back to Long Letters Overview

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 2007
Dear friends,

By now, at the beginning of February, you will have sorted through the many letters you received at Christmas with wishes for a good New Year ahead. You heard all those details of family doings, work opportunities, funny bits of life and serious thoughtful ideas. I did not want to insert my report of our work, things we have done etc., into that feast of Christmas news.

Let me start by thanking all who have written to us and supported us at the end of the year with gifts for the work. It is an encouragement to us as it helps to keep the work going in its many aspects.

First off, you should know that we will again have guests to study with us in the summer. The dates are between

June 1 and July 4, 2007
and the
First two weeks of August.

We will talk about the distinctive elements of a Biblical view of the world with their impact on geographical, social and cultural realities. Why they make a difference and what is that difference? How do we relate to people with other views? What are the demands, what the limits of tolerance?

We will examine the thoughts and practices of our generation in light of the Bible and try to refine our desire to live coherently with the insights given us from the Creator. We will touch on education, economics, law and that complex reality called a reasonable life with responsibility. We charge about 45 Swiss francs per night, all meals and the tourist card included. If you are interested or know someone who might be, please contact us to make arrangements and to receive further details.

And now the letter to friends and relations:

Last time I wrote was during November 2006 while on a speaking tour through parts of the US. Let me take you along on it for a little while and share with you where I went and what I did.

The MacLaurin Institute at the University of Minnesota, where I am the Francis Schaeffer Fellow, invited me to give a public lecture on the subject: What America Can Learn from Secular Europe?
With that deliberately startling and somewhat provocative title I wanted to draw attention to two divergent consequences of Christian instruction in what is still the inheritance of our common cultural context. I gave a similar talk also in California at Hollywood Presbyterian Church for Vishal Mangalwadi’s Book of the Millenium project.

Let me walk you through a bit of the substance of what I proposed. My interest comes from observing that the effects of Christianity in the life of people has had two quite opposite effects on each side of the ocean. Both are perhaps consequence of Enlightenment thinking. The one is individualism, the other a form of nihilism.

The American experience shows us an emphasis on individual responsibility, personal salvation, and a focus on freedom from king, class structures and collective religion. The presence of immigrants before the arrival of government made self- governance a necessity. Individuals and families hired teachers for the mind, pastors for the soul, sheriffs for law and doctors when shots were fired or bugs disturbed their health. Independence and the skill of a person mattered more than a name, a class of society or anyone’s background or mother tongue.

This focus exists in Scripture, where individuals are responsible before God and Man. They take initiative, speak and act as people with a name, they repent and are not foremost part of a group. The existence of a remnant, a prophet, a wanderer is normal in the Biblical view. National Israel is a group, a nation; spiritual Israel is made up of individual believers.

It is not surprising that in theology the focus grew towards individual faith, revival and, at least at first, historically based denominations. Gradually even educated instruction from the Bible and preaching was replaced by the inner light of God’s Spirit after conversion and a private spirituality through revival and under the influence of democratic ideas of arriving at truth, right and values. Fear of Pope and State, and an Aristocracy of learning, encouraged it all. The lay of the empty land without a government at first, surrounded by new situations and exposed to new demands of self-government seemed to single out the need for self- promoting individuals. The pursuit of goodness and self-improvement became a concern of personal faith.

Even with a host of outside information and occasional doubt one still has “Jesus lives within my heart”, while the European, after centuries of conflicts and doubt about the goodness of man is left with the question: “What, or why, Jesus?”

In Europe Christianity was more linked to King and Pope, to State and Title and later still with various forms of nationalism. It contributed to a history of power struggles, religious wars, and dependencies on authority. These authorities also partially fulfilled their Biblical mandate to make the earth inhabitable (Is 45:18). Monastery and church were outposts at first in the pagan wilderness, and then ruled skillfully in areas such as education, healthcare, hospitality, law and commerce. It is not surprising that Christianity would find a more public expression without necessarily an individual’s participation on the level of heart and mind. The church provided law for the market, quality control through the guilds, took care of orphans and widows and started schools and universities.

Both directions are of course not immune from error. The private focus tends to remove outside criteria, such as a needed check on one’s imagination, fantasy and wishful thinking by relating what I believe from the Bible to reason, fact and history. It can easily turn Christianity into a modern Gnostic religion. Truth only exists for the initiated, is finally secret and, as one hears all too often in our circles, in the end quite mysterious, if not foolish, in order to check our willingness to “just believe”.

On the positive side the private focus places much greater responsibility on personal choices, discipline, sacrifice and effort. But in parallel, it should also place much greater emphasis on personal humility, repentance and possible review. Where there is no common law to govern behavior it has to be governed from inside each person. One cannot wait until society and my neighbor behave properly. The good, the beautiful and the just rest as much on the shoulder of each individual as do responsibility, regret and review.

Such an individual focus energizes people in all areas of life, from faith to business, from education to justice.

A more public focus points out that the truth claim of Christianity must have a public face. Faith is not only a matter of the inner life, of the soul, of personal convictions. After the Pauline teaching on the righteousness by faith must come the teaching of James on doing what I believe and showing it by our works. There must be a visible effect that flows from the invisible new birth.

Rather than relying on the will and waiting for the creativity of individuals European Christianity affected the civil and social world more directly. It was probably helpful that even a flawed effort to establish a now “Holy” Roman Empire during one thousand years from Charlemagne in 800 to Napoleon in 1806, formed part of the mindset of public life. In any event, whether by deliberate preaching or by royal intent, whether from lust of power or pleasure of conviction, a transformation of culture took place.

The result is a more public expression of what one would expect from a Christian view of life in much of Europe. An effort at civility, access to culture by a wider population, education over larger fields of knowledge, reduced expectations and readiness to take on social and economic challenges, even if run by governments, are exhibited in Europe as a result of an initially Christian view of things.

As Stuart Miller points out in his Painted in Blood the American generally tends to look ahead to reach for what he has not yet achieved. That explains his being nervous, unsettled, dynamic, enterprising and visionary. These roots possess good, but not only constructive qualities. They rob us of enjoying what we have. We fear we miss out on more, something else, another scheme, method or feeling. We rush, divert, fragment ourselves from too much optimism, that perfection is not yet experienced, yet already within reach.

The European looks back and is glad to be still alive. He makes do with what is good and tries to keep it from deterioration. Life is fragile, easily corrupted and often unfair. You will find more acceptance of one’s station and place, but also more time to enjoy was is possible instead of always running after what may yet be possible. You try to keep your job, home and marriage instead of wondering what you might be missing out on.

Let me quote what Robert Osburn, director of the MacLaurin Institute, wrote on their website after the talk.

“In a wide-ranging and provocative lecture titled What America Can Learn from Secular Europe: Reflections of a Transatlantic Christian Thinker, Middelmann argued that while the USA is much more religious and robustly evangelical, Americans have always been more devoted to an ideal rather than giving thoughtful attention to the details of living. Whether they came to escape religious persecution or for economic opportunity, for Americans there has always been the hope of an ideal and better future. Philosophically, this idea goes back to the Greek notion of the soul residing apart from the body.
“But, we are persons, both soul and spirit,” said Middelmann, and, thus, we must also pay attention to the actual historical conditions of life. Europeans are “caught” in that history, not a future ideal. Their history is one of Enlightenment rebellion against ecclesiastical authority. “They replaced the universalism of Christianity with that of nationalism,” one fruit of which was the development of racism, an idea developed by Voltaire. As nationalism gave way to terrible wars, particularly those of the 20th century, Europeans descended into a kind of nihilism, a loss of hope in any possibility of meaning.
Middelmann is impressed by much of American life, including its sense of the “possible” as well as its relative openness to Christian claims. But, because the American evangelical message has been so privatized to “Jesus and me,” it has failed to address larger systemic issues, such as poverty. Europeans, by contrast, even in the midst of their nihilism, have had to deal with the real rather than the ideal. They have had to develop social structures and systems that genuinely ameliorate pain and suffering while also fostering conditions where one’s neighbor can thrive.

Pressed during the question and answer period about what seemed like his incipient socialism, Middelmann insisted that he is not a socialist, but that he thought that European attendance to social conditions (including government support for various services, such as government-funded concerts) deserved consideration by Americans who are so focused on the individual and individual development.”

Not that subsidized concerts are the core of social responsibility! (The Romans and later Stalin also entertained the public to distract them for grave moral problems.) They are one example. Others include a mandatory healthcare insurance among free-market competitors, city parks paid for by taxpayers, (a benefit to more people than those with private affordable lawns), publicly financed education, public transportation, museums et al. These things should not largely depend on spontaneous private initiative, where America is a model, but on recognition that everyone is a neighbor in a social bond and merits more than what personality, character and circumstances provide in a fallen world.

Next I was invited to address students from the Baptist Collegiate Ministries at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, in a lecture with discussion on the subject: Pope, Politics and Political Correctness: Is there still room for a tolerant society? In the presentation I suggested a distinction between matters of variance, taste and personal alternatives, in which one must allow for the wonder of human diversity, imagination, creativity and also ability.

But then there are matters of fact, tied to the shape of the universe, where tolerance is a failure, a lack of precision and a violation of the shape of the universe. Too much tolerance between wheel and axle will lead to accidents. There is very little room for tolerance in flying. I go to doctors only if they are intolerant towards harmful bacteria in my body. After a fracture the bones must be set with no tolerance. And women must be seen as equal to men, life needs protection and death cannot be tolerated. There should be no tolerance for honor killings or wife burning, for killing unwanted girls or homicide bombers.

While few people showed during the lunch hour, we had a good exchange anyway. I also addressed an Adult Sunday School class at the Westminster PCA church in Elgin, IL. Reading from an article in the Wall Street Journal I asked whether we believe what we do because we want to, or because we are constrained by the evidence. Do wed ever change our view on things when better evidence shows up or when we become aware of further aspects of reality?

The article told the story of a woman, whose son was lost at sea more than a hundred years ago. Wishing to find him she offered money for any information on her offspring. A decade later a man appeared from Australia and told his story to explain why he had not surfaced earlier and that he was the missing son. Though he was taller, heavier, and older and had differently colored eyes and different birthmarks, the woman still accepted him as her long-lost son and paid the promised stipend. She wanted to believe this person to be her son, no matter what the evidence to the contrary, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle also did. He did not want to admit that his Son had died in World War One and sought contact with him through a medium.

So then, how do we not believe what we think we wish to believe, but rather what is actually true? (I need to ask myself that question after not showing up to teach a class on Monday for the simple reason that in previous years that class was given on Tuesdays. Though I had the date in my mind, I was convinced that it was Tuesday and stayed home Monday to work on other things….My apology was graciously accepted, and I shall teach the class instead on another Monday a month later.) What criteria do we keep alive to check our faith? Do we have the mindset from the Bible that if even God can be questioned and argued with any human authority, including my own, should not be beyond questioning?

Too readily we construct systems of thought and, in maintaining these securely, do not admit new evidence, questions and the kind of doubt that enables us to advance. I like the illustration that a person is quite stable on two feet. To life one and to walk destabilizes us for a moment, but it is also the only way to walk somewhere else. One has to dare to think, create, test and explore, or one is stuck in the mud.

On a day off I drove to Toledo to spend a few hours with Bob and Marilyn Baldwin, long time friends and former Board Members. Then off it was to meet and talk with the publisher of my Innocence Of God book, scheduled to come out in October. As I write this I have started to work with the editor to fine-tune the text. The same publishing house will also bring out the lectures I gave on the influence of worldviews in relief and development ideas. The working title is Christianity vs. Fatalistic Religions. These lectures came out of my work with Food for the Hungry and the seminars I led for years to train indigenous staff about what is specifically Christian about Christian Relief and Development.

A long weekend with several groups of people took place in Montgomery under the direction and with much involvement of John and Dawn Geiger. There were sessions with a French class in a Christian High School, a gathering of students from Huntingdon College, several lecture and discussion sessions in the Geiger’s home and a Sunday School class at an EPC church on the chosen way out of town, when I drove on country roads through Alabama and Western Georgia. What a relaxing pleasure! Small towns, many churches, previously unknown colleges.

My next stop was Austin to drop in and spend time with Greg and Mary Jane Grooms who direct that fine and very active work among students at the U of Texas. I flew from there to Los Angeles, where an altered version of my Minnesota lecture at Hollywood Presbyterian Church was hosted by Vishal Magalwadi. He is at work on a project of a film series, that will illustrate how the Bible is the Book of the Millenium.

The Bible is that, for by its influence through the teaching of Christians the most informative ground was laid for what changed people’s lives in art and culture, in law and government, in social and scientific advances, in critical analysis of human action and the material world. Here the Creator speaks, and the creatures “in his image” are called to action, obedience and adoration with sharpened minds and trained consciences.

Vishal brings to the project a unique perspective. His sensitive insight into Eastern religions enables him to point out the tragic loss of Christian Biblical thought and life in our culture under the influence of more people turning insidiously to Eastern spiritual values with their irrational focus and eventually dehumanising effects. We pray that he may be able to finish the project soon and that it will help awaken us from our casual indifference. The West was built on a reasonable understanding of the Bible and on efforts to live accordingly. Private spiritual interests and a loss of wisdom about the effects of wrongful and ultimately inhuman ideas about the real world are today undermining that foundation.

A hastily arranged Saturday breakfast in Pasadena brought what was, to me at least, an astounding group of people together for an hour of lecture and discussion. I presented my book, talked about the need to focus again on the word of God in preaching and teaching rather than on the distractions of ‘human interests’, of pleasing the crowd, meeting self-defined needs rather than those that really separate us from God, neighbor and creation.

On Sunday I was invited to preach in the Church in the Valley PCA church and to take the Sunday school afterwards. What a good and lively bunch of people they are. Many thanks for their welcome, hospitality and interest. Mike and Carolyn Sugimoto attend there. It was a pleasure to see them and their growing adopted family. They will all join us here in Lausanne for the next academic year as faculty for the Pepperdine University Abroad program. It will be a privilege to do things together with their students. While many of them may be interested in travel, our interest would be to give them the framework and questions to stimulate their understanding of what they see and experience.

In December we prepared our annual Christmas service in Champery. Posters are made and then distributed in hotels, the tourist office, even on the poster board of the cable car to startle people while they wait for the lift up to the skiing fields. When Christmas Eve came there was very little snow. Perhaps that explains why more than 60 people came together to enjoy the candle light service with readings, hymns and a full sermon. They were English of course, but also Dutch, American and German, parents and many of children. We decorate the chapel with boughs and a tree, move the stage away and line the banister with candles in holders cut out of half-logs when Debby’s family started the custom around 1950.

And then it has to be all taken down again, as the Swiss Church’s service the next day does not want all that in place. We are elaborate, but it is fun and beautiful. Edith Schaeffer came with us again, though she is weaker and quite unstable on her feet. Yet returning to Champery each year since she moved back to be near us is a treat for her and brings back many memories – even if only for an hour or so.

Caring for Edtih these past seven years has exposed us to all kinds of valuable information through books, watching relevant BBC TV programs on aging, and studying how our brains work thanks to recent research in Neuroscience. Consequently we make an effort to visit museums, concerts and an occasional film, besides the necessary appointments to care for her health. And she joins us for church wherever I preach, followed by lunch with some members of the congregation. There often are free classical concerts on Sunday afternoons in many churches not too far away. Debby took her and Sarah to a lovely Mozart concert with a pianoforte in Villeneuve. We all attended an organ concert in Vevey. In Aigle we enjoyed the old church where Edith’s son-in-law John, her grandchild Becky and her great grandchild Kimberly played all together with the local orchestra on another Sunday.

We learn increasingly how important it is to keep stimulating our mind and body at all times. Just as important as keeping somewhat fit and moving about, using our arms and legs, is the involvement with interesting things, ideas and stimulating settings, not just gymnastics. Parts of our body may and will probably weaken and even fail. But we must resist getting depressed over it, which anyone will, when we make these losses the center of our outlook.

Instead we need to train our minds to think about what we should and could do. We should give ourselves ideas, play with words, attempt to remember and put a purpose to life: eating, talking, walking.

We must acknowledge that we move on in years and that muscle tone and weight, appetite, sensations of taste, hearing or sight are no longer what they used to be. We can rely on them less than before. We tend to forget this and must establish ways to make remembering easier. It helps to work on associations in our mind, as two preceptors (e.g. location and sound, or taste and conversation, or someone in multiple contexts) hold ideas, words and places together much better than one. Alternative ways of enjoying what is good, delightful, varied and creative in the world around us present a challenge that will keep us usefully busy and will balance the regret over our inabilities with the pleasure of our abilities.

It helps to create memories now and to plan for later times of failing coordination. It is good to know, not just to feel. Therein lies one of the distinguishing marks of the human being. Being in the image of God is not merely a theological designation. It is also what enables us to think over more than we experience. It helps to work on disciplining ourselves and to maintain a longer perspective.

Many times older people would rather die than go through all this effort. That is easily understandable. Getting older and losing faculties is not pleasant, often demeaning and at all times a reminder of our imperfections. Christians at times are tempted to let go, knowing that through Christ a glorious life after death awaits them even before the bodily resurrection. It is convenient to blame medical science for an increase of suffering, as an earlier death would avoid the gradual and often embarrassing fragmentation of our lives. In a similar way it is easy to abandon life here in the expectation of life after death without problems.

Yet both these views deny the value of even a limited experience of life now. I wonder what Paul referred to when he spoke of making up what is lacking in the suffering of Christ. My own view is that by being willing to take on and fight the suffering we participate in the work Christ accomplished by taking on our form, without which he could not have died on the cross.

He was tempted in all points as we are. We face multiple temptations, he shared ours and resisted them, and in this battle both God and Man defy the accusation by the father of lies that God failed and that we are a failure.

On a second level we must face reality as well. Heaven is usually not the next stage of declining health. It comes after death, but not after increasing failure. Giving up the battle for mental and physical health does not take us to heaven. The next step after not moving about, not eating and drinking enough, is usually ending up bed-ridden, possibly with a stroke or two, becoming ever more dependent, and if conscious of it, more frustrated and embarrassed. Death usually follows weeks of malnutrition, dehydration, and other avoidable failures.

If you have read these letter for a few years you will recall how the hospital decided that a person who did not eat by herself, did not sit up and did not call for assistance in fact wanted to die. So they were going to let her die! Only great effort freed her from the clasp of this mindset, and two years down the road there is still a good life, concerts, family visits, museums and efforts to refresh the memory of an active life.

It is therefore, in my view, not kind in the longer run to let a person persist in their sadness, to facilitate their resignation to aches and pains, to become a victim of every stage of life, to see no purpose in being alive.

Let us be protestants, literally, wherever the fall and its ugly markings set limits. Death, aging (as distinct from maturing), reduced coordination and much frailty is not what God had in mind when he made man a little lower than the angels. It is not what we shall be the day of the resurrection. Let us help each other to transcend the limits imposed by our frailty. Our parents did that when we were little. When we became stronger we also became more able to assist others in their stages of decline.

A note about a couple of wonderful films we recently saw. The Pursuit of Happiness is a deeply moving true story, both as a biography and in its analysis that the Pursuit will precede happiness, often through much pain and tragedy. It requires effort, dealing with failure, overcome impediments. Happiness is the end result, not always way of getting there.

The second film we were so pleased by is Stranger than Fiction. It is a must-see, as it lays out exactly the dilemma found in the question of God’s sovereignty and the freedom of the creature. It forces us to think through the various attempts of Man to explain the puzzle of determinism at the hands of someone and the freedom required for a genuine human life. For here a man without an exciting life has a narrator to detail what will happen. Conflict arises from the fact that one person, real in choices, significance and life, cannot possibly under the restricting influence of another..and live. I won’t tell you more to not spoil the film for you.

The story is presented in a fascinating way, with Emma Thompson, Will Ferrell and Dustin Hoffman. It shows movingly how absurd the strictly deterministic position from God’s mechanistic sovereignty is. The God of the Bible is not a superior fate, a destiny, a writer’s freedom to create more than fiction with a story that sacrifices the reality of personal choices. What a relief that in the film the writer returns to real humanity, when she changes her story in order to allow for real significance in the person she created.

That is of course also what the Bible tells us about God. His story for our lives is not a closed book, but one of additional interventions, of redemption, of genuine grief and at all times of grace.

Finally, I returned to the Geneva Bible Institute for a week’s course on the thought forms of Postmodernism. I prepare it for French pastors in their efforts to reach into a cynical, disappointed, distracted public. These are young men who work in a variety of ministries among the young, at university, in publication and radio outreach. In March I will teach apologetics to another group of similarly called people.

I am now also reworking the text of Pro-existence, my first book from 1974 on the subject of work, property and the community. For years I have been asked to bring it out again, but it needs work, as some of the formulations seem rather those of a younger person. I have matured some, and it should now show in the revised text.

I close with warm greetings, Udo

back to top