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Book Review

Sham Pearls for Real Swine by Franky Schaeffer

Wolgemuth and Hyatt, 1990, 292 pages, $14.95
Reviewed by Doug Jones

The American church has seen some fascinating changes, good and bad, over the past decade -- dispensationalism has waned, the Pro-Life movement has matured, televangelists have scurried, and more. Conjoined to these trends, we witnessed an increased attack on the pietistic sacred/secular distinction that has plagued evangelicalism (and fundamentalism) for much of this century.

Though the Biblical critique of pietism began decades earlier, we saw the fruit of this battle become much more widespread in the early eighties. Anecdotally, consider the average Christian book store in the early eighties. If one could find a text attempting to apply Scripture to social issues, for example, it would be cowering on the bottom of the "Cult & Apologetics" shelf. Now, we commonly find entire aisles dedicated to such discussions.

Franky Schaeffer's award winning Addicted to Mediocrity (1980) was instrumental in taking this battle to the streets. That work offered a simple but cogent attack on the dichotomized thinking which had continued to stifle Biblical thought. Though Schaeffer focused on attacking the sacred/secular distinction as it affected the arts, his premises were obviously much broader.

After several years of silence and rumors (such as the false claim that he had become Roman Catholic), Schaeffer is back in print. In Sham Pearls for Real Swine (Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1990), Schaeffer continues the battle against pietism, now after a decade of reflection. This latest offering expands on many of the ideas presented in Addicted to Mediocrity. He not only continues to press a core of Reformational ideas against contemporary attitudes, he also comments on recent controversies -- censorship, Deconstructionism, the National Endowment for the Arts, the attack on Western culture -- and also describes, in often painfully honest ways, his numerous personal failures relating to Hollywood and his early film attempts.

Sham Pearls is a breath of fresh air. Schaeffer adeptly vents just the right amount of Biblical passion and criticism against his objects. He refuses to address issues in typically muffled, abnormally self-sensitive, evangelical tones, though he is not sinfully belligerent. Consider some of the following examples of the familiar poignant Franky Schaeffer style:

On Scripture: "The Bible is not `nice.' The Bible's tone is closer to that of the late Lenny Bruce than to that of the hushed piety of some ministers."

On Art: "The Arts ask hard questions. Art incinerates polyester/velvet dreams of inner healing and cheap grace."

On Values: "genuine Biblical values have been replaced with lazy middle-American niceties by many Christians."

On Family Life: "You have to beg, borrow, and steal family time from a world bent on distracting you from the most important things in life."

On Children; "...children that rebel against [pietistic Christianity] ... are not rejecting the truth of Christianity, but the silliness, harshness, and finally the lies of pietistic Christianity."

On Cheap Grace: "In much of the church today, Christ is presented as simply a superfriend to help us with our psychological problems."

On Pietistic Selfishness: "`hurting' becomes a badge of self-centered honor."

On Liturgical Escapes: "an overindulgent sacramentalism in which the sacraments begin to take on the magical aura of a talisman -- the last being the final refuge of ex-fundamentalist Episcopalian rascals..."

On Anti-intellectualism: "Once, to be a Christian was not to automatically be irrational."

On Rootlessness: "Polyester pietism has not been the norm in Christendom."

On True Piety: "I am free to lie in the arms of my beloved wife and revel in all the senses of sexual intimacy and arousal without any guilty sense that there are activities that are more Christian than making love to her."

On the most important things: "In the end, things boil down to rather simple issues -- issues of plain obedience to Christ, simple questions of fidelity to one's spouse and children, of remembering that life goes on in spite of our disappointments."

As is evident in the above passages, Schaeffer continues to press several central Reformational themes: All of reality is God's, all of life is religious, all of creation is good, anti-historical Christianity is destructive, Christian culture ought not to be a ghetto-like sub-culture, Christians ought to demonstrate excellence, true piety removes holy facades, etc.

One also finds interesting tid-bits surrounding his discussions of these themes. For example, "Dad [Francis Schaeffer] had an early interest in and appreciation of acid rock, and often listened to it and discussed it and other contemporary music with his students...." And the fact that dad also loved "the Beatles `Sergeant Pepper's,' which he listened to endlessly and discussed avidly and sang along with in his terrible off-key voice."

In contrast to Addicted to Mediocrity, Schaeffer has more space to at least begin discussions on several central topics: art and propaganda, the virtue of the "uselessness" of art, nudity and context, censorship, television, and serious family life.

Schaeffer contends that art, in contrast to craft, is "pure expression." Persons produce art to respond to "the deep calling" of their Creator, but involve themselves in crafts "to serve some literal function, for instance, as furniture or pottery." He argues that "useful art," as demanded by much of contemporary evangelicalism, is a contradiction in terms. Art and propaganda, whether Christian or anti-Christian, do not mix. Art, for Schaeffer, "is the expression of the divine uselessness of beauty, truth, and reality."

Art used as propaganda soon "ceases to be art and is a less honest than forthright proselytizing." For example:

Oliver Stone's movies will be forgotten as soon as the political climate changes, thus rendering them unintelligible and obsolete. When his movies are forgotten, a film like Moonstruck will always have an audience...the human race will always understand a love story.

Though art is "divinely useless," it is far from meaningless. Artists express eternal meanings in their work. They respond to God's own extravagant creativity.

As a corollary of "God's commitment to beauty," Schaeffer contends that "beauty exists independently of the personal taste of the observer. In this sense aesthetics are as absolute as physics."

Schaeffer has not aimed to offer a systematic discussion of any such issues but only to suggest some initial questions for the uninitiated. In fact this lack of systematic treatment is characteristic of the organization of the book. The chapters do not follow any clear progression but instead offer a running commentary on various topics.

One of the more fascinating discussions in a book reflecting on basic questions in aesthetics is his chapter on family life -- "Our Children and Ourselves." Schaeffer describes a picture of family life so contrary to our current culture. He attacks trivialized schooling, religion, entertainment, etc. He encourages parents to read aloud to their children, "by the hour," and to create an family environment which glories in the richness of depth of creation.

In this chapter, Schaeffer often captures telling observations in succinct, powerful form. Consider the following:

While many normal young adults do tend to act rather imbecilic at some point in their development (as I certainly did), nevertheless, the concept of out-of-control "teenagerhood," as we know it today, is an invention of our failed, middle class, television saturated society. It is a concept used as an excuse, as if it were a force of nature beyond our control, to explain parents' and educators' failures to discipline children and to introduce them to the world of ideas. "Teenagerhood" is a handy excuse to use when explaining the resulting chaos caused by these "children" as they are let loose on society by parents who have failed to be good stewards of this most precious gift, their children.

Despite the positive affirmations in Sham Pearls, Schaeffer also leaves the reader seeking clarification on many points. In his attempt to speak to many diverse parts of the Christian community, Schaeffer appears to be reveal some underlying tensions in his own thinking. For example, he fights all forms of anti-Western ideologues -- feminists, racists, Deconstructionists, pietists, etc. -- but he does not appear to want to draw any distinctions within the "glories" of "Greek-Roman-Christian" culture. Surely we can appreciate the expressions of common grace in our heritage and yet still strongly reject Greek-Roman opposition to Christian culture. Does Schaeffer's call for "creating a cultural rebirth of the West" run into any conflict with a call for a Spirit led transformation of an anti-Christian culture by a rich and comprehensive, yet exclusive gospel of Christ?

The reader will find other tensions as well. For example in opposing pietism, Schaeffer, to his credit, will often make statements such as: "God's law as expressed in the Scriptures, His instruction, is not a series of moral or pious sayings; it is a set of practical rules by which our biological, mechanical bodies and our non-biological spirits can function and prosper."

Yet, in an unqualified manner, he will also argue that: "If Western democratic capitalism, for instance, produces prosperity and freedom, the follower of Truth does not need to scavenge the Bible for support of his thesis in favor of free markets." Which is it? Do we gain genuine wisdom from Biblical standards or do we argue by some natural scheme of creation?

Apart from such apparent tensions, Sham Pearls is a fresh challenge in the current evangelical desert. The book is a joy to read, assuming one can ignore Schaeffer's annoying tendency to overplay his discussions by unnecessarily quoting just about everyone in Western culture.

Apart from quoting everyone, Schaeffer will also probably offend everyone as well. This is a virtue; there is a rebuke for everyone. Try to escape from the following paragraphs under "Garbage of the Soul" :

The little Bible verse stuck on refrigerators, the bad Sunday school illustrations, the feeble and bland Sunday school texts of the "be nice to everybody" variety that Christian publishers specialize in, the many church programs, the lack of interest in the arts or their propagandistic misuse, the many little rules that have been added to God's few and sensible instructions, the "niceness" of so many Christians when toughness of mind is called for, the lack of courage, the laws of God that have been abandoned, the strange tangents churches go off on, the obnoxious bad taste, the contents of the average evangelical bookstore, the pre-dominance of hair-sprayed charlatans who lead much of the church, the cultic overtones of the evangelical-fundamentalist school movement, the lesbian-feminist inroads into the liberal denominations, the feminized wimps who pass for men in the evangelical world, the insular closed minds, the easily shocked sensibilities of the middle class and their taboos, the harsh rules of the fundamentalist churches, the increased New Age emphasis on inner healing and so called counseling, the "Liberation" theology -- these things and the list could go on, are related in one way or another, to the unnatural, pietistic division of life into religious versus secular, sacred versus rational.

Schaeffer begins his work by conceding that he is not an expert on the issues he raises. He seeks only to "generate a robust discussion of the problems and ideas" presented in Sham Pearls. If the reader remembers that then he will not fall into the errors of a reviewer like Doug LeBlanc (World, June 16, 1990) who gets so heated over Sham Pearls that he mistakes the book for some definitive and grandiose arrogant statement. Confidence in the Christian worldview should not be confused with arrogance.

This confidence, so evident in Sham Pearls, is the most refreshing aspect of the book. The evangelical community needs to understand this Biblical boldness, a faith not on the defensive, a faith unafraid of truth.


Copyright © by Covenant Community Church of Orange County 1990
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