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Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation
Chalet Les Montaux
CH - 1882 Gryon, Switzerland

Automn 2011
Dear friends,

We write you this letter from New York. Deborah and I returned here for two months this autumn. Jane Landis, who spent several periods of many months over the past six years helping us care for Edith Schaeffer, offered to return to Gryon during this time. We are in daily phone contact with her and are greatly relieved that she can just as confidently manage the very demanding situation as we do when there.

We are in NY to work, to lecture in places, and to write. My new book “Neither Necessary nor Inevitable” (Wipf&Stock, 2011) leads to many conversations around that subject. We are also in NY to tell people in person about our need for more friends, interested in our work and ready to support it with single or regular donations. We know that many good works had to cut back in harder times, as we also did. For us, a larger promised support did not materialize. Therefore we ask you to consider making contributions to continue the work we do in the Schaeffer Foundation. We need help, and will gladly send you copy of my book in return.

Our two months in the US are framed by engagements in North Carolina, in Texas and in NY itself. I will tell you about them further on. Within these frames we are enriched by good and mostly intelligent people who similarly argue and seek a moral and reasonable view of life’s purpose. We are generously encouraged by the rich, diverse ministry of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, which we attend regularly. We are delighted that Edith Schaeffer can listen to it on-line back in Gryon. The sermons teach and provoke thought in their wholeness with seriously studied content. We learn more about God’s ideas for people in our historic conditions, free from political baggage and theological oddities.

Let me tell you about our life and work when we are in NY. We benefit much from the for the most part free lectures, new book presentations at Barnes and Noble stores and free concerts in churches. They surprise and challenge us. A variety of fascinating talks at the 92nd Street Y are available for us on senior tickets at half price one hour before they start.

Our many activities and the pleasure we have from them show that we have neither decided whether to get old in Gryon or New York, nor to get old at all! Age may limit our speed, our hearing and our access, but it is not something one embraces. It happens, but does not determine what one desires. It is much better, I think, to look forward with fullness of intellectual and physical life to the return of Christ. Until then we try to do what we can to remain fully human.

Exposure to people and their various ideas, in person and in their social, architectural, cultural environments, brings to life the content of the Bible about this marvelous creation of “Man in the image of God”. I learn, and appreciate to a greater degree, the truth revealed in Scripture and confirmed in all of reality. It alerts us to the greatness and the tragedy of people, of nature and all life; the truly awesome wonder of real personality and the evil we so often practice in the name of idolatrous ideologies on the right and on the left.

Though well intended often, visions of a good life or a good society often lack, in their companion programs, an awareness of the limitations to what is actually possible at any one moment in the real world. Even with good ideas only individual choices can be made at that moment. In hindsight one can speak of a whole life, but at any moment one has only a limited number of very real choices. Eventually they will make up a life.

That is the reason I believe that neither the ideology of the left nor that of the right are a help in the effort to solve social and economic problems. They are ideals like people’s dreams, fixed like ‘final solutions’. They express “if only everyone did…” rather than what “I should do here and now”. Ideals propose a conclusion, an end to struggles, what amounts to an end to history, a heavenly state of being..

That is a very unbiblical and also unrealistic perception. Unbiblical, because the Bible does not see heaven as a finished, closed and repetitive world, but rather as all creation restored again by God to be then what He intended: the reign of Christ on earth. The mandates to people in Genesis 1 and 2 will only then be carried out sequentially without the hindrances that sin brought into our lives.

It is unrealistic because one can only ever do what is possible now, not live in the dream of another situation. Endless amounts of printed money will not bail out or remedy the deep economic, moral and social problems of our time. It does not make people employable, motivate sacrifice, rectify wage scales and bring justice and respect to individual people in their particular situation. A hollow belief in either the goodness of individuals or in the functioning of the Market will not address the failure to provide for people in thir present need, deserved or not. Only justice and mercy, anchored in personal acts and provisions of law, will bring about greater peace than what a functioning market or personal charity provide.

Ideology of any shade, including many visions of church, marriage or the state, start with an impossible ideal, an image of perfection, of a golden age, of order and happiness conceived in the mind. Ideology has in mind the end result, it is goal-oriented and neglects the necessary attention to the only reality we ever have: the ‘now” of a person’s life, need and choices. God and the Bible are concerned about the means, not the end, which will then follow logically from the way we addressed the means.

Ideological fascination results from Greek philosophic thought. The ideal is seen to be permanent and tidy. It knows no change and needs no adjustments. The Bible by contrast presents a created world intended to be always unfinished, always changing, and in that sense always untidy. In his nature God alone is the same yesterday and forever, while in his persons, the Godhead, we encounter love, thought, communication and actions. He always relates to finite situations of individual people, contexts and needs.

Reality is ‘in sequence’, in a flow, always incomplete. That is one of the reasons the Bible is so credible in its appropriate affirmations. (God created a world which was good, but will never have an unchanging perfection, never reach a final stage. This basically Greek idea of perfection contradicts the God of the Bible who works, loves, creates, judges and does all things in sequence. God’s work is never finished. He created a dynamic history, in which no day is a repetition of the day before. Eternity is, after all, not an end to time, but to sin and the interruption of life through death.)

It should be easy to see that any ‘simple solution’ is a ‘one size fits all’ marketing ploy/ It does not reflect Biblical thought and moral practice. We err if we embrace an ideology, even when it is labeled “Christian”. God and the Bible as a whole call believers to be a constant “coup d’etat” to anything that diminishes the individual person, single situation or immediate need. That one moment, single person, that ‘now’, whatever it is, demands moral action and personal intervention. Future times will present new challenges, but today is the only one we can do something about.

“In so far as you have given water and bread to one of these, you have given it to me” says Jesus.

One of the reasons for coming this time was a series of lectures given at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, entitled The Real and the Ideal: the dangerous lure of utopianism. I was preparing this for a course at King’s College this fall, but when my contract was later not renewed, I wanted to still make it available for the students who had been promised the course. Several of them have attended with church members and outsiders who learnt about the lectures on the church’s web site. The course is being videoed and will be posted on the church’s web site.

Here I make a careful distinction between the need for ideas to expand creation and to improve a fallen world, and ideals people embrace as a perfected vision of what should be.

Such idealism is widespread. We are familiar with it in the great tragedies of the 20th century: efforts to purify the human race, to abolish bourgeois envy and to advocate a cultural revolution. But we also find it closer to home in the belief in one’s exceptionalism, in the embrace of market behavior as a substitute for moral considerations; in the belief in equal opportunity for all which overlooks all the unequal and often unfair starting positions of individual people.

Idealism makes people abandon the possible and insist on pursuing the impossible. Francis Schaeffer often said that “if you want perfection or nothing, you will always have nothing.”

We believe that exposure to real life, real adults and children, real work and nature is necessary to discern what is true. Discernment as a tool is sharpened through questioning and from instruction by God and the real world. It helps avoid obedience to false authorities and misplaced trust in one’s inner convictions, which often reflect pure ideology. Discernment is not theoretical or ideological, nor a private/personal faith or heated opinion. Discernment is an essential requirement when we confront a world of facts

Why then do we Christians often advocate a holy withdrawal from our neighbors and establish obedience as an ideal? Obedience is only called for by God and Scripture after discernment has cleared real and persistent confusion. Obedience as a virtue, taught by many parents and pastors, prepares children to become blind followers. That pattern was required when people followed Hitler or Stalin. Prophets and Priests in the Old Testament, pastors and parents at any time often err. Neither state nor parents own a child or another person. They do not own final truth. They are responsible to teach what truth they know, but not to demand blind obedience. At all times, we know things partially and frequently we need to admit our lack of knowledge.

How much harm has not been brought about in the life practice of Christians who were mislead by advocates of order, purity and separatism untried, and therefore poorly discerned!

So here are some surprises that help diminish and refine our yet unfinished discernment: Richard Banks’ read from his new novel Lost Memory of Skin to address the issue of a one-time sex offender being marked for life and allowed to live forever only in one narrowly defined location. In Miami this is under an overpass, never to be admitted again to a wider life of work and community.

Edward Rohs presented his Raised by the Church: Growing up in New York City's Catholic Orphanages on one evening in the Tenement Museum of the Lower East side. He describes a life, abandoned by his parents who lacked the money to abort him. He was then raised in five age-specific institutions with many disruptions. He became a social worker, working with individual children and helping to change the state social system for children. He was never bitter in spite of hardships and wounds, and with appreciation for what he received in spite of also horrible experiences along the way.

Also, Robert Massie’s presented Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman a few days ago. This wonderfully detailed popular history of Catherine shows the painful life of a young woman placed on the throne among decadent elites requiring a male heir. She makes the best of a terrible setting with efforts, like only a few others in subsequent generations, to bring to its people the rule of law, European culture, better work habits and respect for individuals. On a personal note, my maternal family is tied to that Queen, who’s only true love for 16 years, Gregory Potemkin, is an ancestor to our Orlov family.

Then again, Niall Ferguson gave a marvelous presentation of his new book Civilization: The West and the Rest. He laid out six central ideas or institutions, which, like apps on the phone, strongly influenced the way European/Western culture gained temporary ascendency on the world scene. Out of the mud, depression, crime and decadence of the 15th century arose a specific way of seeing life and thereby benefitting people across the world. The divergence of civilization and wealth comes largely from these apps. Ferguson points out, they have no automatic life.

They are not owned by history, but by people; and then only until they are weakened by a virus and thrown away. For, history is the history of individuals, not a cosmic movement. An infected computer program needs to be cleaned of a virus. In the same way our current way of infecting the working of these apps needs correction.

Ferguson’s suggests the following ‘apps’:
1) Real competition between individuals and countries, between kings and merchants, with self-governing entities, cities and trading companies, etc.
2) The experimental method of science, by which knowledge is not kept secret, but shared in a network of open access.
3) The rule of law, which protects the private person and his property, as well as his voice in true representative government.
4) A concern for the body/health of people through medicine and then education for the individual.
5) Invention, improvement, manufacture for a reduction of the unit price of things for wider benefits for more people.
6) A work ethic resulting from a word ethic, from well-fed and literate citizens.

It should be obvious to us that each and all of these apps have a direct link to the message of the Bible. They should have resulted from Bible teaching way before the 15th century, and undoubtedly were attempted here and there throughout history. But real fear in uncertain times, Platonic thinking widespread in the church, and a failure to understand the Bible from the beginning rather than the middle, from Creation and Fall rather than from “the way of salvation” retarded the application of the command to love one’s neighbor as much as the understanding of loving God with heart and spirit and mind and strength.

We can benefit greatly when we recognize the considerable weakening of these apps in our own culture and rekindle a more faithful application of the Great Commission.

It makes me wonder how much the life of the church, which so often improved the conditions for people, also often made it harder, when, in the name of its God it kept people from coming to the God of Scripture, the Lord of creation?

The great St. Augustine, struggling in the culture of his day with important issues of the day, often also taught things that contradict God’s word. He assumed, for instance, that infants are terrible sinners, guilty of egotism and crying, and therefore they need to be punished. That gives fuel to the fire of vicious applications in our own time, just like many parents reacted to an unruly 60ies generation with an insistence on obedience, submission and the right to punish and to control their child of any age, even to the point of starving or killing it.

Why are Christians not more discerning and then protest all outrageous extremes? We complain when Muslims don’t speak out against the cruelty of some of their religionist brothers, yet don’t do the same towards Christian extremism. Which Christian speaks out about the physical and mental cruelty of some Christian parents towards their children? Thankfully there are social services which take charge of children who are harmed by their religious Christian parents. We argue over theological differences and yet fail in the moral field, letting the life of a person be damaged by the same religion we hold?

For Christians at times also impose on reality a shape, a teaching, a view of life out of all connection with that reality, just as when Muslims practice the submission of the woman to the man or honor killing. When a book that teaches the use of a quarter-inch plumbing line to punish a child (Michael and Debi Pearl’s To Train Up a Child) is widely supported, where is the moral outrage and legal opposition amongst us?

Rather than asking for ways to produce more obedience among our children we must yearn for greater moral and factual discernment for them, including discernment among all the confusing that is preached in pulpits or is printed in books.

In fact the core of much Christian teaching is the emancipation of selfishness, a serious departure from historic Christianity into personal freedom, whether in Mormonism or a lot of what parades as Christianity in many groups, churches, and politics. Harold Bloom discusses it in a good article at:

On the musical page we admire the many good musicians we run across in subway stations or Union Square. We heard a remarkable performance of all six of Bach’s violin Partitas and Sonatas by Jennifer Koh in one session on a Sunday afternoon: Breath-taking, the audience in total silence, no whisper or cough interrupted this rare jewel of a concert, Ms Koh was alone on stage with her violin in a rare 3 hour gift to each of us. What richness of sound, what variations of themes, depth of emotions and width of tensions Bach composed, yet always with a resolution at the end!

And then, each Monday at One the Trinity Wall Street Church Choir and the Baroque Orchestra perform two Bach Cantatas at St. Paul’s in the context of an open service, tourists coming and going, sitting down and hearing the Cantata’s wonderful words of Biblical Christianity! You can listen to it on

Our earlier discussion about ideals and ideas is illustrated on the evening when Tony Amato was scheduled to present a book about his beloved Amato Opera on the Bowery, where young and older singers performed full length operas for more than 50 years on the narrow and short stage inside an old brownstone house. When Mr. Amato fell very ill and could not attend, the audience of opera lovers, former singers and his friends brought us their experiences and expressed their pleasure of years of work with him. The ideal, Amato’s own presence, had become impossible. But instead of cancelling the evening, they all made the best of what was possible and gave us lively memories of the Amato Opera Company.

I mention all these events from the simple desire to share with you the source of my reflections, the experience of being stretched as a human being and a Christian, often with and into more Christian understanding than many a Bible study would accomplish. That is not for lack of Biblical attention, but for lack of so many Bible studies not addressing questions of life. Salvation or what is seen as personal spirituality is not the sole concern of Scripture. Bloom may call it the fecund mythmaking faculty which produces a plurality of personal gods in ecstatic solitude with the result of moral, cultural impoverishment, when everyone recites his own poetry against dying.

Perhaps here lies one of the reasons why Christians come up with as many strange and often sadly erroneous ideas as non-believers do. We have always maintained that the Bible cannot be understood until we know more of the world it talks about: God’s rich, important, lasting and precious creation and the human being in God’s image. I also turn it around: you cannot understand the world unless you know how the Bible explains its existence, purpose and why life is so often so painful now, after sin harmed it so seriously.

Then we begin to understand that we were not made to go to heaven, but to have a life on earth that pleases God and each other. For, according to Scripture, Bible study and church life are not the central occupation of the Christian. Our calling is to live as intelligent, thoughtful and compassionate human beings in expectation of the Lord’s return to his creation.
Therefore, life keeps us busy every day, when we add to all the above also conversations, correspondence, prayer, preparations of lectures and studies every day.

One recent conversation blew us away so much that I want to tell you about it. We returned by Taxi from the airport, inquired about the driver’s life, work and background, as is our custom. He mentioned that he came to the US from Colombia at the age of 13, had joined the Navy and seen Spain, Italy and Greece while enlisted and found the US the best country to come to as an immigrant.

So Deborah asked him what he thought about the numerous illegal immigrants and what to do about them. From then on and all the way to our address he told us how much he thinks about such questions all the time. Then he laid out his proposition: The country’s economy already functions with the contribution of the 10 million illegal immigrants and even depends on their contribution. Send them home, and much of our life would come to a halt.

Therefore, and because sending them home would contradict a profoundly historic American value of welcome for the needy, they should be given the path to citizenship immediately and the borders should simultaneously be more sharply controlled. Their employment would then be legal, they would pay taxes and send far fewer wages home to their country of origin, because they could now legally invest or save it here. They would have a legal future here.

In addition they should be given facility to move into many of the foreclosed houses in view of buying them with mortgages, solving at least a part of the crash in housing markets, reducing the empty-house/reduced value drama in many neighborhoods.

Three immediate material benefits would result: higher tax income, lower foreclosure rates and fewer dollars sent abroad.

In addition, they would now be paid higher wages and pay higher SS contributions; no longer would their fear of discovery be used for the present wide-spread wage theft in illegal employment. Furthermore, each illegal employer would be fined something like $100 for the first offence, $500 for a second and $5000 for third, etc.

We have rarely heard a more sane, compassionate and practical proposal for solving an immoral condition on both sides of the divide. Even when we arrived at our address, Carlos continued on the side walk.

Another reason for our admiration: Carlos represented what was at one time the central American idea: all people matter in the one human race, not as nationality, race or in a social standing. That view results from Scripture, where one human race, Jews and aliens, is under one God and law. With the Enlightenment ideas, rejecting Scripture, Europe split into nationalities, separated by references to soil, blood, language, religion and race. America mostly did not. The idea of a society from one human race was America’s exceptionalism: a country based on a concept rather than on a select group!

With the discussion about integrating long-term illegal immigrants this idea has been abandoned also in the US, as acceptance of people is now filtered through nationality and racial concerns in pursuit of mere national interest. Why do many Christians also follow this Enlightenment influence and accept a tribal instead of a human focus?

I asked Carlos to write up his ideas, to send them to me and I would try to get it to a wider audience. “I don’t write things, I just think about them and enjoy finding solutions to problems when I wait in my Taxi”, was his answer. I gave him copies of FOOTNOTES and of my recent book “Neither Necessary nor Inevitable” and pray they will encourage him.

In addition to all these activities we spent one whole week in Wake Forest, NC, to lecture in several classes and the Center for Faith and Culture to faculty and students. One class listened to my proposals for greater social justice, as the Bible reminds us of the need to apply one law for everyone, the need to care for the poor in other ways than mere charity (In the Bible tithing was not considered charity, but an obligation; Jesus taught that Caesar should get taxes for his administration, but not a person’s soul and everything that bears the image of God; and Paul (Rom 13) assumes that we pay the government so that it can use the sword for good and against evil).

Another lecture was entitled “Freedom for or freedom from religion” and points out that the arrival of modernity and the revolutions in the 18th century had very different results: In the US it opened the door for the freedom of religion, in Europe the freedom from religion. While the latter gives a reason for the frequent dismissal of Christianity in personal life and thought and explains its minor relevance, the former, in the US, explains perhaps the increasing superficiality and fragmentation of the same, and therefore the loss of any substantial contribution of Christianity to culture. Personal faith is little more than that: faith in faith.

Our week in Wake Forest at South Eastern Baptist Seminary was also an opportunity to observe progress in the efforts of archivists and librarians to catalogue all 50’000 pieces of the Schaeffer material. Funds are now available at the library to gradually digitize everything in preparation for study of the material. We are so glad that what we had been mandated to do as the Francis Schaeffer Foundation, but never could because of lack of funds, is now being done carefully by a very dedicated team of people.

A second week we spent Austin at The Hill House, the work of lectures, Bible studies, many meals and frequent discussions with individuals and in groups, which is headed by Greg and Mary Jane Grooms a couple of blocks from UT. We went to lecture there, but mostly to visit Isaac. He teaches English and European literature to sophomores and juniors. To our great surprise, honor and pleasure he had arranged that we attend his classes and observe. We were overwhelmed by the content and the way he teaches, drawing out of the reading assignments and class discussions a wealth of insights and observations from Augustine’s Confessions and Milton’s Paradise Lost. The young people all participate, reason their case and in the end the lesson ends where Isaac wants it to get to. Frankly I wish I had had a similar exposure when I attended high school literature classes.

A lecture I gave at The Hill House ( discussed whether we haven’t in fact all become Darwinian in outlook and practice. When even Christians assume that all things already run their (now divinely determined) course there is no philosophical difference between natural design through selection (as Darwin concluded), or divine design, accepted as evidence of God’s providence (as President Lincoln believed).

In the realm of daily life Darwinian thought also reigns. People accept as justified without further moral or factual considerations whatever happens to their advantage. They employ people for the lowest wages the market dictates or allows, and remove moral concerns about the real needs in a person’s life from the discussion. Bosses will fire employees without any further consideration of the circumstances of that person, because that is acceptable in our culture. They in turn will walk out of commitments with nothing more, often less, than “I am sorry”. Darwinian is the mentality that whatever I can get away with must have been intended, ordained or is simply a sign of one’s natural rights.

When ‘natural’ is our final reference point we have abandoned our relationship to both God and Man in the image of God.

With warm greetings for a Merry Christmas, when we celebrate the hope of the Lord’s Advent, his return,

Udo and Deborah Middelmann


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