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The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

Long Letters


Udo and Debby Middelmann:

Dear Friends,

Much of this letter had been written in spare moments between lectures and while waiting for other engagements in Russia at the beginning of the month. But then at the airport on my final day to return home I dropped my case at customs…and broke the hard disc drive on the computer. That letter can not be retrieved. So I will start again. A warm ‘hello' to you.

That day had started off well. I sat looking down on one of the marvels of our world, like from the front row seat on the balcony of a theater. From the West wing of the Rossia Hotel in Moscow you have a magnificent view of Red Square. After a light snow fall during the night the candy-like tops of the towers of St. Basil's Cathedral in the foreground and everything around it is sprinkled like with powdered sugar. The cubic shapes of the Kremlin wall, the many guard and water towers of old times, all in red and each with its own design, dwarf the people dressed in dark winter clothes in front of them. They stand and look or scurry about much like mice or ants.

The square itself rises up somewhat from the Moscva River and thereby gives the impression of a foreshortened stage. The old English embassy lies to the right, built under Elizabeth I and used as a house of trade for centuries. Next to it a row of four or five smaller churches raise their steeples like a warning over what used to be markets and trading houses for things from the land. There was a spiritual side to life as well.

The whole scenery could be a child's view of a candy box, waiting to be touched or played with. On this early morning up to seven trucks, in harmony like carefully choreographed figure skaters and ballet dancers, plow the snow in the same way several harvesters, in another season, do their work on the enormous fields of the American heartland. Today, the effort exposes the cobble stones of roads and squares for another day's activities.

But of course the beauty is deceptive. For this place, known all over the world from photos and TV programs, is not Grandmother's candy box nor a stage for a play. It has been the stage for many of the great evils in human history. A comparison of the present views with postcards from paintings of the last century reveals the removal of all merchants' houses, the replacements of markets by government offices. St. Basil's church is balanced on one side of the entrance to the square by the raised platform on the other, on which people were publicly executed in Czarist times. The architect of the church himself had his eyes gouged out by a Czar to prevent him from building another church of such oriental beauty.

And then there has been the attempt to defeat all spiritual reality with the crushing imposition on a people of a material world view and its military power and parades. God was excluded from participating in the lives and morals of a people, but now the square, otherwise lined with richly decorated house fronts, is spoiled with the heavy and hideous cube of stone, the mausoleum for Lenin's material remains kept "eternally alive" as a mummy by means of elaborate chemical processes.

That stage has seen so much blood and evil, so much hate and the struggle for power. The people who cross it on a Sunday afternoon seem to be ignorant of it all. It becomes the place for photos, for family outings, a reminder of and a stimulant for national pride and glory.

There has always been so much cruelty mixed with glory at this place. The popular response has been despondency and waiting for a savior. Some day someone would come to fix the situation. The saint in Siberia, the Zsar from the North, the state, or the flow of history itself, would be part of a trusted destiny: all of these are concepts that remove the God of the Bible from being sought and approached through inquiry, belief and prayer. In addition that view removed the individual from seeing responsibilities, trying new ways and creating opportunities. Those who did anyway were often considered strange, foreign, evil and later selfish, for they worked against both destiny and fate, against "the will of God for Russians" and against the collective advance of the socialist society.

The dominion mandate of the Bible ("Let Man, in the likeness of God, subdue the earth and rule over every living creature," Genesis 1:26-28) was replaced by the ‘denial' concept of a church too spiritual to encourage work, the mastery of science and the rule of law against natural and human evil.

A pervasive mentality among so many still shows the effects of this approach to life. There has not been the discovery of meaningful and productive life from the teaching of the Scriptures. There has never been the gradual awakening of human responsibility, which we associate with the European Renaissance: a time of individual discoveries, enterprise and curiosity about truth, trade and travel to far places.

There has also never been a Reformation with a return to Scripture in the church. Instead all changes in the teaching of the church, and there have been many over the centuries, have been imposed in oriental fashion, never discovered. Autocracy, or the self-appointed rule of the few over the many, has been a standard feature from government to church to families and businesses. Where power remains unchecked and un-checkable, it easily corrupts, whether that power is in one person over many. We are more familiar with that tendency in the individual, when each person just sets himself up as sovereign

Such reflections came to me during ten days in Moscow and Samara, a large city with many foreign joint ventures (Nestle, General Electric, Bosch) on the Volga River. Jesse James and Linda Dunshee and I made it there a day late after an unexpected night in Orenburg, where we landed and waited and finally found a bed in old military barracks, when a snow storm kept us from landing in Samara. Once there, we gave lectures and held discussions at various training colleges. We spoke on the basis for a civil society, on raising children in a society in crisis and gave a brief overview over the cultural history of the West. We also talked about youth problems and efforts in drug prevention. We were told that about 50% of younger people are getting into drugs with all the resulting tragedies.

At times there was much interest and we could have lively discussions. Then again the audiences expected more statistics, methods and proven systems to solve all problems, as if the human condition were a result of engineering failures and advances. At one point, after having talked about the need to really explain and to allow for open discussion in the search for truth in any area, I was asked what materials in printed form we used to teach discussions.

Of course there are texts on debating, public speaking and the need for illustration. But they want a method, a guarantee, a tool. The notion of the human being as a person, ideas as propositions, answers as attempts to listen and to respond as one person to another is rarely present. All reality is finally material! There is only one answer to all inquiry. Get the ‘engineer in charge of discussions' to fix it!

My lectures and contacts repeatedly point out that there is a flaw in this thinking. It does not do justice to the phenomenon we are so concerned about: the human person. A person is valuable, because we realize a different reality, beginning and purpose. For we have been made in the image of the person of God, with minds and responsibilities to desire wisdom from God for all of life. Whether it concerns the desire for a civil society in a situation of lawless power or a younger generation with its questions and frustrations, even older people burnt by inhuman ideology and much suffering deserve to understand their individual need to know the world we live in: How did it get here, what is it for, what is the point of it all together? Only the Bible gives us that information and then also access as people to the God and Father of our Lord.

Jesse James organizes seminars to help business people overcome the resident mentality of denial and resignation on one hand and of brute power opportunities on the other. The Global Resource Foundation, which he directs, shows Eastern Europeans that a Christian world view has results in business practices from initiative to production, from employment to mentality, from quality concerns in the product to integrity in relationships. This does not remain theory, but is implemented at present in several joint business ventures in Ukraine, giving employment and ideas in what is still largely a wasteland from the past.

Let me go back to the time you received our last letter in October 1999. Bob Osburn of the MacLaurin Institute at the University of Minnesota organized a schedule of lectures in the homes of friends in various locations. Together we went from Minneapolis to Atlanta, Chattanooga, Gainesville (GA), Dallas, Austin and Miami to end up again in Minneapolis for a lecture at a Border's Bookstore around Gress' excellent and detailed book From Plato to NATO. There was also an evening of initiating the Francis A. Schaeffer Fellowship, to which I was appointed. As part of that assignment I will lecture, teach a course and write more to expose, as Bob says, my ideas on a Biblical world view to wider audiences. There will also be follow-up responsibilities with foreign students, who had contact with Christianity during their studies in the US and have returned to their home countries.

I also spoke one evening at the Rochester L'Abri on the need to recognize increasing difficulties in our effort to make Biblical Christianity plausible to our generation. There has been an enormous shift in the expectations of people and consequently in their desires and expectations, which have an effect on their ability to hear. In a somewhat sweeping overview it could be said that people looked to the Bible to give answers to the large questions of life, such as meaning and purpose, life and death, justice and survival. Who and where is God? What is the point of life and history? Can anyone really know? How should I live to be able to face the coming judgment on earth and in heaven?

These questions are often far from the generation we are a part of. Justice is now more a question of law, of rights and access to the courts. Life is a question concerned with immediate guarantees, of food and shelter, of medical attention and Social Security, of a spot under the sun in old age, followed by a death free from pain. The question of who is God has been answered with the comfortable assertion of a "personal relationship", which is rooted in an unassailable individualism. Often "Where is God?" is answered in a pantheistic perspective: in me, everywhere, in my life or heart or feeling; or on a fatalistic manner with reference to daily and personal circumstances accepted as the hand or will of God.

There are of course amazing and wonderful advantages to living with the accomplishments of people through the centuries. The insecurities of the past (early death, superstition and ignorance in the workings of nature and science, the absence of law to restrain evil rulers) have been largely overcome. Yet we have to recognize how much the burdens of life in a fallen world reminded people of the need to seek answers that only Christianity could provide.

When the burdens are now largely reduced for so many of us, our integrity and the quest for truth, faith and hope must come from another source. We must overcome an almost automatic complacency, the satisfaction with personal happiness as a goal. For there better be, there must come a future judgment, lest the Gospel has been reduced to a way to personal well-feeling and all of history is seen as a normal flow.

Craig M. Gay has written a perceptive book The Way of the (modern)world or Why It's Tempting to Live As If God Doesn't Exist (Eerdmans, 1998). The chapter headings give you already an indication of his justified concerns: The worldliness of modern political aspirations; The Irrelevance of God in the Technological Society; The Intrinsic Secularity of Modern Economic Life; The Worldly Self at the Heart of Modern Culture. All these are elements of Gay sees as "The Huge Modern Heresy." That heresy is so effective that it renders an understanding of historic and Biblical Christianity so much more implausible. With personal needs newly defined, the solutions of God through Christ in history has lost its appeal, necessity and urgency.

Yet the way back from heresy is, in our view, not to a return to external conditions of hardship, say as they existed in the 14th century, to bring us to our knees. Those days dished up their own perverted views and temptations. We should instead be more concerned about the condition of our own hearts and minds to seek after righteousness, to honor the Lord and to allow all his word to continually refine us, while we walk through the mud of fallen, selfish and deceitful human history. Just as a concern for gun control today does not change the human heart or remove hate and lust for power, so also does a pre-technological age not build or change our relationship to God. There is nothing wrong with Television in itself. The flaws are found in the viewers' demands on the market.

In December I spent four days in a church with a university outreach in Grenoble, France. Lectures and discussions on postmodernism, both at the university and among members of the congregation, were fruitful and stimulating. Speaking that long in French with most of them and in German with the friend who had invited me to come were exhausting. But people immediately expressed the wish to have me come back soon. There is little work done to oppose the modern thought patterns with an intelligent declaration of Christianity. The history of pietistic withdrawal from the cultural battle is far more common. But there are interesting people who try to get out of their ghetto and delight in the new discoveries of intelligent Christianity.

In December I also had a number of occasions to preach. We went again to Champery, the village the Schaeffers were kicked out of in 1955, when the priest and the authorities decided they had had too much of a religious influence on the villagers. We have been able to go back there at Christmas anyway and use the "Christ the Savior" Protestant church, which was built in 1912 as a testimony to the Gospel in the then exclusively Roman Catholic village . This year the candlelight service brought about 60 people together, English, Dutch and German mostly. Peter Elias and his family accompanied us with their beautiful stringed instruments, which Peter builds professionally near us. In addition I preached in Lausanne and in the English church of Villars a number of times.

The change into the new millennium was uneventful, as we expected. Western civilization did not come to an end. The fear of judgment by the computer bug had successfully replaced any fear of a judgment from God. With ATM machines still working, airplanes flying and the water supply relatively safe, at least in the quantity of water provided, we can now be sure that any future threat can be dismissed in like fashion.

But that occasion also brought out a number of helpful and challenging observations in articles we read. William Pfaff, who writes from Paris for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, warns that in the new millennium we have left behind something central to our whole European perspective (Here Is a New Age, with Humanity at Last Alone, IHT December 30, 1999). While we have generated the most important forces until now in human development for centuries, from science to art to politics and economics, there now is no longer "a general deference to the Christian god or serious acknowledgment that such a deity must exist." This is a radical change, for it means that we no longer acknowledge the existence of an external rule-giver moral authority. It leaves mankind entirely autonomous with a moral framework entirely of its own creation.

In the past the monotheism of Jews and Christians defined the moral identity of the West. It gave us an outside authority that must be respected. Here lie the roots of natural law, to which we were all obligated. But this has now widely changed, and our reference to personal relationships with Jesus is not an antidote in an age that favors all kinds of personal experiences and opinions. There may be popular belief in God, but the intellectual, political and economic elite no longer has an external standard. They will embrace, as they have done before, utopian visions, national dreams and Faustian scientific adventures, in which man declares "his radical autonomy, his absolute freedom to do whatever he chooses - alone in the universe."

Flora Lewis reminds us in "Beyond Ideologies: Less Ranting and More Common Sense" (IHT January 8-9. 2000) of Andre Glucksmann's warning against utopian ideologies. In fact Glucksmann had suggested an 11th commandment: Thou shalt not build utopia! The past century is rightly characterized by blind faith in ideologies, which mostly served to justify killing or being killed. What was so awful is that so many intelligent people tried to make life fit the thoughts of those who knew they knew better than others. To question this proposition in the name of truth or even common sense was considered insubordination.

Lewis points out correctly that this faith comes from "a deep human yearning for certainty, a hunger for complete answers that leave no room for doubt, indeed (to) banish it permanently with a flick of faith." Is that also true of the Christian's faith? Only if faith leaves no room for the abrasive edge of doubt to bring us steadily more in shape in our quest for wisdom and character. We hunger and thirst for righteousness, which implies a process of growth, increasing clarity and purification through repentance. That faith must not be a closed matter, a list of points or positions, lest we also fall into the trap of ideology, though now Christian, and avoid exposure to the need to get on ‘Christianly' with the everyday.

It is precisely this hubris, not the ideas, that cause the problems. It is hubris to assume that all things are simple, clear and one-dimensional, when life itself is far more complex often. We wait for righteousness, while struggling for it. We fight death, while all along knowing that we will all die until the Lord returns.

It is not enough or responsible to evaluate political candidates merely on the basis of a religious litmus test instead of judging their wisdom, their courage, their humility and their view of the world. Not their almost always one-dimensional religious ‘positions' are important, but their reasoning, their integrity, their broader understanding of the issues. When we do not pay attention to these concerns we become like those who admired the Pharisees: we are impressed by white-washed walls, "fair in outward show, but full of dead men's bones and all manner of corruption within."

It has become acceptable in some circles to speak of the last century as the American century. That is a useful designation, for the influence of ideas and practices associated specifically and historically with America's history and importance is remarkable. The defeat of fascism, the growth of human rights, the development of more partnership governments and economies and the desire of many for greater freedoms and responsibilities in their personal lives is unthinkable outside of the American phenomenon.

Yet we must be careful to not embrace a sort of triumphalism as a consequence of it. When Henry Luce, son of Presbyterian missionaries to China and founder of TIME magazine, first used the term "American century", he referred to the challenge America would be able to accept to serve others, whose religions, traditions and natural conditions had held them prisoner to suffering and inhuman situations. The great commission to go into all the world and to make disciples involves more than evangelism. Or it should be said that evangelism is more than the proclamation of personal salvation in Jesus. That is defined too narrowly. It involves also the declaration that God exists, that He is good, that man has a distinct purpose and meaning, that history is real and that there will be a moral judgment to set things right. Jesus is the cover for our sins, who brings us back to the Father. He is Lord and the living evidence of both the existence and the love and justice of God the Father.

From all this, so readily neglected in much of current evangelism, we accept that life is meaningful, work is a dignified activity, the struggle for the rule of law is justified and necessary. There are reasons to embellish, to comfort, to have compassion as "extras" in life, not wasted, but rather encouraged and demanded. These ideas, given to us in Scripture, are the substance of what is good in the American century. Not power or the pursuit of (now mostly selfish) happiness, not entertainment as a goal or consumption as an activity: but a telling of a different news, consisting of a different view of reality, of God and Man in his image, of history, work and kindness, of law and compassion.

Therefore it is not enough to focus the message on either the spread of democracy or open markets. Wicked people can spoil these concepts to their own advantage. For neither function well, unless there is a moral accountability, a submission of character to the laws of God and an awakened public.

Free elections, a free press, economic growth alone do not always make for good people. Both Haider on the political right in Austria and Putin on the left in Russia take their office as a result of free elections. The Mafia functions well in free markets and dominates them with physical force. A reference to "W.W.J.D.-What Would Jesus Do?" to indicate a high moral or intelligent orientation fails from ignorance of the mind of Christ in many life situations and gives mostly a hollow impression of humility and obedience. What Jesus would actually do in the political and economic situations is not indicated. It must be discovered from the larger context of God's word and work. The Sermon on the Mount gives rich illustrations of the complexity of Jesus' teaching about the need to work on attitudes and for justice rather than on detailed behavioral rules.

Tony Campolo fooled many with that sort of piety long ago, when he suggested, from his Mennonite and pacifist background, a "W.W.J.D." approach in regard to national defense and communist aggression. Issues of education and society, taxation and tax relief, national and international policy are not just easily settled by imaging Jesus on an extra chair in governmental chambers. The transformation of our mind and heart is God's work in history. His word is given to sanctify us, but it must be all his word, not only our favorite passages, memorized verses and other forms of Christian simplistic triumphalism.

For we are called by the Lord to be salt and light, not lobbyists or political action groups. Our concerns and passions should be moral and intelligent, not politically motivated and powerful because of money in search of voting blocks. Our weapons are prayer and persuasion, being careful to reason more clearly, to be more circumspect and realistic about what is possible and what is not in a fallen world and an open society. Christ will sift the wheat from the chaff, separate the sheep from the goats.

We have largely lost credibility as Christians by pursuing simplistic positions to express our moral standards apart from our Lord's compassion. Instead of arguing from well reasoned certainty with compassion and sensitivity we express positions, anger, lust for power and a utopian vision of a Christian state. We should instead win people's minds and hearts and show the tragedy of wrong choices. When the goal is political rather than moral we get caught up in the pursuit of numbers, points and popularity. The numerical advantage will fool us to believe that we are right, better or productive. Those things may matter when we sell cars or memberships. Unfortunately they also matter in some churches and para-church evangelistic works. But God is interested in our thinking, our attitude, the measure of our hunger for wisdom and righteousness. In pursuit of these one may well end up in a minority, for truth is not liked or even recognized by those who lust for power. But when that truth encompasses also wisdom and kindness, realism and compassion, a willingness to work for less than perfection now, we may actually get the attention of a larger group and be able to accomplish more.

Dr. Schaeffer always warned, that if we want nothing but perfection, we will always have nothing. The dog which wanted the second piece of meat he saw in the mouth of the dog reflected on the water, lost even the one piece he had.

Likewise, when we favor a political candidate who holds only our views, we have our "man", but will easily loose the election. For he will gather the support of our group. More can be achieved over time when we work with less than what represents our "ideal". For our focus is not so much on individual steps or programs, but on minds and hearts.

Anything held to from political reasoning, even a concern about the unborn, tax-cuts, gays or child labor in China, will only get the approval and reaction of numbers. It will confirm some and alarm others, will lead to approval or accusation. By contrast, the minds, hearts and practices of people will only be softened and changed, when intellectual and moral reasons persuade. We are to work as salt to bring out the flavor, as light to reveal what is true. I miss this in the presidential candidates, especially on the right, where we should expect it more.

For there is too much ideology on the right as on the left, with a lack of compassion and realism, a desire for power and approval by the faithful. What Clinton says about Putin without mentioning corruption, the KGB or Chechnya, is paralleled by what G.W. Bush says at Bob Jones University without taking issue with its racial views. Neither has a realistic world view distinct from their ideological dreams.

As long as much of the evangelical establishment is ready to accept trigger words, concepts and programs in the place of wisely working towards real, yet never ideal solutions, their weight will be measured in numbers. In their heart they are right, but then spoil it all with rigidity, a lack of compassion, with lust for power. They have an inability to see that good and evil happen mostly in small increments, not at the polls. Christians also assume that life is like a computer game, where the push of a button or the election of a candidate will bring in the winning ticket.

On a more cheerful note I must tell you of the joy and wonder I experienced when I visited again several Russians, who came to know the Lord through our work in the past. Olga from Ishevsk is now studying in Moscow, taking her courage and $ 100 to set out for a Ph.D. in the big city. Mark continues faithfully. Another of our translators and his wife are interested in helping to bring some of Schaeffer's books to their people. In two weeks I shall go to the State University in Kharkov (Ukraine) to lecture to Steve's students, a bunch of open and interested people, about a Christian view of the world in relation to their studies, work and society

These kind of things we will also consider again during our Summer Study Sessions in our place in Gryon, Switzerland. The sessions will be between

June 1 through July 8, 2000 and July 27 through August 31 , 2000

It is a good time to work through some of the questions you have had about the world in which we live. In the context of occasional lectures, serious discussions over long meals, during hikes in the mountains and on one of study trips we take to surrounding sites of interest we address issues and concerns and provide a broader context to discover the truth of historic Christianity.

The days are spent in individual morning study of taped lectures from L'Abri by Dr. and Mrs. Schaeffer and ourselves on Biblical and cultural subjects. Both lunch and dinner are times for conversation and discussion on questions relating to the studies. Lectures, Bible studies and table discussions during the meals give a variety of settings to understand the unique coherence, beauty and hope of the Bible. The only reason to be a Christian is that Christianity is true to the real world. It involves an acknowledgment of what can be known and what is true objectively about God, creation, the human being, the real world and our basic human predicaments. We consider of course the interests and questions of the students here at any time, but also bring together the roots of Biblical Christianity, its cultural impact through the centuries, the effects of both Reformation and the later counter movement of the Enlightenment. We are concerned about the current debates of post-modernism and multi-culturalism. We are troubled enough to question the techniques of church growth, spirituality and the effect of the Disney mentality, which , we find, makes the understanding of historic Christianity less plausible to and less understandable in modern society.

In the afternoons we work some to keep the place tidy. Once a week we travel to a location, where the effect of a world view on the social, cultural, economic life of people and society are examined and we are made to reflect on the need to understand Christianity as something more than personal peace, good feelings and a private religion.

Students study and sleep in an old wooden farm house, across the path from us. Much of the time during the day is spent in our home. Saturday is a day off for your own use. On Sunday we attend services of the International Presbyterian Church.

The cost for everything is 40 Swiss Francs per day/person or about US $ 28.- You should bring casual clothes and comfortable shoes. For people from Southern regions it can be quite cool and/or rainy at times, even during the summer. But the sun also shines to be out-of-doors often.

Of course you are not required to agree or to sign anything. The only request is that you are interested to discuss those urgent and central questions human beings have always grappled with through the ages out of a desire to consider the answers given in the Biblical perspective as the Truth to Man and real to the world we live in.

Spring is approaching fast and task are waiting to be done. Let me run then, but not without sending you each warm and personal greetings from

Udo Debby, Isaac

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