From the very first pages I was moved by his polemical tone and I was to realize very soon that he really had a point when he wrote about the Protestant and Catholic church being “largely unaware of its own cultural past. With each successive split and realignment within Protestantism, the church has moved further away from its cultural inheritance”, The Bible being now studied “through a filter of piety that castrates its virility” the artist “in this tasteless world” being “condemned for being ‘secular’ by the church and (…) ostracized by his or her non-believing contemporaries for being foolishly ‘religious’”. Frank Schaeffer openly criticizes the “Christian presence in the arts as “a return to middle American sentimentality, the kind of sentimentality that confuses virtue with niceness” for “in the arts there should be no segregation of secular and religious subject matter. Reality, like God, is one.” Where can the Christian learn about art then? “In the larger world, outside of the Christian ghetto – a ghetto that some Christians have created in a begotten attempt to find a sort of heaven on earth.” Why is that? Because “pious sentimentality has replaced robust virtue. In avoiding the arts, including many movies, some Christians, sadly, cut themselves off from a great deal of truth and beauty”.
What precisely is art to Schaeffer? “…the expression of the divine uselessness of beauty, truth and reality. Art is useless but far from meaningless.” What about beauty then? “I believe that beauty exists independent of the personal taste of the observer. In this sense aesthetics are as absolute as physics.” And what about political / religious art? “In genuine art, the expression of a particular religious, political, or human viewpoint is unselfconscious and is submerged in favor of expressing truths, common to the experiences of all mankind. (…) Therefore the idea of producing ‘Christian’ art, music, novels, plays, etc. as it is commonly understood by many earnest but misguided fundamentalists and evangelicals, is wrong. Art needs no justification. It has its own meaning. Art speaks with one voice: Mankind is special; mankind is transcendent in his spirit; mankind’s existence has eternal meaning. Art communicates in universal terms from one generation to the next. Observing and enjoying art gives deeper meaning to our love of God and God’s creation, humanity. Art thus leads us toward God.”
Who are “the killers of art”? “The truncated, dwarfish theology of American twentieth-century evangelical fundamentalism has ignored the art and produced many cultic groups who have succeeded, even in a free society, in erecting their own miniature Soviet Gulags of the mind. Petty, Gray, Lumpish, Small, Sterile, and Sad could be the names of the Seven fundamentalist dwarves who have labored to produce the current pietistic prison in which so many Christians apparently live.” Can art survive modern times? “The idea of art being an expression of eternal, common, ageless, human themes is being lost. Therefore art is being lost, pounded to death by the political-religious moralizers. We must battle against the politicization of art. We must produce, or at least work toward producing, works of transcendence in an age that no longer believes that this is possible – an age that has become fundamentally anti-Western, anti-heroic, and anti-human.”
Why is it that the gulf between creative writer and the public is so wide nowadays? It is – Schaeffer says – “our lack of a true culture. And fundamental to this is the disappearance of the sacred, always at the heart of any genuine culture – from ancient Athens to Victorian England (…) Only, it seems evident from the historical record, in the context of a true culture in which at the core is a deep and wise sense of the sacred are we likely to regain the vital conditions of progress itself, of faith in progress, past, present and future.”
What are “the best films” like? They “challenge, and leave us entertained, amused, uncomfortable, sometimes sad, never bored, perhaps angry”, although “Many movies are what magazines are to books, what pulp is to great fiction. They exist on film in a technical sense, but they are, like almost all television programs, merely entertainment formulas. They are not evil; they exist, just as McDonald’s hamburgers exist in a gastronomical limbo.” Then he draws an interesting parallel between the movie business and the church: “The movie business cannot be reformed from the outside anymore than the church”. In a tone which reminds me of Steinhard’s sense of humor, Schaeffer says: “Jesus knows you’re a jerk. There is no need to attempt to fool ourselves, let alone God.”
What a joy to have found some paragraphs that praise the works and endeavors of famous Orthodox individuals, such St. John of Damascus, “who powerfully defended the church against attacks from those iconoclasts in the eighth century who were denigrating the use of icons and artistic images (…) They deserve – Schaeffer says – our thanks. He, like a myriad of individuals in the so-called Dark Ages, stood up for art, beauty and aesthetic worship. He gives us an example, and there are many more besides. We can thank God for the faithfulness of the Orthodox Christians who, until the fall of Constantinople, preserved classical Greek and Roman thought as well as Christian teaching within the walls of the Byzantine Empire.“
The paragraphs about what a church should be and shouldn’t be like were are really powerful: “I believe that if the organized local church is led by a pastor who preaches obedience to Christ’s teaching by word and example, offers pastoral care, worship, and the Eucharist, practices the clear preaching of the gospel, affirms the real rules and instructions of God, and carries on the apostolic tradition, this church is in good order.” The more I read them, the more confused I became, as I knew Schaeffer was not an Orthodox while writing them, yet what he wrote was deeply Orthodox: “The faithful, local church and its true mission needs no justification, no dressing up. Just as artists should not seek to be evangelistically propagandistic, the congregation and minister of the local church do not need to be culturally ‘relevant’ in their worship. They do not need to incorporate contemporary art into their worship: second-rate mime troops, third-rate guitar playing, or modern dance at Mass. The formal church and its orthodox traditions are good in themselves; they are part of God’s creation and fulfill the need for Biblical instruction, the serving of the sacraments, teaching, and inspiration. (…) The church has been charged with explaining God’s rules and the way of salvation. It has not been instituted by God to be a soup chicken or a drama club or a dance company or a social event, a good movie, a self-help venue for A.A., or a place to practice the guitar in – let alone as a forum for the expression of ‘diverse opinions’ or as a place for ‘learning from other people’s traditions’. The last thing that the church should be is an institution that keeps up with the times or that strives to be fashionable. The church is the guardian of our souls and certain nonnegotiable truths. The church need not ‘dialogue’ with the world or its fashions. Instead it should teach by word and deed. The true church is not ‘relevant’; it is eternal. It alone can offer the blood and the body of our Savior. It should keep its altar uncluttered and its mission clear. It is right to call ourselves to the fight to restore orthodox traditions and Biblical integrity in the church. When the church sets out to serve God rather than the whims of men and women, it serves people best.”
What can the follower of the Truth do? He is free “to seek quality and integrity in the music he or she enjoys. He does not need to confuse the mandatory ‘god-words’ of Pietism with Truth. He can listen to Mozart instead of the Christianism of the so-called contemporary Christian music – usually nothing more than warmed over, second-rate ‘pop’ music.” He need not be “a strange, mystic oddity. He is a flesh-and-blood person – a real person who may curse when he hits his thumb while adding an extension to his kitchen, but does not blaspheme by saying ‘Praise the Lord’ unless he means it. He lets his yes be yes and his no, no.”
Schaeffer warns – for he who has ears to hear – about the insanity Pietism finally leads to: “a split personality in which reality, carved into incompatible parts, is believed to be at war with itself – a madness of guilt-ridden people, trying to out-do each other in their pietistic exhibitionism, people who directly disobey Christ’s instruction to not parade one’s spiritual life in public like a circus act. Pietistic evangelism, fundamentalism, and Catholicism, Left and Right, charismatic and reformed, have often turned Christianity into a sideshow. It is no wonder this looks crazy to the world at large. It is.”
How strange and mysterious life can be: I went back to my friend - who had enthusiastically hoped I would find in Schaeffer a friend (which I did) and had given me Schaeffer’s book (which led me to reading Daniel Clendenin’s Easter Orthodox Christianity. A Western Perspective, where I was to find out that Franky Schaeffer converted to Christian Orthodoxy soon after publishing Sham Pearls... and also wrote, as a fresh convert, Dancing Alone. The Quest for Orthodox Faith in a World of False Religions) - as I was eager to talk about what I had read. My feed-back was not appreciated though, as my friend – as a „faithful Evangelist” - continued believing in the Sola Scriptura principle. Here again the old English adage proves right: One man’s meat is another man’s poison.