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The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

Long Letters


Udo and Debby Middelmann:

Dear Friends,

In many ways the timing of our summer break was right. We had a short session with students between the end of exams in early June and our leaving for the familiar apartment on the hills overlooking Porto Azzurro on the Italian island of Elba two weeks later. The water there was warm and the air pleasant (not too hot) for the most part. We had lots of books along, enjoyed our local shopping each day and being recognized again and warmly greeted by various shop keepers with free coffee, cookies for the evenings and inquiries about our health, about other family members and "where was la Nona," meaning Edith.

She had stayed home in Switzerland to be visited and cared for by Debby's sister Susan. Her earlier fracture of a vertebrae and diminished ability to walk made this a better arrangement, though we hope to return to Elba in October for just a few days with her. It will be cooler then, with fewer people to get around on the way to the coffee bar at the square. This will be her beloved Italian break this year.

But when we returned the lettuce in the garden had shot up in our absence, the weeds almost covered my effort to provide fresh produce for the next group of students now. With the short growing season it is hard to find the right time to be away. We can plant after the middle of May, when the last frost has passed. The things planted after the beginning of August rarely reach maturity. And it is impossible to time the break to fall before the slugs start getting too much into the salad.

Fennel, zucchini, chard and onions together with mint, sage, basil, rosemary and parsley add a personal touch to many a meal. The four different kinds of lettuce also presented waves of differing colors and shapes. It is fun to experiment with both utility and artistic layout of our small plot. Lining it on four sides are red and black currents, plum trees and rhubarb, all used for deserts and home-made jams through the year.

On the way back from Elba, which takes us along the East coast of Italy, you pass Pisa with its leaning tower off to the right, go past Carrara and the marble quarries from which Michelangelo carved his block for the statue of David and then through about 70 tunnels south and west of Genoa. The traffic is heavier on Saturdays, when people return from and go to their vacation spots. We had driven for five hours and were just three hours away from home when we noticed that we had left a precious bag on the ferry at the start of the day.

It contained expensive equipment, and we had taken it on deck to be near us rather then leaving it in the unattended car below. And on deck we had left it! Delighted to see the coast and observing the complicated maneuver of a large ferry backing into port we had forgotten about the bag. Now, at the end of the afternoon in hot northern Italy we decided to turn around and go for it.

We prayed and called the ferry company, where we found, after many attempts in broken and imagined Italian, someone who could tell us in broken French that the bag was found, that the ferry was in the mainland port and that we could come anytime to get it there. So we hurried back through 70 tunnels, evening traffic, saw the marbles, the tower in Pisa was still there. We stopped once for gas, but nothing else and reached Piombino after a very fast drive with a ferry in the dock. But it was not our ferry!

We walked all through it (just in case they had given the bag to someone there. All doors were open and all lights on, but the only people were on the TV screen in the lounge. What now? I went to the harbor police, who radioed out to sea and then informed me that OUR ferry would arrive in a few minutes. She pulled in, 25 minutes late, but instead of staying in town, was ready to leave again. I boarded it, not unlike some pirate, determined not to get off without the promised bag. Finally a carefully dressed captain, who did not know anything about "a bag" at first, went back to the bridge and returned after several anxious minutes with everything in order: bag, content untouched and a broad smile on his face. I could have hugged him if that would not have crushed his starched uniform.

While we raced to Piombino Hannah called us from NY to ask what to do with an old TV that we had lent them. They were moving and wanted to throw it out. When they heard of our rather unusual end of a vacation they called back after a few minutes to offer us a night in a hotel, rather than having us foolishly drive through the night, with all baggage accounted for. And a hotel we found in Carrara, old, full of antiques and operated by an old man with a cold cigar, who talked about "Waiting for Godot" with us as if we had come to watch and hear the play.

I write all this for the wonder of God's care that night. One does not leave a bag with its content on a ferry in Italy during the busy travel season, when it carries numerous loads of cars and people back and forth, only to find it again at the end of the day. We had one little window of time to reach the boat as it reached the harbor for a short stop after we had been told it would be there all night. And Hannah's gift gave us the rest we needed after the rush, when I would have tended to drive again through the night, through 70 tunnels, to get home.

I do not believe in providence in the usual sense, in all things being according to God's will at all times. Providence that signifies that God sees and knows all things is Biblical. But some things he knows and sees with grief. What God knows in all details is not always what I should pursue. While God knows all things and events present and future they are not right or approved at all times. An opportunity given does not mean that it should be taken without first inquiring about its morality.

Without this distinction it would have been equally providential if the bag had disappeared or if it had been found. God knows it all ahead of time. But what made our experience more than providential is the recognition that God does interfere into what he knows already providentially.

You recognize this view from frequent earlier discussions with me. With C. S. Lewis I hold that such a view excludes the miraculous single act of God. I believe in miracles during Biblical times and without interruption today. They are God's interventions, sometimes through acts of men and new thoughts arising from God or man, and through generous choices, whether they originate from God or Man, made in his image. The supernatural acts are related to personal choices and abilities, not natural ones.

There was no spiritual purpose in driving all the way back or in forgetting the bag in the first place. It was a waste of time, energy, tires, gas and highway tolls. We did not meet anyone to witness to, nor were we kept out of a possible crash up the road. It was a dumb thing for us to forget the bag. But God hears prayer, always cares for his children and can at times intervene in visible ways and make possible what is beyond normal expectations. Though I do not know how much of all this was from God or from man it gave us reason to be astonished and thankful. Perhaps it was but human honesty, but the timing of all events suggests a generous heavenly father.

I write all this also because I found the response to the ‘Islamization' chapter in my book "The Market-Driven Church" to have sometimes been favorable. Others were quick to accuse me of heresy, because I did not fit into their theology of always seeing God's hand as the cause of all situations. That is different from knowing God's hand in every situation without always seeing it there. We know God's work, faithfulness and power from his word, not only from events. An important difference lies between God seeing all things from eternity and acting in them moment by moment with and against other free agents, which is Biblical, and his approving all of them and being the determining actor.

For, the reality of creation is also exposed to the reality of human freedom (as well as that of the evil one). In our case it was negligence, oversight, forgetfulness and thinking so far ahead that we made a mess of the present! This, not the will of God, brought with it the loss, temporary though it was, of the bag. We failed to use the necessary carefulness.

God has not given us rules about all areas of life. Many areas he expects us to fill out through creative choices. We may fail or succeed. The mandates to have dominion, to become one as man and woman, to resist evil or to have children, to pray and to judge: all involve human responsibility from a position of derived sovereignty, by which I mean being human in the image of God. All such actions and failures change reality forever at the moment at which they are undertaken by human beings.

What happens therefore is known by God, but not necessarily wanted or willed by him. To have it be ‘willed as known' (often believed among people claiming Calvin rather than God as their original theologian) makes mockery of God's moral character. To have it be unknown by God (as in the current ‘openness theology') is to make mockery of his sovereign power. The Bible, in my view, does not support either interpretation. For neither takes seriously the real battle, the unfinished history and the tragedy of life "under the sun" prior to the return of Christ.

So we pray, but not from obedience to a command or because we are told to without a further explanation. Instead we pray because our participation weighs in before God. We take sides, object to evil, work for justice, heal the sick and learn to be more careful. We even make up in some of our suffering what is lacking in Christ's suffering. This is not a work, but a mark of the battle of God against evil.

We ask for God's intervention, help and protection. We ask for wisdom for our choices, for discernment in morally confusing situations. We live in an open universe, not a closed one. The moral standards of God or his purposes are revealed in God's word and action, not in every part of the course of history. We live by God's word, not by bread alone. What happens, what works, what is historical is not in and of itself revelation of truth or moral teaching. The WORD gives us a higher platform from which to survey and judge reality.

During the time on the beach I read "The Time - travelers Wife" which deals, in the form of a novel, with the questions of determinism, the will of God and the awful effect on your life, marriage and work of knowing things ahead of time as fixed and inevitable. What a burden it would be, could you ever tell the future certain events to your friends? Their death, for instance, or their failures?

Another book, "Siegfried," written by a Dutch author, addresses the question of real evil very well. John Mortimer's autobiography (author of the Rumpole character) has a very good chapter on the question of God and evil, which I may try to add as an appendix to my manuscript on the subject of God's part in an evil world. More material, and from a healthy Biblical perspective, is found in the two volumes of "Moses of Oxford" by Shmuel Boteach (1994), giving a Jewish Vision of a University and its life. Articles address social issues, the environment, abortion (pg 93), slander as an ingredients in society's moral decline (pg 299), capitalism, communism and computers in Jewish thought (384). They address questions of human ethics, why men and women cannot understand each other (405) or whether we can lie to promote peace (423), or how hetero- differs from homosexuality (24).

In the section on science themes like "Evolutionary Ethics and morality" (483) and "Darwin and Moses: The challenge of Evolution" (531) are addressed. Here also we find fascinating treatments about whether "God's foreknowledge violate(s) our Freedom?" (630), "If God is good, why do people suffer?" (578) and "The Battle between success and goodness" (828).

We returned a day late from Elba to Edith, to Lloyd and Libby and Sam, to Marla and Bess who all joined us for meals, discussions and a movie or two. The Davies family was here for a month during Lloyd's Sabbatical to write a book on romantic poets, to visit the sights that inspired them as well as to discuss with us to what degree modern Christianity has neglected Jewish Biblical teaching. Personalized faith tends to create a Jesus in our image and neglect the whole history, framework and the law God gave us for life. Is that perhaps one of the reasons why our faith has so little power in the moral and intellectual life, while confirming our opinions?

We enjoyed Libby's return so many years after she first came as a student of Christianity in 1967. She had been a student in Debby's French class in St. Louis while I attended Seminary there. Later she worked with us, attended university in Lausanne. I married Lloyd and Libby in the old church in St. Saphorin by the lake here. Now Lloyd accompanied us on the organ in church and both he and Sam played piano and Clarinet together on many days for Edith in her flat across the path.

Serge was here to study for a few days together with Daniel. Serge will attend the French Air Force Academy on an exchange program next semester. We were glad to hear that the French military is in much more positive contact with the American military than the present French government is with Washington. I knew Daniel as a small boy in Germany. Now he came for two weeks from Santa Cruz, Ca, where he studies chemistry and is very active with the Intervarsity group.

I had last written to you in March. Since then we have continued in the work of personal contacts and conversations in person and through much correspondence, by teaching and preaching. I finished a further manuscript, which is now being considered for publication. Debby's two catechism classes went much longer than the normal cut-off time at Easter. The children not only kept coming until the middle of June and welcomed the Bibles they were given. Some of them want to come back next year for more, which may raise eyebrows in the village.

Please pray for a way to continue the instruction of these dear children. Most of their parents do not believe anything Christian. Buddhism is much more appealing to them, since it promises serenity and peace by way of rather selfish withdrawal from the hardness of life and from obligations to do something for others.

I have previously mentioned the shift to alternative thought systems like Buddhism. We find it in the Chinese doctor newly arrived in town and the Buddhist prayer flags on several houses. Neighbors advise us to see a healer for Isaac's medical condition, another gives us a telephone number of someone who lays on hands. The suspicion towards rational medicine is coupled with a broad rejection of Christianity, for which the church here often gives ample reason with its mystical, unintelligent and spuriously spiritual focus. It is also linked to anti-Americanism, anti-business climate and profound doubts about rationality, assertiveness and intervention. The mountains are steadier than God, the seasons more personal than Jesus, religion more private than the "Thus says the Lord" of the Bible. And then there is the promised serenity of Buddhism, which allows you to let things pass without getting involved to stem the tide of pain in the world.

Unhappily the state church has, to a large extend, gone right along behind it, like the tail on a dog. The bark is not in the church, since they have very little teaching or explaining from God's perspective. One cannot even call it teaching, since it is all to be more felt than known.

The older children receive their catechism through games, cook-outs and stories on four Saturdays a year! There is nothing interesting, startling or provocative, nothing informative about God, man and history, about evil and death and the resurrection in that message. Nothing about human beings either, or responsibility and creativity! Nothing about training the mind or the need to understand a perplexing kaleidoscope of experiences throughout life or why people believe what they believe and whether it makes any sense.

Debby's teaching in Aiglon College, a very good Anglo-American Boys and Girls school in Villars, gives her much pleasure with the children and colleagues. There is time to care for each child in personal attention, help with homework and teaching them French. Some of them come from very sad family situations. Many of them come from different cultural contexts and benefit from much interaction with a more Christian, and in that sense humanizing, perspective. The school is doing much to replace what may be lacking in that area through the content of classes, staff relations with students and through daily meditations on attitudes, ideas and work.

Further away I have enjoyed the invitation to preach more often during the spring and summer in the International Evangelical Church in Lausanne during their search for a new pastor. The church now meets in the center of town, using the building of a Methodist congregation. My texts come from 1st Corinthians, in which Paul addresses the various problems of a church that considered itself too spiritual to deal with division among leaders, immorality among members and responsibilities to the real world God created.

In May I taught at a School for Christian World View in Germany, including all these reflections and more. It was a pleasure to see the response of the students, including an Indian and a Palestinian, as they began to see the uniqueness of the Bible's view and challenge. We were meeting near the pretty town of Landsberg with its medieval fortress, where Hitler wrote "Mein Kampf" during his incarceration. The surrounding country is dotted with former Concentration Camps side by side with Roman Catholic places of pilgrimage and an underground airplane factory. What a painful, absurd, ideologically confusing location! And that in the heart of Europe!

It was a pleasure to place of stamp of moral disapproval on the whole thing and to lament that failure of many to think through their religious and ideological affiliations. We could now construct a more Biblical approach to reality with our discussion on how we can know that the Bible is true, that the world is unjust and fallen, that emotions are no reliable guide to responsible humanity. We could talk about various religions and the resulting social, political and economic structures. Again I found it terrific that Christianity relates to reality, not only an idea about reality. Biblical thought starts with God creating a real world, where all the rest takes place. Greek and pagan ideas as well as ideologies of a more modern kind in our own backyards start with an idea and then impose it on our vision and experiences.

In addition I had the privilege to address a couple that celebrated their 25th anniversary. We met again at the same place, now with their children and in the midst of a life of good work, where I married them long ago. The following Sunday I had the pleasure to preach in German in a church near Basel that has taken clear stands against the failing of the liberal theology. A good community of believers gathers in a former factory to learn and to encourage each other.

A course in Geneva's Bible Institute gave me opportunity to teach French-speaking pastors and to help them understand the people in the parish, their questions, interests and disinterest. Even here the lack of knowing enough about recent history, the weight of Christian and secular ideas in the minds of people and the shift in concerns of Christians from knowing what is true and good to what is felt and entertaining to an over-stimulated public to give them a good time, quickly became obvious.

Also in the church events and world situations are evaluated from the perspective of how one feels about them, while the Bible demands concerns with a focus on justice, compassion and discernment in the world of facts. We have also been influenced by a shift from thought to emotions. Yet the Bible emphasizes thought, knowledge and obedience to what is true. Paul prays for the Church in Colosse that God would fill them with the knowledge of his will (1:9) to be able to live a life worthy of the Lord and bearing fruit in every good work (10). Emotions will follow: emotions of wonder, love and confidence. Yes, emotions of joy to have understood something, mastered a skill, perceived an insight or done a good piece of work.

Without a priority of thought, however, emotions like love, peace and compassion easily lead to very perverted ends. God does not command emotions, but behavior. Obedience to Christ's commandments shows the love we have for him. "If anyone loves me he will obey my teaching," Jesus said (John 14: 23). By doing what he commands we are truthful to the person of God, the shape of his creation and the mandate to be creative people. Emotions will follow faithful behavior, while faithful behavior does not follow an emotional start. Love, peace and compassion need a focus first, lest they lead to very strange ends.

That sequence is easily neglected when we participate in a culture that encourages us to do what we enjoy or to study what we like. On the larger scale it affects our view of history, of human rights, of intervention or neglect. Emotions are a poor tool to judge moral responsibility, which is often linked to very unpleasant duties and high financial and emotional costs. Emotions must eventually be lined up with facts and reason.

Ignorance of the rest of the world, of other cultures and lives, of art forms or social arrangements, of alternatives to our ways, may lead to a closing down of the creative instincts of our mind. We will easily fall into patterns and repetitions. We then embrace what is common, usual and easy. An unemployed mind will quite commonly result in general boredom.

We don't know whether Egyptian art or Dutch painting is enjoyable until we enter the museum. We do not always enjoy our children, or our spouse, unless we realize that they are there, created by our choice. Then we can more easily make their existence enjoyable. Form, reality and fact precede your engagement with them in the same way in which God, creation and life precede your life among them. Remember that starting with an idea about what is enjoyable is Greek thought, not Christian. The Greeks (and their contemporary idealists around us) seek the ideal. The Christian is engaged with the real. For the Greek the gods are beyond the material world. For the Christian God created a real world, came for lunch with Abraham and took on flesh to dwell among us. The WORD became tangible, incarnate, and spoke and acted with authority.

Life is more than a shopping mall of tempting emotions. Education should be more than a multitude of choices you ‘feel' like making. The thoughtful insight, the analyzed text or movie, the successful training in a manual or intellectual skill will lead to heightened pleasures, deeper satisfaction and personal sovereignty as a child of the living God.

The old Liberal Arts Education, which exposed students to history and geography, almost always tied to literature, foreign languages, to philosophy and psychology, had liberation of the person as a goal: liberation from superstition, from ignorance, from the opinion of others and from the fear of the unknown. Its origin lay in the acknowledgment that we are children of God, not of nature, of fate or of traditions. To exercise the mandate of dominion and to continue creation into the "second and future weeks" such training had to be given. I wonder why the church so rarely takes responsibility for that task. It did more of it in the past through preaching, church schools and universities. I am not talking about Christian schools, but the interest of Christians to teach reality: The reality of God, of creation, of law, of ways to fight evil and injustice, of embellishing the life we live through the arts, of stretching our human experience through literature and what has become the media.

Instead emotions, sensual experiences and feelings of personal interests have replaced the Biblical emphasis to discern, to understand and to do. Consequently we are all much more accustomed to select churches, make friends or judge war and peace or eat and drink on the basis of what we like more than on the basis of what is good for us, what is just even if it may be painful and costly. The former requires no training, no effort of selection, no established criteria and no comparison.

It was easy for some of my French pastors in my course in Geneva on Postmodern Thought to arrive with a view in line with French public policy. Easy for the simple reason that, as it turned out, they knew little of Iraq history, of the economics of oil, of recent trading patterns of European countries with Saddam's Iraq or of the Islamic world view, even though France is now in a tremendous struggle to recognize and deal with the increasing power and influence of Islamic schools.

There are more than 100 areas in France where the police no longer patrol, where girls are beaten and raped when they do not live under the control of their fathers, brothers or husbands. Autobiographies have been published about such experiences and marches organized in favor of the headscarf ban. This is not a limit of religious freedom. Instead it is a limit of the practice of inhuman religions, because the tenets of that religion are incompatible with the reality of the men and women. (Remember how similarly Mormons had to abandon the teaching of polygamy in Utah before that state could join the Union!).

David Brooks wrote an editorial in the July 27 International Herald Tribune ("The real enemy is not terror, it's an ideology") that the real enemy is a hostile belief system. Besides the need for an investigation into our intelligence failures we need an investigation about our intellectual failures to recognize Islam's pathologies. Instead of hostile countries we face hostile ideologies, which use terror as a way of proclamation. Much like Marxism in the past. Islam's ideology is religious and claims to be of divine origin. Marxism was also religious, though of a secular kind by its attachment to historic/dialectic materialism.

Our exchange with these ideologies requires in part a forceful resistance. A state must set boundaries to the behavior of inhumanity and contain its influence in order to provide security for its people. Such boundaries should also limit our cooperation with governments under the influence of inhuman ideologies. To my great surprise I read that Canada is considering the establishment of Sharia courts to handle civil cases involving property, divorce and inheritance cases of the Muslim community, which means a further violation of women's equal rights, but now under protection of Canadian federal law! Muslims may appeal to Canadian courts, but which woman will do that when she has previously been threatened and damaged by her husband's use of religion?

For the sake of the universal human being we need to engage in an intellectual offensive through exchanges of ideas. The market exchanges must consist of ideas in the context of reality, not just reality as perceived by a religion. We may speak of values, but they are more than personal, local or of preference. Islam and Marxism, to take just these two world views, err not in having different values, but in misreading the nature of reality, or what is creation, the human being, man and woman, what is work and money, what is the mind, etc. Their view of life and death, of truth and reason, of land and property is flawed in relation to reality, not to ‘our view of reality'.

The promise of liberty, democracy and human rights requires far more careful definitions, together with explanations why they are often misused and why we are opposed to this misuse. The pathologies of Islam, including its disregard for women, education and imagination, need to be exposed and compared with the better, because more realistic influences of a Christian and Jewish view of men and women, of the mind, of work, time and nature.

I suggested in other places before that both Marxism and Islam are perverted adaptations of Biblical thought. Both claim to be universally true and tolerate no rival. Everything is controlled by energy, i.e. matter, or by divinity. One speaks of God, the other of a dialectic history as master. Both see the failure of man in his individuality and offer ‘salvation' in the form of ‘belonging' through obedience, collective repetition of slogans or prayers, and hold out a bright future. The heretical part lies in the impersonality of scientific mechanical progress and the impersonal nature of Allah. Both ideologies are impersonal, because materialism robs man of the soul and Islam robs him of his mind, of doubt and of a moral debate with God and creation. Both suggest that every moment is according to plan. There is nothing wrong in the advance of their belief, no possibility of error ever occurs within the systems themselves.

Both ideologies make no room for the reality of human personal existence, including individuality, debate, creativity and failure. Both claim to be final, set in stone and inevitable: Marxism by an appeal to science, Islam by an appeal to Allah. There is no redemption in space and time, no evidence of mercy from God or history, no valuing of the sinner, and no ‘secular' life.

In contrast the personal God of the Bible guarantees personality as eternal on the background of the love and communication between the members of the Trinity. The gradual development of creation through the time of six days or periods explains change and opens the world of our experience to variety, surprises, the need to think and weigh what is wise and good.

I sign off with warm greetings and many thanks for your continued interest and occasional support.

Udo and Deborah

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