galli wrote a book responding to the Rob Bell Love Wins brouhaha.  Frank alleges it’s some kind of journalistic malpractice to have a non-disinterested observer review the movie.  Yet it’s actually very common to have, say, a famed atheist review a book by a famed theist, or a representative of one point of view reviewing a representative of another point of view.  It makes for more interesting reading and more meaningful debate.  And is Frank himself, a friend of the filmmaker, not biased as well?  The question is whether the criticisms have merit, not whether you have a personal opinion on the matter.

One of Galli’s criticisms is that the film never features a credible theological defense of the traditional view of hell — and instead starts with, and returns several times to, the Westboro Baptist bigots as representatives of the side that believes in a literal hell.  Frank writes:

If the author of the review hadn’t been so blinded by theological bias he would have taken time to reflect on why the filmmaker would have begun with such an obvious caricature of the Infernalist position.  Rather than portray it as the norm, Miller gets the audience engaged by despising something of which no one would approve, eventually bringing them around to see that what the “clean-cut” Reformed folks believe about hell — like the the editors of Christianity Today and professional theologian-pastors-celebrities, like Mark Driscoll and Kevin DeYoung– is the same as the extremists, only the packaging is different. The theology is exactly the same: God loves some people and hates others.

Yet that’s precisely the worry.  Rather than representing both sides of the debate fairly, the intention of the film is to eliminate the meaningful distinctions between Westboro Baptist extremists and more thoughtful, moderate non-universalists.  The theology is not exactly the same.  And if the film had included a credible theologian defending a more traditional view of hell, this would have been evident.

What Galli is expressing is the same frustration that many theologically conservative evangelicals felt in the midst of the Bell’s Hell debate.  If Bell wants to be something like a universalist, or assert that the unsaved will have all of eternity to save their minds, fine.  I personally hold to what Barth called the “pious hope” that God will redeem all things in the end.  But even I found Bell’s book deeply problematic.  It was the rampant caricaturing of an orthodox view of hell, the complete failure to deal with a theologically serious version of it, that was so sorely lacking.

Finally, Frank calls Galli’s review a “defensive self-serving hatchet job” — and yet Frank — the Hatchet-Man of the Religious Left — is writing a complete hatchet job against Galli and CT as a way of defending his friend’s movie.  The lack of self-awareness here is troublesome.  We should all beware how we can become mirror versions of the ghosts we condemn.  Frank was once a part of the Christian Right establishment, and then turned against what he saw as hateful and irrational and condemning.  Yet now Frank is hateful and irrational and condemning — and just standing on the opposite side of the gulf.  He’s a scorn merchant.  His career — his writing online, his books, his television personality — is about scorning the Religious Right.  Want someone to trash the Religious Right?  Call Frank Schaeffer.  He’s trading in his hatred for money and notoriety.

But it’s okay, because now he hates the true bad guys.  He’s sure of it this time.

Frank has lost his way.  I truly hope he finds it again.  He can stand for all the things he believes in, and yet do it with integrity and grace.  He may not be asked to MSNBC as often, but at least he’ll be consistent with the values he espouses.

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  • I have settled on “Progressive Demagogue” in my own reflection on this sorry exchange Frank has engaged in.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Meant to include a hat-tip in your direction, Greg. Sorry about that.

  • Tim

    There were a variety of voices supporting common notions of Hell, not just Westboro. Perhaps the film was suggesting that there are both “far out” versions of this position with “kinder, gentler” versions of common/traditional Hell.

    I appreciated all the perspectives in the film, from those views I think are wrong to the ones I think are right.

    I tend to the God in Christ reconciling all things position. Yet, as the film points out, there are annihilation and eternal torture texts in the Bible. So, in the end, one must choose. Your article might say that Frank ace frm woundedness. So why not offer words of healing? Maybe we should avoid attack/ counter attack. That only feeds the offense, outrage, revenge cycle. I think Jesus offers an alternative practice.

    Anyway, peace!

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      This post was less about the film than about the ways we talk about fellow members of the body of Christ.

      My criticism concerns Frank’s patterns of action, and I tried to turn toward restoration and healing at the end. There’s certainly no desire for “revenge” on my part, but I do think responsible Christian progressives need to call out this kind of behavior for what it is. (And Greg Metzger, whose link is here in the comments, did, very much to his credit.)

      • Tim

        Frank, as I hear him, opposes the hostility and hurt and exclusiveness he has experienced with certain media. Then, in opposing what he sees as arrogance, he responds by taking offense, being outraged, and returning the hostility, “giving them a taste of their own medicine.”

        So, how do we exit this cycle of rage, ranting and arrogance?

        Wounded people, wound people.

        My thought is to respond with healing words, forgiveness. Why has Frank not simply forgiven? Why have we not forgiven Frank? The message of the movie does matter here. God in Christ is reconciling all things, including, eventually Frank and Mark. Jesus has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. Let us stop reconstructing the wall

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

          I don’t think there’s any question that the people Frank has harmed are willing to forgive him. They feel a lot more grief than anger over his actions. The question is whether Frank wants reconciliation. I don’t see any sign of that yet, and no sign of any conviction that he’s gone too far. Until he’s convinced that he’s become a mirror-image version of what he condemns, I don’t think there will be openness on his part to reconciliation. But I may be wrong – who knows.

      • John I.

        I’m no fan of Frank, and writing something that is respectfully critical is difficult, but count me among your readers that is not convinced you were successful. I also think you missed the target of being Christlike. You may disagree, of course, I’m just talking about my response. I’d also say that your article is not as successful as it could be in making its points because of the times it tells / preaches instead of showing. For example the use of “even more furious and flailing version of” comes across as wrongly judgmental as Frank’s–who I’m sure believes he is right.

  • John I.

    Ok, let me begin by saying that I’ve only ever gone to conservative evangelical churches–either nondenominational or baptist. I went to a conservative bible college for three years that was funded in large part by anabaptists or baptists of conservative and I suppose evangelical persuasion. I still go to a conservative evangelical nondenominational church (regularly). And I’d put Frankie in the category of those who have experienced a conversion but can’t leave their old life behind but have to keep doing a beat down on it. So no, I don’t like Frankie or agree with him and rarely read anything by him. and if you want evidence that I’m generally sympathetic to the orthodox and mostly conservative point of view you can search for my comments on various blogs here at patheos (under “John I”).

    So I read Dalrymple’s post, made a comment, then thought I really should read more if I want to make a more legit comment. So I read Frankie’s article, and Gallos article, then visted the website for the film, then read a bunch of secular and religious reviews of the film.

    And the word that kept coming to mind was “pathetic”. A review of a review of a movie review? Really? To what end? reach out to Frankie? nope. Convince me not to act like Frankie? nope. Beat down on Frankie for beating down on his buddy? perhaps. Whinge about how poorly Frankie treated his buddy? perhaps that too. Protect the nature lovers on the trail? Allegedly yes.

    Galli’s article was presented by CT as if it were a movie review or critique of sourts, as it did appear in its movies section, and Dalrymple calls it a movie review. But whereas other secular and religious reviewers found it to be a middling to good move, Galli just dumped on it. Even secular reviewers got the point of the movie and felt that it was thought provoking and raised an interesting issue in an interesting way. And here’s the critical point on this, “I like reviews that ask questions and admit difficulties rather than jumping to hasty, presumptuous, judgmental conclusions. I like those in which I do not hear a tone in the reviewer’s voice that suggests they have found some inarguable view of the film and are passing it down like a verdict. In the fulness of time and discussion, we’ll have a better sense of what works of art have to offer. We’ll also see clearly who approached art with humility and insight and who was just out to stamp judgments prematurely. I’m still a beginner at all of this, and I’m learning as much from my own past errors in arrogance and haste as I am from anyone else. Ultimately, I want to write reflections and testimonies… not reactions. When served a work of art, I want to ruminate rather than spit.” [Jeffery Overstreet, a professional film reviewer]

    I have to agree with Frankie (possibly a first) that Gallis article read like a diatribe of “I’m going to go pout because they didn’t present my point of veiw more clearly and sympathetically. Oh wait, I’m an editor so I’ll pout in public. Because I can.”

    Frankie’s article had a clear point of view, and he did his usual schtick of sending up evangelicals and flaming them. He also made some very good points. He was also entertaining.
    And baiting. And people have taken the bait.

    Dalrymple disagrees with Frankie’s positions and his bashing of evangelcals and bashing of Galli (who I agree wrote a dreary, whingey, dull article). Well, boo hoo.

    And, honestly, what was Dalrymple’s point? Was this somehow the straw that broke the camels back? Like Dalrymple was holding back, but now, after this piece by Frank, he has to make a comment? It’s not like Frank has done this before. But of course this time Frankie went after a very nice guy who is obviously misunderstood.

    OK, so Dalrymple wants Frankie to act more like the evangelical Jesus (which Frank obviously doesn’t care about, so then who is the article for, and why?). Do we readers at Patheos really not know scorn when we see it? (and Frankie doesn’t care if he’s scornful, in fact, he intends to be so. So he’s not gonna clean up his act because of Dalrymple’s article).

    What is the meaning of “scorn” as currently used in English speaking lands? “open dislike and disrespect or derision often mixed with indignation” or “The feeling or belief that someone or something is worthless or despicable; contempt”. Hmm, and what about”contempt”? “the feeling with which a person regards anything considered mean, vile, or worthless; disdain; scorn”

    Here’s what’s said about Frank: “Frank Schaeffer: Prince of the Scorn Merchants”
    -“other writers [including Frank] who offer a veritable symphony of scorn and disgust and paranoia”
    -“One such scorn artist is Frank”
    -” He published a shameful screed”
    -” he, truly, should be ashamed of what he wrote”
    -“even more furious and flailing version ”
    -” it is: childish and shameful.”
    -“Frank — the Hatchet-Man of the Religious Left — is writing a complete hatchet job against Galli and CT ”
    -“Yet now Frank is hateful and irrational and condemning ”
    -“He’s a scorn merchant.”
    -“His career . . . is about scorning”
    -“Want someone to trash the Religious Right? Call Frank Schaeffer”
    -“He’s trading in his hatred for money and notoriety”

    So Dalrymple has open dislike and disrespect and indignation in regard to both Frank himself and what he wrote. Dalrymple thnks that what Frank wrote is worthless and despicable. What Frank does is mean, vile, and worthles adn should be held in disdain.

    Dalrymple has scorn and contempt for Frank. But it’s obviously OK because Dalrymple is not a scorn merchant and that makes all the difference. It’s OK to call your brother “raca”, as long as your not a merchant in “raca”-calling.

    I mean, really, if the object of your piece is “you cannot stand idly by and let the bear maul the innocents”, then of course the best way to do it is bing being scornful and contemptuous of the offender. That will make Fank think twice next time. It will make Gallil feel a swhole lot better. It will warn the rest of us readers not to try anything so stupid. And it will make doubly clear to the Christian and nonChristian readers of this piece that Frank is a very mean, very bad man and real evangelical christians are not like that at all. Real evangelicals instead use scorn to show that they “feel for the bear, because you know he is hurt and has lost his way” and they know that “Frank has lost his way” and that they truly “hope” (in love of course) for him to “find[] it again”.

    John Inglis

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Thanks for your comment, John. A couple quick responses:

      1. Frankie’s point was not that Galli was pouting because his viewpoint was not well represented. His point was that he was pouting because *he* was not interviewed for the film, and because he’s desperately trying to protect this oppressive evangelical establishment that Frankie imagines.

      2. I’ll be the first to admit that I fall short of Christ-likeness all the time. Constantly. And I do get frustrated with people whose stock in trade is slandering the character of evangelicals who view things differently than they do. I was seeking to hold him to account, to call it as I saw it, and I confess I had the doubtless-vain hope that Frankie would see that he’s lost his way. Sometimes people need to be confronted with the truth before they’ll mend their ways, and in this case the truth is that Frankie has become — as a fellow progressive has dubbed him — a “progressive demagogue.”

      3. I don’t feel like I have scorn in my heart for Frankie. I could be self-deceived, but I search my heart for it and don’t find it. I feel sympathy, and grief, and I do feel a desire to stand up for those he slanders and identify it as such. I don’t believe that Frank is a “raca”, but I do think his actions are sinful and in need of repentance.

      4. Of the pieces you quoted, their points are that (i) his writing and public appearances are filled with scorn for conservative evangelicals, (ii) he’s an eager and reliable attack dog against conservative evangelicals, (iii) and that he should be ashamed of what he wrote. The third is a matter of opinion, but is there really any question about the first and second? These are not insults but factual observations, and pretty solid ones at that.

      I do wish that my tone had been more conciliatory. I’m tired of people who build their careers on maligning the Christian Right. But Frank’s a person created in God’s image, and God loves him as much as he loves me. It’s hard sometimes to find the line between calling a spade and spade and seeking to speak with a redemptive voice. Thanks for holding me accountable.

  • Geoff

    If it was determined in a poll that evangelicals liked Domino’s pizza over other national pizza chains, Schaeffer would somehow link that to their views of end-times prophecy and make it seem nefarious.

  • John I.

    Hi Tim. I do appreciate the fact that you allowed my comment to be posted even though I vigorously disagree with your lede post.

    Re, ” I don’t feel like I have scorn in my heart for Frankie.” I don’t doubt that you are correct, however not only is that intent not discernable in the article (the nicey nice at the end addresses a different point), but the form and content of the post conveys something entirely different. The words and phrases used fit within any definition or usage of “scorn” and “contempt” raised by your post. Though you may not have intended it, your comment was in realty scornful and contemptuous of Frank and his post. Is voice and tone t read like you were fighting fire with fire.

    The article also lacks a clear objective. You write in reply, “I was seeking to hold him to account” .It certainly wasn’t addressed to Frank directly, but to a third party reader and it was written about Frank and about his article and its errors and scornfulness. It didn’t even indicated that it was copied to Frank. It was rather a generic screed against scorners of evangelicals, with Frank being used as the available horse to beat: “One such scorn artist is Frank Schaeffer”. It also seemed like it was claiming to be part of what helps protect others against mauling. In addition, it tried to support Galli’s review. Overall, something dashed off because of obvious anger at scorn of othe’s that has been around for a time, and trriggered by the proxiazte event of Scheffer’s scorn.

    Galli’s post was a very poor movie review,indeed it fails as a review and deserves to be heavily criticised. Galli was in fact wrong on some points–as noted by Frank.

    Maybe I’m the only one, but I don’t get how a post that reads as a scornful diatribe is an appropriate response to a scornful diatribe. restoration of fellow Christians (if you considere Frank to still be one), is to be done “gently according to Paul (Gal. 6:1, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.”). Furthermore, Jesus changed the Shema by raising it to a higher standard: no longer are we to love others like ourselves but as Jesus loved us–Jesus, who is God. John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”.

    You admit in your reply to my comment that you do not always measure up to Christ’s standards (who does), butyou do not state thatthis was one of the failures. You defend your post, so it seems that you thought it was OK.

    I would hope that the time involved in writing and posting a blog would allow for at least some reflection as to purpose , form and content.

    If I were Frank adn happened to read your post, there is nothing in it that would be persuasive to me vis a vis changing my behaviour or writing or to apologize for my scorn. The same goes for those who fit in your general category of “writers who scorn evangelicals and make $ from it. But as tyour post is directed to others, to Christian evangelicals, I still don’t get what the post is for. Nothing in there provides a biblical basis for not using scorn or directs me to change my behaviour or warns me (indeed, the article itself uses the rhetorical device of scorn even if it is not intended). Is it for a common venting of frustration and anger? Nothing invites me to vent. Is there anything in the article that makes my hurt feeelings better, or protects me against scorn, or tells me how to deal with, scorn or how to endure persecution? Nope.

    My basic point is that as a reader, the post came across like a screed about a screed, motivated by an article that broke through your otherwise thick skin (and actually more offensive than Frank’s post because I don’t expect much more from him), and if I read your post that way then it is likely that many others did as well. Or maybe I’m OTL; my wife often thinks I am.

    This is your blog, Tim, so this will be my last post on this issue and I’ll let you have the final say if you want to reply again.

    I do regularly read your posts, and quite enjoy them , often finding them insightful, edifying, interesting, or otherwise worth my while.


    John I.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I’m in a rush, so can’t read the whole thing, but it *was* written with the understanding that Frank would see it, and with the intention of being truthful and critical but not scornful. Whether I succeeded in that intention, I don’t know. I may have gone beyond what I should have said.

  • Frank has really become a tragic and heart-breaking figure. So much pain, so much anger. I’ve briefly discussed his attack on the “scariest” passage of the Bible here:

  • Noel

    Who is going to hell? The slave on the ship brought to America, who died on the way over because of overcrowding.? The thousands killed in Japan by the Tsunami ? If Romney is right you all going to two kingdoms after you die. Romney will be in the top one (celestial kingdom) and progressing on to possibly become a god with his own planet.

  • Beloved brothers, Christ is in our midst!

    I was disappointed, I have to say, by all sides in this discussion. The fact is that Evangelical Christianity has calcified a view of Hell that is not really defensible from several standpoints, as I see it (chiefly, properly understanding Greek terms in the New Testament; and the teachings of the Apostolic Church and the tradition that followed it in the Eastern Church). At the same time, as an Orthodox priest I have to regret the path that Frank Schaeffer has taken. He does seem angry and out of control, and that is unfortunate. Equally unfortunate is that the writers he attacks also seem angry and out of control, to someone on the outside like me. Could we re-direct the whole discussion? Some topics would be: How did the early Church understand Hades, as opposed to “Hell?” How did the early Church understand the Lake of Fire (as opposed to Hades)? How does Eastern Orthodoxy understand eternal Judgment? How was this altered in western tradition, first in Catholicism and then in the Protestant Reformation? And perhaps last if not least, how do evangelicals explain the pervasive inability to distinguish between Hades (death), on the one hand, and the many different terms used for eternal Judgment in the New Testament? I would be very interested in this discussion which, I hope, could be conducted without rancor and in the genuine love of Christ which should unite us above all. With blessings in Christ, +Fr Brendan

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      One book I greatly enjoyed on the evolving conception of death and the afterlife in the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible is “The Death of Death.”

      On the post-Jesus history, I would resist the notion that there was a single coherent viewpoint in the Apostolic Church or the Early Church, from which the Roman church departed. I would say more that the earliest church was all over the map on the question, and the Roman church took one of the options, while the eastern churches took one or several of the other options. But I do think the general point is well put, that the evangelical church has not paid enough attention to the theology of death and the new life in the early church.