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The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

Long Letters


Udo and Debby Middelmann:

Dear Friends,

A whole season passed since I last wrote a letter to the larger group of our friends and family. Where has the time gone? Where has summer vanished? What have we done during all those weeks besides the regular chores we all do normally? How can I visit with you for the first time again since spring, since the letter in March, before summer came and has now gone? Here are the first weeks of autumn already!

The seasons have left marks in our surroundings. We have gone from seedlings in the garden to a full harvest. Work on the student house has progressed, though slowly. We have seen guests come to study from the US, from Germany, from Sweden, Canada and Latvia. They left again with wider knowledge, many questions largely answered and hopefully with a greater wonder, both intellectually and personally, about the God who made us, and whom we worship.

In the family Isaac went from sixth to seventh grade. He added Latin to German and French, while speaking English at home. He now takes the little electric cogwheel train to Bex early each morning and does not come home for lunch anymore. We have a third grandchild in Bienne and recently enjoyed three days with Phillip, the middle one, who, three years old, wanted to visit us alone for once.

But lets start at the beginning of the season. After my last letter to you I went to Kharkov, Ukraine's second largest city with a large industrial base. I taught in several universities, each time by personal invitation from professors and deans, who always show a great interest to have guests from the outside come and address their students. That can give you an unpredictable selection of subjects to address with less preparation time than you might wish. I never quite settle in my mind whether the interest is hearing someone in a foreign language, the subject itself or in making class more interesting through the change that a stranger always brings.

But I enjoy such situations. There is the novelty of the experience: a totally unknown audience, my being pout on the spot by a subject and title, and then sorting through in your own mind what you might want to present as a challenge, a new idea or concept in relationship to the truth in the real world.

I spoke to a hotel training class on hospitality, to an English class on whether Ukraine will ever become a part of Europe; I spoke to an economics class on the human factor in economic development and in three different lectures addressed law students on the "Foundations of a Civil Society", on "Limited Sovereignty in International Law" and then on "Property Rights and Communal Responsibilities". In addition I gave a short course during five days to a group of students that participate in a leadership-training program on A Christian World View and its call for responsibility, truth and justice.

You may well ask how I dare to do all that or where I find the material to present such talks. I also tremble in my boots at times, get nervous and feel everyone would be better off by my going home right then and there. But then there is a theme or a threat through all this. That threat is the glorious theme of the Bible, which relates to us the importance of being human, created and responsible to live alone and in society under God.

The focus is always on our understanding of what it is meant by being human. The materialist sees the human being as a means of production, a joint in the whole of humanity, a wheel to assist the movement of history. The spiritual or religious person seeks to suggest ways of avoiding involvement with the material world of creation. His occupation is an attempt to flee reality and to detach himself from the givens of the real world around us.

Only the Christian has the life of Man under God in mind. He is created to live, to work to create and to have dominion in other ways over the reality God made for his glory and pleasure. Whether then the issue be hospitality, economics, lawful society or international relations, at stake is always your understanding of what it means to be a human being.

Christians do not believe that the Bible only tells us about the way of salvation to heaven. God also speaks about creating us by his own choice to be human, i.e. to think, to work, to live and to fill out the dominion mandate which he has given to Adam and Eve. Our God created an unfinished universe. He left much to be done by creatures made in his image. He redeems us from sin and guilt and from death, because as human beings we are valuable to him. He does not squander his creation, his effort, and his careful craftsmanship. There is judgment in a moral universe. But there is also true faithfulness on God's part to initiate the information we need to live. "How should we then live?" is not only the warning in Ezekiel to a people who thinks they can get away with what they chose to do without God. It is also the repeated question of each person to which all religion, ideology, worldviews try to give an answer. For we are in a world that raises questions, to which, however, only the Bible gives sufficient answers. The God of the Bible does not abolish the questioner, the individual human being. It encourages him to seek and to find more. All other religions finally do away with either the person or the question. They ask for submission to a larger whole, to fate or to a god or gods. The Bible invites you to examine and to acknowledge the answers given in the prophets and in the person of Jesus, the Son of God.

In the end all subjects involving human beings must treat what it means to be human as a matter of justice, law, kindness. What are teaching, health care, social responsibilities, government, education and even hospitality but an expression of the love for neighbors, having their interests in mind, making their life safer, more pleasant and interesting. That requires service, generosity and other forms of comfort together with intellectual stimulation, knowledge of history and art, of culture and of law unless we talk also about rights and responsibilities.

This also says something about whether Ukraine may one day be a part of Europe. One needs to acknowledge that Europe is more a continent of ideas with a certain history than merely a geographic unit. It is a culture baked from a recipe found in the Bible, in which history, literature, markets, education and art challenged people for generations to create the setting that reflects more distinctly the Biblical understanding of the person. And also it results from manifold efforts to further Man as individual and in society, protected, engaged and challenged.

Again, how insufficient is the widely held explanation for economic development and wealth that leaves out the human factor of creativity, of protected enterprise under the rule of law, of the contributing factors of education and the practical consequences of applied science to facilitate life!

How sterile are hospitality or tourism concerns unless there is an interest to serve others with insight, history and art in a clean, safe and pleasant environment. Yet to serve others in such ways requires both a mentality of generous helpfulness and a respect for people as such. Both these mentalities have not been able to be fostered in w world where life was seen as combat, service as weakness and where all that was needed for man was already provided by the system.

Of course the task to address these and other subjects is made so much easier by the contrast between what is the local situation and what is the result of Christianity in other parts of the world. The immense human suffering, the evident hardships of life, the Darwinian attitudes of combat between people and the sense of hopelessness, backwardness are easily understood on the background of a materialist worldview. That view had robbed human beings of every reason for valuing the person. Without the God of the Bible there is no way one can arrive at a high view of Man. One has no basis to talk really about Meaning. And there is no foundation for Morals without an absolute Person, whose being is the Moral law of the universe.

Without God there is no Man, no Meaning and there is no basis for Morals in any definitive sense.

I was most impressed by the interest of many of the students. Sometimes that interest is in having contact with an English speaking person. Just as in my childhood after the war, English was the door to a free and open world outside the boundaries set by nationalist goals and measures. But the interest often also goes deeper, when students want to know what we believe and why, when they want to study the Bible together and when they gather to help each other on a human level. This is a rich alternative to the attempt to merely copy our lives on the basis of material acquisitiveness through rudeness, violence and greed.

Two of the students from Kharkov joined the Schaeffer Foundation seminar in Moscow in late August. 20 students gathered there from four cities to study together the basic teaching of the Bible. About half of them were believers, the rest had heard about the time offered. We spent ten days together with lectures, long meals, personal conversations and watching episodes of the How Should We Then Live film series. We visited the Dutch Masters exhibit of the Pushkin Museum to illustrate the understanding of the place of man in nature, the view of the right place of human life with all its joys and tragedies under God, which the 17th century Dutch paintings exhibit.

Both the film series and the exhibit were real eye openers for many. I was so glad for this, though at the same time so unhappy that the iron wall of political ideology had prevented even a basic knowledge of the world outside the socialist block. Fascinating was the students' reaction when seeing Lorenzetti's allegory of good and bad government painted on the wall over the beds of patients in the hospital in Sienna. Such effort, such beauty and such reality stand out against the always bleak, colorless and disinterested daily experience under socialist realism. Few are those who have been exposed to other art than religious iconography with its focus on heaven or socialist realist art with its focus on ideology. The sweetness of human reality is known at best only within the very closed doors of family. Daily life is too brutal, the prospects for the future are bleak, efforts to embellish anything is limited to the public arena.

In April Debby, Isaac and I spent much time packing and then moving Edith Schaeffer's things to Switzerland before her house sold in Rochester. That closes a long chapter of her life there since moving to Rochester with Dr. Schaeffer in the final months of his battle against cancer. Edith had a full work there, many friends and much deserved and appreciated attention. But with the macular degeneration of her eyes increasing she needs more help to orient herself, and it seemed wise and right to have her closer to members of the family. She lives in her flat in Vevey by the lake, waiting for an apartment to be made ready in the student house of the Schaeffer Foundation across the path from our house in Gryon. She can get around with a wheeled walker. She misses her house of course as well as her Chinese church, the concerts in St. Paul and the telephone calls from friends. It is quite unsettling to move so far. But we are able to help here in turn with Prisca and John and our various children and grandchildren nearby. She visits Susan and Ranald in England and has been with friends of ours in Vienna for a long weekend of music and discussions.

Once having started to sort, move and lift books, furniture and all the files of the Schaeffer library we continued that in late April, when the Foundation house in Briarcliff Manor was sold. To maintain an address in the US we now rent a flat in New York for the continuing work in the US. Most of our personal belongings went to Gryon, together with the library, to be house in the student chalet. We use the flat in New York's 92nd Street East to have discussions, to write in and to be the official address of the Foundation.

In Gryon we have been able to fix the old Chalet from 1682. We installed heat and in-door plumbing, rewired the place and did carpentry work where time had worn out old beams and boards. While it is not yet finished, we look forward to having more students there in much better conditions.

For this past summer we found other arrangements. We were also glad that fewer students applied to come, so that they were minimally disturbed by the work in progress. Naomi joined us again from Austin to help wonderfully for a stretch. Mike and Carolyn, Mary-Jane and Fiona visited us at different times. Anita from Latvia found much help in her studies on the tapes and in long conversations with us over meals. For one coming from thirty years of controlled education and anti-Christian teaching in Latvia her year at a legalistic and authoritarian Bible school in America was particularly painful. The Lord helped her see the power of his truth and the confidence we may have in his word to confirm to her many things she had sought in Scripture, but had not learnt in the American Christianity of her school. Melanie had her life changed in many areas when she discovered that God had redeemed us to be really human. Her music studies have meaning in themselves and not only as an accompaniment to evangelism. Kerstin and her friend from Luebeck in Germany were refreshed through their times with us, when they saw that God wants us to use our minds to understand him and the world he has made. Tim came through between a study period with missionaries to Muslims in Mauritania and before going on to Kazakhstan in Central Asia. It was important for him to discover that Christianity is not merely Islam with Jesus, but something very different. Allah is not in character or personality the same as Jehovah. The Father, with whom Jesus is one, is not Allah of the Koran.

Several times during the summer I preached in both the little English Church of Villars and the International Evangelical Church of Lausanne. While there is always a changing group in both churches due to the nature of an English-speaking congregation in a French speaking setting, the services are an encouragement to us. We take our students and Edith with us.

In August I also taught a group of about 45 French adults on Christianity and the Environment. They gathered for one week of working vacations in a Bible school above Vevey. Tourism is matched to study. I approached the subject as one that includes more than the biological environment. I touched on several areas of relationships to creation, to work, to society, to nature. A new book by Royal (Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, DC) was helpful in this by showing many disasters in nature without human causation throughout the existence of the Earth. Regrettably there is, once again, no mention of the broken creation as a result of the fall of man. Instead nature, including disasters, is portrayed as a mysterious work of God. Without the central Biblical proposition of a fall to explain the gap between a good creator / creation (Genesis 1) Royal is left to suggest that we have no idea why God made the world the way it now is, with death, tragedy and problems included. In other words Royal suggests that we need to approve of the way things are as part of a lasting challenge to our lives without moral evaluation. With that all moral direction in our efforts are removed as well. Why solve problems if they have been a part of God's creation to begin with?

You have heard such propositions before, even if perhaps in another context. It surfaces as well in the statements of those who suggest that the fall of man was part of the plan of God from the beginning. Common to both areas of interest is the view that history is God's action, that it goes God's way and that He is sovereign, using a tight and controlled meaning of the word.

In both cases one of the central affirmations of the Bible is left out. That takes away the answer the Christian and the Jew was able to give to those who accused God of a bad job, blaming him for the problems we now face. Instead the Bible had uniquely and simultaneously been able to affirm both the justice of God and the brokenness of the world, without establishing a link between the two insights. That is possible when we acknowledge that there is in fact a war in heavenly places with consequences in observable history. Without this both of these altered views leave us either with a denial of the real brokenness or with a denial of a good God to begin with.

For according to the Bible the moral link is not between God and creation now, but between Adam and Eve and the brokenness of reality they caused by their rebellion. With that view there is hope. For now God is innocent of evil and sovereign to correct the flaw. In addition the Christian is able to really weep with those who suffer sorrow, sickness and even death as a result of life in the fallen world. As much as the problem did not come from outside by the hand of God, so much will the salvation and justification and righteousness not come from man, but by the grace of God.

While following the campaign for the elections we discussed at times the influence of religion on the candidates, who both parade their faith as a again important to go deeper than the general reference to Jesus. For I believe more is at stake than "just believe" or "just Jesus". The Apostolic Confessions of the Church affirm the Trinitarian God of the Bible, not Jesus as a personal friend, favorite philosopher or a whisper in the ear in critical decisions.

Decisions that just flow from a person's answer to "WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?" should not simply impress us. The question gives the appearance of a pious interest. But in the absence of a verifiable answer we are no further along in the complicated business of our moral life.

Answers to that question would be wonderful in some of life's tough situations. To have the directions of the Lord of the universe would solve a lot of frustrations and prevent wrong choices. But do we even know enough to know what Jesus would do in every situation? And does it matter exclusively?

The first time I heard that we should in all situations consider what Jesus would do was back in days when I had just become a Christian in university. Jesus as Savior, Lord and model was to be the center of our lives. We struggled to understand the will of God in the moral decisions we faced in our lives and studies.

Indeed, Jesus as the express image of the Father (Hebrews 1), the word become flesh (John 1), God amongst us (Matthew 1), shows us what is right before God. Our sin needs forgiveness, our guilt needs propitiation, our attitudes a change of heart. We need a new life in which our heart of stone is made flesh, where the law of God is written on it. Our heart should be circumcised instead of our body.

Later I heard Toni Campolo use the phrase What Would Jesus Do? in connection with advocating pacifism during the Vietnam war. "When you fly a plane over North Vietnam," he suggested, "take Jesus in the second seat. Can you imagine that he would drop bombs on the Vietnamese in the jungle below?"

Now Al Gore has joined millions of people who say their decisions are governed by answers to that question. They often wear armbands that remind them to ask the question what Jesus would do in all kinds of situations. What came back in recent years from an effort to reduce teenage pregnancies and vandalism ("Would you do this if Jesus were with you on this date?") has been made a guarantee of wisdom and religious commitment.

Mr. Gore once addressed the National Prayer Breakfast and spoke of the privilege to address all those gathered in the spirit of Christ, whether they be Jews or Christians, Muslims or Mormons, Buddhists or Hindus or whatsoever their religious orientation was. It does not take much to ask which Jesus would do what after such words.

The problem is that we only know what Jesus would do from events where we have reports of what Jesus did. Beyond that we can only infer from the character of God, from admonitions in scripture, from clear instructions. These should be stressed, expounded and applied. But beyond that the use of the question is more an emotional tag than an insightful perspective.

We would do better to search the scriptures for understanding than for quotes of texts ‘received' and applied quite out of context. Our perception of what Jesus would do in many situations of life is more colored by our own philosophies of life than by Scriptural instruction. Just look at the life of the Corinthian church, saints of the Lord Jesus, and what they thought Jesus would do in the situations they faced or lived.

The problem is not so much that we should not ask that question, but that we select our answers according to our limited and often sinful perceptions. That is why the New Testament does not suggest we follow that route to spiritual and intellectual obedience. Our generation has chosen it, perhaps mostly as a substitute for careful study of the mind of God. Is it not more "personal" to find out from Jesus himself what he would want us to do?

From the first creation on Adam and Eve were given certain freedoms to make their own choices. God would not tell them what he would do. He did not define their relationship, but gave them a mandate to rule, to work, to name and to arrange much in their sphere of life as those made in the image of God. They were not told what God would do, but rather given the task to choose what is wise, true and right on the basis of what they knew and wanted to do.

We should behave on a date in a way commensurate with what God tells us about men and women, about sexuality and respect. We should love God ("what would Jesus do") and our neighbor as ourselves. We do not find out about that by having Jesus along in our imagination as a chaperone. In fact, if God was not sufficient to satisfy Adam's needs before the Fall, how could he instruct him about the relationship Adam was given freedom to create personally with Eve?

Tony Campolo used that phrase to have you side with his Mennonite pacifism, regardless of the circumstances in which you might well be called on to use the 20th century sword of good government against evil (Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:12ff). For to these we are to be subject and serve them. But the Jesus in Tony's jet becomes an emotional weight, not a word of wisdom and justice. He makes you consider feelings when you should consider justice.

And that is also the case for many who carry the little armband. Their reasoning is not from the larger picture of Scripture applied to the concrete situation, but from the little they know about Jesus in their heart. Yet God requires more from us than that. To know the mind of Christ requires us to study his word with care and passion. Without such a broader perspective people have taken Jesus' celibacy, his teaching about hating father and mother for the sake of the kingdom or his suggesting to pluck out the eye if it prevents you from entering the kingdom as indication of what he would say or do in their specific situations. They have made a new law out of the command to turn the other cheek. They have given away anything anyone asks of them, even a bottle to the alcoholic. They have gone to death without complaint, because their Lord did not call on his legions of angels to resist the Roman soldiers.

They thought that Jesus was telling them what to do, but then acted contrary to the whole counsel of God. They did not understand that Jesus came to die, but we were born to live.

Knowing the mind of Christ requires more than knowing quotes from Jesus, even in the places where we have quotes. God promises wisdom for the asking, not quotes, rules and regulations. It is not so easy to know what Jesus would say or do in many life situations of torn obligations, limited resources and personal limitations.

Perhaps then the phrase is merely a way to get boys and girls not to sleep together before marriage. Love and respect and honesty require more than that. For Mr. Gore it is perhaps only a phrase to sound pious, whatever religious expectations his various audiences present. Almost all communities can accept an appeal to Jesus easily. To them all he is so kind and sweet. Buddhists hold him to be the Christians' Buddha Finally who can fault someone whose desire is to know what Jesus would tell them to do? But then: "What Jesus?" and "How do you know that Jesus tells you this?"

Should we not rather seek to understand what it is to be a man and a woman, what a relationship between them is, what sexuality creates and how words construct or deceive such relationships? Should Mr. Gore (and Mr. Bush with Jesus as his favorite philosopher) not have to explain what difference that makes in matters of state and politics, in reasoning, education, culture, law and society? Then, and only then, could we participate in their claim that Jesus is their Lord and check it out to see whether they talk about the Jesus of history and the Bible or a Jesus of poll and market-driven religion. The former is the Lord, the latter is more the celebrity model in a religious community.

I end of this letter after just having returned from a very busy and most interesting speaking trip through various states. I met some of you with much pleasure for me. You had received the schedule from the MacLaurin Institute. Here is a listing of places for your interest and for prayer. For it is somewhat frustrating to have so little time in each setting and to be unable to see a continuity in the minds of listeners among the students and professors as well in some churches. For me it is always a learning experience and a time to be challenged in my perceptions

The MacLaurin Institute at the University of Minnesota had kindly made the arrangements for the meetings across the country. I started with two discussions groups in the apartment in New York. In Dallas I spoke at Criswell College and to friends of John and Ellen Rain, who both studied with us many years ago here in Switzerland. Another night I addressed about 75 foreign students about Christianity and its cultural consequences in contrast to other world views and their effects in the lives of people, men and women, economics, etc. In Austin I gave a talk at the university Philosophy Colloquium under the sponsorship of Prof. Rob Koons. I also addressed a group of invited guests at the home of the Mettes family, in which we have had good relations and friendship with both parents and now their children. In San Antonio a small, but very interested group gathered in spite of a tornado threat that had some people afraid and cancel their coming. In Atlanta a former student had invited a number of friends for an evening lecture and discussion. I spent 24 hours in Chattanooga, first preaching in St. Elmo's church on Sunday evening and then speaking for a whole day at Covenant College in two classes and the chapel service. I returned to Atlanta for an evening with two couples, who represent the next generation for us. Their parents had crossed our lives many years ago. It was a pleasure to be with them and to discuss and pass on important insights on issues of our day.

I flew to Philadelphia, spoke at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, then an evening in the city itself with Ken and Donna Rudi, who will return to Cambodia next year as English teachers. Next came St. Louis, where I met with students and Professor Hans Bayer at Covenant Theological Seminary, my alma mater in 1967. They have a great interest in Russia. Some of them had been to Russia in church work. I also gave a public lecture entitled "Reflections on Russian Culture." In Cleveland Board members Bob and Marilynn Baldwin had organized two full evening meetings with their friends and some former students of ours. I also taught their Sunday School class for adults on the Ten Commandments. On Monday they took me to Ashland Seminary for a lecture in chapel.

Next I flew to Trinity Seminary outside Chicago, where I was able to speak three times to college and graduate students, before dashing to my sister's side in Munich for the funeral of her husband. What had been supposed to be four days of relative rest in Minneapolis became a quick trip to help Astrid. She had asked me to take charge of and to speak at the funeral. Jean-Jacques had left the Roman church, in which he had been ordained as priest, in protest when his piercing questions could not be answered. He searched all his life with integrity and intensity.

I returned directly to Los Angeles. Two lectures had been scheduled at Talbot Seminary and Biola University as well as an evening with about 50 Christians involved in what they call the out there the "entertainment industry." I was a bit surprised that what I talked about was so encouraging to them, who all along are more geared to entertain than to reflect on what is true, good and just. But the Lord has sheep in many places. Perhaps I also did not say enough what should be said at times. I am not sure myself, since entertainment to me always has an element of distraction from reality. In hindsight I wished I had said more about the need to have art reflect reality rather than a dream. But that may have to wait for another time with them.

I plan to write up some of the lectures and print them in the next Footnotes. During the whole time I followed the election in the US. I saw that the real humiliation is not the election process, but the failure of the education system to teach people to read the ballots, to distinguish between late intentions and prior actions, and to invest enough in the public interest to have machines that know how to count well when it is required.

Please pray with us for the many who heard the lectures and sermons during this trip. In addition I had numerous personal discussions with people who wanted advice in their lives and work. It was a tiring, but delightful time for me as well. It continues to be encouraging in many ways to be able to show how Scripture gives such reasonable and fitting answers to most of the central questions, way beyond and above the often programmatic, denominationally specific and moralistic ones offered on the church market.

In the Lord's timing another trip is being planned for spring. I shall be in Minneapolis in early March, then in Tacoma for the second weekend. I shall speak at Wheaton College on the 26th and return home right after that.

Pray also for the next seminar of the Foundation in Russia at some time in the spring of 2001, DV.

Pray with us for the work here in the village, as the church has been reorganized into a strange system without parish clergy. Debby has been asked to continue her teaching the teenagers.

Pray with us for the Christmas service in Champery, which we have continued through the years as a service to tourists, but also as a reminder to the villagers of the Good News from a gracious God, where they are mostly afraid of the Lord.

Pray with us also for the courses I will teach on Postmodernism and another in Apologetics in Geneva during the spring term.

Pray with us for the use of How Should We Then Live in French, which just came out with a connecting chapter by me to bring it into the present moment of history.

Let me close with many thanks for your wonderful friendship and real interest in our work, lives, family and other goings-on. As we approach Christmas we are reminded that the foundation of all lies in the fact that God made us in his image as people. Here is the meaning of life, the purpose of our creation to be human beings. For the lamb of God who came in the flesh, born in the stable of Bethlehem, shows us the existence, character and reality of the living God. And he gave his life a ransom for our redemption. Having believed God, we now have peace through Christ and access to the Father.

Gloria in excelsis Deum.

Udo Deborah Isaac

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