The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation
Udo and Debby Middelmann:
It is a beautiful morning today. Bright sun brings out the contrasting colors of a patchwork of snow and winter grass in forest and on fields, on the roofs just around us and on the narrow roads that follow ancient paths. Big slabs of snow have started to flow over the edge of the gutters, bending under its weight in a smooth curve without breaking off in pieces. The underside of ice, like glue, keeps it all together.
I had not skied this winter on any day until this past week when two of our grandchildren Alexandre (9) and Benjamin (almost 4) came to explore our slopes. I took time on four days to be with them during their school break. That was a lot of fun, but wore me out a bit. Otherwise there has been no time and no pleasure to ski with our continuing medical uncertainties and related concerns. Thank you all for your continuing prayer. Still, we seem to be getting somewhere after 15 months. Yet with each answer new questions arise, with every greater insight new worries come up about the longer run of things. It has been 15 months since it started and there is no end in sight yet.
All this has occupied much of time and sapped our strength and time and concentration. I won't burden you with more details, but did want to say how thankful we are for the friendship and support of so many of you. Especially at the end of last year the many greetings and letters for Christmas were very much enjoyed and appreciated. The supportive response to our offer of a copy of my book "The Market-Driven Church" enabled us to close the year with all expenses covered.
The Summer Study Session with us in Gryon will take place between June 11 and 25, 2004 and from July 12 until mid-August
Please write to inquire about the program, about availability of space and how to find us. It is always a time of good discussions, visits to historic sites and interesting studies away from interruptions and in a beautiful Alpine setting. While this will relax you physically, the intellectual stimulation will encourage Now to bring you up to date in matters more interesting in our "other" life we readily share with you in these letters through the years
Since I last wrote in September 2003 we took the week Deborah was on holidays to visit Greece. We flew to Athens and walked through old quarters on the heels of St. Paul. We then drove to what has been excavated of Old Corinth before continuing to Mycenae and its massive hillside remains of town and royal graves. Gigantic fortifications constructed with enormous stones remind you of the pyramids. The Egyptian influence on early Greek lands was very evident and admirable. Six days we spent on the Southern, very unspoiled island of Kithara. A charming little hotel run by French hosts welcomed us. From here we explored old roads, small sleepy hamlets and old walls that remain from earlier denser settlements. Small churches in various states of repair dot the landscape and remind you of a larger population in the past. Interesting was also the British influence through the 19th century that brought schools and a hospital to the island. In the 20th century thousands of its people emigrated, many to Australia, when olive groves and sheep could no longer sustain such a large population.
We were most delighted to find in one church a fresco from the 12th century showing Christ "on the third day descending into hell" to tell Adam and Eve that his work for their salvation had been accomplished. I had always imagined that scene somewhat like this for them and all the other Old Testament believers in the coming Messiah. For Moses and Elijah also talk to Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration about "his coming departure" (Luke 9:31).
That scene sheds light on the reality of history for God as well. He is not ‘outside of time' or without a realization of historic sequence. The infinite God of the Bible knows all things from eternity, but he does not experience all things in some "eternal now." That is a Greek notion, not a Biblical one, which has, however, crept into much Christian apologetics and preaching. For to God also the work of Christ is not finished until it was finished on the Cross. And therefore it is not surprising that Moses and Elijah talk to Christ about his departure. They believed him to go through with his work "to do the will of the Father." Yet that was not done until he did die for our sins and redemption was accomplished.
Only then could deliverance be announced to Old Testament believers, starting with Adam and Eve, who had all waited in "sheol" or hell, the place of waiting…for the finished work of Christ.
What I have just called a "Greek notion" seems to make God bigger. All events are forever in his presence. We easily associate this with his infinity and perfection, which require that nothing new ever happens. But it also makes all of history and events a piece of theater rather than the battle the Bible talks about. All events now follow a script already edited in heaven and now imposed on events on earth. One would be forced to say that all events are determined ahead of time, which implies that nothing ever happens out of line. That view of God, man and history leads to a kind of fatalism in which there is then no room for miracles, for prayer and for acts of God.
In fact, if the idea of God being in an "eternal now" seems to bow to concepts of infinity and perfection, it also kills any understanding of his true personality with moral/personal and distinct responses to each moment. Yet the Bible speaks of God in a way that Francis Schaeffer's use of the terms "infinite-personal" and "personal-infinite" does much greater justice to him and us. It is only in the balance of these words that we recognize the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is not the infinite suggested in Plato, Buddha and Islam. In his definite and revealed attributes of personality he is unlimited and unchanging. In God's eternal being and power he is our sovereign Lord and gracious father who pleads with us and acts to stem the tide of evil. I am presently finishing a manuscript on this weighty and important subject. It seems to be that a Greek notion of God has crept into much of the church's teaching and has turned our faith into something resembling more Islamic fatalism or secular talk of one's personal destiny than the light of historic Christianity. Both support a spiritual personal arrogance in which whatever a person finds himself doing is seen as justified or even mandated.
Fatalism generally leads to people lying low and letting things pass over, through and with them. But it also leads to the supposition that I am in the center of my fate, the will of God, experiencing my destiny and therefore nothing else can object to what I "feel" I should do. Both forms of fatalism are lethal. The former kills only myself through neglect and submission. The latter gives rise to selfish individualism and Islamic nationalism. It eventually kills the marriage, the employees, the company and those designated as "the infidels."
In late November and early December I lectured to students from Russia, Ukraine and Slovakia in Bratislava on subjects of culture, law and society. This is all part of evangelism, as both personal and cultural impediments need to be removed before a person can give Christianity even an honest hearing. There are complications we may put into someone's way. That must be avoided. No unnecessary idea or interesting story should detract from making the Bible understood.
But a history of materialism, collectivism and anticlericalism has branded most people with the mark of the diabolic dialectic of Marxism in their understanding of life, culture and personality. There is a lot of rubbish that needs to be cleared out of the way before the valuable antique can come to light and be admired again. It is a matter of shifting worldviews, not for the sake of personal preference, but for the sake of honesty, life and purpose. But ‘worldview' not as a set of statements or a confessed belief, rather as a way of seeing the reality of creation, life and people under God.
We had very interesting discussions. Students explored the Biblical propositions and accounts, picking out jewels with the help of inquisitive questions.
Perhaps the most difficult things to grasp are all related to each other. They are 1) God in heaven really being there and not as a projection of human longing. Scientific materialism deals in theory only with matter. There is no creator and no time of creation. Matter or energy is eternally changing, but also all there is.
2). The human being needs to be recognized as body and soul and mind, which opens up the whole realization of personal responsibility to know, to believe and to create through work and in art, in relationships and in public civic life.
3) The Bible as true not only to God and the believer, but to reality itself, including history, the logical mind and personal decisions. Here are the letters from God, whose garden we no longer inhabit.
4) The Fall of Adam and Eve is the only satisfactory explanation for things now not being right, but also at the same time affirms a moral and creative human existence in place of an evolutionary framework for all of life. Only a historic break with a good past by the choice of someone can justify any talk or complaint about moral evil and, in response to it, make moral accusations on the basis of guilt, and law to fix it. Without a personal act we only have a constant variation of what was there from the beginning in the form of a-moral stuff, on which social manipulators impose their own relative vision.
5) The work of Christ for dealing with the legal and physical problem is hard to understand in the absence of a realized true moral guilt that changes the course of history and the shape of the world around us. Where forgiveness is only an act of kindness and forgetting the price paid by Christ's sacrifice loses its meaning and content. Yet there is no entry into God's kingdom without real repentance, which must then express itself in confident moral choices. The result is a life of peace with God and hope for the reign of Christ on earth, which places enormous value then on individual life, actions and outlook.
Connected with that understanding we discussed at length the personal problems of living moral and honest lives in a society increasingly more immoral in both the personal and the public realms. Honesty, as a choice rather than as submission to a code, finds little support any more in East and West. It becomes increasingly a personal responsibility over against accepted standards, for the common norms derived from Christianity have been replaced by norms common to most people.
"Normal" no longer means "according to the norms." Instead what has become normal is drawn from statistical considerations outside the realm of morality and truth. The common can only be good when it is a moral choice and not just a widely maintained practice.
This is hard to live differently in corrupt societies. Moral behavior by an individual without social support is an uphill struggle. It requires real commitment to truth even when it appears to be old-fashioned, irresponsible and economically unviable. Only the ‘fool' is honest in our world directed much more by a Darwinian mindset than a godly one. Nature and what comes naturally is more readily chosen as guide than what is wise, true and good. Yet in a fallen nature she does not always demonstrate support for life, truth and kindness.
When we judge things on the basis of feeling, or of what everyone does, or how I can be true to myself and serve ‘my rights' I turn in fact to what is natural and abandon the long struggle to produce a moral culture.
We are familiar with that outside of Christianity when older pagan habits surface again in pursuit of power, sex and selfish freedom. But we also find little in much of contemporary Christianity with its focus away from scripture's instruction, from reasonable truth and from wisdom. A concern about my personal relationship with Jesus does little to make Lord of all of life. Instead it isolates my interests from the wider concern of God to help us life in the real world as his children.
This problem is in no way limited to life away from home. A culture of commonly agreed norms is largely a thing of the past. I don't mean an imposed set of rules for all eventualities of life, as if table manners were a matter of morality. I mean right and wrong distinctions that remind us of both the form of reality and the fear of moral judgment, "for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2nd Corinthians 5:10).
Problems from failure of personal responsibility are growing rapidly in our culture, including the church. We are no longer embedded in a supporting consensus. Individual and corporate deceit has become more than an occasional errors in accounting. Little effort is made to consider and to address risk management of one's reputation before men or God. What the market tolerates has become the acceptable standard across the board, including much of the church. Insurance covers up our carelessness in the world, while grace and cheap forgiveness do the same in the church. What everyone does is increasingly the norm. What you can get away with is credited as victory, cleverness and skill. In a perverse way it may even be considered as God's guidance and grace, for ‘if I feel good about it, it must be right.'
Such a reference limited to the self and his success underpins an increasing arrogance, which literally means a refusal to ask further, deciding instead to call present knowledge enough and all actions justified. Boorstin earlier spoke of this in relation to celebrities, whose one common characteristic was that they were known for being known. We have included in that designation role models from sports, media and professions with questionable moral reputation. The focus on the self-esteem, on personal development and narrow pursuits of careers at any price undermines the broader reference from which alone more human, moral and cultural benefits can be drawn.
Law, supervisory boards and even an investigative press cannot replace individual honesty, integrity and moral reasoning. They cannot make people good. They are tools to uncover evil, but cannot prevent it. Honesty is a matter of personal commitment to self and God, to family now and to eternal life. It must be tied to reason and faithfulness in all public and private relations, to one's promises, words and commitments, to family members, neighbors and employees. Big company scandals like at Enron in the US or Parmalat in Italy or legal trouble among politicians in France are in many ways but the open sores of a common culture of dishonesty, selfish gain and false friends.
In November I spent a delightful and busy time in the US. After a lecture and discussion in New York I drove to Toledo, OH, where our friends and former Board Member Robert and Marilynn Baldwin invited guests to two gatherings for conversation about the importance of seeing and understanding the unique perspective of Biblical Christianity. After two nights I continued South to Xenia, OH, to spent time, give a lecture and lead the discussion in the home of Blair Cook, with whom I had traveled so much for the Russian Teacher Training seminars on Ethics and Morals.
The continuing trip by car through Kentucky gave me much pleasure, Tennessee is beautiful and over the mountains of Northern Georgia I ended up in Gainesville, GA. A large crowd had responded to the invitation of Mitch and Jennifer Kot for an evening of lecture and discussion again. It went very well, a lively crowd, very interested and receptive. Four of the couples from there will spend a week with us here in September for an intense study session.
The next night I enjoyed the small gathering of Christian writers in Canton, GA. What a different culture it is for people to get together to talk about their writing efforts, to discuss all kinds of things and to so challenge, educate and encourage each other at their own initiative, across cultural lines and age separators: all part of civil society!
A meeting of our Board had been called for the next day in Atlanta, where we were able to be together, pray and understand the challenges ahead and the direction of the work. It was a very encouraging time, hosted by Judith Kemp.
For the weekend I drove to Montgomery, AL, again for another series of gatherings in the home of John and Dawn Geiger. Dawn had studied here years ago, and I had met them repeatedly in Russia. I spoke in a Presbyterian Church on Sunday night and had a working lunch with a good number of pastors from the area. They also struggle with the need to distinguish the sovereignty of the God of the Bible from Allah's all powerful presence on one hand and from the efforts to explain all human action being controlled from outside on the other. In our time the reduction of human actions to some form of determinism must be resisted, unless we also then deny real choice, real responsibility and original creativity. That would be a world none of us know.
How then do we speak of God's sovereignty without turning it into a controlling orchestration of all events? How to we maintain real history, a system of moral law and the genuine admiration for art and/or heroes? How do we separate the Holy God of the Bible from the reality of moral evil, death and war in history? How do we affirm God's all-encompassing knowledge, including a prophetic future, without making that exhaustive knowledge the source and determining of all future events? How do we distinguish the Bible's unique affirmation of both a moral and powerful from the power of Allah and the weakness of African and Hindu gods or tribal deities?
I am currently finishing a manuscript that answers the central proposition posed by Bertrand Russell in "Why I am not a Christian": Either God is good and weak or strong and evil. Yet the dominant answers given to this today are either a faith in ‘sovereignty' without further details or a faith in God's camaraderie in the post-modern fashion of claiming partial ignorance, but receiving personal warmth from it. The need is to show how you can avoid God's complicity in evil and at the same time demonstrate his power, untainted purpose and sure reign as sovereign Lord.
For the answer you will have to wait until the book comes out. Let me hint that again the lure of Greek ideas married to the church plays a dominant part in the inability to give a Biblical answer to this important discussion. And Paul constantly taught against such a bowing to Greek ideas, which we know as Gnosticism.
Religious people will seek the control in God or the stars, the horoscope, their destiny or fate. Materialistic thought sees the control in genetics, psychology, in race, language, culture and gender. Only the Bible treats people with real honor, for being made in the image of God we are creative, originally inventive and real persons, for both better and worse. Ours is a secondary, dependent and derived, yet genuine sovereignty. That is how the Bible describes it. Within that understanding the reality of evil and the war against it makes sense. Without it one is left with contradictions or what some among Christians call a "mystery." In my reading of scripture the only mystery the Bible talks about concerns the coming Messiah, and that has been revealed.
At the beginning of the New Year my book The Market-Driven Church was published. Thirty years after Pro-Existence (IVP, 1974), five children and many wonderful occasions to develop a broader interest in how Christianity relates to common issues of life it is a delight to hold a second book in my hand. The title may surprise you. It does not suggest a reference to economics, but rather to the church's life and message sadly bending to the demands of a culture that wants to be entertained, feel good and avoid tough questions of meaning, morals and our human calling.
While it was not written with The Purpose-Driven Church in mind it does point out why we should be aware of how much is lost personally and culturally, when a simplistic, foolishly positive and Biblically shallow, if not deceptive, content parades on the market as Christianity. It has become a very shallow proposition that appeals to little more than feeling approved, liked and affirmed by God. Yet when you read the Bible you find so much more of a content that addresses real human beings in their struggle, in their sin and in their desire to understand more than a personal purpose.
Modern language, psychological terms and warm affirmation alone do not hold out a promise with enough content to give assurance and meaning. A real ‘relationship with Jesus' is not a shell to be filled with everyone's own hot air, gas or energy. Yet without a sound belief in creation, fall and redemption, in judgment and grace or in the hope of the resurrection to come as part of the purpose of God for Man nothing is accomplished. People may even feel better about themselves, but they have not become members of God's family. For God's purpose for us is more than a personal plan for my life, a career, a marriage or a place to live.
A friend sent me this brief excerpt: "What you do with this question will determine where you spend eternity...do you have a relationship with Jesus Christ? If you are not sure of this...maybe you have been to church all of your life, maybe you have never been to church...it doesn't matter. I'd like the privilege of leading you in prayer to settle this issue… that you are connected to Christ. Lets bow our heads together. I am going to pray a prayer and you can follow it silently. Pray with me. Just say something like this:
Dear God, I want to know your purpose for my life. I don't want to waste the rest of my life on wrong things. Today I want to take the first step in preparing for eternity by getting to know you, Jesus Christ. I don't understand it all, but as much as I know how I want to open up my life to you. I ask you to come into my life and make yourself real to me and use this series in my life to help me know what you made me for. Thank you. Amen.
Now if you just prayed this prayer for the very first time, I want to congratulate you. You've just become a part of the family of God! The first thing you ought to do is share your decision with someone else...." I hear that masses fall for this latest in what is little more than modern-day snake oil. Whole churches do the thing. It is a recipe for self-affirmation, an improved sense of direction and an alternative to political primaries in an election year. But there is no content declared, no reality exposed, no response to the questions about God, man and life. For according to the Bible God is interested in more than a personal relationship with Jesus. In an age of linguistic confusion, where terms are used carelessly and for individualized ends, it is too easy to turn Jesus into my personal friend, guru or model.
Almighty God, Lord of the universe, King of heaven are more appropriate terms that indicate ways to understand and to relate to God.
As I write I hear that Israel has exchanged more than 400 Hamas and Hezbollah detainees from Lebanon against one Israeli businessman and three dead Israeli soldiers. I am so amazed by that and glad for it. Critics of course are quick to point out that many of the released were coming to the end of their prison term any way. There is an enormous amount of cynicism about anything Israel does these days, of doubt about intentions, or spin to diminish any good that might come out of that land and people.
Americans of course are familiar with that, for they quite often receive similar reaction. Such cynicism is not only rooted in deliberate efforts to always put oneself into the best possible light and to gain political favor in the eyes of the wider public. Political efforts at all times deserve a critical interpretation precisely because elected officials need to convince the electorate of their goodness and their usefulness.
Yet the exchange of 400 prisoners against one older businessman and three corpses shows the value on life that Jews exhibit over against the value on death expressed by so many Palestinian groups. At base lies the difference between the Bible and Islam, between a longing for life restored in justice and peace according to the Bible and a life in heaven with rewards for obedience to death in Islam.
The great treasure in the Bible is that Christ will restore life and creation. Islam holds out physical rewards and sweets away from creation in heaven. Righteousness, making all things right again, is what the Bible holds out; in the Koran it is personal gratification through obedience unto death. The double material benefit from suicide martyrdom (money for the family, immediate heaven for the perpetrator/martyr) stands in contrast to the embrace of life, the rule of law, the dignity of each person and God's interest in our life that the Bible talks about and exhibits.
Then you find out that one of the returned corpses of a fallen soldier was that of a Bedouin citizen of Israel! He was not a Jew, no colonial immigrant on supposedly Arab soil! But to Israel's people and government he was a person, not to be valued through martyrdom, but with a life now tragically lost. To Israel he was worth more than almost any number of exchanged criminals.
The value placed on each corps continues the insistence of Christians through the ages that burial places be marked. Abraham insisted on purchasing a funeral space for Sarah. He did not accept the gift of a hole in the ground from the locals. "Here lies so and so" is written on the oldest Christian burial stone in Wales from the 4th century, for even in death the person has a name and honor and deserves remembrance until the resurrection.
Life, not death; law, not brutal power; the individual, not the political or religious cause are central to a Biblical view of creatures made in the image of God. I encourage you to read Oriana Fallaci's powerful condemnation of Islamic fanaticism in The Rage and the Pride (Rizzoli, NY, 2001). On the occasion of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington she writes of the tragedy of Islamic culture, its inhuman focus, its false claims and in fact oppression of people, men, woman and children as a culture of death.
She readily admits all kinds of flaws in Western culture, but does not shy away from pointing out the arrogance, nihilism and inhumanity of Islam. I also likes the fact that she objects to the Pope's stated repentance for the Crusades, because there has never been any such effort to heal a situation from the other side. Muslims have never stated their grief over the Islamic crusades that took Jerusalem from Jews and Christians in the first place, never mind that they also led crusades across North Africa, into Spain and to the gates of Vienna in South Eastern Europe.
I also found Thomas Friedman's Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11 (Farrar Straus Giroux, NY 2002) full of good insight and helpful suggestions.
Schaeffer Foundation Addresses:
You must have wondered at times about the number of addresses through which you can reach us and from which letters and FOOTNOTES reach you. I hope this has not been a source of confusion. Let me explain.
This letter, a more personal way of staying in touch to share ideas, events and interesting reading, comes to you by kindness of our friend Marla McGill, who is a teacher in Amarillo, TX. For many years she has come and studied with us and helped in many ways. One very helpful contribution is to print, fold, stuff and mail the letter from there. For a small fee Marla also makes copies of tapes from our lectures and mails them out upon request and payment.
That explains our Amarillo connection.
FOOTNOTES is edited, prepared and mailed from copy sent from here by Diana Notaro in Xenia, OH, who has been dragged into our circle of friends on the occasion of numerous trips to Russia, when I was lecturing repeatedly to Russian teachers on issues of a Christian Worldview.
Without Diana in Xenia or an occasional tornado that rushes through town you would hardly ever hear of Xenia.
Receipts for gifts and donations bear an address in New York City. That makes it less complicated for the IRS for an American Not-For-Profit organization. It is also the location where lectures and discussions take place from time to time. The mailbox there, however, is very poorly served and unreliable. Mail should not be sent there. Instead all mail, gifts and correspondence, should be mailed to us at the address in the letterhead. No let me close with warm greetings to each of you. We love hearing from you. Thank you for your interest. If it should ever wane do not hesitate to tell us so that letters, FOOTNOTES and other items will not bother you again. I know of one friend who likes us so much that she asked to not receive these things anymore. Every time she did in the past she found things to discuss with us. Yet being unable to do that speedily enough she resolved that she would rather not hear from us except when she initiates it.
I respect that.
With warm and personal greetings,
Udo and Deborah