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The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

Long Letters


Udo and Debby Middelmann:

Dear Friends,

The first snow is falling today and covers all the unfinished work in the garden. Branches and tree limbs wait to be cut and then stored to dry for a year before they will become firewood. A second covering of leaves this autumn will have to be raked, lest the grass will be spoiled underneath. In an attempt to put snow tires on the car later rather than earlier we misjudged the season. So tomorrow…, but certainly before I leave Debby here and teach at the Bible Institute in Geneva for three days next week!

I have made a fire in the fireplace, a pot of tea exudes warmth and fragrance, and it is again time to write to let you participate in our work and lives. Do you take sugar?

The past four months have kept us very busy. Students were with us until the middle of July. But what a delight they always are. We spend much time together, read and discussed, watched and considered people and their ideas. We exposed them to real Roman remains, old towns and liberal economics. Gena and Danil from Russia were a particular joy to us, as they exposed themselves to new ideas and challenges. Gena returned to Samara to teach history from a new perspective of human choices rather than historic or material forces. Danil hopes to return next year for longer.

I had planned to teach two seminars in Kyrgyzstan during August. However in light of the uncertainties in that part of the world, a change of government in country and a drive-by shooting of two diplomats the family asked me to cancel. It seemed wise. I made that decision with much sadness and pray for better times and different opportunities.

A course for vacationing adults on Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians in French brought me to the Emmaüs Bible School above Vevey at the beginning of August. That venue brings people together from various professional backgrounds and for the most part without a Bible school education, who are interested to see Biblical studies in relation to their lives, work and social context. In addition my reading of the Bible places its WORD into the present societal context and points out what significance that teaching had to bring forth a Christian intellectual, social and artistic world called Europe. The conversions of believers then involved more than a personal relationship to God. It called for obedience to God's description of reality, history and our significant part in it as we practice a Biblical ethic rather than that of our traditional society.

I am always amazed how little we seem to appreciate this and how much we assume that Christianity changed personal lives only. That is of course where it always begins. But in fact through such personal changes a whole culture is produced, as older ways of thinking and doing are overthrown through deliberate moral and intellectual choices into future generations. Some things remain from Athens and Rome, but much of Europe is the result of the church, without any claim to perfection or completeness, teaching about a reality under God and human life informed by the Gospel.

We are then not shocked or surprised when statements about the Christian roots of Europe raise questions in other parts of the world, which assumes that Europe is only secular. There may be little "personal" faith now, but the thought forms, work ethic, and social realities have at their core nothing less than roots planted in what is Biblical. The Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi spoke of it in terms of Islamic countries having to change and to adjust to a Christian European way of seeing life, discourse, work and women in order to participate in discourse, trade and international organizations. Valerie Giscard d'Estaing, a former French Prime Minister, said it again when he suggested recently that Turkey is not part of Europe. Though a secular state, strong Islamic religious forces encourage a different worldview without being an Islamic state.

In a number of discussions I was asked questions about this ‘European' characteristic in Eastern countries, in Ukraine and Russia. I always thought and taught that Europe is not primarily a geographical unit; as a continent it is more like the nose on the face of Asia. What sets Europe apart is a way of thinking, a way of seeing reality and a way of ‘doing' life, where the basic values are inherited from distinctly Biblical teaching.

Admittedly there have been enormous sins in the pursuit of these values, when Christianity was married to nationalism, territorial claims, with lust for power and some questions of theology. Even Marxism and Fascism, both original to Europe, are secular perversions of Christian thought about society. There is no reason to claim perfection or a history without cruelty for Europe or the Christian West. Yet in spite of all such aberrations there is something specifically European (including her ‘daughters' in other parts of the world, beginning with America), that has benefited people around the world.

To be part of that culture then involves a change of view, personally and as a society. That change already takes place in part through expanded trade, where working conditions, ideas, habits and expectations are affected. It must be also part of our diplomacy, cultural exchanges and seminars. For this reason a country wishing to join Europe needs to abandon certain inherited attitudes and practices, just as Eastern Europeans have to shed the influence of Marxist culture and economics in order to dance to the same tune as the rest of the ‘continent'.

It was therefore correct in my view that the Imam of Geneva was sent home when he recently advocated the stoning of women according to Islamic law. There is no room for that in our culture, nor for deceit, idleness or slavery. We believe people are real individuals and therefore do not advocate a collective response.

In the middle of August I attended a conference of the Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians in Germany. I read a paper for a workshop on the end of Constantine Christianity. I argued that it was a good thing to separate church and state, so that the state would not impose any religion with force. Yet I also warned that with this separation Christianity is often let free of any critical, rational and textual context. It then becomes so personal, subjective and often irrational, subject to the context of individual persons rather than creation, history and the people of God through generations.

I meant to lean against the assumption that after the end of the Imperial Church and outside of Europe whatever Christian experience is claimed in any part of the world is seen as a magnificent variety of God's working. I for one am very hesitant, though not surprised, about much of what parades under the label of ‘Christian' or ‘church' around the world and in our own countries. Often I find little relating to the New Testament faith or the continuity of God's law and covenant, though the language and terms are common. Churches often invent their theology as they go along. Tribal customs persist in churches without discernment. An interest in entertainment and an expectation to be made happy determine theology in our Western world. There is little awareness that there is a truth communicated to us in words, which are to transform our lives into something approaching holiness rather than a feeling of elation.

It is often suggested that the next missionary movement will return to our countries from countries with recent converts, where more churches are more alive now. Yet I wonder whether many of these churches have enough of Biblical content to be emissaries of Christ. His disciples spoke of truth, history and the need to understand God, the fall and redemption. They took on Athens and Rome as pagan cultures, while so much of modern church life is focused on events, happiness and personalized faith, charismata and community feeling. Do you see there any continuation of the careful work of what apostles did in Acts? Where is the modern Paul who lectures for 18 months in the lecture hall of Titius Justus in Corinth? Who presents a whole worldview as Paul did in Athens? Who transforms the thought forms of citizens as Paul did in Thessalonica? Who expounds the Ten Commandments in application to social and economic life? What view of God, Christ and the life of Man would be exported from Africa, South America and Asia?

I enjoyed very much the exchanges with Thomas Oden from Drew Seminary and the studies presented by Don Carson from Trinity. The latter gave perceptive insights from Acts about the content of Paul's preaching. The former suggested in a paper that much of early Christianity has roots not in Europe, but in Africa and Asia. The earliest churches and later church fathers worked and taught there. The great ecumenical church councils were called there. Nicea, Ephesus, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem all lay outside of modern Europe.

Yet in discussions I pointed out that this must not be brought into relation with our present division between continents, since the whole area was one Roman Empire, and Europe was an unknown delineation. When Paul crossed to Thessalonica he was not going to Europe, but to another Roman province. Therefore it is erroneous to suggest that Christianity's roots lay outside of Europe. They lie in Jerusalem. Oden's kind of suggestion only feeds the modern need to give greater importance to Africa and Asia than to Europe, a strange way of doing penance to former colonies, and a false humility about what we believe. It showed me how scholarship can be twisted in the pursuit of political accommodation. It expresses perhaps a certain lack of confidence about the present, more European association of Christianity from a failure to understand that Europe itself is a creation of Christianity in the first place.

If we are easily accused of Euro-centrism from the rest of the world, that accusation assumes that Europeans and Americans as Europe's daughters (General De Gaulles was fond of saying this) invented Christianity. Historically it happened the other way around: the teaching of the Gospel produced our mindset and swept pagan Roman and tribal Vandal, Nors, Viking, and Frankish ideas into the dustbin.

My fear is that the teaching of Christianity, once freed from what is perceived as a European rational and evidential contribution will end up as a new pagan mystery religion with Christian vocabulary. The spread of Pentecostalism in South America, the inclusion of African shaman mysteries and Asian ideas of ‘Shinto', or the total communal dedication to a cause as part of Christianity raises such questions in my mind. What do you think?

It would have been more interesting in my way of thinking to wonder why the Eastern Church in ancient Asia and Africa was so much more strongly distorted by Greek philosophic thinking and later Muslim ideas that it weakened to the point that the church there was almost extinguished. In any case it became something quite different in its theology and view of life from what we know of as Jewish and Reformation practice. Our view of Man, the mind, work and worship, of nature and history, of authority and truth has given us much more strength and responsibility to take on some of the evils of individuals and society than what you will find in the Eastern churches. But that issue will have to wait for another day to be treated.

Perhaps "The Decline of Oriental Christianity" by Bat Ye'or, 2002 will be able to shed more light on it. For it is noteworthy that within a couple of centuries the spiritual and intellectual strength of the North African church, of the desert fathers and such was weakened, or shall I say more kindly redirected to ‘spiritual' pursuits at the expense of a practical outworking in Christian life and ethic in the midst of society.

The end of August gave me opportunity to explore such things in a faculty workshop for The King's College in New York at the start of a new year. Thirty of us spent three days together discussing how a Biblical World View should be expressed in the curriculum and syllabus of the open college in New York City. We studied from the Bible, but I also referred to "Discipling Nations" by Darrow Miller and "On Being And Becoming Human", which is a marvellous treatment by Willard Gaylin. He refers to Genesis as the foundation and only explanation of such a high view of human beings. Further readings were in Roberts' "History of the 20th Century" with its frequent references to the influence of Christianity around the world. Miller lays out the three dominant worldviews of the day to help us understand why the thinking of people, rooted in their religion, differs so much in the practical needs for physical, political and intellectual survival of people. Animism denies real material, materialism denies real ideas, and only Christianity speaks of a created material world inhabited by real people with ideas about it, revealed by the creator.

Gaylin lays out a long list of human characteristics, which show how different the human being is from everything else, especially animals. He affirms his central thesis from observation, not from a religious obligation. To be a human being we must also become human through language, love and work. The former we are already in the womb, the latter we learn to become after birth. Gaylin speaks here as a scientist, not because he is told to believe this. What we would say about love, language, character development and ‘image of God' he concludes from the study of his patients and in response to the attacks on real humanity he sees everywhere. The human being as human is an endangered specie, for he is being explained away in psychology, biology and sociology!

In September I went to Isaac's history teacher and the headmistress of the school to complain about repeated unhistorical comments in class, mostly about America past and present. I met twice with them to correct the accusations, which largely follow the strong anti-Americanism around the world. First there were snide comments on how it has now been proven that the government had ordered the attacks to justify the war for oil in Afghanistan. This is based on a book published in France by the same company that publishes UFO material and sold widely without any referrals to witnesses, observations and such. The author did not go to the US to examine the matter; he merely noticed that in pictures there were no airplane remains in the Pentagon fire.

The second objection came against her statements that while European countries had stopped colonialism, America had not and was now colonizing Afghanistan. I pointed out at some length that America never had colonies for any length of time and wanted to get rid of the Philippines as early as 1934. With reference to Jean-François Revel's very recent book "The Anti-American Obsession" I laid out facts and demanded they be respected in history class: America's intervention abroad was always in response to European tragedies and to bail them out: Two world wars and two inhuman ideologies of Marxism and Fascism started in Europe; the Israel-Palestinian dilemma results from Europe's anti-Semitism and the export of that problem to the Near East after 1945; America's involvement in Yugoslavia became necessary because of European disunity about how to proceed against large-scale ethnic murder. Even the accusation that Americans are by some genetic force murderous, witness the extermination of Mongol-Americans during the period of Westward expansion, Revel disarms by reminding us that most of those people were recent immigrants and had learnt their habits in Europe.

In fact, Revel suggests that much of the Anti-Americanism of today is a warmed-up leftover from the old resentment of socialist elitism against democratic liberalism, of failure against success, of those who wish to control society against those who manage quite well through individual initiative.

While the teacher may still hold her views, at least she longer poisons the other students with her ideological views. I reminded her of what happened to a teacher years ago who denied the holocaust and was subsequently pensioned. Ideology and politics are not to be brought into the classroom. Of course we all do it in insidious ways. It is really unavoidable, but at least it should have more relations to the world of historic facts! My concern is not so much Isaac as the other children, who for the most part do not know where to look for facts or balance.

Having mentioned these books I want to share a number of other books you may want to check out as helpful in your thinking about the times we live in. Very interesting, extremely troublesome in its honesty and provocative subject is "Out of America" A Black Man Confronts Africa (Keith B. Richburg, Harcourt Brace 1998). He is a Washington Post reporter with many years in Africa on assignment. He speaks of a ‘conspiracy of silence', even among his own family, when discussing Africa, as a consensus of journalists, politicians and economists seek to be affirmative, hopeful and encouraging. Richburg has been there, as a black man, and will make you weep over the horror of Africa's tragic situation.

He is thankful that his ancestors were taken out of Africa as slaves, as horrible as that experience was, for he could then be born and live to write about the atrocities, cruelties, endless death and fatalistic acceptance of suffering that are part of the African landscape, society and cultures. Writing about Somalia, Rwanda, Kenya, Angola and Zimbabwe as a journalist he grieves over the acceptance of so much evil as normal and of the lightness with which evil is committed as normal.

He also reports on a conspiracy of silence around the world, even in his own family in Detroit, when it comes to honestly admitting how much of Africa is a failure with its tribal customs, inhuman religions and shameful political systems. To protect against the possible revival of racism our generation does not admit to the cruelty of people to their neighbors and of the horror of the African situation.

Over coffee with two African pastors yesterday I discussed this matter, as they asked me about my impressions. They reported how so much of the church talks about salvation, but not life and thought. God's power is set forth as stronger than the power of the spirits. For the believers it then becomes a matter of weighing experiences with God against those with pagan deities. By that measure John the Baptist would have given up his faith. He sat in prison and lost his head, while Jesus performed miracles in surrounding villages, but did not free John.

"Keeping Faith" (Avalon Press, 2002) by John L. and Frank A. Schaeffer is a very honest book by father and son, in which they intertwine their experiences, fears and joys when the poetry-writing son of a non-military family decides to join the Marines, goes to basic training and comes out a Corporal, loyal to a good cause and ready to protect the freedoms of others. It turns the father into an admiring Dad, full of a new willingness to engage himself in public causes from patriotism, concern for the neighbors and from the realization of how much the wealthier North-East of the country takes advantage of the freedoms protected by the military while undermining, from liberal idealism, its necessity.

"The Sword of the Prophet: Islam" (Serge Trifkovic, Regina Orthodox Press, 2002) is a thorough study of the history, worldview and expansionist stated purposes of Islam by a journalist with BBC credentials, who is alarmed by the sermons and lecture contents of Friday gatherings in mosques that inspire such anger, fury and terrorist activities. It has always amazed me that incendiary messages should also fall under the protection of free speech. Why should free speech to destroy free speech be protected? Is there something about sawing off the branch on which you sit?

You may also find Bernard Lewis' book "What went wrong – Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response" (Oxford U Press, 2002) a great help. He suggests that Islamic societies have largely not understood the West and now react angrily against the power of Western views. It is centrally opposing ideas on Man and Woman, on applied science and on…music (!) that provoke such violent responses. Here we give traditional Muslims great offence.

Jews and Christians deem women equal to men, respect freedom and responsibility and consequently teach monogamy. "The man shall rule over the woman" (Genesis 3:16) we understand not as a command, but as a lament over what the fall will produce together with other suffering. We use the study of the universe not in order to discover deeper mysteries about the divine, but to understand creation and to make better use of it for life and against death. Islam encouraged science for war and industry to resist the superior foreigners from the 15th century on, but not for food and health and work for its people. We make music and encourage the arts as an expression of human creativity, intelligence and communication.

The focus in each area is first on the human being made in the image of God. Then is expresses the mandate to have dominion, to subdue and to live, which are part of our understanding of what it is to be human. Our need to grow in knowledge and wisdom is not satisfied by blind obedience, by the embrace of mystery as truth or by art and architecture as propaganda for God. The Bible speaks of Man in the image of God.

The Qu'ran knows no such designation. Obedience, community and repetition are the central attitudes in Islam. Lewis also points out how the infidel, the slave and the woman are considered to be on the lowest rung of human beings. If there is any differentiation among them it is that a master can give freedom to his slave, an infidel can covert, but a woman can never become a man.

While this is the strict teaching of Islam, it is happily not the belief nor practice of the each Muslim. In fact large numbers of Muslims have left their society because of its irrational and restrictive teaching and practice. But they are always exposed to the judgment of the faithful and easily accused and persecuted.

"The Age of Enlightenment", "The Roots of Romanticism" and "The Crooked Timber of Humanity" (Princeton U Press, 1990) by Isaiah Berlin are wonderful pieces taken from radio talks and lecture series by this circumspect, wise and knowledgeable English political philosopher, who represented Churchill's England in Washington during the Second World War and later was a professor at university. Berlin warns repeatedly against extremists, perfectionists and romantics. They have in common the belief that utopia can be justified and imposed, even at horrendous human cost. His vast experience as an Eastern European Jew, an émigré again and again, makes him hesitant about both the finality, from the past, of nationalism, and of utopia in the future.

Berlin's "The Roots of Romanticism" with its suggestion that much of European Christian Pietism has links with the romantics was the basis of our Schaeffer Foundation discussion gathering in September in New York. Harmann, Herder and others reacted against the search for certainty and the affirmation of a unique accessible truth in the Enlightenment's rejection of mystery and superstition. Yet rather than showing certainty about creation through careful observation and about the creator through God's word, they affirmed what we would call ‘personal' truth, which soon became indistinguishable from ideas of the particular, local, nationalistic and inner truth of the 19th century. Christians accepted this easily from a faulty reaction to rationalism. Instead of emphasizing the rationality of Christianity, they focused more on irrational, religious and spontaneous. Feeling something became more important than knowing something. A distinction of Christian faith was lost, as religion absorbed the particulars of Biblical discernment.

It has indeed often been remarked how much our evangelicalism today has roots more in romanticism than in Biblical theology. One has even spoken of the ‘feminization' of the church with the focus on emotions more than study, a ‘soft' approach of grace rather than ‘hard' discipline of law; inclusive fellowship rather than discerning studies; even greater care for decorations than purposeful content from architecture to education. We want people to like us and our church community and forget that church in its specific proclamation and life is also a people known for their somewhat narrowly defined, distinct and in some way exclusive way of believing and living. Where did we once read something about a narrow gate?

I am finishing this letter and sending it to our friend Marla, who kindly mails it to you from Amarillo, TX. I am in Aix-en-Provence for a week to address a large group of French and Americans for an American Thanksgiving. Students, military people and their French friends joined for a service and a meal. We heard a touching appreciation for the American people from the young mayor and other people who remember their liberation in 1944. There will be a church service tomorrow and lectures at the Free Faculty of Reformed Theology as well as a public lecture on cultural clashes, interspersed with many personal conversations, Bible studies and a lunch or two.

With all these travels and wonderful opportunities to continue the work in many circles it seems that we are doing well. We are very thankful for these open doors, for the interest of people, for the changes we see in people's lives and the encouragement they often express. But there are also some rough stretches along the way. We have been quite low in funds recently. While I never travel without the trip being paid for, the honoraria often do not cover the salary needed to pay the family bills. The gifts to the Foundation have been lower than before, and this has become a bit of a problem. We are grateful for your ideas, prayer about this and encouragements along the way.

With warm and personal greetings,

Udo, Deborah, Isaac

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