Francis Schaeffer was a cult-like figure among Evangelicals of a past generation, building a personal empire at a place called L'Abri around a pretentious form of Calvinism. Schaeffer produced the hugely influential but deeply facile film (and associated book) How Then Shall We Live: The Decline of Western Thought and Culture - a sort of high-brow version of The Modern Romans. Growing up in his father's shadow was Franky, the son of the legend, destined to also achieve star status in the Lord's work.
"We were earnest and my parents were sincere. Dad had a vicious temper. Mom was a high powered nut. But so what. Given the range of human suffering, I had a golden childhood."
Father/son combinations litter the world of conservative Christianity, what Schaeffer himself calls "the proudly nepotistic American Protestant tradition." Billy and Franklin, Robert H. and Robert A., Francis and Franky, Joe Sr. and Joe Jr., Gerry and Stephen, Herbert and Ted. In most cases it all ends in tears.
There are parallels between Franky and GTA. Both had a wild streak, but played their role to the full despite that. Both achieved fame as celebrity evangelists. Both wrestled with their conscience. But, sadly, only one found the integrity to turn aside and do the right thing.
Franky mixed and mingled with the Evangelical nobility; James Dobson, Billy Graham, Pat Robertson and others.
"In private, they ranged from unreconstructed bigot reactionaries like Jerry Falwell, to Dr. Dobson, the most power-hungry and ambitious person I have ever met, to Billy Graham, a very weird man indeed who lived an oddly sheltered life in a celebrity/ministry cocoon, to Pat Robertson, who would have a hard time finding work in any job where hearing voices is not a requirement."
Sounds as though he's describing four COG splinter leaders instead of famous preachers who lobbied in Washington and were regarded as mainstream paragons in the Bible Belt.
Franky preached to large audiences, even appearing in the pulpit of Falwell's Liberty Baptist Church.
And then he gave it all away.
Franky Schaeffer's story appears in a tell-all autobiography published last year called Crazy for God. It's a damning indictment of the evangelical industry, and anyone who hear that siren call would do well to read it. It's also a raw - and even raunchy - self portrait redeemed by its searing honesty and a warts-and-all portrait of the Christian Right.
Schaeffer remains a Christian, but he steers clear of his former affiliations and has embraced the Orthodox faith. He now calls himself just plain Frank.
And he's probably a better man for it.