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

Dear friends, March 2005

No, it is not only the unusual amount of snow we have been having over the last three weeks that kept me from letting you catch up with our work, lives and experiences. Not since 1984 has there been so much of it, wonderful powder in a very cold season, all the way down into the valley and thick on our roofs. There is much beauty in it, and though the lengthening days attract more birds with their added colors and varied songs there is no indication that spring is just around the corner.

Corners in the road of life we did come to in the past six months since my last letter. You have received FOOTNOTES twice since then, but little personal information. We are well, but not finding the rest we thought we would have in advancing years. I shall step over the line when normal people enter the phase of what is called ‘retirement’ in a month. Yet I see no letting up of concerns, interests, duties and schedules. I have mixed feelings about whether that is a good thing or whether on the other hand a bit more time to move about more slowly would be appreciated.

Let me take you back to last autumn. We were disappointed that five couples cancelled their week with us in September. Worldview discussions, with questions about our faith in the context of society, about the state of the world and how history is shaping up would have given us an intense and satisfying time. Their absence did in no way diminish our great pleasure of having other friends for a time to visit, to discuss with and to show them around our rich well of historic settings.

Isaac was able to start school and has been enjoying it very much since then, though health problems interrupt the schedule from time to time. Debby’s engagement with the children at Aiglon College continues to give her much pleasure and an opening to talk about a wider world in history, geography and languages. The children are so eager to discover things, and a little encouragement bears rich fruit. Often their social context at home is fractured and they relish the personal attention they can get now at school.

The catechism classes also started again. What a needy field that is. The local church is dismal, failing to give even the thinnest gruel of Christian teaching. A recent baptism of one of the children made much of the joining of waters brought from Tahiti on the other side of the world with water from here as a symbol of the universal need for peace we should strive for! That was it, folks. A call for peace often seems to be the only shout of the church: no good news apart from some people wishing for peace. At best even this shout is only a symbol of peace, since apart from blaming President Bush for the lack of peace in the world nothing is ever talked about in the direction of human sinfulness, quarrel in the families, evil men doing terrible things to their neighbor, never mind anything even approaching historic realism about the current problems prior to and outside of what has taken place in Iraq.

Therefore Debby’s catechism classes contain a wide field of instruction about God, the Bible, human history, prayer and politics. They learn about other views and discover the unique perspective of the Bible. The children love to come and feel free to ask for teaching as well as prayer for themselves, their parents and a few other, at times quite innocently ‘odd’ things.

In October I went to Vienna briefly for a benefit concert a friend had organized on behalf of Israeli victims of suicide bombings. The entrance to the venue was decorated like an Israeli bus stop. About 100 people attended, including the Israeli Ambassador and his wife. They had inquired about this strange event and seemed to have remained rather dubious throughout the two hours of music and testimonies.

It was deeply moving that evening to hear both the cheerfulness of Mozart’s sonata in B-major and Fauré’s sonata in A-major for piano and violin and then to be drawn into the torn and melancholic piece “Hebraic Suite” by E. Bloch. How much Jews have born the envy, the cruelty and the vicious resentment of others through the centuries. Here some of their Austrian friends made a little effort to gather funds for victims of the current anger of people mislead, under Arafat much more than under any defensive Jewish force, about life and death, about their history and their victim-status.

Now the death of Arafat, that martyr to his own murderous ways, brings some hope that a way will be found to have two states function side by side. The election in Iraq has put additional cracks into what only a year or so ago seemed to be impenetrable systems of power under authoritarian governments. The election there, the street gatherings for greater independence in Lebanon, the admission of other, opposition candidates in Egypt and the first possibility to voice popular opinions in Saudi-Arabia all reveal the appeal of greater significance so far withheld from people by their religious authorities.

I used the time in Vienna to also speak to the upper classes and faculty of Vienna Christian School one whole morning. In the evening several Christian friend gathered for a study and discussion into the night. They were also struggling with the curious emphasis on God’s controlling sovereignty in all matters of history. It has made people less secure about their faith in light of the recent experience of much monstrous human evil.

God’s intervention on our behalf and his keeping us securely in his hand is not the same as a belief that all things happen by the will of God. That would be Islam in religious perspective and fatalism or determinism in any other. Yet when no distinction is made between such a reading of sovereignty and the controlling factors in genetic, psychological and materialist determinism we certainly do not present the good news of the Bible. In God’s word and work we are not called accept whatever happens, nor to see God’s direction and approval in whatever we do. Christians are not fatalists nor do we have reasons to be arrogant. Yet both resignation and arrogance result from belief that God is in control of all things.

Among many Russians the milk of materialism raised a generation that believed that scientific history, the stars in the firmament, the zodiac signs of your birth month and other factors control you life. Genetic determinists believe that your genes control you actions. The information in your brain makes you what you are. Many Christians have not yet seen that a “God-in-control” view is no different in kind, other than that they believe that God is only good. So then there would only be good control? It is of course true that God is only good, but then what do you do with an evil reality, with sin, with the fall of Adam? Are good and evil only ways of perception? Do they exist only in the eye of the beholder?

My Manuscript “The Innocence of God” is currently making the rounds among publishers. One of them sent the comforting news that they saw no evidence of my belonging to the camp of the ‘Openness of God’ theology. Some had too simplistically accused me of that. Let them now hold their peace forever. I find many flaws in the otherwise understandable reaction of “openness” to any kind of divine or secular determinism.

In the MS I suggest two things. First, much of theology has bowed to the expectations of Greek thinking in areas such as ‘time’, ‘knowledge of God’ and history. Apologists from an early age on have perhaps abandoned Biblical thought and insight and replaced it with Greek ideas. That view tends to see in Job good reasons to accuse him instead of praising him, as God later does for his unwillingness to blame God for evil and therewith to refuse the critique of his friends. For, the flaw of Job’s situation does not originate in his sin, but in Satan’s accusations.

Second, much of current Christian thinking fails to make the distinction between the will of God and the acts of man and angels. Belief in a controlled situation either leads to resignation, fatalism and acceptance; or to arrogance, false security and uncritical acceptance. In the former case a feeling exits that nothing can be done about whatever happens; in the latter case the feeling exists that everything can be done, no matter what. In both events the person is not responsible and does not have to consider real choices that change the course of history.

I would appreciate prayer to direct my search for a publisher of this manuscript. I am eager to see it in print, for the questions of God’s relation to human tragedy, sin and natural catastrophes is in my experience the central point why people do not believe until they have been answered biblically, coherently and with sensitivity. I so wish I could hand – or sell - the book to many of my acquaintances. Until that time I keep talking about it with them.

By contrast the church has largely abandoned the clear Scriptural teaching in which God establishes and maintains his innocence. Instead much of the church herself sees in catastrophes only a way for God to teach us humility over against what the absolute God is free to do as he sees fit. Or of course she tries to beautify the horror by seeing it as fair, and from that vantage point then tries to wiggle backwards into reasons why God had to will it.

Anything to make it all seem right! What hideous blaspheme of God, who tries so hard to reach out to us in grace, with tears and power to deliver us from a broken creation.

Between this visit to Vienna and a lecture trip to the US a growing pain across my shoulder and down my arm made me seek medical help. Surgery was planned for the beginning of December to repair a damaged yellow tendon on my spine. It went well, though my left hand is still weaker and in cold weather it tends to cramp. My therapy to regain full movement is to type, to renew the wiring in the house, to tie the shoes of grandchildren and to scrub with soap the edges of all the wooden doors in the house.

My lectures took me first to New York for an evening with discussion in the flat among invited guests and their friends. From there I flew to Toledo, where Bob and Marilynn arranged again a series of gatherings, calling on friends and family to discuss worldview questions and the state of the church. On Sunday I spoke at “Christ the Word” Presbyterian Church. Tuesday I flew on to Vatican West, as some generously call Wheaton. Marvin Padgett had arranged a host of gatherings, opportunities to talk about my book, but also to address different people on the challenges to the church in a culture so attuned to relativism and personal spirituality on one hand and a need for personal relevance through fun programs on the other.

Addressing the Wheaton College Graduate Chapel started it all off. What is called a “working” lunch with the Pastoral staff of the College Church followed during the next two hours. The following day I drove to one of the Harvest Bible Churches, whose staff of about 45 gathered fur lunch and discussion about the content of the “Market-Driven Church”. I was pleased and humbled that they were willing to discuss my concern over a reduced content in so many of the mega-churches. Faith is in many lives a different form of affirmation, giving a sense of belonging and ritual rather than the life-changing understanding of what is true, good and right in our life before God. In this it matches the focus on self-respect, career goals and personal interest stories in the secular world. Yet God wants us to come to the knowledge of him, so that we would understand life, work and the use of time in light of the Creator and then be able to resist evil.

On the same afternoon I addressed a small gathering of faculty, mostly retired, at Judson College in Elgin, IL. On Friday I accepted an invitation to a lunchtime colloquium, an open forum where students walk in for discussion, pizza and coke, and out to their later classes, at Northwestern University in Elmhurst. What fun it was to be put on the spot, to see students surprised and encouraged, to answer their questions and to see them understand more of the Bible, of life and of calling.

Later I joined Marvin in Chicago for a visit through its magnificent Art Institute, always a pleasure, a place of beauty and people, showing human greatness and skill through history. The Art Institute is also an added treasure to me. Amongst its permanent pictures is one by the Swiss painter Hodler of the “Grand Muveran” as seen from Chesières. In fact that is the mountain I face out of my window in Gryon as I write this. I discovered the picture years ago in Chicago, almost by accident. It startled me in the corner of my eye when I was walking between two exhibits. Suddenly the familiar view took over all my senses, a taste of the familiar, comforting, here now shown to the people of Illinois.

Saturday morning was spent with the pastoral interns of College Church to talk about the challenges they face in the life of the church. What is the meat of the message to present? Is there an educational mandate to the church, when the Good News starts with God and Creation rather than with Jesus and the human soul? What are the questions the parishioner struggles with? What need we know to analyze our times and to stand on firm moral and intellectual grounds?

In the evening I had dinner with the missions’ group to hear my perspective on European Secularism. It is often hard to have any sympathy with it. But in part that comes from a lack of sympathy with people who have been exposed to the negative influence of theology there; the failure of the church to take a strong stand against ideologies; the experience of conflict over what is true and the rivalries of religions: they all contribute to a European embrace of secularism. That is a pity, and one must rightly accuse these Europeans of no longer having the curiosity often to find out what is the heart of Biblical Christianity. For it gave shape, after all, to much of what we still see remaining, in form more than content, in its civil life, its art and public places.

The church, however, is not expected any more to have anything intelligent to say or to address moral and social issues other than through acts of kindness. There is a profound sense of disappointment about the church, and the vocabulary, voice intonation and focus of the church’s culture is not inviting further and deeper inquiry.

Until you come for instance across a surprising article on the influence of Christianity on our sense of time. The linear view of time replaced the pagan cyclical view by the teaching of the historic sequence from creation to the fall, to the hoped-for Messiah and the resurrection as well as the judgment to come. Paul speaks of that in 1st Thess 1:9,10. “We wait for Jesus, whom God raised from the dead.” broke completely the Greek cyclical perspective.

This view of a purposeful linear history towards a goal and a fulfillment laid the foundation for our application of time to life: the practical use of the clock, the personal responsibility of what you do with the time you have each day, the evaluation of what was done in the past few hours, days and months as practiced in our democratic forms of checking up on people: they all derive from a Biblical view of time. We vote, discuss, write about and critique periodically, i.e. in the flow of linear time, whether the time was well spent in pursuit of the good, the just and the beautiful.

Such reflections give again a much better reason to rejoice in the message of the church. Just too bad that the church rarely is the forum in which such things are also brought out as concurrent with the message of salvation.

Other encouragement comes from yet a different source. Some of the programs on BBC TV surround what we knew from Scripture with splendid materials. They cover of course a wide range of viewpoints. But among them is also at times a very positive presentation of the influence of the church on culture and history. One recent broadcast described the way the church healed the wounds left by paganism and then kicked it out as people began to believe God. Another showed that many assumptions about the Middle Ages are quite unfounded, more a negative reflection of later folk to put themselves into a better light than an accurate description of earlier times under the church’s influence.

Last night I saw another broadcast illustrating how religion and culture worked together, drawing out of the same well of what we would call ‘living waters.” It is refreshing to see such subjects treated in a factual and interesting manner without embarrassment. One can only wish the church would encourage the discovery of what God’s word means in more areas of life rather than reducing its significance to personal spirituality.

I am reminded of the commentary of one writer in a big German newspaper on the large crowds that always come out to hear Oratorios at Christmas and Easter. The content and the music do not turn them off, secular though the listeners may be in personal convictions. What would happen, one might ask, if pastors would also speak of the solid Biblical outlook and information that is the content of these musical performances? There would be much more to consider. The challenge to mind and life would be so much more demanding, interesting and finally also comforting. And the man in the street would not be left with his biddy remains of faint hints of Christianity, to which modern preaching has often reduced it.

At the end of my time in Illinois I was invited to speak to the combined Sunday School classes of a PCA church in Elgin and then took time off to spend it with a friend of many years, some sight seeing in Oak Hill and getting ready to return to NY for more engagements.

I needed to prepare for a lecture on Islam in a church in Ossining a couple of days later. It was well received, and it was a pleasure to be again in the circle of our friends there. I spend a couple of hours with students and a few faculty members at the King’s College in the Empire State Building, discussing Postmodernism and the need to recognize in the world around us its new mentality and way of dealing with life. It was a delight to be there and to see the progress made.

Postmodernism was also the course title for the week I spent with French pastors in the Bible Institute in Geneva during January. I think I mentioned before that they return for further training after having been in various ministries for a while. They come with a richer experience of life, having to deal with people, whose questions and doubts, objections and outlook on life grow out of postmodern worldview.

It is important to recognize that not everything in postmodernism is bad. For one thing the shift in thinking associated with postmodernism swept away many wrongly assumed certainties and brought out questions that should be asked at all times. Rigidity was characteristic of Pharisees and other fundamentalists. Assuming and insisting on orthodoxy for all areas of life disregards the freedoms God has left in his creation. Orthodoxy in this sense creates the feeling of safety in community and removes possible objections one might otherwise have good reasons for. Necessary critique and debate are squashed by imposed conformity.

Such orthodoxy easily stifles much of what it means to be persons and what is involved in being made in the image of the creator. God in the Bible has not finished creation by one holy swoop that we must now respect with repeated aesthetic affirmations. God took six days and has continued since through miracles and answers to prayer and verbal corrections. To us God gave the mandate to subdue, to invent, to create and at times to be a surprise to others and ourselves in a continuing history. We create it and thank him for his moral instruction and corrective intervention now as well as for his eventual resolution of all that is of sin and death.

Often the tentative expressions of personality, of creativity and momentary experience get turned into certainties and are then imposed on others. Repeating them becomes an absolute requirement for them without any real necessity or godly sanction for it. What was at one time a relative cultural delight becomes carved in stone. It is used as the standard that measures conformity hereafter. What should be an expression of Christian hope and love and faith are soon replaced by traditions, suspicion and a collective practice that requires the abandonment of all reason.

Like a virus that will scramble the information on your hard drive and turn the laptop into a useless machine rigidity and repetition will take away the joy of discovery and the intimacy of faith, hope and love.

In reaction to this and in the hope to recover some of the lost life of the person postmodernism bids farewell to fixed points and cultural assumptions. But soon it tends to go too far, for instance in its denial of any objective reality or even the possibility of knowing anything for sure. As long as it breaks open the boxes of our closed minds, blind faith and fearful insistence on inherited patterns it is much more realistic. Before it grows into a new “arrogance of ignorance” it does a good job of alerting us to the dangers of assumed certainties.

These we easily fall for. But they also exist where the pendulum swings to the other extreme. Personal convictions are easily held with the same absolute certainty as communal convictions. A recent Gallup poll finds that 80% of Evangelical Christians do not think much about established churches. Instead they prefer new and personal expressions of spirituality. To that end they will start their own church communities without any link to the established or traditional churches. “Personalized Christianity” gives believers their ‘personal relationship and experiences’. They may have little if anything to do with the continuity of the Apostles’ teaching. More valued is one’s own reading of theological insights and positions, which are affirmed much quicker than what in the church, let us not forget, took at times years of Council debates and prayer to clarify from Biblical teaching.

Francis Schaeffer called this extra-Biblical interpretation an “existentialist methodology.” The experience of the moment colors the reading of the text differently for each person. Schaeffer saw this as the great problem in the theological liberalism that invaded the church before. A few years later that same methodology has invaded many evangelical churches. The price for membership in this existentialist habit is a theological weakness, Biblically ignorance and a rather opinionated message. We have to some extent abandoned the text by reading only favorite passages. Is there perhaps a parallel to what I have wondered about for years: Have we possibly minimized the Trinity by pitting against an overemphasis on the Holy Spirit in Pentecostalism a theology of my personal Jesus?

It is not astonishing that a recent issue of the Jerusalem Post reported the same phenomenon among Jews. Judaism here and there allows believers to feel the need to define their own way of observing Sabbath. For some it may be going to Synagogue, for others going to the Mall. Whichever one chooses is a personal spiritual experience of Sabbath observance. No context, no continuity, no commandments and no consequences!

It all resembles secret and personal mystery rituals, from which the clear events in history and the coherent word of God had once liberated us into a rational and coherent access to a purposeful life under God.

In December we had our annual Christmas service in Champéry by candlelight. We go across the valley to the village that threw out the Schaeffer family for having had a religious influence when the mayor came to believe in Christ. Of course the situation has changed since then, but villagers remember the event with some embarrassment, and we delight in returning to bring the news of Jesus’ birth back to the village.

We missed our musician this year, but the forty tourists from England, the US, Holland and Germany sang lustily between the various readings in the flow of the Biblical narrative. I also preached several times in the International Evangelical Church in Lausanne with much pleasure and benefit to myself. It is truly an international congregation with students and visitors from many countries. In addition I had the privilege of preaching, this time in French, for the congregation that meets in the Huguenot Church in Geneva.

Much pleasure we found in Mike and Carolyn joining us for Christmas with their adopted son Mike, who comes from NE China and delighted us with his good humor, funny faces and curiosity. Far from being a ‘terrible two’ he took part in much of what we did and loved the first snow of the season.

Early in February I accepted an invitation to Cluj in Northern Romania for a small conference held in the Quo Vadis Café. The theme was: Is Poverty in your pocket or in your head? An English missionary is the manager of this public coffee house, an Austro-Hungarian tradition, and besides serving a good cappuccino and desert he and his team organize public events, lectures and discussions.

Is wealth finite or infinite? was the first night’s concern. Keep in mind the materialist teaching and attitude in formerly Communist societies. For in that perspective ideas are not valued as a commodity, as a resource. Only measurable substance matters, and of that there is a limited supply unevenly distributed. Our Biblical insight gives a different perspective. The mind matters as well. Choices made have material consequences. Problems discovered or recognized and solutions sought is primarily an intellectual and spiritual work. The greatest resource is the human being as a thinking, evaluating and creative component in an otherwise material world.

From that I proceeded to suggest that material poverty is also a result spiritual and intellectual emptiness. Poverty is also a matter of lack of motivation, courage, inquisitiveness and imagination, all of which can be and has been suppressed by ideology, fatalism and religion. Man survives in nature more by what he creates than by what he finds. Creativity is an expression of playfulness, but also of daring, of imagination, of sensitivity and of a purpose embraced. In the Bible it is described as the dominion mandate, the invitation to name animals and love people as well as, after the fall, to work by the sweat of the brow.

For that reason Abraham and later Isaac dug wells to draw more water for an increasing herd of sheep, while Abimelech filled them up again to restore nature to its old form.

To my delight a Romanian Foundation then offered seed money in small amounts to 20 projects designed by young Romanians. After one month they shall return and show what they have done with their ‘talents.’ It shall be a visible demonstration that ideas have consequences, for better and for worse. Investing one’s mind bears fruit in the material world. Any one thing exists as fact and meaning, as matter and thought, as shape and purpose. There are no bare material facts, molecules or things in our universe. The world is the Lord’s because he created it to his glory. Things exist because someone put their mind to work, whether God or Man. The mind is a marketable resource. It alone recognizes problems and opportunities for solutions. It alone can recognize the Word of God as directive for the life of man in and at times against a fallen world.

I am getting ready for a gathering of the German Church in Vevey tomorrow. There are many German-speaking people, some retired, some working for Nestlé and other enterprises. They want encouragement and ideas to minister to these residents.

In addition I am preparing lectures in the course of my fellowship in the MacLaurin Institute in Minneapolis. I shall give an address to Minnesota legislators and a public talk on “The Wonder of Being Human.” I shall have been there by the time to receive this letter. I shall continue to St. Louis for a weekend before continuing to Bowling Green, KY. A short visit to California for a meeting will precede the time in New York at the end of March to gather our discussion group there.

We would ask you also to join us in prayer for Edith’s health, which has been slowly deteriorating in advancing years and with declining activities. Pray that she would find stimulation from people and events, from views out the window and words from books read to her on tape and by telephone. Prisca and John have been a great help, and Susan’s visits four times a year have brought respite for us and a change of scenery for Edith. Her health has been very good overall, but when individual things cause pain and give trouble it is easy for discouragement to set in.

With warm and personal greetings,


back to top