Dancing Alone

The Quest For Orthodox Faith In the Age of False Religions
by Frank Shaeffer

Reviewed by Jefferis K.
Peterson

Frank Shaeffer’s Dancing Alone: The Quest For Orthodox Faith In the Age
of False Religions

Iniquity abounds in the Western world and there seems to be no consensus on
what is right and what is wrong. There is no agreement on how to stop the
decline of our society. Underlying this confusion is a passion for selfish
individualism falsely called “freedom” which has become a substitute for
liberty built upon character and self discipline. Our day is reminiscent of the
time of Israel’s Judges when people worshipped many gods because there was no
king in the land and everyone did “what was right in his own eyes.” Frank
Schaeffer attributes much of this moral decline to Protestant Christianity in
his latest book, Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of
False Religions
, 1994 Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, MA.

Frank
is the son of the famous Francis Schaeffer, but has rejected the evangelical,
Protestant Christianity of his father. In a scathing indictment of the
Protestant Reformation, which he calls the Protestant Rebellion, he attributes
the rise of selfish individualism, secularism and humanism to the crowning of
individual conscience in matters of faith and practice. The right of every
individual to interpret the Word of God for himself, or herself, is a
fundamental principle and practice of Protestant philosophy and theology. The
results of such a principle, however, are a splintered Protestant Church into
over 20,000 sects and denominations, doctrinal squabbles, emotional mishandling
of God’s truth, heretical excesses, ignorance of Church history, and
counterfeit religions. The philosophical underpinnings of Protestant thought
make it hard to justify the absolute, unchanging authority of the Scripture to
the culture when the final authority is dependent upon personal interpretation.
Since the Church gives no single clear witness, (observe the disagreements in
the Church over abortion and homosexuality), the people of the world are forced
to conclude that there is no universal truth, only relative opinions. Finally,
everyone is left to be his own god in matters of religion, truth, and
morals.

What
is missing, says Schaeffer, is the idea of the corporate authority of the
Church where truth is proved through the wisdom of the Body through the ages.
Truth does not depend upon one person’s interpretation, but upon the Word of
God interpreted through Holy Tradition and confirmed by the Councils of the
Church that guard the Church from heresy and error. This Tradition, says
Schaeffer, has only been authentically preserved in the Orthodox Church which
claims to trace its leaders (priests and bishops) to the first
Apostles.

While
I don’t agree with all his conclusions, Schaeffer’s cultural analysis of modern
Christendom is excellent, and he makes a good case for Protestant theological
participation in the causes of our state, especially our divisiveness and our
doctrinal, scriptural, and historical ignorance. The book is worth a read to
wake you up, and his criticisms need to be faced head on.

On the
downside, Schaeffer’s personal bitterness and hurt emerge in a polemic that is
as acerbic as anything Martin Luther or John Calvin ever wrote. Midway through
the book, the analysis of our errors, rather than being helpful, degenerate
almost into name calling. The book becomes harder to read not for what is being
said, but for the way in which it is said. Its tone represents an angry man
more than an orthodox faith.

Another flaw is Schaeffer’s tendency to force all of Western history into one
particular interpretive model blaming all of the West’s problems solely on
Protestantism. That focus is unjustly narrow to account for all the influences
affecting the West in its decline, even though Protestantism may be more
susceptible to the assault than Orthodoxy.

While
surely the West can benefit from the corporate wisdom of Orthodoxy, the
argument of historical continuity is insufficient proof that the current
Orthodox Church has faithfully preserved the interpretation and practice of the
Scriptures. The Old Testament is replete with examples where the Levitical
priesthood compromised itself by its allegiance to the power structure of
Israel. Corrupt and idolatrous kings and priests had to be confronted by
prophets who bore the fresh Word of the Lord.

Levitical tradition and lineage were not guarantees of faithfulness then;
neither are they today. There are further examples in history, from Constantine
to Henry VIII, where alliances of church and king produced political and
economic benefits for the Church at the expense of faithfulness to the Word of
God. That Orthodoxy has been preserved from such influences to such a degree
that it has no need of prophetic challenge cannot be demonstrated either by
history or by current practice.

Schaeffer’s book will undoubtedly rub the Protestant believer’s fur the wrong
way, which is perhaps a merit in itself. His criticisms, however, are less
remedial than irksome, since he dismisses any possibility of reform. His
condemnation of Protestantism is utter and complete, leaving no alternative
except caustic rebuke. Rather than coaxing more Protestants to “return” to
Orthodoxy, Frank may have to continue to dance alone.

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