An Interview With a Visionary: Frank Schaeffer

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This past year I had the privilege of meeting Frank Schaeffer through our mutual friend, Peter Rollins. Frank quickly turned into a person I truly admire. He was the son of Francis Schaeffer, the Presbyterian pastor and cultural theorist that helped galvanized the Christian Right in America. As is evident from his recent books and writings, Frank broke from right-wing corporate politics and is now widely considered to be a leading public intellectual in America. He is a New York Times best selling author and his recent book, Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in GOD: How to Give Love, Create Beauty and Find Peace is getting a lot of attention, which can be procured for free in a special offer. From May 9-11 you can download this significant contribution to religion on Kindle for free.

Here's my interview with Frank Schaeffer.

Creston Davis [CD]: You live an extraordinary life, some even call you a genius: you're a New York Times best selling author, a filmmaker, a painter, an atheist who believes in God. When did you first discover your gifts for creating story, art and ideas?

Frank Schaeffer [FS]: Dyslexics don't have choices, at least ones born in the 1950s didn't. We can do what we do and can't do what we can't do. I drew and painted and was deeply into listening to books being read out loud before I discovered I could not spell. School was a struggle. So I clung to what I could do--paint and draw and tell stories--while my friends passed exams. By the time I discovered a word for people like me (dyslexic) I had been making movies and writing books and painting for years. Once I did learn to navigate a world of tests too, at least enough to get a drivers' license, I was hooked on art and culture.

2015-05-06-1430938088-3182150-ScreenShot20150506at9.47.41PM.png Frank & his father, Francis Schaeffer

[CD]: You're a progressive thinker and even an activist. How did you come to live out your life promoting justice? Was there an event or an experience that happened to you that made you think and act differently?

[FS]: Again, maybe this has to do with feeling like an outsider myself. I "get" some guy alone on a station platform busking. But I think the way my parents ran their evangelical ministry stuck. They were enlightened humanists when it came to how people were treated. I may have left the theology behind but the "how" of relationships stuck. It's not a big step from there to rooting say, for our first black president or for that matter for gay rights and marriage equality.

[CD]: You recently wrote a book, Why I'm an Atheist who Believes in God and, from the title, it sounds like you're squaring a circle. How do you work out the seeming contradiction between atheism and a believing in God?

[FS]: I just don't "do" labels. Paradox is the whole deal. We are biological machines who look at the world through what I call spiritual eyes. This makes no sense. It's like the word "Love." What does it mean? Some days it means fighting with my wife and other days it means asking for forgiveness. If we can't even define the root of a relationship how are we supposed to define the word "faith"?

[CD]: What made you want to write this book?

[FS]: Conversations with the late great (author) Christopher Hitchens (he liked my writing) and my old evangelical pals. Hitch wanted me to join the New Atheist movement. My old evangelical friends wanted me to "return to the Lord," as they'd say. I found myself writing emails to my atheist friends and my to evangelical friends that with a word or two changed would be the same. I decided that what I was encountering were what I call certainty addicts.

[CD]: What are you working on now? A painting, a book, a novel?

[FS]: I'm painting for my summer show, and on a new book on art, education, children, grandchildren and transmitting cultural values that matter. It's inspired by the daily childcare my wife and I provide for three of our five grandchildren Lucy, (6), Jack (4) and Nora-Rose (1). What we all need is creative redemption. This is personal. I want my grandchildren to experience beauty.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me.

Frank Schaeffer is the Director of the Institute of Critical Theology at The Global Center for Advanced Studies (GCAS)