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The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

Long Letters


Udo and Debby Middelmann:

Dear Friends,

Weeks and months of silence on our part do not suggest that we did not, on many occasions, wish to be in touch with each of you. The two issues of Footnotes since last fall will have told you we are still alive, working and engaging in all kinds of interesting pursuits. Yet the more personal letter with news and ideas had to wait, when all the things that interrupt repeatedly what one has planned in a far neater outline of days, get squeezed by time. Reality serves up a far messier meal than what one hopes for when ordering.

Presently we have a few students with us again for intensive discussions, long meals and each with a schedule of study. We also take short trips for a day to investigate the effects of various worldviews on life, culture and just the simple facts of reality: How do people live, why are their houses so close together and what does that require in terms of respect, politeness, hygiene and a commitment to others are questions we address. For belief always has practical consequences, and belief relates to how the real world is understood and handled.

A unique aspect of Christianity is that it deals with the real world, not with its denial. We are called to action in obedience to the laws of God about reality, which are beneficial to Man and create life against death, work against subsistence and ethics against mere power or chance. Ours personal convictions should always have public expressions. Our personal relationship to God is individual, but not individualistic.

When Gena and Danil were here from Russia they were so pleased, delighted even, to be able to touch Roman columns, sit on Roman theater benches, look at remnants of roads and houses and admire the careful perspective, love for detail, subtle indications about life in mosaics, pots and pans and personal jewelry, jars for ointments, sewers and heating systems and other such intimate remains from a high culture.

But we also brought all this into relations to our modern situation. What does it require of people to be a community rather than merely to talk about it, desire it and complain when it does not exist in our mobile world? For the Russians it was especially essential to discuss the role of individual responsibility over against their customary assumption that it is all a matter of state organization, programs and training. Gena, the history professor from Samara, took in many such discussions to even begin to see that there is no method, no quick solution, nothing that goes around the central affirmation of the Bible that we are persons, not things, animals or machines. There is no way to merely replace one element in by another, as one can in a machine, and change the behavior or functions of people.

The materialist view, so effectively applied in engineering, was very present in his thinking about human beings and culture almost until he left, when he began to see something more in the Christianity he heard and saw. Social change requires a change in context, but that usually follows a change of heart, belief and commitment. No amount of economic benefits will turn people into thoughtful and good people. No amount of opportunity, so precious to people in a free society, will indicate or encourage making good use of opportunities. Just as likely are selfish, evil and irrational uses. Opportunities, freedom and daily bread surely help, and their absence makes it that much more difficult for people to be good. But essentially at the beginning is a choice, a choice to be honest, to work, to demand the rule of law, to be faithful and to be kind.

An American couple from Georgia had sponsored Gena for the month with us. They give their time and lives to teach Russians the basics in human realities, in business, in relationships, in accountability and such. These are all things in short supply as concepts and realities after years of teaching that all of life is only a battle, where the forceful, the clever, the powerful win according to the Darwinian model. Hegel had taught that history advances through opposites in conflict. Marx had applied that to historic struggles between classes. Freud saw the same thing in nature, especially in the relationship between men and women, and Darwin gave us the idea that all nature is a process of natural selection through the battle for the survival of the fittest. You notice that all these are images of conflict, which result in fear, threats and life and death as the only options. There is no room for any bridge through love, compassion and generosity as means to dampen the rough blows of nature or to restrain the lust for power in Man through law, social cohesion and basic rights of individuals. The absence of these notions, directly the result of Biblical teaching and an awakened conscience, is more likely to produce the extremes of either resignation or aggression, of slaves and exploitive masters.

Repeatedly in our discussions we needed to explain that the West has no imperial aspirations and that no country in the West wants to conquer Russia now. Our European experience with American power has been mostly positive as a force against evil, not against good. Once a nation is freed from its own tyrannies America always wants to disengage itself. I tried to show that it is easier and far less costly to buy Russian raw materials than to oppress a whole country to get to oil and minerals. It is far more advantageous for Russians to trade with money they earn on the market with their natural resources than with actual material barrels of oil, since money is a far easier commodity to exchange against whatever you want to buy than a sack of coal, a barrel of oil or a container of steel. But in some parallel to earlier European attitudes that a barrel of oil in the living room is better than a piece of paper offering you the equivalence in goods, services or just cash, the material stuff is more real. And who is to blame them, frankly, if their money is of questionable worth because of devaluations, if their banks are untrustworthy because of corruption, and if there are no records of promises to present in courts that do not yet exist even. It is all-together a very complicated situation.

Gena and Danil will never be the same again. Danil is a Christian, who understood and agreed with much of this, but was also surprised that a ‘neighbor' can still hold such views. Gena is serious about his search, and for the first time saw that Christianity talks and informs about reality, not myth; about people, not just souls; about the real world, not a world of spiritual dreams or simplistic faith. He was such a pleasure to have around, as he was widely read in all kinds of areas, from his own field of history to science, from art to economics, from film to fiction, from Kierkegaard to Sartre. Thanks to the gift of a scholarship he was able to be here and be exposed to what we tried to present as an intelligent faith on good and sufficient reasons. He had never heard such, nor assumed that it might exist anywhere in the world.

As for us, we were blessed and only wish that more like him could come for a time to study with us here. We would value your prayer for that and any support you might be able to bring.

We have Holly here now, a delightful person in the midst of college, where she will add criminology to her training in psychology. Christine and Laurel stayed a few days, as did Christoph, a German orthopedic surgeon between two different assignments. Johanna joined us for a week between work and university. She is also very involved in her Christian Democratic Party youth group in Sweden. Mitch and Jennifer came for two weeks and left, as they said, refreshed in their efforts, which have exhausted them in part because of the work they do in Russia, and in part because of the little encouragement they have often received from friends and fellow workers. We found them a great pleasure and encouragement to us, as we shared ideas and concerns and similar viewpoints and lamented the superficiality about so much church effort that seems to go in the direction of entertainment rather than a serious, engaging and somewhat provocative declaration of the Gospel.

I worked a few days, with interruptions, to finish a paper I was invited to read in August at the Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians meeting in Germany on "Has the Constantine era – the Christian west – come to an end in Europe?" I also submitted a paper on the exceptionalism of Francis Schaeffer to a Southern Baptist scholarly magazine, explaining some of the areas in which he was unusual in his work, views and life. Greg Grooms, formerly with us in L'Abri as well, also wrote a paper for this journal. In addition I taught a short session in apologetics in French in a Bible school above Vevey, quite near us and a longer session in Geneva on "Postmodernism" for young pastors after they have been working for some years in local churches. They exposure to postmodern thought and ideas in the congregation made the subject important and relevant.

In March I spoke for three days in churches and a large youth gathering in Vienna, Austria. I was on my way to Slovakia, where Marsch Moyle of SEN had asked me to lead a session with Eastern European students on "The Foundation for European Thought". This is an important subject, for European thought is increasingly seen as a problem rather than a benefit. Students from Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine and Poland attended the lectures, discussions and workshops. I took Paul's letter to the Thessalonians as a starter. During the two weeks in town he had changed the Greek world of thought into a more Biblical one. That was the beginning of European thought influenced by Christianity. That change would repeat itself again and again, whether under the apostles in Rome and Corinth, under Irenaus in Lyon, France or under Irish monks in central Europe. But foundational is a different view of God, life, history and purpose together with personal responsibility for an ethic that stresses the human being, faithfulness, courage and effort to resist evil. Its central emphasis is differentiation rather than harmonious acceptance as it calls for distinctions between was is good and what is merely done. You may want to read 1st Thessalonians in that light and will discover a totally different approach to life than what was normal in Greece of old, in pagan Europe and in much of the world today. You will also see how much the diminishing understanding of Christianity in our own day washes away that foundation in our life.

When I suggest a diminishing appreciation I refer to what is a sad observation in our Christian landscape. There is one church for every 865 American citizens, the same ratio as medical doctors per inhabitants in Switzerland. Some 100 million Christians attend Bible studies regularly each week. Often the focus is more personal and private than intellectual and public. Saving souls and oneself has become the chief concern rather than saving living people and learning how to live. That view of Christianity is closer in the core of Greek mystery religions than to the Jewish affirmation that we are meant to be people in the real world. Here on earth Christ will reign, not only in heaven! This does not call for the establishment of a Christian state, but for Christians to make moral decisions in whatever state they are in. The Gospel in the Old and New Testaments is that we know how to live in a created world according to the creator's instruction. He grants forgiveness, grace and strength in our weakness. There will eventually be justice. Things will be set right. Sin and the results of sin will be abolished, swallowed up: including death itself!

That means that things are not already good now, when they are just normal; yet salvation is too often understood as an affirmation of people and their soul, while they continue to live in their ‘normality', i.e. when they act and live much like everybody else. It is embarrassing when we Christians embrace without much reflection certain positions and practices that are common around us without the respect for and fear of judgment. Scandals, dishonesty, exploitation of others and irrational views are too easily excused, if they are admitted at all. Yet the concern about what is right is diminished when the central concern of Christians is to save their souls. Separate from a Biblical view of life the salvation of the soul repeats the Platonic or Gnostic error of liberating the soul from the body, the spirit from matter, the person from life in continuous and unending, i.e. eternal, history. Francis Schaeffer frequently said, "Man needs to bow twice before God". He has to bow once to acknowledge true moral guilt. He has to bow a second time to change his thinking and acting. We are moral as well as intellectual sinners. When the soul is saved and the mind is still unreformed we have not understood the gospel.

After staying at home to care for Debby and Isaac during the recovery from surgery I spent almost all of April in the US for lectures in several places. From New York I first went to Atlanta for a weekend of teaching in Conyers and preaching in Canton. For two days I was with Bob and Marilynn Baldwin in Solon and their invited friends. Two days in Wheaton gave me time to catch up with Marvin Padgett and others at Crossway Publishers, who brought out so many of Schaeffer's books and reprint others with additional chapters. Death in the City is available in a new and beautiful edition. For a long weekend I flew to Colorado Springs. I gave an address to the Christian faculty at the Air Force Academy and several lectures, studies and a sermon at Forestgate Presbyterian Church. Our former student Jim Urish pastors there. Art and Marilyn Johnson welcomed me among their collection of (silent) dolls for many good conversations that I always find rich in content and insight. Next stop was Austin, where Greg Grooms had invited students and church people to an evening to discuss the background for the problems in Near East between Palestinians and Israel. It brought a large crowd to the church, a long discussion followed. I was pleased that folks in Texas are so interested, or perhaps puzzled, by things so far outside of their country and beyond their normal horizon. In Washington Ann and Rusty Ingraham kindly arranged for dinners and discussions in their home and other meetings with people I wanted to see and talk with. And finally in New York a good group of people turned out for one of our discussion evenings, including four wonderful believers originally from China.

Such speaking trips bring me much intellectual and spiritual stimulation. They bring up issues to study and discuss. They give me exposure to people interested in what I have worked on and discovered. They seem to like the setting, the approach, and more often than not also what they learn. I am prepared to do this about twice a year and welcome your possible interest.

No week passes without our s On the home front Debby had her hip replacement operation last November. She recovered well and quickly, throwing away her crutches (not literally yet; they may come in handy again for someone else later) at Christmas and then drove again since January. She also started her catechism classes in the village, where she instructs with discussion all the 4th and 5th graders in preparation for the life they will face. That life has not only all the normal parts of adolescence, but also will take place in a world in which most parents do not believe the Bible to be true, God to be real and Christianity to be reasonable and true to the real world. They grow into a world of divorce, death, drugs and alcohol and teaching about life under the direction a church with views in stark contrast to the Biblical wisdom and insight. They should be well prepared, as Debby not only talks about the Bible and makes them read passages, but she also warns them of the things to come. Their need to investigate, to think for themselves, to not follow peer pressure or to assume that the church always teaches the same thing is also part of the instruction. They read articles about drug smugglers, about anorexia among school children and models, about abortion and the hate expressed when the correspondent David Pearl was beheaded in Pakistan three months ago. They saw the picture of Pearl's baby boy Adam after his birth, with the hope expressed by his mother that he would be part of a more peaceful generation.

You can see how this "Sunday" school is somewhat different. It brings the children into the real world, against which Christianity shines and stands as true with an understanding of the real world, with fitting answers instead of embellishments. A broader understanding of both the cruelty of man and his glory is given, which in turn is exactly what the Bible talks about. The children learn to be realistic and not naïve, to think for themselves, to not simply believe what people tell them. They learn that trust is not a virtue unless it is towards a virtuous person, quid est demonstrandum! They understand something more about the passion and compassion of our Lord, of the way of salvation as part of the promises of God not to abandon us, but to repair a sinful world into the future. Yet she exerts no pressure, and the children love it all. They come without reminder, participate seriously and cause no disciplinary problems ever. Children love to learn, when they are being taken seriously and when subjects are discussed that relate their real life to real answers.

Debby has also taught a few hours each week in an Anglo-American Boarding School in Villars, where she has had much input into the lives, thought and education of the children. They discuss much, learn a lot and begin to understand that in a fallen world we need above all things learn to diminish the pain, to resist evil and to help one another on bad days to cope better in the effort to learn, to discover what is true in geography and science, in language and ideas, in human relationships and in the created world.

Please pray with us in the midst of all these activities, but more in the midst of all these precious and singular people. It is at times exhausting, lonely and too much, but the rewards are then also much more wonderful.

Not a week passes without our peaking with people here and at every occasion about their reaction to the new world after September 11. The press is largely united in an effort to find some justification for the attacks in America's standing in the public eye. It comes from an effort to find a solution, when there is little room for admitting that people can also do evil for the sheer calculation and power of it. We have become so accustomed to expect rational explanations. People want to see one here as well. The irrational act, the deliberate and suicidal choice by people to destroy others or what they have is much less easily admitted.

Ignorance of America, envy over her power and comfortable lightness also play a large part. You can add to that also the feeling of the weak underdog. Then we might understand, yet not agree, why many side with Palestinians against Israel. There is not much reasoning behind this, but a flood of emotions and frustrations. It is assumed, and here lies a fundamental contradiction, that a powerful nation, whether America or Israel, should be able to impose a solution or to dismantle the objections, which provoke such evil reaction. But just as the generous uncle rarely satisfies the greed of the nephew, but rather increases it, so also can it be observed that no matter what America does, the objections stand to American action and inaction alike. Nothing can really be done to appease, for nothing is all that rational to begin with. Rage is much more the problem of the actor than the victim. There is nothing one can do against the envy of another. W. Gaylin writes well about this in "Anger, The Rage Within".

Two encouragements came our way during the weeks since last year. One is editor of the magazine for the COOP chain of stores, originally an enterprise associated with the labor movement on the left. Repeatedly he has pointed out that the West as a whole faces a host of evil, which nothing will be able to satisfy, since it is not based on reason or numbers, but on envy, frustration and anger. There is a rage here, which nothing will satisfy, for it is self-generated. It is a movement of hate and suicide, not of justice and life. It seeks to remove all Western influence from Islamic countries and, lacking a convincing content or strategy itself, knows no other way than to destroy first the West and then itself.

He also encourages the West to stand against every semblance of evil at all times. He cites the example of a little Swiss man who wrote, worked and sacrificed so that hundreds of Jewish refugees found a welcome in Switzerland during the Hitler years, while the government kept waiting for the flood to stop. Evil needs to be fought in whatever increments it occurs. Waiting until evil is big enough to provoke concerted action usually allows evil to grow to enormous proportions. The wise will resist any evil, even if he alone sees it!

In another piece he sadly remembered the death of Bugs Bunny's creator. He brought this up in the context of people being afraid of America's power and influence around the world. Here he suggested that a country that can listen to Bugs Bunny, that abolished slavery, that created expanding women's rights, access to universities and jobs to minorities, a country that is so multi-faceted and critical in public of much of what is presented, decided and done, is not a country that will likely fall into the hands of one man, one dictator, or gather around one simple viewpoint to misuse America's power. Any country with less of a public debate, with fewer democratic and critical practices is far more likely to hide evil under publicly approved steps and actions.

The second encouragement came from a Frenchman the other evening. He spoke so warmly and with passion about his eternal thankfulness for the liberation from Nazism, which America spearheaded in WW2. Europe would not be as lively, as free and as well off without the Allied courage to fight an atrocious evil with blood, resources and determination. That generation is very cognizant of its debt. But also among the younger ones there is much admiration, often against the images of America found in the press. One journalist from a large daily came to one of our daughters and said that while it might be somewhat rare these days he deeply admired the US. Similar comments came from a local butcher, son of a teacher in the local school.

At times I am confronted with the fear of rising American nationalism, suggested by a rally around the flag since last year, quasi "über alles". Nationalism has a bad record after the last two hundred years. The merger into one Europe, the attachment of Germany to France and Britain and similar efforts are a reaction to what nationalism had done to Europe. Nationalism, very strong in Russia still, in China and in many countries, is a way to give an identity, a sense of superior purpose, a way to distinguish one ‘calling' from another. It had replaced an earlier universal missionary effort to Christianize the world. Napoleon, Stalin and Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot, the glory of France and the rule of Britannia all have such national rather than international cores.

Nationalism allows a people to assume a special blessing, with a particular purpose, a national goal or mandate. Does America have this? Schegel and Herder suggested in the 19th century that each nation had a particular place under God. The Orthodox Church still believes that for Russia. Nationalism has always been tied to land, blood, language. It is a profoundly pagan idea, relating value to ‘pagus'(lat. for ‘region') and linking god with the soil, the rivers and the mountains.

Yet this understanding also shows how difficult it would be to find real American nationalism. For the American nation is not built on land, blood or language. There are too many people from different lands, races and languages in the nation. It is the one country that is not a blood nation, but an agreed association around a set of ideas of personal independence, freedom, debate and even discord. In history it has offered the benefits of this to other people. Inferior things and ideas, immoral practices and a desire to ‘franchise' the common things of America around the world is part of that historic and optimistic generosity, which on the side of human rights, personal development, entrepreneurial courage has given so much light to people used to their tribal darkness. It is up to each person in every generation to sift the good from the mediocre or even destructive. No human society is free from that burden. No individual can finally blame another for his own choice to eat at a fast food joint when he has the choice to taste the offerings of a local bistro.

For freedom includes both the benefit of choice and the obligation of moral, esthetic and economic selection. But most people like to go an easier route by blaming others for their own failures and then being filled with envy and resentment. Pity when that is also found amongst us Christians.

The months ahead will keep us busy with lectures in a variety of places. I will teach in a seminary in Armenia, the Bible school in Geneva and for a worldview seminar here in Switzerland. In October we will be in the US for lectures and a wedding. Debby will stay here much of the time to accompany Isaac through 9th grade and to teach French in an Anglo-American Boarding school nearby.

Thank you for your patient reading and your interest in our lives, the work of the Schaeffer Foundation and the people we reach. Beyond that we value your prayer, your friendship and gifts, and your faithfulness to the Lord in the days ahead.

With warm and personal greetings,

Udo, Deborah, Isaac

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