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The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

Long Letters


The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

Chalet Les Montaux
CH 1882 Gryon, Switzerland
#41 24 498 1656 UDDEBCH@AOL.COM

February 2006

Dear friends,

I could not quite decide whether to write our next letter describing our life, schedules, travels and such; or to write an issue of FOOTNOTES in relation to recent events. Questions arise from a surge of Muslim reactions to various Western actions, publications and assertions of non-negotiable cultural factors. So I decided to do a bit of everything. First a couple of pieces of information, followed by a report of my recent speaking opportunities, then a reflection on what is taking place with increasing tensions which we will have to acknowledge, deal with and find ways to cope with or possibly reduce.

First then, we shall host students here with us this summer during two study sessions. The first one is scheduled from July 25 until August 15. Before that school, exams and graduation will keep us too busy. After that we will hopefully accompany Isaac to the College he will choose to attend starting September. Therefore we shall also be available for guests and students between September 16 and October 14. By special arrangement we welcome people also at other times of the year. We just finished two weeks of studies and long conversations around meals, discussing their life, work and ideas in demanding circumstances, with three couples from Russia and Vietnam.

Secondly, we have started a Web Site that makes all past letters like this one and FOOTNOTES available. It is not finished in all departments and will in time give more detailed information. I need to describe the content of the letters and fill in travel and lecture schedules. But for now you can already access it under

The last letter reached you just before I started a trip with many stops to lecture here and there, to meet again with old friends and to stir up a bit of interest in the work of the Schaeffer Foundation. Thank you, each one, who made that trip so easy, comfortable and a pleasure. I am confident that on some level I experienced your kindness so much at each place, because I was traveling cattle class on airplanes and dieted on peanuts and pretzels ‘en route’.

The trip this time lasted three weeks and took me to three parts of the country. The first week I was in the Chicago area, where Marvin Padgett had arranged all kinds of interesting meetings. First I spoke at the Wheaton College Graduate Chapel. Marvin then rushed me over to Judson College in Elgin. I addressed a class on missions, but did not know that they had prepared questions to ask on another angle to the subject. By contrast the discussion with staff and students in their architecture department (very rare at a Christian College) was most interesting. We talked about their fascinating projects. I told of my burden about creating living space for human beings and families, about life in the city and the integration of living and working, of neighborhoods. The need to stress the human proportion in the midst of considerations of technology, zoning and social tensions was discussed at some length.

A lunch meeting with a few students and faculty at Northwestern University in Elmhurst turned into an interesting discussion. I was asked to write a piece on the Biblical encouragement to intervene, to create, to give shape to creation rather than to have it shape human beings. The mandate to create, to have dominion, to order and to multiply demands and encourages a dynamic rather than a fatalistic approach to life. Regrettably so much of the church’s effort is directed to control thought, time and funds. Yet not every human activity is prescribed by God. Obedience also includes the mandate to invent, to create, and to take dominion. Doing something within moral boundaries is unpredictable, rightly left to creativity and imagination. In much of life God assumes we use the freedom given us to fulfill the mandate he gave to the creatures made in his image. Are there dangers in that? Yes, of course. But it is also the only way to express that we have hearts and minds to live our calling as creative agents.

Around the edges I also had time to meet my nephew and his fiancée for lunch in Chicago and to walk along Michigan Avenue and later through the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago with its wonderful selection of archeological treasures.

On my next leg of the journey I flew to Atlanta, from where Marcus Beavers drove me "just in time" along very beautiful country lanes to an evening with about 200 people outside Watkinsville/Athens. When Howard and Linda Abney invited some of their friends to hear me and to discuss questions on their mind, many more wanted to come as well. A lecture was therefore organized in a bigger place, an impressive study center outside of town. The talk was followed by a good discussion into the night. The next evening my friend Jesse James brought together a few people and his whole wider family for a more relaxed time of talk and discussion.

I flew from there for two days to Albany in South Georgia to be welcomed by Todd and Joy and their two great boys. An invitation to discuss why anyone would want to believe Buddha, Mohammed or Jesus brought together quite a crowd and ended with a long discussion of the way we should distinguish, or select, what we believe on the basis of truth and evidences rather than wishful thinking, personal needs or desires.

I also spoke to two separate classes of a Christian school there and suggested that ‘doctrine’, a word I saw in a sentence on their blackboard, is not the first concern of the Christian. It is always a summary of what is believed, not the starting point. Doctrine, or teaching, is based on prior insight and understanding of reality. The reality of the world, the form of both nature and man, is discovered and explained first. Doctrine then sums up what is true about God and Man and Creation. It is not the source of confidence, but the result of the confidence gained from seeing what is true in the real world. It is not a set of club rules or entry conditions. The courage to go out and live by it or to tell others about it comes from the profound recognition (and often also the enjoyment) of its truth to the reality in which we live.

The headmaster of that school had been in Russia with me a couple of times. I managed to awaken at least a few among the students to not merely repeat phrases, but to understand the reasons for what we have summarized as doctrines. It is curious to me how readily folk cite right things without having spent much time considering why they are important, what difference they make and why so many people do not believe them.

We have often made the experience that when believers are asked to express what they think without recourse to quotes from the Bible, to pious sentences or spiritual quotes they tend to be easily lost…until they get over the hump and begin to see that what is true can also be expressed in one’s own words, in full sentences and with some clear distinction in mind to other perspectives.

When that penny has dropped in life he or she is able to affirm what is true and sensible with greater integrity and without the frequent boredom, mindlessness and perhaps even fear of being found out to have had all along many questions, doubts and uncertainties.

A second evening in Albany allowed us to continue the discussion. As is often the case, a part of it brought up the important question of God’s relationship to history as we experience it, with all the warts and blemishes, the very real tragedies and disappointments. It is a rather central question. I was very upset and saddened to hear with much conviction from one teacher in a Christian school what he believed when he would say that God is in total control and has a purpose for everything. You know my views on that subject from previous writings. But here he gave us his insight in what to me and others are all its horror and such a failure to reflect the passionate interference of God for us.

Years ago, he said, he was in an accident, in which a woman was killed. Ever since he wondered about the purpose of this event in the greater scheme of things under God. But recently it was all cleared up for him. He is at this time teaching a student who recently caused an accident. Again a woman was injured. As he now counsels her in her distress, he can see his earlier experience as training orchestrated by God for the current task. God prepared him well for this assignment through his own accident. The first accident was a preparation for his mission around the second! Never mind what it did to the woman who died.

And never mind the second woman’s injury, it will also serve a good purpose in some future times.

This way of thinking removes all sense of tragedy, all final responsibility and all genuine grief at the moment. For in this view God orchestrates every event to match up with every later event. Every damage, sin or horror is merely a purposed link in the chain of historic moments. It never troubled him that the benefit of the help he thinks he can now give was purchased at the expense of the terrible accident in his past.

All very neat, isn’t it? Nothing more to be concerned about? Nothing is ever out of place, unresolved or tragic. It all has a marvelous purpose. Just too bad that a woman had to die so that he can teach a student in her present distress. But, hey, it is all part of the master’s plan.

I am so thankful that the Bible gives us a different view of God, a Christ full of compassion and sorrow, a future resolution that abolishes sin and death. God gives us a moral view that condemns sin without diluting its effect by always giving it a godly purpose.

For the third leg of the trip I flew to San Antonio (much cheaper!) and drove to Austin, TX. Greg and Mary Jane welcomed me to their home and to their wonderful and varied work of the Probe Center for students at the University of Texas.

There are lectures, discussions, film evenings and Bible studies. A history class is taught for High School students who have only home-school experience in other subjects. Many come by for more personal advice and prayer. Undergraduate students gather for their regular weekly meeting, and this time listened to my thoughts about the explosive evenings in France with burning cars, angry youths and Muslim frustration. The subject was “Barbarians at the Gates of Paris”. I spoke of the failure of European societies to address issues of racism with the fervor found in the US. In addition I suggested that the riots were an evidence of the failure of the belief, that just being in France would make immigrants adopt the best of French culture by osmosis.

In fact, Enlightenment relativism imposes no obligation to fit in or even to weigh the benefits of one culture over another. Reason might do that, but people with a collectivist past have little experience in the use of reason. In fact, cultural and moral relativism favors tribalism, not assimilation. Multiculturalism on the level of opposing worldviews leads to the self-liquidation of the humanist culture that was originally based on Biblical proclamation. What is humanism when there is no agreement about what is a human being and how you respect him and her?

An added problem resides in Muslim tribal culture, as a result of which about half its members are unemployable for the simple reason that they are female, without a sufficient education and under so much male dominance of fathers, brothers and husbands.

On a second evening with the graduate students I begged to be relieved of the subject of medical ethics, for which I am far too little equipped, when it comes to the finer points of what medical treatment to give when and to whom. But I did touch on the need to provide for the infirm, the elderly and the dependent, that section of our population that we recognize to be a burden to us. Dependency is not a crime, and being difficult to care for is more a sign of frustration than a desire to be a nuisance.

I returned to San Antonio to speak for two large SS classes in an Evangelical Free Church on questions relating to a specific Christian worldview, which transcends any only personal religious conviction to lay out a way of seeing reality under God and amongst people. The earlier gathering on Sunday morning consisted of a younger set that sways with the music, but then listened attentively. The older folk, who were already somewhat tired from attending the main service, came in the second group and also asked good questions.

Dallas was my next stop, where John and Ellen Rain invited friends and church people for a good evening of a lecture and discussion. I talked about the need for our faith to transform life, culture and morals, in other words to be more than personally satisfying or good for salvation. I talked again, as in all previous places, about the reasons I wrote The Market-Driven Church. There often seems to be little awareness of how much the teaching of the Bible as true to all of life has marked our cultural context in the past, and how much consequently the neglect of that foundation is at the root of so many problems we face today.

That neglect has a number of ways of manifesting itself. The denial of Biblical trustworthiness and authority did its part to remove Biblical knowledge and confidence from our life. But so does the privatization of faith, the personal anecdotal emphasis, the focus on spiritual events in our life rather than on the effect of God’s word on our mind and hearts, on our way of seeing and doing.

Plainview, TX, was different after all other places I had visited. That was plain to see. All flat, waiting for natural gas to replace cotton as local produce, but with a Baptist College where I spoke first to a few pastors over breakfast, then at some length in Chapel, followed by an address to ministerial students and faculty at lunch. The local paper gave it a front page spread the next day. It does not take much to get that attention there. Somewhere in the middle of it there was time and pleasure to speak with students of a biochemistry class, whose professor had been much influenced by Dr. Schaeffer’s writing. The evening was filled out with an intense and delightful conversation with friends of Curtis and Betty King, who had organized the whole time there after gently twisting my arm for over a year to come to Plainview.

The final stop was Amarillo. Marla and her many friends had organized two good evenings in Westminster Presbyterian Church, a lunch and a breakfast meeting. I spoke about how our worldviews shape our responses, weigh on our choices and priorities. It was a delight to see her in her new context, with new friends, and for me to be able to speak there with people who have had only little or even no prior contact with the Schaeffers’ work, books and lectures. I found an interested and engaging audience and look forward to more contacts.

On the occasion of a more private dinner I also met with old friends who left their prior church when it became more and more narrow in theology and discipline for no scriptural reasons. The changes imposed by the pastor deeply wounded them. They had been a part of the church for many years while it was a lively group of believers grappling with truth and life. The remaining church is now far too ‘reformed’ in the sense of divine determinism and too ‘male’ in the sense that a woman is not even allowed to direct the music. They fear that the congregation would see in her an authority, ‘teaching’ others in church: A revival of legalism without joy or wisdom.

The pursuit of such an exclusive view is not justified from Scripture. It turns the love to God into a mechanistic obedience under rules that define, seek to achieve and to safeguard a vision of spirituality quite at odds with what I find in the Bible. It turns isolation into a virtue, rather than a regrettable necessity; it makes spirituality a matter of what you should do without, rather than being more informed, transformed and alive with the things God has promised us in our quest to fulfill the mandate to be human.

I returned from the US in time for Thanksgiving, which Natasha and Paul had prepared for the family in Biel. In December I preached twice in Lausanne and took the traditional English Christmas Eve service in Champéry. We make posters and hang them a few days before in the hotels, the tourist office and the ski lifts. The service consists of readings and carols, and I also preach a full sermon. We bring a tree with us, decorate the whole building, and pray and wonder who might come.

This year I was initially disappointed. There were only about 20 people from the outside when we started. But while all the candles were being lit the little church filled up with about 75 people, families from Holland, England and the US, all joining lustily in the singing to overcome the absence of instrumental accompaniment. I was so stunned, pleased and thankful to God for a wonderful time together to celebrate the Savior’s birth.

During those weeks in winter I also finished the translation into German of my manuscript The Innocence of God. My agent in England tells me that he has found an interested publisher for the book. Now he is waiting for a second one to review the text. However the German translation will come out on CD as a book for the blind even before the printed text. The gift of a pastor’s widow will make this possible. Before her husband’s totally unexpected death of lung cancer he had been so blessed by the content. He astounded his parish with his refusal to see in his death a plan of God or some divine purpose. He repeated forcefully what he had learned under Dr. Schaeffer many years ago. Death is not the will of God, neither was his cancer. Schaeffer spoke of the ‘obscenity of death’. There is no link between the creator of life and an unjust cause of death, or to see in it a purpose. Death is a waste of life and waits for its own end.

We participate and suffer in a fallen, unjust world and wait for righteousness, when all is made whole again, at the end of the continuing battle of God against sin. The price is paid, the first fruit is raised, but we wait for the rising of the Son in the morning with a whole harvest of his labor.

In my last letter I asked for prayer and advice to find someone to help in the care of Edith Schaeffer, who lives full time in her flat in Gryon across the path from us. She lives there with all her furniture, books and the piano, except when she visits family and friends for a day or two. Jane has been a wonderful help there, but will be leaving in late spring.
We have since contacted a number of persons. Please pray with us about one young woman with medical experience who will visit us for a week in early March to see the practical side of the job. It is crucial that she be adjustable enough to fit into our varied schedule, and independent enough to make decisions about medical care in our absence. Debby and I have made those decisions so far. But we may be away from Gryon now and then together and for longer periods on speaking engagements, to visit Isaac in College and to see our newest grandchild in NY. For those times we need a person who can really care for Mrs. Schaeffer as Jane has done.

On a wider screen of life beyond our immediate experience the newspapers, radio and TV report increasing troubles in the Muslim world, which is now exposed to a wider variety of human conditions. While these troubles vary in countries, in intensity and in causes, they express anger at the existence of people who do not share their views and life priorities. It grows out of the Muslim world’s failure to be at the same height economically, culturally and scientifically as other developing nations. In addition anger is nurtured by regimes that want to let off steam from the pressure their failed societies have produced by blaming others. Anger at others is a tool to mobilize crowds without having to deal with facts, the real world and failed policies and religions. These troubles reveal to us something ugly that lies in the nature of Islam as a system of thought.

Our exposure to the slaughter, cruelty and massive gatherings of Muslims in repetitive prayer brings out a clear picture of what threatens us and what we do not want to follow. In response European culture, admittedly with flaws, is more defined and treasured, because now it is precariously exposed to Islamic anger close to home. It is dawning on us that large proportions of Muslims won’t assimilate, and thus a clearer definition of non-negotiables for immigrants is established. These are language capability, educational standards, the acceptance of the work ethic, the separation of religion from politics, freedom of expression and gender equality.

Amir Taheri wrote in the London Times this month that militant Islam is a political movement that masquerades as a religion. Imams don’t preach about Allah, but about Palestine, Kashmir and Western Imperialism as well as their unhappiness with European and American domestic politics and the failure to set limits to personal lifestyles. Their groups agree in these political complaints, though they fight each other theologically and are often forbidden in their own countries. Unfortunately the old political radical left also associates with many Muslims who by choice of religion and way of life have become the new disenfranchised “poor masses” the left needs. The unifying factor is hate of bourgeois democracy, anti- Americanism and opposition to Israel.

Islam, but also Marxism and at times Catholicism while they were in power, even many Protestants of the early American colonies, imposed their views, values and practices through a kind of totalitarianism that excludes others. Where it is impossible to admit values and practices outside of the group the masses rage, the mind and heart die, and martyrdom becomes a chosen virtue. But consequently Muslims, Catholics and Marxists were all losers, each with the help of their efficient inquisitions.

‘Hamas’ in the Palestinian Territories is like a marriage of Syrian Arab socialism (the Baath party is secular!) and the Iranian theocracy. It exploits years of frustration among its people over unrealized hopes. Victory in the recent elections shows its appeal to the population, among which moral stands, political wisdom or the considerations of practical questions do not influence political choices and elections.

The reason for this lies in years of failure, frustration and unfulfilled promises from a corrupt government, which benefited from its own lies. A promise to the people to push Israel into the sea covered a multitude of its own evils. The West’s desire for peace in any form was cleverly manipulated and the people’s desire for an eventual revenge at any price was approved. Talk about peace only reached the outside world in speeches in English; speeches for the Arab masses kept an angry flame alive with the promises to correct the past. In that past Palestinians lost their properties in part through voluntary sales for cash, through the creation of Israel by the UN and as a result of many wars of Arab aggression.

An added discouraging factor is the UNHCR’s continuing support of refugees for more than fifty years simply because the Palestinian leadership has not allowed the economic and cultural integration of its people. Instead of settling in host countries they are still forcefully kept in camps. Nowhere else in the world have people been deliberately kept in a refugee status in their own territory for so long and prevented from making a normal living. Instead they were encouraged to believe a dream rather than to recognize the reality of their own making. Nowhere else in the world can you find a parallel situation.

But the vote now for ‘Hamas’ may only replace one dream with another, resulting in even greater pain ahead for the poor Palestinians. Attractive social efforts, feeding stations and jobs offered after years of Fatah’s very corrupt government complement the declared program for the elimination of Israel. Ignored is the fact that the funds were largely given by the West and only little was received from Muslim Arab brethren.

The outcome of the vote will probably replace what was bad with what is worse….for the people. Communist governments also shone initially by cleaning up bourgeois corruption, offering jobs and giving a sense of purpose. But always only initially! Hitler did the same in Germany during the depression to counter the humiliation of the Versailles Treaty. Mengitsu did it in Ethiopia. But in every case a dream is projected with a change of heart. A new failure replaces an older one. Promises to deliver a government of caring people to end fraud and corruption are attractive, but not when they compromise the rights of secure existence of another country.

A government with the goal to eliminate Israel cannot be tolerated. The West is justified to link continued support to better behavior. When the fascist, nationalist, religiously fanatical focus of Hamas wins a fair election it will have to face also the fair consequences. Pity belongs to the little people who have once again been so misled in their blindness.

They will continue to suffer, unwilling and unable to recognize the need to create a life, an economy, a body of law and a culture of responsible inventiveness. This is my third thought. I doubt that Islam has the intellectual base for a pluralist society, for equality before the law, for freedom of religion, of assembly and freedom of expression. Muslims have the ability to pursue these worthy realities, as they did at times in the past under Greek and Jewish influence. But their book or text does not allow for it, their societies hinder it and their intellectual framework discourages it.

A community of the forcefully obedient is unable to make room for the doubter, inventor or the outsider. A creation already divinely finished does not encourage review, renewal, reversal and reform. A single God without true personality is too small to allow for the dynamic characteristic at the core of Judaism and Christianity, where God debates, decides, delights and gives space and time for human inventiveness as part of the cultural and social mandates of Genesis.

One may appreciate the focus on unity, submission and the collective rooted in Mohammed’s original goal to unite Arab clans and their many rival deities under one banner, one God, Allah. But in the absence of true personality in God (for there was for Allah no one else in all eternity to talk with, to love or to enjoy) lively personality has no admission in that belief or system of thought. The Bible avoids that problem with the proposition of a Triune God, where love, conversation, enjoyment and exchange between three persons are part of their eternal being. It is not a late arrival or an addition to God’s character, dependent on the creation of human beings.

Islam has always emphasized conformity, submission and the collective. That collective allows for few new thoughts, alternatives or independence. These produce fear, envy, suspicion and lead to elimination. Little wonder, that the insensitive cartoons of Mohammed cause such riots among the masses. They are stirred up for political reasons, but also erupt in revolt, since they have little experience in mockery, laughter, self-criticism, evaluation, doubt and comparison. Reality demands the willingness from humans to see things tentatively, to recognize the unfinished at present, the variety of ways to speak, think and teach, as well as the unreliability of human beings.

But for Muslims Islam is the final word of Allah. It is already perfect. The meaning is always one, not many. Tolerance is a Jewish/Christian idea. Lessing’s ring parable comes out of Christian Europe that was tired after religious wars, and not out Islam with its forceful conversion of infidels. We find that arguing with God, with people and history, with the text, with governments and priests is often a source of wisdom and truth, not a hindrance to it. In Islam you argue about the intricate otherness of God, but not the absurdness of much of life “under the sun.”

A further reason for debate, laughter and further reflection is that the Bible recognizes us as sinners, not to be taken too seriously yet. In Islam there is no fall of man, there is only personal disobedience to the commands. There is no fallen world, nature and history, which affect all of us unfairly. But where everything is seen as justified in the Muslim’s life, the infidel must of course be eradicated. The challenge from his existence cannot be allowed.

Whether we see here a cultural conflict or a clash between civilizations it is a conflict between two very different views of God and therefore of man, his mind and meaning. They lead to contrasting approaches to life. There is no reason to apologize for that. Being an offence to the envious, angry and ignorant about how they deal with people outside their group is a problem of their making. Such anger parades as strength, but is mostly an expression of weakness. The angry know no other response than to eliminate the other. It expresses failure, weakness, envy and no just and intelligent argument. Only your disappearance will satisfy that angry person. Since he feels so strongly about it your view you do not make a weaker brother stumble. He is annoyed over his loss of strength.

Willard Gaylin has written very helpfully on that subject in his book Anger, the Rage Within. I recommend it highly.

Any apology would appear as approval of the grounds of the anger. One should regret the other person’s inability to consider anything else. But that is not an apology. A rejection of intellectual reflection that creates an obligation to eliminate others to avoid exposure to the real world is fanatical and without any interest to discover what is true, good and just.

May God give us grace and deliver us from evil.

With warm greetings to each of you,


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