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The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

Long Letters


Udo and Debby Middelmann:

Dear Friends,

It gives me much pleasure to be in touch with you again. I want to bring you up-to-date in our life and thought. Should you ever be no longer interested, please let me know. Printing these letters and mailing them out is a gift from Marla McGill to us and to you. I would not want her to spend her money, when there is no reason.

The big news first. It has immediate consequences. During the month of June this year we shall move the core the Francis A Schaeffer Foundation work to Gryon in Switzerland. While our things will largely remain here at Briarcliff until we find a buyer for the house, Isaac has been registered in the Gryon school for the fall.

I had written to you and talked about that real possibility in past letters and asked you to join us in praying for wisdom and direction. Now it seems propitious to proceed. For there is considerable and growing interest for our work in Europe. There is a great need for speaking historic Christianity into a setting of diminished certainties and cultural relativism.

Some of the interest comes not the least from the fact that Schaeffer's own world of ideas and work has been so much shaped by both the questions and the culture of Europe. The interest in the US was often stimulated by the fact Dr. Schaeffer showed the roots of our world in the effect of Christian teaching on Europe and her children.

In Europe the need for serious considerations of an objective truth to answer man's basic questions became essential after the war. Schaeffer's contribution to the wider church, to insist on the "true" truth of the Bible and the need for the practice of truth, came from the sharpened realization of ideologies in religion and in the state. The experiments with invented ideals had produced nationalism, Fascism and Communism. Each of these were based on lies and produced death in the old countries.

Having lived under their reality, people are less optimistic, perhaps more honest in their limited expectations. Theirs are the big questions still, not just the small concerns about how to feel better about oneself. There the Bible's answer of the truth of God's word falls on fewer, but perhaps then more receptive ears, while here you might will find many testimonies to personal salvation, but of little consequence in the way people think and live.

America, as a younger country with a forward-looking ideology and history always as something to be made, like an uncharted path, is just as likely to fall prey to the attractiveness of 'dreams' and the sellers of snake oil. This way of thinking has produced, together with the courage and opportunities to try again, also terrible distortions.

One can think, for example, of the utopian visions of a "new society", multicultural and democratic/tribal without moral framework or rational insights and limitations; or of the conservative notion that economic possibility and individual responsibility will produce a human, caring and moral society controlled by the market alone; or of the visions of a Christian faith and life, with which we surround ourselves in so many groups and churches. They abandon the idea of true truth and society, the human family under God, by dividing increasingly into small groups, individual "personal" faith and seekers of something more than Jesus Christ's finished work on the cross.

Our world's pursuit of cultural and moral relativism is paralleled by the churches' pursuit of their own relative cultures. I am not at all amazed to see that so many of the conversions in the church resemble efforts to join self-help programs and support groups in the world around us. How the individual can be more at peace with himself seems more important than how to be true to the Lord in all of life.

So many churches, Bible study groups and testimonies of personally changed lives seem to result in so little in the public discussion, in the life on the market of "our town". That should alert us to possible distortions, weaknesses and problems in our current understanding of Christianity. There are probably more people attending Bible studies regularly in the US than anywhere else in the world. Yet the effect is small and highly individualistic. Access to God's word seems to have little affect on the moral, cultural, intellectual and social life of the nation. Instead, the church is one more interest group for meeting needs, personally perceived.

By contrast, he teaching of the Bible into the Roman world and, after its demise in the fourth century, into the wild, chaotic, undisciplined and altogether very pagan and inhuman lives of Carolingians, Franks, Scythes, Celts, Saxons, Lombards and Slavs, gradually transformed the area into a European, somewhat Christian civilization. In spite of wars, envy, strife and nationalism, the culture brought forth education and civil standards, inventions and social forms to express poorly often very real elements of a Christian view of things.

The decision to move the center of the work to Gryon comes in response to requests to make our resources available at Universities and in churches in Switzerland, Austria, Germany and France. In addition it means proximity and easier travel to Eastern European contacts and people, who wish to study with us in Gryon.

The move does not mean, that we shall not be able to continue some of the work we have been able to do in lectures and seminars in America. Especially we would like to set up specific times for regular seminars in a few places each year, where enough interest brings us together for serious studies. We shall continue to publish Footnotes from time to time and tell you of our ideas, books read, etc. Please make a note of our new address and direct all inquiries and any correspondence to us in Gryon from the middle of June on. Our

Telephone and Fax Number from the US : 011 41 24 498 1656

Brining up the rear since March: Most recently, at the end of May I was in Aix-en-Provence for lectures in the Masters' Program of the Free Seminary of Reformed Theology. I was scheduled to give a course to graduate students at the end of their studies. My subject was "The Word of God in the World of Man."

I arrived late one night. Anthony Lewin struggled with my bag across the railroad tracks to the car. We lugged this thing up four flights of stairs in the heat of early summer. In spite of the effort, I had a sensation of wealth, energy and temptation. The fragrance of the bushes, the spices of the Provence and the sound of birds filled the air. The hard task and heavy breathing under such weight could not undo the pleasure of the Provence.

The contrasts of that land with its wealth of shapes, colors and scents to everything before was accentuated by the fact that I attached a week of lectures in France to a visit of two weeks, for the third time, to Izhevsk and Sarapul in the Udmurtian Republic of the Russian Federation. Snow and mud there, with heat and hot water turned off on a certain calendar day rather than when the temperature outside reached a determined level, and then late spring here: I had to travel with clothes for both cold and warm seasons, for formal and informal occasions, for setting without and with a washing machine.

Such trouble is easily forgotten, or at least counted worthwhile, when you meet Russians, who extend a warm welcome. You find careful attention in the students, the families I stayed with and the professor or two, who had opened their classes to my speaking about the Bible, Christianity and the foundation for a civil society in the existence of God.

My friend and member of the Board of the Schaeffer Foundation, Jesse James, had asked me to return with him to these two cities, taking along a few others to help in the work of continuing earlier contacts, leading discussions and giving lectures. One generous couple paid my way. Conflicts would face us not only in the weather - a minor distraction - but more so from officials in both cities, who are largely unable to acknowledge a genuine private visit, without economic interests or attempts to harm citizens.

For we went to continue the contacts we had built before, to speak again and longer with people who had shown an interest in Christianity during earlier visits. We went by train through the night and more than half the day to get there, were welcomed by Russian families, who had at least one child speaking English, and spend the next week in their homes, in their schools and, for me, also in the two Universities, a teacher college and with students in their flats.

I had taken some of Schaeffer's books with me, especially the newly published 25 Basic Bible Studies and used them to get people interested for themselves. In addition I gave a talk at the International Eastern European University on the reasons for the specific character of the European world view with its foundation of the transforming power of Christianity. A good discussion followed with much interest.

I also lectured to the English department of the Udmurt State University to three classes on the "Concepts and History of Liberal Arts Education." Since this is a peculiar American invention difficult to translate into any other language or culture, it was a good tool to speak of a basically different view of Man, education, responsibility, culture and the value of educated common life. These concepts are new in Russia, have little to do with their view of human society or the church, yet they appeal to especially younger folk and open the door to discussions about the larger questions of how to explain life, when you are not a Christian.

In fact, the doors are wide open for such discussions, lectures and personal interaction. Presented somewhat in a larger context and shown to be very different from what is expected of religions and religious people, I have found very little opposition or otherwise painful reactions among the people. Instead, many professors want to know more to understand Christianity better. There is a hunger for truth, though often the fear of reprisals and, in light of past disappointments, the reservations before any decisions are stronger.

Yet one of us stayed with a cardiologist for the week. She found out hat the doctor had become a Christian from a Muslim background after hearing some of my lectures and talking with others to help her understand better. She persists as God's child in spite of the pressures of her Muslim relatives.

The hospitality in private homes was always very precious. In Sarapul I was assigned to the family of the director of the power company. Two sons and his wife share a three room flat. I was given the parent's room, who moved out to a couch. Generous hospitality everywhere, pride even in their decaying city, a sauna interrupted with food and drink, a visit to the museum were part of those three days in Sarapul.

But much more was found in the home of my "intellectual" family I mentioned in earlier letters. Again they all joined, with the children, in their flat and continued to talk about reasons to believe God. You will remember that they teach philosophy, psychology and economic between them in different schools. What a delight it was to see them again and to spend six hours trying to explain God's word, reasons for believing it, the hopelessness of a society based on anything but the knowledge of God's real existence.

In addition I also spent hours with a very aggressive teacher. He meant to interrupt the classes and meetings with his colleagues by asking very good questions. They came from much misinformation and were concerns about an American Jewish conspiracy to rule the world. I was able to bring more facts to bear on his worries and to assuage his anger. Taking time to lay out details in a coherent form gave him much to think about. His sources had been in the Orthodox church.

In Izhevsk I stayed with the family of a "businessman", an engineer-become-baker. They were surprised that I was Christian and believed in God. Yet they wanted to know more, invited over friends and showered me with every kindness. I left them a Bible and books, they want to write me with their questions. Much interest was also among some of the students themselves. Over cake and coffee we filled long hours with probing questions and sound answers about life, work and love, wanting to know what the Bible talked about in these and other areas. One professor gathered her whole class to listen to our teaching and advice.

Most of them are ignorant, but wonderfully curious about the Christian view of things. Some attend church, but are often initially appalled to learn that one needs to use one's mind in church as well. The mysterious experience of smells and bells is like an escape for some. For them it is certainly not an area in which to discover what the creator of the world has said and done. When you open the Bible, a new world opens for these dear people.

You recognize in my descriptions a satisfaction and desire to be able to return to Russia for the sake of its people. They have been lied to, they have been humiliated and kept in the dark, they have had so little exposure to both Gospel and the life of Man under the Gospel. Please pray for more possibilities and a real work of God in their midst. For it all requires open eyes and ears, new hearts and attitudes, moral courage. These are new things to a people who have not been raised to examine and to choose what is true.

The NY Times reported on June 8 about the horrible conditions of life in Russia. The Russian malaise is already described by Dostoyevski as a result of having no reasons to live, no hope and no answers from God to satisfy our need to know. Someone once said that Englishmen will have God for tea, the Americans invite themselves in to God's place like a friend, but the Russians feel haunted by God. That about describes the situation quite well in each of the countries. And in some way these illustrations reflect a church founded to save a monarchy in England, churches of democratic origins in the US and a church with little teaching about the normal life under God in Russia.

The Schaeffer Foundation will hold two one-week seminars just outside Moscow during the second half of August. They open the door for possibly more at a later date. You will recall that a Russian believer has offered to fund this, while students and teachers will have to supply their transportation to get there. Jesse James will join me and help with lectures and discussions, give Bible studies and help direct long meal time conversations. It should be interesting. Hopefully the authorities will not find a way to interfere in our perfectly legal presence there. Please pray!

Such interference often makes life in practice very discouraging. In both Izhevsk and in Sarapul it took us a day to get clearance for our stay, even though we were there privately and with correct visas. Eight different offices had to give their approval, or perhaps it took this many, because no-one dared to give the approval alone. It is very difficult to attract private help or investments in a bureaucratic and suspicious society without clearly legitimate authorities.

My 'baker' host mentioned how much harder it now is to start your own business. Only a bribe will make someone apply rules to you, which may be made for you in the process. If laws exist, their application must be bought. This is a far cry from a society under law; there is too much concentrated undivided power and corresponding fear.

On the other hand you might have joined me for a very interesting conversation with the Vice Rector of the Udmurt State University, who plead with us to find a more serious involvement for his school than merely short-term exchanges, lectures and the like. I couldn't believe my ears, when he mentioned the need to change a whole way of thinking in his culture, not merely create economic opportunities. Most of his colleagues still teach older views, materialist in nature. He recognizes the need to see all of life differently, not just to move a few pieces around on the chessboard. Without coming right out to talk about a Christian view of things, that is in fact what he was pleading for.

He will head an effort of economists, bankers and heads of industry to facilitate a change in the way life is lived, work is done and contracts are kept. More power to him, especially if he remains convinced that the problems are as much economic as cultural and as much political as spiritual.

In the New York lectures we continued to meet for interesting evenings. We closed the year with a Bible study on the origin of evil, partially to respond to a very troublesome view held by Bill Edgar in his book "Reasons of the Heart." Edgar suggests that the Bible does not tell us about how evil came into the world under a sovereign God.

"The Scriptures do not detain us with speculative discourse on the origins of evil, but do tell us everything about the solution." "Whatever else we may say about evil, it is not outside of God's intentions...We do not know how evil got here, but we do know that it fits God's purposes," is Edgar's suggestion. Look then to Jesus! "This may not explain everything about the outrage of evil, such as Auschwitz, AIDS or the death of a child, but it overcomes it."

That is different from Scripture's explanation of the origin of sin in the heart of Man. What remains is Allah and Jesus, but not God and Christ. The problem of course lies in the fideist assumptions about sovereignty, which colors the reading of the Bible itself.

Debby lectured on reasons for the decline in modern American education, using The Shopping Mall High School by Powell, Farrar and Cohen as well as The Schools We Need by E. D. Hirsch Jr.

In April we all went to St. Louis, where I spoke for Memorial Presbyterian Church in their International Student outreach weekend. We also spent much time with friends from our own seminary days and with others, who came to seek advice and help in the struggle of life. We became more convinced of the importance of showing that life's reality is not only the result of personal choices, of sin and obedience.

While these moral absolutes are clear and foundational, rooted in the very character of God himself, the reality of life is always a mixture. There are the results of our choices and the consequences of others' choices. We do not inherit their guilt, but the outworking of their works. In that latter element there is much tragedy, against which our compassionate Father in heaven sets all his compassion and his desire to give us wisdom. We wait for the day, when each person will be judged only on the merits of his own choices. That is not the case now. Until then life is not right, just or fair. It consists of more than guilt and innocence. There is a battle which involves real tragedy. On our part it demands judgment, but also compassion.

It has at times been suggested that the life at the court and in the churches during the Middle Ages was so sumptuous also as an expression that would reflect the rewards of heaven to people on earth. By contrast, life in the gutter and hovel was to warn about the future in hell. The extremes existed in form and color, in abundance and lack, a constant moral warning system. There was little room in between until the renaissance development of trade and art and the Reformation's teaching on the value of the common life before God.

Until then, there was little room for the reality of life, for the in-between reality of our broken lives after the Fall, where suffering is not always deserved and where the unrighteous often prosper.

Let me dare to suggest that in our conservative political outlook we may easily express a similar lack of compassion for the unjustly suffering. To merely give people opportunity is to discount the reality of a basic unfairness in the life of many. Likewise, to assume that all problems are societal and can be fixed by redistributive measures is equally flawed. Here you have it again: a conservative heaven with access for all, who do it right, and a more socialist program to provide heaven for all without repentance. That leaves out the many, who bear the damage of the Fall in their own lives, minds and bodies. To them the church must extend compassion by means of practical help and just laws, with individual measures of support and the weight of its moral voice in the public arena.

As I come to realize these things in conversation with people in their tragic and painful lives, I wonder whether there is not here also something for the larger discussion we all must face. As Christians the question concerns our message to a hurting world. The "Christ only" must include the views that the Lord teaches us in practice and parables, in judgment and compassion. As citizens the questions also concern us in a time of market-driven priorities. As I thought about a lecture on the "Human Element in Economic Development" to be given in France, it seems to me that we easily short-change our neighbor with promises that miss the need. While some need the encouragement to take advantage of opportunities, others need to face the consequences of their life-style choices ( as it is called these days). Yet again there are many who are caught in the middle of the market, damaged, discouraged, weak and in need of help to walk, to think and to trust.

I would love to have your thoughts on these or some of the other areas I talk about in this letter. It is always a pleasure to hear from a few of you. Thank you. With Naomi putting us on E-mail, the contact should also be easier.

The family is well. Hannah finished her Junior year at NYU with flying colors. She enjoyed working with an International Social Agency as well and will continue there next year as part of her studies. Naomi has been asked to stay with her boss in a new magazine venture after the sale of SPIN last week. She is also in a Ph.D. program for romance languages at NYU.

As we face a new situation, we ask you to join us in prayer for wisdom, trust and discernment to know, how to use our time wisely and profitable. Thank you for your friendship, kindness and often also financial help.

With warm and personal greetings,

Udo Debby Hannah Isaac

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