back to Long Letters Overview

The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

Long Letters


Udo and Debby Middelmann:

Dear Friends,

Thank you for the very encouraging words from some of you after the last letter, which Marla sent out in October. I am glad that you are a part of our work in the Schaeffer Foundation and that you can share our lives in this manner. For many of you this goes back a good number of years. I remember some of you as our students years ago. Others we met more recently. You all are very important to us. Your encouragement and comments are always welcome and looked forward to by us.

You should have received a new edition of Footnotes recently with some thought on my mind bundled into an article. It took a while to get this issue out to you, since Jesse James, a friend and board member took over from Blake Mosher, who had done such a good work, until his recent marriage gave him a single and most important new focus

Debby, Isaac and I just returned from a busy and wonderful weekend visit with Marla McGill and other older and newer friends in Amarillo. She sends out these letters to you as a gift to us. She is a reading recovery teacher. In addition to her involvement in the Evang. Free church and her effort to turn her mother's home in into her own, she makes time for copying and sending our tapes and this letter. Thank you!

Schaeffer Foundation Study Seminar in Gryon

Just like in the past 30 years, we will again welcome guests for a study seminar in Switzerland. We start in the second half of July and continue until the end of summer. Anyone interested in serious discussions around meals, on taped lectures and during long hikes will consider with us and others the truth and reality of Christianity. You should write to us about the dates you might be able to attend. The cost is again 40sfrs per day, roughly $ 30 at current exchange rates, for room and board. Our small group of students benefits from a family setting and much serious personal interaction.

What is New in RUSSIA ?

Since I last spoke with many of you by letter I have been back to Russia once more. Irkutzk and Angarsk are located just north of the Western end of Lake Baikal in central Siberia. I went there in November for two weeks. My older brother Raoul joined me. We had lots of interesting meetings, observations and comments. Our common past, similar education and broader perspectives made us doubly dangerous for some and provocative for others in the meetings.

Irkutzk had long resisted inviting us to a Teachers Convocation. Political powers, a history of separation and exile from Moscow and the proximity to formerly 'closed cities' (because of their defense industry and nuclear production facilities). So we encountered the standard mix of suspicion, warnings about political problems and, increasing in recent months, public resignation.

But again, once we started to lecture, discuss and meet in small groups, the doors to people's hearts and minds opened. The respect paid to human beings, the challenges to their minds, the satisfaction experienced in answered questions and the pleasure to meet us from abroad without conditions and obligations broke the ice. Hard faces became softer, resistance and closed minds were pried open from the inside like a kernel in spring under the warmth of the sun.

Except that here of course it was not just the expression of human kindness and generosity, but the discovery of a wider world, created by God and defined and enlightened by his Word.

Relating the Bible to personal needs as well as to the need for economic development, the growth of a civil society and a more humane view of human relationships came as a surprise to most. They did not expect that from either the Christianity experienced under and as Orthodoxy nor from civil and economic authorities. References to European history, to the life of the university, the participation of the church in culture and the need for personal responsibility in spiritual, intellectual and public domains were received like different dishes at a festive meal: new, but beautiful, fragrant and inviting.

I was reminded of the invitation in Isaiah 55 to "come and buy without money." Such is the feast on God's word and the invitation to his table. God made a lasting prom promise in the sure mercies of David to forgive us and to make us his children through the future lamb of God.

Angarsk is a city built since 1949 around a plutonium factory and several refineries. Even the train from Beijing to Moscow skirts the town by two miles to keep it from sight of the travelers. Citizens are proud of their close family relations for three generations and don't realize how much of that was enforced by the secrecy of the system. There was no church in town, expressing the imposed scientific reductionism and hate of the spirit, both human and of God.

Now this particular work has come to an end for me. I went 32 times in the past five years to 63 cities and must have addressed about 25000 teachers all over the country. In addition, articles appeared in the Teachers' Gazette. The lectures were filmed and have been broadcast over TV in different cities. I handed out numerous Schaeffer books made available by Crossway Publishers and "Mere Christianity" and "God in the Dock" by C.S. Lewis in Russian, given by a friend in Moscow.

You will remember that the effort to host a double seminar in Moscow last summer fell through when my request for funding was turned down rather late. But now, this coming August, we will be able to hold these Schaeffer Foundation Study Seminars in Moscow. A Russian entrepreneur has offered to pay for them. I am very pleased and excited, for here a Russian Christian, who has enjoyed one of the Schaeffer books, wants to enable a few of his own people to be exposed to these ideas and insights, to my lectures and studies.

Please pray for this event in uncertain circumstances; for the right people to be selected as students; for a facility to speak with them without translation. A number of our friends have volunteered to help. Jesse James will share the teaching with me.

In addition, I addressed a group of expatriates in Moscow, both Christian and not, in the home of an American oil company executive. About 35 people came and discussed with me the need for ethics in business: that it is necessary, good and beneficial, but also that the failure to teach and practice ethics in school requires us to teach it in business. A society without law and commitment fails to nourish its underlying requirements and expectations of being a group of people under law. Adam Smith saw these things with clarity. We have abandoned that part of a humane economy.

Unhappily a lecture at Moscow State University had to be canceled in the last minute. I hope that it was but postponed.

All this to show that perhaps there will be much more work to be done by us in Russia, on a more personal, professional and directed level. The invitations and opportunities are there. I would value your prayer concerning the details and ways to finance these travels and expenses.

That last trip to Russia also allowed me to drop in on English L'Abri. I had been invited to give a lecture to staff and students on "Transforming Ideas of Culture."

New York Work We have started a second semester of lectures in the city. Again John Edmark opens his apartment once a month for a group of guests and their friends. I shall speak on the affect of the surrounding cultures on people's understanding of God and theology. Using illustrations starting back from the 2nd century and into our own day I am warned about the effect of worldly assumptions on our understanding of God's person, will and purposes.

Reading Clark Pinnock's book The Openness of God, I was struck by the odd consideration that a certain kind of God is "more likable" than another and therefore we should change. While there are different situations and needs in various times, the notion of a changing God according to our culture's liking is a crazy thought. Yet such thinking has prospered since the Gnostics into the shifting assumptions of our own day. I wonder whether the weakening of family and community ties contributed to the demands that God become my personal god, meeting my psychological needs and supporting my consumer expectations.

The Gagging of God by D.A. Carson and The Empty Church by Thomas Reeves add more insight into these tendencies to adjust God and truth and life to our present liking.

However, in this shift the church merely follows or danced alongside the wider culture surrounding us. Shopping Mall High School by Powell, Farrar and Cohen, The Death of Common Sense by Howard and The Schools We Need by Hirsch are very helpful in understanding the effect of practices and assumptions on our own expectations.

Here at the Foundation House I plan to show the How Should We Then Live ? film series, which came out exactly 20 years ago and continues to speak to our culture about the need to have a solid foundation for truth and life. The ending sections with the anticipated reduction of life to the pursuit of personal peace and affluence speak particularly loudly into our day. The films, as well as other Schaeffer films, can be ordered on Video from Gospel Films (1-800-253 0413).

On other NY lecture evenings through the spring we shall discuss "Genesis" in light of the recent revival of interest and flood of publications. Commentary has a good article in its February issue. Also, Is the Shopping Mall a Symbol for Life? And a consideration of Man in Nature, using Schama's new book Landscape and Memory.

I also spoke last week to a group of men at a dinner in New York. While such groups are part of the American history and played a significant role in the development of democracy and trade relations, this is a fellowship group of the modern kind. Just like AA gathers people with an admitted problem, support groups gather people around a need for friendship, looking for compassion and emotional encouragement.

Men with real skill and accomplishments in their professions gather to talk about their inner feeling or a lack of them. Some are Christians of emotions, but barely able to understand their life in light of the truth the Bible gives. They look for the friendship with men as an experience of the friendship with Jesus. But they get little instruction in Biblical thinking. Rather than discussing issues relating to slices of real life, they talk about their personal frustrations and feelings.

I had been asked to address them on "Racial Reconciliation." I spoke about the need to see here a problem that can not be settled by either an occasional gathering called friendship nor by an undefined "spirit of Jesus between us." Instead, there needs to be a recognition of what is true: we are one human race, not several. Truth is one, not personally divers. There needs to be an acknowledgment that wrong has been and is being done each time a person, black of white, is labeled as if he were locked in and could not change. There also needs to be a broad discussion about what is right and wrong, human and inhuman, without excuses made on the grounds of cultural differences.

I wonder whether you read Charles Krauthammer's article in TIME. He compares socialism's anger with economic inequality to racism accusers' anger with the same. If one flag has gone down with the demise of Communism in history, the other can now be raised. The distinction between real racism (accusing people of things in association with an unalterable factor of their race) and moral/cultural judgments based on people's life style choices is avoided. The O.J. trial, the heat over the observations in The End of Racism, the fear to address moral issues among racially different people all add to an inability to deal with real issues.

I think the rise of support groups among men and women, in churches and in the world, flows from an attempt to gather and unite in smaller and more similar environments than the city of Man. They perhaps express an escape from the real battles into meeting the more personal needs. I wonder how much that contributes to the loss of the concept of an objective truth, as each person pursues his or her perception of things. As the market tests all things on the basis of personal liking, so also is there a market to hang out personal views and feelings, and to find buyers.

The challenges of Christianity against autonomous human wisdom, the call to have dominion over sin and nature, to argue with and to examine all ideas and to battle against flesh and spirit are then easily neglected, personalized and reduced to inner issues. The burning question is turned to what I should become ( an angel? a spirit? a tolerant potato?) rather than how I should live as the human being I already am by creation.

While one may welcome the rise of such Christian mass movements as 'Promise Keepers' and 'Women of Faith', their existence shows to me a weakening of the Church as the bride of Christ in her ministry mandate. This development also shows the weakening of knowledge through a desire for experience, of personal responsibility through public event participation, of patience through pseudo-activism. The experience becomes the healing. The loss of community of life is made up by the community of victims and a new fellowship of activists. Why do we need another organization to tell us to be faithful to our wives? I used to read that in my Bible. Did the early church have support groups or did their teaching and their lives become the center of public life?

Outside Speaking The weekend in Amarillo was full of good meetings in an interesting church setting. Debby lectured on the need to teach morality as values and habbits together to show the reasonableness of what is right. Understanding and obedience have to go together. I gave a report on the situation in Russia, the contents of my work there. In addition I spoke about the need to teach ethics as a life practice in business, since schools, many churches and most homes no longer teach it.

I gave a lecture titled Biblical Quotes and Questionable Beliefs. Many passages in the Bible are familiar to us and link themselves to certain views, which are not justified by Scripture as a whole. Is 55:8 does not suggest that God is different and sees things in what is to us irrational.

"Spiritual" in the Bible does not indicate an attitude of denial of the material, or of the mind and reflection, or of work and effort in a blind willingness to suffer. Spiritual means being informed by the spirit of God (1.Corinthians 2:6ff). It speaks of the reality of a spiritual world, of warfare, of the Spirit of God in creation, in gving us revelation, the Bible. But none of these areas deny the need for intelligence, effort and a foot-on-the-ground life in normaql human reality.

"Grace" in Ephesians is not an act of God that zaps or selects us, but the free gift of the Savior Christ for our redemption. The fact that it is free does not free us from effort to please the Lord. We have been made for good works.

Sometimes the fear of sounding like a catholic effort for merit in our salvation brings people to a view of a complete lack of participation. Even "seeking" is then seen as a 'work' and being 'dead in sin' is read almost as physical death, or at least 'sleep', instead as a description of our guilt that deserves condemnation. Total depravity, afterall, used to mean an acknowledged lack of holiness in all areas, not a total denial of value to God in the human being.

On Sunday our friend Marla had asked Debby to prepare a genuine Middelmann Sunday dinner for her invited friends. We sat there in Amarillo, Texas, and had a Gryon, Switzerland dinner with four hours of discussion on the sermon, life and current issues!!

Down the Road (in time) We ask you to continue to pray for wisdom for us, since we shall have to make a decision very soon about the location of Schaeffer Foundation. We enjoy the discussions in the city and the occasional invitations to go to other places in the US. Yet there seems to be more response in Europe, where Dr. Schaeffer developed what became helpful for the wider church.

My search for new employment and a wider interest in the Foundation has not yet been successful here. We wonder whether we should not respond to the existing interest and opportunities in Western and Eastern Europe and return to work from Gryon this summer.

We would lengthen the study sessions with us in Switzerland and could respond more to calls for help there. I shall teach a Master's program at the Free Theological Faculty in Aix (France) in June and a week of World View lectures in Bern in September. Two Colleges in Switzerland have expressed a desire to have me teach regularly in modules. We would still be able and want to lecture in the US each year, but the base would be in Switzerland.

But to know what is wise in this matter is difficult, having close work and family attachments on both sides of the Atlantic. Finally it seems to be a question of usefulness to the Lord in specific ways and being able to pay for it with the existing support. We shall keep you informed, but ask you to pray for us.

And then there are you, a distant, but important family to us. Thank you for your cards, greetings and gifts, your thoughtful participation in our life and your real interest in our part of the Lord's work together.

Udo Debby Hannah Isaac

PS: Gifts to the work of the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation are tax-deductible. It is recognized as a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization. A receipt is always sent.

back to top