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The Revival of a Rebel Jew

Francis Schaeffer

In June Crossway will release Colin Duriez’s Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life. To my knowledge there are currently no biographies of Schaeffer in print—and certainly none that could be recommended as being comprehensive (and this includes Frankie Schaeffer’s lamentable recent effort). I have a particular interest in Schaeffer because in many ways he shaped my faith and I’ve been reading the manuscript for this book with rapt attention. Though I have not read many of Schaeffer’s works and though I never met the man, he was a major influence on my parents and on many of their friends; he shaped me through them. Yesterday I spent some time thinking of people I know who were influenced by the Schaeffers and came up with a good list. My parents would head up that list, of course. When they were newly married they visited L’Abri for a week or two and returned to Europe shortly after to spend the better part of a year at English L’Abri. Their grounding in the Christian faith came at the hands of the Schaeffers. Many of our family friends, friends we spent a lot of time with when I was young, were also shaped by Schaeffer. This would include people like Rick and Nancy Pearcey and Richard Ganz.

I sent Rich an email yesterday to ask if he’d mind guest-posting his testimony here this morning. He was willing to do so and I’m grateful to him. It is a powerful testimony and one that moves me every time I read or hear it.

Rich is now the pastor of Ottawa Reformed Presbyterian Church and has authored several books. His wife, Nancy, has written four commentaries for children (published by Shepherd Press). He was born in New York City, and raised in a Jewish home. He graduated from the City University of New York with a degree in Psychology. He then earned his master’s degree and his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Wayne State University. After a year’s internship in the department of psychiatry at Wayne State University Medical Center, in Detroit, Michigan, he followed that with a year of Post-Doctoral study in the department of child psychiatry at Upstate Medical Center, in Syracuse, New York, where he was later on the Clinical Faculty of the Department of Psychiatry, as well as teaching at Syracuse University.

But his testimony begins with his youth…


richard_web.jpgIn my youth I spent every afternoon studying the Hebrew Scriptures, five days a week, and on Friday night and Saturday I worshiped. As I grew older I worshiped for a time each day in the synagogue morning and evening. I would rise before dawn and before going to the morning service, in obedience to rabbinic tradition, I would put on tefillin—the boxes containing God’s law—on my forehead and arm.

Then one cold, clear midwinter night my life was shattered. My father had a heart attack and I ran for comfort and hope to the one place I thought I would find it—the synagogue. The doors were locked and as I hammered on them I looked up into the New York night sky, cold, crystal-clear and filled with stars and I cursed God. “I am through with you!” I said. But that night, as I turned away from the God of Israel; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, little did I realize that he was far from through with me.

The next twelve years of my life were not lived in the synagogue. In my rebellion I went so far as to renounce the covenant name given at my circumcision—Elkanah. I modified it a little, so that I was no longer Elkanah but Kanah.

In the Bible there is nothing accidental about names. Abram means, “Exalted father” and Abraham means, “Father of a multitude”. When he was 99 years old and Sarah was 89 and they were promised a son they laughed at God. But God said he would give them a son and they named him Isaac, which means, “laughter”.

When Jacob and Esau were born and Jacob pulled at the heel of his brother he was named for that action; the name Jacob means, “the grasper” and all his life he grasped. He grasped after the blessing and the birthright. He lived up to that name and when he met God and wrestled with him he said, I want your blessing. God said, What is your name? You want a blessing, grasper? No longer is your name “Grasper”; you have grasped with God and you have prevailed. Your name is, Israel—he who has wrestled with God and prevailed.

The Hebrew name Elkanah means, “Possessed by God” but I changed it to Kanah, translated as Cain in English versions of the Bible. Cain means, “Possessed”; and for the next twelve years of my life I was possessed with the world and with what it offered; I was possessed with getting ahead in life; I was possessed with Rich Ganz. I led what appeared to be a very laudable life. I moved ahead in what I desired to do. I went through university and graduate school, from which I graduated top of the class. Following my internship and a year of post-doctoral study, I was teaching at a medical center at a major university.

The Twilight Zone

During my year of post doctoral studies, the realization hit me one day at a staff meeting that psychoanalysis—the area I thought provided the answer to life—was nonsense. Until that point I had been searching for some form of therapy—individual therapy, group therapy, hypnotherapy or some other kind of therapy through which I could discover the meaning of life: what we were all about and why we’re here. Instead, I discovered that it was all rubbish. But instead of looking for the answer to life elsewhere I cynically told myself that although psychoanalysis was meaningless I was going to become very rich practicing it. If life was meaningless at least I could have fun by being wealthy in a meaningless life. All I had to do was sit in a chair listening to my patients, nod my head every few minutes, and charge $75 an hour.

To celebrate my selection from 212 applicants to that position at the university medical center my wife and I took a trip to Europe into a series of unbelievable situations. We had tickets for Athens scheduled but the night before we picked them up my wife suddenly sat bolt upright up in bed saying, “We can’t get out of Athens! We can’t get out of Athens!” The next day when arriving to pick up our student-rate tickets we were told that the tickets would get us into Athens but not out!

ganz-q-2.gifNancy became terrified. She thought she was in the Twilight Zone; something supernatural had happened and the only interpretation she could place on it was that it was something evil. We changed our plans and found ourselves being drawn inexplicably and inextricably in a direction totally contrary to our agenda.

We ended up in a little Dutch town looking for somewhere to stay. No one knew of any hotel or inn. Night was falling, we were on the banks of the Rhine, it was getting a chilly and my wife was frightened. She then did something she hadn’t done since she was a child - she prayed. It was a very simple prayer: “God, if you are there, please find us a place to stay”. At that moment , out of the darkness of an alley walked a man of average height, very pale, with long blond hair and blue eyes. “Ask him”, she said.

Tell Them Buck Sent You

He told us to go three blocks down, turn right, walk another three blocks and we would see exactly where we were supposed to stay: “Just tell them Buck sent you”, he said. It seemed bizarre but we followed his directions until we came to a co-operative for the students of the last gold and silver making school in Europe. During the next two weeks we saw all the people who had told us there was no place to stay. They were all friends with the young people who lived in this house but there was one person we didn’t meet again; for two weeks we searched for Buck. No one in the town had ever heard of him or recognized our description of him. A year later I was receiving letters from students who were still trying to find him.

On the last day, as we were leaving, someone handed me a slip of paper with an address and told me there were “some really beautiful people” there. I knew I was being drawn in a certain direction and it seemed as though every step was being taken for me and it was predestined.

We arrived at L’Abri at about five on a Saturday afternoon. I had prepared a careful explanation as to why we were suddenly turning up on their doorstep. However, before I could say anything, the door opened and we were greeted: “You’ve arrived! Welcome!”

Anyone at the Cross Could Have Written That!

The next few days were interesting. They were full of religious discussion. But as a man with no sense of God, seeing myself as a chance accumulation of molecules in an absurd and meaningless world, I listened and talked to these people, questioning and mocking their beliefs. Then one day a man asked me if he could read something from the Bible to me. I consented, and this is what he read.

Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men; so shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; for what had not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall consider.

Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

I’d heard that expression “Man of sorrows” and “acquainted with grief” before, though I wasn’t sure where. But at that point I suddenly understood what was happening: they were reading to me about Jesus. I thought, Do they know what they are doing, reading this Christian stuff to a Jew? But I told myself to be patient.

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions…

Images of Renaissance paintings leapt to my mind. I wasn’t an ordinary Jewish guy; I had a doctorate; I was cultured; I’d seen paintings with crosses; I knew that their guy had been pierced. They were trying to read me stories about Jesus and I felt the anger rising in me.

…He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all…

Jesus just bore your sins! I couldn’t stand it. That was just a cheap way out of long term psychoanalysis. What they were telling me was “the Catholic way”. From the age of seven, when I had walked into a Catholic church I thought Jesus was a Catholic: Scandinavian, perhaps, very delicate, tall, thin—slightly anorexic—with long silken blond hair and piercing blue eyes. I had got as far as the vestibule of the church, looked at one of the statues and thought that the ground was going to open up and swallow me; that I was unalterably damned for having done that and I ran eight blocks home to get away from what I considered an unpardonable sin.

…He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgement, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked — but with the rich at His death…

I remembered pictures of Jesus on the cross and the two thieves, one on either side of him. Three crosses—I knew that stuff; they weren’t going to fool me with their rhetoric.

…but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days…

There was the myth about the resurrection. They get it into all their literature, don’t they. They can’t accept the fact that once a person is dead, he’s dead. Grow up! Put away your infantile neuroses and realise that when you’re dead, you’re dead; that’s it.

…He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

When he finished reading, he looked at me and said, “What do you think?”

I was, of course, keen to give the benefit of my insights. They were obviously quoting to me from their New Testament and I responded without a moment’s hesitation: “Anyone who was there at that cross could have written that stuff! What does that prove?”

ganz-q-1.gifHe handed me the Bible and in a millisecond of receiving it, my life was changed. The name that I saw at the top of the page was Isaiah! They had been reading from my Bible, my Hebrew Scriptures and I felt as though someone had taken a sword and cut me to pieces. When the man who read it told me it was written 700 years before Jesus was born, I felt dead. Why couldn’t it be Krishna? Why couldn’t it be Buddha? Why does it have to be him? I knew at that instant that if Jesus wrote history about himself in my Bible—if the Gentile God was the Jewish God and he was truly God—then I had to submit everything to him for the rest of my life.

A Bird’s Eye View of the Bible

During our stay at L’Abri, someone gave my wife Nancy a tape by Edith Schaeffer called, A Bird’s-Eye View of the Bible, an overview of the Scriptures from Genesis through to Revelation in 40 minutes, dealing with the theme of the Lamb of God. From her earliest days until her confirmation she had been familiar with the phrase, “Behold the Lamb of God”, and always wondered why Jesus was given that name. Just as I had learned from Isaiah that Messiah was to be a sacrifice for sin, Nancy discovered the same truth from that title given to Jesus. After listening to the tape she went out to the apple orchard at L’Abri and surrendered her life to Jesus Christ.

Four Little Words

When we returned to the United States I was given a patient at the medical center who hadn’t spoken an intelligent word in four and a half years. My assignment was, Get Immanuel to speak four or five words coherently. He came into my group therapy session, sat down and began to hyperventilate and writhe around. He said, “I’m Jesus Christ!” I pulled out a Gideon New Testament and read from the 24th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel: “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it … For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be”.

Silence.

“Where did you read that?”

I threw the Bible to him, “In the Gospel of Matthew. Read it.”

And for a month he was silent, then he came to my office: “Dr. Ganz [I was impressed], I want to become a Christian.”

I took Immanuel into my office, shared the Good News of Jesus with him and, with tears, he received Christ. The next day the director of my department called me into his office. “Rich”, he said, “I have been here 31 years and I’ve just heard the craziest story. Immanuel has been running around the ward telling everyone who will listen that he’s saved.”

I interrupted at that point: “How many words did it take him to say it?” I was hoping they’d realize what great success this was.

“And that’s not the worst of it, Rich”, he said, “he’s attributing it to you. Many people wanted your job, Rich, and I’ll tell you what we’ll do. If you promise never to do this again—do it after work if you must—but if from nine till four you leave Jesus out, we’ll forget this ever happened.”

ganz-q-3.gifI asked for a day to think and pray about it and the next day I said, “Howard, I’m going to share with you what I believe”, and I summed up by saying that I must obey God and could not keep Jesus from my patients. I was fired and Immanuel left the hospital with me and went to Bible College where he prepared for missionary work.

I couldn’t believe what had happened. Psychoanalysis was all I knew; I couldn’t do anything else with my life. If I went to another hospital or another university the same thing would happen. I thought everything was over.

Someone suggested that I go to Westminster Theological Seminary where Dr. Jay E. Adams, the author of a number of books on counseling was a professor. I spent the next four years studying at Westminster and working with Dr. Adams at the Christian Counseling Center. Through this God led us in a very unusual way into something I never would have chosen to do or to be involved in—pastoral ministry. The years have not seen me smiling and happy all the time. Daily breaking and humbling by God has been excruciating in some ways. God had called me to preach his Son and, as Paul of Tarsus put it: “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.”


Tim here again. Do you have a testimony to God’s grace in your life through the ministry of Francis Schaeffer? If you do, post a comment or send me an email. I’d love to hear about it!