Dancing Alone is the literary equivalent of finger nails on a chalkboard. It is shrill, intense, head splitting, and irrefutably attention grabbing. Having some familiarity with Frank Schaeffer because of my appreciation for his dad, the late Christian writer/pastor/apologist and pseudo-philosopher Francis Schaeffer, I was not completely caught off guard by this. Anyone who has viewed the film series for the book Whatever Happened to the Human Race? knows that Frank, who directed the film for his Dad, is not necessarily…um…subtle.
My wife and I read Frank’s thinly veiled autobiographical book Portofino and found it to be an extremely well written and hilarious book. We look forward to reading the sequel, Saving Grandma, as soon as we can. Dancing Alone is Portofino on speed. It makes and elaborates all of Portofino‘s basic contentions (i.e., the bankruptcy of the modern Protestant movement) but does so with none of Portofino’s charm. In this sense, it is louder than Portofino but not necessarily more persuasive.
But don’t get me wrong: it is persuasive. Frank Schaeffer is one of many Protestants who have joined the Greek Orthodox Church in search of a true depth of worship and a historical validation of theology and church practice. He rightly lambastes the cultural (for that is mainly what it is) “born again” movement and argues instead for a call to conversion that is substantive, grounded in the authentic church, and real.
Schaeffer’s answer to the shallowness of much Protestant life is the utter and complete rejection of Protestantism itself. He feels that Protestantism is inherently unsalvageable due to the fact that the shallowness and emptiness of Protestantism is a necessary outcome of its flawed foundation. I disagree. I disagree very much.
For one thing, Schaeffer’s brush is too wide. I know of no one who would not bemoan the current state of Protestant Evangelicalism. But I dare say that the assertion that there is not vitality in Protestantism borders on hubris and absurdity. God is certainly moving in mighty ways among Protestant believers and much good work is being done. There is also much substantive worship happening as well.
Protestantism is not a monolithic entity, and it appears that there is no longer a real consensus of theology under girding it anymore. I for one argue that certain branches of Protestantism are more legitimate than others. It is impossible to dismiss the whole.
Schaeffer disagrees. He argues that the Orthodox Church is the one, true, apostolic church. But in doing this he has bitten off more than he can possibly hope to chew. He cannot, I am sure, have hoped to dismantle the Protestant theology of the church, salvation, worship, and ecclesiology in this exhausting book, but this is certainly what he wants.
I am glad that Frank Schaeffer is Orthodox. He seems to have found his home. His experiences in fundamentalism were obviously troublesome, and I sympathize with him. In short, his diagnosis of the symptoms are irrefutable. But his diagnosis of the supposed disease behind the symptoms, much less his proposed cure, leaves much to be desired.