The Francis A Schaeffer Foundation

Chalet Les Montaux

Chemin de Jermintin 3

CH 1882 Gryon, Switzerland

            Fall 2013

Dear readers and friends,

A new season follows the warmth of summer,   and the months succeed each other. Autumn is the time to bring in the harvest from the fields, to pick blackberries and to rake up the colorful leaves sucked off the trees by powerful winds.  They tear on everything, bending trees and lifting roof tiles. They howl past window shutters until it comes loose and then bang against the wooden house. When hope, that this would not go on for long, fades, I will get out of bed to attach them again and regain sleep. But a couple of plum trees lost limbs under the weight of an early snow before they had lost their leaves. They and other wood for the fireplace is now cut and neatly stacked to dry out for warmth in the colder days ahead.

I returned from the US to this after a weekend conference in Houston and a brief visit in Austin. I had been invited to present the ideas expressed in my book The Innocence of God to a wider audience of invited guests. It gave them a very friendly and helpful exposure during a panel discussion with colleagues before an engaged audience and in my lecture the following night to about 700 guests at the Lanier Theological Library ( I am told that my presentation will be accessible later on this site. You can already find it on YouTube by searching for “Middelmann Lanier”

However, before I explain how wonderfully rewarding and encouraging the time was, I want to ask you to pray with us for an urgent need and possibly to help us with advice and support.

Will the Roof resist another Winter?

The same autumn storms, and the heavy snow expected regularly throughout the coming winter make us fear what damage might be done to the Foundation House in Gryon in the next few months. We need to replace the roof of old and fractured clay tiles and some of the woodwork underneath. That would also be the time to put insulation where currently there is none. In past seasons I was able to replace damaged tiles, but now more are broken, brittle and the supporting beams are sagging from what must be water damage. This is now serious.

The chalet dates from 1682 and has always been named “Mon Abri”. The Foundation was able to purchase it cheaply from a bankrupt estate about 15 years ago. Our students stay there during our study sessions. This is also the house, in which Edith Schaeffer rented an apartment and where she lived for 13 years until her death at the end of March of this year.

I bring this to your attention with a request for your help, as the Foundation does not now have the funds to undertake these repairs. We applied for a mortgage, but after recent scandals in their practices Swiss banks have become very hesitant to work with American citizens or interests, including our Foundation. We were repeatedly turned down and are now stuck, while the   weather is unstoppable. Thank you for everything you might be able to do in one way or another, through prayer or referral to someone who might be interested to help the foundation.


Innocence of God Panel in Houston

Mark Lanier, who organized the conference in Houston, is by profession an agile trial lawyer, who as a student had heard me many years ago for a lecture at Lipscomb University in Nashville. That impressed him back then and stuck with him all these years, and so he decided to contact me about another lecture. He flew to NY last year with his pastor and a brother-in-law, also a lawyer, to meet and interview me. We arranged this weekend conference with a panel discussion and a public lecture. He liked what he heard, when over lunch I presented the basic theme of the book. You will recall my proposition that history as a record of what happened and what happens is not n all things and turns the expression of God’s will or God’s nature. Instead, it is the text of the Bible from the Holy Spirit, and the person and life, teaching and work of Jesus Christ which tell us of the mind of God and reveal his nature.

For the Friday panel discussion in front of an audience he had invited three theological professors and two pastors to prepare critical comments on the book. After an introduction of the theme, they gave their responses, and then we discussed them together, with the audience raising questions towards the ends as well.

Much to my delight, and admittedly great surprise, I was honored with altogether very appreciative and favorable remarks by the Systematics Professor from South Eastern Baptist Seminary in Ft. Worth, the head of Near Eastern Language Department of Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas and a professor of Houston Baptist University. One of the pastors had come from Pennsylvania, the other was the pastor of a large Houston church. The former of these also made favorable comments, while the local pastor defended the opposing view. That latter view is the one I find in the circles with which I usually have contact.

The Innocence of God, which is now published by IVP, suggests that much of Christian determinism is the result of Greek ideas finding a nest in the church and replacing thereby the Jewish/Biblical teaching. St. Paul already warns of the inroads which Gnostic/Platonic teachings made in the early church. Their embrace turns God, the Bible and the work of Christ into something other than what is the whole direction of Scripture. The view of God’s nature and his efforts to address human beings in word and work alone emancipated people from a closed system under fates, divine powers and a willfulness of gods and spirits to live with responsibility, freedom and genuine creativity. This means at all times, and specifically after the fall of Adam and Eve, that not everything happening in our lives is in accordance with God’s will. It is too cheap and easy to make all events be God’s planning, thereby either making God also the author of evil, or to explain away real evil by way of faith accepting it as finally God’s mysterious design.

Platonic ideas also gave rise to the assumption that we are better off without our bodies in a place called heaven, where alone perfection will be found. Scripture tells us that we shall be “with the Lord” and return with him to a real earth, restored then, so that full human life, both body and soul, can once again exists.  That is what God created and intended to be eternal. A material world is not the root of the problem, and spirituality as indifference to the material is not Biblical.

Instead, the Holy Spirit is given to lead us into truth and to correct our assumption of the normality and rightness of whatever happens presently. Jesus, the express image of the Father, in his teaching and life shows that not all of history is from God – who does act into history, and will one day make it conform again to his nature – but that time is not yet. We find Jesus disagreeing with what is normal and frequent in people’s lives. He argued with the wrong teaching of Pharisees, heals the sick, weeps furiously at the death of his friend, reprimands his disciples,  and rejects “that fox” Herod the king. He is critical to the core about what seems to be so justified simply because it is historical. 

That sovereign response to a broken world and wrong attitudes and actions also was decreed by God. In fact, “God ordains whatsoever comes to pass” is a comforting statement about a regular, logical and far from random world, where every choice has an effect, but it does not indicate a call for uncritical acceptance of what comes to pass due to the sinful and corrupt acts of people.

If everything in life were already an expression of God’s will on earth, Jesus would have held people’s hands and comforted them in their faith. Instead, he tells us to pray that God’s will would be done on earth, where it is not presently being done, in the way it is already being done in heaven.

There is a war going on, and Job is experiencing it harshly. His friends were wrong to suggest that we live in a just world now, where everything is orderly, concluding that much suffering must be deserved. Likewise, we are wrong when we assume that everything is in place already as God has determined.

The mistake is to assume that every tragedy, or the arrogance so often found in success, are the will of God. I find no Biblical basis for the assumption of divine intentionality in everything. When you burn your finger, there is no intention of God behind that to teach us something about heat and human proteins. Yet so many believers assume that nothing happens without God personally intending to teach us something, or to direct our every step. They fail to understand that God created a reality in which things function according to their kind, including we as human beings, mandated to make choices and thereby to have dominion. I fall when I disregard the curb, not because God wants to teach me something. It is the curb’s presence, which makes me understand things about it, and it is my mind that figures out what to do next time.

The Bible does not teach a quasi-magical, interventionist perspective of God’s relation to creation and human life. If that were the case, did God really not want the effects of antibiotics or general education, or open governments until quite recently? Is their discovery an expression of the will of God? And, was therefore the rule of Stalin also the will of God? How about diabetes? And how about Obamacare?

This view of God’s will found in the course of history is widely found in circles which like to refer back to Calvin as their theological father. (That is not surprising as Jean Calvin’s first publication, only two years before his Institutes, was a translation of the Roman Stoic, i.e. fatalist, Seneca!). The mistake lies in the substitution of God’s holy nature with belief in history being an expression of God’s will. A ‘will’ can be arbitrary, while a ‘nature’ is certain and fixed. In Romans 8 history is under moral judgment, unfinished, groaning and waiting for the day of redemption.

The sole opposing view represented at the panel understood Scripture and consequently life through the presupposition of Divine determinism, that God “loved Jacob and hated Esau”, etc. It is evident from the flow of the whole argument of Romans chapters 9 through 11 that Paul is here not talking about individual salvation, but about the people of Israel: They are chosen to bring the Law, the Covenant and the Messiah to the whole world, delivered from Pharaoh, urged to repent when it became like a damaged pot. The Abrahamic Covenant will be kept, for the “gifts and callings of God are without repentance”.

What always amazes me in this line of thought is how little is recognized by its proponents of the parallels between this view and other forms of determinism: Islam, genetic and psychological determinism, the secular view of scientific dialectic materialism, fate and the positions of the stars, etc. All of them offer peace of mind by denying the reality of the active, creative mind of God and man. All events are part of a larger and necessary momentum. It promotes and requires submission, and therefore also denies any measure of freedom or genuine responsibility. Accordingly, things are, as Denis Diderot, the author of the first encyclopedia, concludes in his novel Jacques the Fatalist, that everything is “written up above” and therefore unchangeable.

I was interested to find in Colin Duriez’s biography of Francis Schaeffer (An Authentic life, Crossway, 2012, pg. 42) that he and his wife Edith “were troubled by a determinism that was present, they felt, at that time in the Reformed thinking at Westminster (Seminary).” This was one reason Francis Schaeffer left Westminster before graduation and attended Faith Seminary. Other significant philosophical issues were the presuppositionalism and harshness in the reformed view of people. The grace of God, on which all in life depends, was for Schaeffer not found in occasional acts of God, but in his nature: “God, who in all things and at all times is full of grace”. Therefore a person comes to faith not because faith is an occasional gift from God, but because God in his grace has chosen to offer salvation through Christ to everyone.


Two kinds of Freedom

Last week I prepared for two talks in Lausanne on the significance of the Decalogue for a civil and legal order in society at any time, one for a group in a church, the other for the Christian Student Group at the University. I had given similar lectures during the many conferences for teachers in Russia from 1991 to 1997. But I knew this was a different context, a different cultural background. There, Christianity was then seen as one of the religions that imprisons people through faith in something for which there is no material evidence. Religion, everyone was taught, keeps people tied to their place in life and lulls people to accept their social and economic condition, to be resigned, uninformed and asleep in stupidity.

In our cultural context the Decalogue is part of a common memory, but insignificant in the minds of many as a religious statement from the past. It garners little attention in a time characterized by the quest for increased liberty, personal freedoms and the need to find one’s own way.

For, ever since the 19th century, when God was removed from heaven and placed into history, nature and science, a new kind of bondage of determinism arose. Most people want to object to it, and the true self of the individual must break out of it.  

That bondage is rooted in a change brought about by philosophical, theological, and scientific ways of understanding human existence.   

Philosophically we inherited Kant’s ideas that in the absence of an empirical God, whom one could touch, we can only know what our mental faculties can understand. We never get to any actual reality of anything. We only ever have a quite limited personal perception of it. The Bible is only an approximation, a testimony more to what believers thought than what God tells everyone, so that he or she might believe.

This is the root of the denial of everything supernatural, including the personhood of the individual, his soul, mind, spirit. Left is the material side of life, the body and the world around us, but no information about God or, for that matter, purpose, morals, etc.

In search of warmth in this bleak scene philosophers sought to create meaning by an act of the will. If God is absent, silent or dead, we must make sure to have a life, express our power and be free from formerly oppressive moral authorities.

But in the absence of any certainty about God’s existence from empirical evidence, progress in science, and the political advances in the change from monarchy to constitutionality, from Church and King to the voice of the people, and the greater liberty of citizens are interpreted as a divine progressive force: God has been found again in an immanent progress. Charles Darwin suggested that when he replaced the acts of God by a controlling nature in an advancing creation. At the same time, and with the same moral reasoning Lincoln resolved the tragedy the Civil War and its many casualties by substituting an impersonal divine Providence for the God of the Bible. Karl Marx saw improvements in a vision of quasi-divine historical dialectic, which, like a scientific process, is energized through conflict towards a marvelous goal of heaven on earth.

Similarly Sigmund Freud attempted to explain human action as directed by the sex drive. More recently the notion of genetic and psychological determinism has gained both adherents and momentum.

One can easily see the appeal of such views. They promised both purpose and direction, and in the process involved everyone together in a flawless dialectic process. Everyone was invited to get onto the ride, which filled the vacuum of morals and purpose and meaning from God with the linear progression of human empowerment, when God was declared to either not exit or to be incomprehensible.

That invitation to see everything determined, and therefore both inevitable and amoral, took on a different color once the subsequent atrocities of cultural movements and historic processes were revealed. Both fascism and Marxist/Stalinism and their children around the world had promised rides to a future of pure humanity. They delivered murder and betrayal for millions of disposable people.

The search for freedom and self-determination has been the reaction to this manner of inclusion, of belonging, of being part of a cosmic, universal, advancing program. Existentialism affirms human uniqueness and individuality by insistence on the need to act, to be free, to choose. But there are two kinds of distinct freedoms which must carefully be discerned.

The first is the search for freedom by way of a declared independence from all such bondages, a search for personal significance, individuality, and a degree of responsibility. Rather than being a number among many, part of an ideology or on a cosmic roller coaster, freedom is sought in individualism. Real accountability to the God of history is often replaced by a personalized Jesus, by faith in and through private testimonies, and by selections of favorite passages of Scripture. It is covered with the more emotional term of a personal relationship, with the emphasis on “personal”, independent of outside criteria of fact, truth and logic.

“Free from the curse of the Law” because our true moral guilt has been covered by Christ’s sacrifice, is often changed into the belief that the Law no longer weighs in on our decisions, allowing a quasi-lawlessness controlled only by personal sensitivity and spirituality. 

That is a freedom from obligations other than what comes by means of some personal revelation, indicative of a newly spreading Gnosticism. It forgets that to “love God with all heart, mind and soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself” is nothing less than a command; and so is caring for the poor, seeking justice and being subject to authorities that seek to do good and prevent evil.

A different kind of freedom is pursued, however, by another group of individuals. Their desire is freedom from, rather than for something. They want certainty, where ways of experiencing fragmentation in life, in families, moving from one job to another, frequently changing locations, and a flood of disorderly collections of information, uncritically absorbed, leads to unresolved confusion, loneliness and a craving for order. They would like to be safe, freed from responsibility, having to think carefully before making a choice. They have often been burnt and want to suffer no more!

That is a freedom from responsibility which any totalitarian set of ideas offers. It comes in many forms, but always ends in withdrawal from significance. Buddhism offers a way out of pain and suffering by an emptying of the mind through meditation on nothingness. Islam offers the certainty of doing God’s will. Confucius assigned a determined role for each person for the benefit of the whole, which is why it never developed a middle class of free entrepreneurs. In our own days, genetic and psychological conditioning remove personal blame and praise. Belief in the animal origins at the foundation of human persons, pushed along by sexual drives in the place of love, allows for behavior justified by instincts rather than by moral choices.

There is great freedom found when the possibility of making mistakes and receiving subsequent blame is excluded. A person can then justify everything merely saying it had to happen.

Unfortunately that outlook is also found among Christians and Jews, when they believe that all events are expressions of God’s various wills. They can easily say that, because in their mind and life’s experience God’s will seems divinely arbitrary, even though the Bible insists that God acts according to this nature and character, not with an unpredictable will. That source of God’s work puts limits to what happens by God’s acts and what is due to other actors, like people and the devil. Where that distinction is not applied, wicked claims that God has “willed” all kinds of hideous situations to arise will be frequent.

Failure to distinguish has become so widespread that it is one of the explanations for the indifference of so many people to the injustice they then tolerate in the experiences heir neighbor’s lives. People pull out of their spiritual hats all kinds of justifications of their status, unconcerned and righteous in their own eyes.  

Both kinds of freedoms make it equally hard for the Scripture to gain a hearing. The former, freedom to act as one pleases makes man the center of his world, unaccountable to God, history and other people. They like their independence and make their own rules. Like the Pharisee and the Levite they do not see their neighbor.

But it is curious, that the freedom from responsibility ends with a similar consequence. Here the confidence is not in one’s own wisdom for making rules, but in the confidence that one is always within the plan of God, carried along like a leaf on the river. The emphasis on personal relationships with God or Jesus, or the leading of the Holy Spirit, that have become private and untouchable relationships, removes any more rational, scriptural and coherent criteria. We face here a modern gnosis movement of private revelations, the assertions of unexamined opinions and individually invented theological variations. 


You’ve got it, so now make sense of it.

In the lecture on the Decalogue I suggest that these commandments are the foundation of a moral and civil society. I lay out reasons for each of the commands and explain their context together with what I think they imply and what they do not mean. I believe that has to be done with any proposition and any new law introduced to anyone. The law has to make sense and relate to a problem that now finds an orderly clarification and application.

We drive on the right side of the road, traffic lights, seatbelts, and self-restraint, because…we need order at the speeds we are going these days. Getting back well and sound from a trip is the goal.

 I started with the proposition that the Law of Moses was an extrapolation and expansion of the One Law that describes The Foundation of all reality: The great, single, basic law in God’s creation is to love God with your whole heart, mind and soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.  Nothing more, nothing less! Doing that extends the love, wherewith each member of the original creator Trinity related to the others, now also to the creation

Things in nature function lawfully by design according to the “kind” God made them to be and to continue. They now have a controlled life of their own. They follow a program and are locked into its tremendous complexity. They relate on a physical and chemical plan with each other in constant exchanges and complete dependency.

Personages are told to do that by choice, which then also follows the kind we were made to be: choice-makers. The first people did that for years, but when their fall into egotism and resentment made the evidence of such love less visible around them they were told what it implied: As sin increased, God gave the law, Paul states in Galatians. The laws were nothing new beyond or above the Law, but an elaboration of what love of God, neighbor and self means in practical terms.

And since both ignorance and grief, anxiety and fear increased with every subsequent generation, God refines the understanding even more with the Torah and other laws. They all flesh out what the Great Law contains. If you love your neighbor, you will not kill him, be nasty to him, or call him a fool. If you love God, you will gladly remember that he alone explains your existence, and that he delivered you from Egypt, because he is the living and true God. You lived through it, you heard and saw, and you remember the promise that he would one day deliver you. This is not limited to a personal faith opinion or testimony, but reminds us that only the God of the Bible’s existence and personality is a sufficient explanation for the existence of each person, of the one and unique human race

There are sound reasons for each of the commands. They are not club rules, church entry conditions, or styles of separated lives, like tribal customs. Instead, they shed light on the reality now engulfed by darkness from confusion derived from the evidence of a natural world in turmoil, and the presence of fear of death everywhere, which does not exactly suggest love as the basis of everything.

The commands open up our perspective to know what benefits there are to being faithful and not committing adultery, to protecting personal property and to telling the truth when asked to speak. Finally, the Sabbath is a weekly reminder that we live not by instinct but by choice, unlike animals that know no day off from being cows, chickens and goldfish. The Sabbath reminds us that God created a world he enjoyed, and that we should do likewise as much as is possible, until the heavenly Sabbath when all unrest, disturbance and worry will be removed. The reason for that is not rest from work or idleness, but rest from death, from theft, from fear as everyone will then be able to sit under his own fig tree and in his own vineyard.

I bring this way of understanding the commands and all of Scripture to tell you of the deep appreciation by an elderly man, who for years had supported a Christian Political Party that uses as basis for their political participation the Ten Commandments. But, said he, as noble and right as that is, they never get a hearing. My talk helped him understand why that is the case: they give, what in modern Christian parlance is, their personal moral/political testimony with full conviction, but never explain in normal language why they think that is the only moral, sane and wise way to go. They have a balm which they think is helpful to patients, but they fail to explain how it applies to a patient’s illness. The truth, a sharp edged sword, comes across as personal piety, as authoritarian, after everyone has enough reasons to be suspicious, especially of religious instruction and political proposals after seeing the terrible results of religion and murderous political ideologies.

Especially in a democracy where everyone is free to say virtually anything, a more argumentative proposal is essential and required.

This is a real dilemma, which I encounter also with my students in the course I teach for Pepperdine University in Lausanne once every week. I am still attempting to reach the students with the proposition that “ideas have consequences”, and that good ideas have better ones. Where do these ideas come from? Well, some come from other people having gone before, others from seeing failure in neighbors and then trying something else.

Further ideas come from the Bible as a text that talks about this world in its present abnormality, confirming pain and death and injustice as presently normal. Yet it places that into a history of Eden at the start and Jerusalem in the future, giving a framework of a world in better shape, without death, with resources and protective laws. God wants us to be human and not nature, persons who think and love. He explains, right on the money, that things are now not what they were supposed to be: We live in a fallen world, but there is hope of change, in small ways through human activities; and in a large, all-encompassing way, through God having gone back to work to redeem what is his most precious investment: Human beings and the natural world of matter and purpose.

Unless we make an effort to understand why the laws were given to explain The Law, and what the purpose of our existence is and how to safeguard that and facilitate its discovery, we will only have the sentence of the truth, but don’t show how its weight can touch the people who need to hear and understand and apply it.

It is remarkable to see how much the Christian teaching effected changes in every domain in our lands in the past, when people had more than a personal relationship. They had their families and God at the table, in their minds and hearts. But they also studied the Scriptures in order to know how to work, what to watch out for and what the point of human life was. 

They were not perfect, for evidently it was not self-evident to the man who penned these words, that “all men are created equal”. But in all things they seems to have been more aware of the power of true and good ideas in every area of life to help transform them and the generations they lived in. What many Christians have today is just their personal conviction, this or that one among many alternatives, without the confidence that they relate to something more than personal insights and anecdotal evidence.

For one, in previous generations Christians were steeped in a broader knowledge as they sought books to read, formed associations for the purpose of discussions. Sunday schools in England were started to teach reading and writing, while Bible knowledge was passed on through the sermons in the Church and readings at home. I would like to know where there are Sunday Schools that actually educate people in history, geography, science, business ethics and social responsibility, or how to fill out the forms to benefit from the Affordable Health Care Act, now that it became the law of the land.

The Law tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves! What simpler way to do that than to diminish the burdens of life for him or her and her family in a reality, where nature, including our human nature, leaves many vulnerable, sore and hard pressed. Their lives and ours are not only the result of our choices or theirs, for we all live in the stream of benefits and damages, but also from the work of who went before, regardless of any personal merit.


Stand your ground: on what grounds?

Where such laws are on the book, as is the case in many states, their intended purpose is to justify self-defense. But whether it is justified in this manner should not be left to subjective interpretation alone, but have to pass through rigorous controls, lest the person turns himself into prosecutor, jury, judge and executioner all at once. Flash-judgments on the matter of needed defense must be avoided in most cases, as a reaction from an emotional response is not sufficient, where another defensive option exists: that of avoidance through withdrawal. For that reason Scripture created cities of refuge, demanded two reliable witnesses, and we added the controls of a jury system.  How else can the love for self and neighbor be carried out, and the sanctity of life be maintained, if love has no prior purchase because another person’s life is valued less than the right of defense!

Fear, anger, revenge, which are immediate and personal reactions to perceived danger, should have no part in seeking justice.

The law must not turn everyone into a sheriff’s deputy. Its scope of permissible defense must be limited, especially in a society where the bearing of arms is so uncontrolled, where conflicts are so frequent and where the insistence on personal rights has turned tolerance, patience and love into occasional acts of generosity rather than legal obligations. Love of God and neighbor are not acts of charity, demanded by law! 

In civilized societies law governs the behavior of people who forget the obligation to respect life and to diminish harm all too easily. Law protects us exactly against personal, spontaneous and emotional choices. Feeling threatened does not then grant us more rights, or a license to stand our ground, when withdrawal or alerting the forces of order appointed to bring a more measured response to a situation are also possible. Anyone feeling threatened so easily interprets a situation falsely from lack of sufficient insight. Civilized is a society that lives under a common law, not under the personal decision that justifies lawless acts.   

With warm and sincere greetings,

Udo and Deborah Middelmann

(Refer to 501 (c) (3) status of the Foundations for tax-deductible donations)




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