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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

August 2006

Dear friends,

It is high time to get in touch with you again. I would like you to know what we have done, thought about and accomplished since March when the last long letter went out. You did received two issues of FOOTNOTES.

Our regular life is quite “irregular” at times, being busy at home with students, visiting people, Debby’s teaching, and the hours of caring for Edith; and when I am away to teach, speak and give seminars. There have been frustrations as well from juggling many obligations and with unexpected extra expenses and lean support. Yet here we are, looking back over what has been accomplished, and we are a few steps ahead.

We were without water for ten days when the link to the house broke. The gearbox on the old Dodge gave out completely and fixing it would cost more than the car was worth. Earlier, the tires were slashed when our car was parked near the airport during my absence.

The care of Edith Schaeffer, who lives near us full time in her own apartment, surrounded by her things and memories, takes up much time and constant adjustments. We did and do have wonderful help to care for her in advancing years and increasing needs. But it all has to be worked out for the many daily and changing details. Setting up medical appointments, keeping a list of whom to telephone to keep her mind and memory alert with her friends through her involvement with the outside world, arranging for ladies from the social services to give her baths, finding a person to read to her or to play her piano: it is all part of not letting a person just sink into old age and turning off. The mind is a wonderful thing that can be encouraged to stay alive, to maintain memories and to engage the outside world of things and people.

Jane was here for over a year as much more than a companion. She left and is now studying geriatric social work in New Mexico. Catie came for the summer between years of her pre-med studies to pick up the duties until a couple of weeks ago. Now Sarah has arrived and hopes to stay for a year. They each share our lives, eat one meal with us and join in our discussions before their time off every afternoon, when Edith is at our house, and from Friday noon to Saturday evening, when Edith visits with John and Prisca.

This “sharing our lives” involves more than time, giving food, drink and medicine and reading out loud, watching movies and listening to both classical music and jazz. Each of them has also expressed their surprise and joy of finding in our conversations with students and guests, in the taped lectures, in books and my preaching in Lausanne the kind of help, stimulation and orientation they enjoy for their own thinking. They benefit for their own life just like our students do and when we give lectures elsewhere.

In other words, their being here is help to Edith and to us, as well a help to them in their time of study and discussions. There is a satisfying continuity for us, for in this way we have always had people who came to study, discuss, question and discover the realistic truth of Christianity in all areas of human reality, of life in the flow of history.

But let me take you back through the last few months behind us.

During two weeks in late February and early March I participated in teacher training seminars in Guatemala, first in the capital and then in the provincial town of Quezaltenango. My contribution to the curriculum on Christian ethics and morals laid out the philosophical foundations to which the Bible gives realistic and ennobling answers. Child development as a person, the realization of an imperfect world, the need for God to exist and to reveal himself in order to have a basis for rationality and truth, for love and respect, for judgment and orientation: all this and more is needed for a moral and lawful society. Without it the human being is exploited by ideologies, exposed to lawless greed for power and wealth, and without recourse in a painful struggle of the powerful to subdue the weak.

Guatemala has had not only the decades of civil war, but even now the crime and murder rate is enormous. Newspapers outside the country report that women and girls disappear in large numbers through violence each year without the cases ever finding an explanation. The veneer of civil society is thin, easily becomes brittle and poorly hides the cracks underneath.

None of that came close to us while there. We experienced a beautiful country, lush mangos, colorful clothes and continuously changing vistas along the road carved out of fragile slopes in the mountains. Active volcanoes, washed-away bridges, creative driving patterns of wildly colored and crowded buses and cars added to the exotic experience. The teachers were mostly very receptive, asked good questions, responded with kindness and enthusiasm. For the students who translated for most of us it was an exciting experience to practice their good English.

I was pleasantly surprised that I could address and critique the influential Mayan beliefs, seemingly without upsetting people. They were interested to consider and learn how the old Catholicism had maintained the pagan views of spirits, natural catastrophes and evil, by changing little more than a name. Powers now bear the names of saints in the place of the traditional local spirits. In character the figures did not change profoundly. Superstition and fear, whether in manipulating saints or spirits, remain widespread.

I also tried to show how this past failure to declare a different God, a different view of life and sin undermines a high view of the human person, of rationality, of law and love that is part of the core of the Bible’s teaching. It is interesting to observe how in all religions man fears much of life. He is always the victim of circumstances, powers and forces. He needs to appease the powers that be, without ever knowing the price to pay, and to whom, for life, security and confidence. Nature is wild, but so is his neighbor, and so is he in the end as well.

Only in the Bible do we find an explanation of the frightening experience we make in life, in our weakness and exposure to a hostile reality. There has been a rupture, a break with God, in the fall of man. Man is not always his brother’s keeper. But over and against that stands the delight and purpose of God to redeem his creation. He calls us to life, to work and love, to seek justice and to protect the weak. These are fundamental attitudes that should shape our practices, our longing and our efforts, which then stand in obedience to God and in considered disobedience to nature, history and casual powers.

The Biblical view is one of resistance, of doubt, of continuing discovery. These are aspects of our life informed by both what we believe as Christians and by what is necessary in the real world. The match of both exposure to reality and Biblical faith is once again evident here. Through it we lay hold of the grace of God against the wiles of evil men and Satan’s other helpers. Teachers help children understand the world. Doctors repel the work of bacteria and viruses. Rulers should make laws that should control evil with the sword (Romans 13). Men and women should love, serve and cherish instead of competing for selfish advantage.

The market, society, science, the family and neighborhoods need moral people to function with some benefit. Power limited by morality and a morality that empowers are both essential. Without that moral orientation people will either crumble into selfish pursuits on one hand or resignation that brings with it hurt, waste and loss. An essential part of human reality is lost in either process. Whether everything is justified or whether nothing can be changed: both result in cruelty and indifference to others.

Over the past few months I have taught during three men’s breakfasts in the German church in Vevey. That is a new thing for them, an effort to draw men into the circle of the church. The last session was comparing Buddha, Mohammed and Jesus in their claims, worldviews and teachings with the resulting social and cultural consequences. The men are German- speaking in this French part of Switzerland, employed by Nestlé or retired here because of the beauty of the land. There are so many who have no relationship to Christianity, very much 20th century people, satisfied in many ways, but missing something, whether family, youth, certainty or purpose I do not know yet. But now they are interested.

In late March and early April Deborah, Isaac and I went to New York and Washington. We went to Maine for a short week for vacation to a part of the country we had not known before in all its beauty, emptiness, color and charm. We returned to New York and welcomed Gabriela Sophie Cheseaux as our newest grandchild, born in Brooklyn on Good Friday (and Passover). Hannah and Sebastian are the proud parents of a beautiful person. They will now begin to juggle the possibilities and obligations of work, responsibilities as parents and the importance of being home with one’s child in the early years. Hannah asked for and was granted six months of paid maternity leave before they need to decide their next steps.

We also had a lecture with discussion again with our New York friends and theirs. On Sundays we enjoyed and benefited from the services and sermons at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church. The setting and the content, the community and the liturgy combine to an experience of integrated worship. Here is no peer-group focus, no personal-witness sermons, and no unstudied musical lightness. Instead we find there a congregation engaged with all kinds of people in the city, and most thoughtful Biblical studies.

In addition we visited Washington DC, where Isaac had been accepted to start college next year in both George Washington University and American University. A substantial financial aid promise from GW as well as the very good impression we received from faculty, admissions and curriculum helped him and us decide for GW. The advantage of an American university program of course is the availability to of so many areas of studies side by side. A European university provides a much tighter plan of courses. Isaac plans to study both International Relations with a focus on Africa as well as biology. We enjoyed the hospitality of good friends and look forward to more time in the DC area in years ahead.

In May I ventured to Norway for a week to teach a group of students the basics of the Biblical view of reality, life and the world. The audience was attentive, polite, took copious notes and was very Scandinavian. By that I mean nothing derogatory. I merely suggest that other audiences ask more questions, express their reservation verbally or stand up to argue their own view more directly. But it was a good time of many hours, teaching what I had in mind and then also stating the questions one would or should have at that time, which I often had to raise myself in that audience, before answering them.

During another week in May I lectured at the University in Munich, Germany, as well in the context of a lively Christian student group in a local parish. The talks were well received, the audience civil, the questions interesting and serious. The subjects were ”You are what you believe, how worldviews format life and society”, and then “Absolute Truth, a dangerous assumption or a necessary admission”, finally “Tolerance, purpose and limits of an important value.” I also spent a whole day with students going over such concerns as the purpose of a university education, the subsequent responsibilities, the core affirmations of a Christian and Jewish view of the world and life in it. It was exhausting, but also precious and valuable time.
Together we visited the Rembrandt-Caravaggio exhibit in Amsterdam during a long weekend, using frequent flyer miles and staying in a B&B, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt’s birth. There we met up with Deborah’s cousin Jonathan Bragdon, a painter, and his family.

In June Isaac sat a series of A-level exams, which are part of the university entrance exams in the British system. They take place over many days and involve written work on such a level that passing them they provide College credit in the US. We just found out that he passed them all. At graduation he received an honors degree as well as the school prizes for English and Debate. We are so glad that his health in this final year of school was so much better after having missed all of 10th grade and a lot in 11th due to the autoimmune problems be has been battling for the past three years.

Thank you to all of you who have been concerned for him and have shown your loving interest through letters, inquiries, generous gifts towards increased medical expenses, and prayer.

Isaac is now enrolled at George Washington in Washington DC. The first week is past, the courses are set, the reading is assigned and papers are soon due. He is managing well in a new situation, discovering people and places. Aiglon College, where he was generously given a full scholarship during the last three years, prepared him well to interact with people from around the world with a great variety of viewpoints and experiences. He had wonderful professors who in effect countered his illness with kindness, giving him invaluable tools to study, to write, to analyze and to explore.

In July and August we welcomed students in the first session of our summer studies. A Swedish family came for a few days to renew the discussions we have had off and on over years. Now with young children the circle of their interests and questions is enlarged.

Marla came again to enjoy her time where she has come every year since about 1980. Her friend Gwen from Amarillo, who had first been exposed to me and our view of things when I spoke in their church last November, joined her for a few days. Karenne, who lived with us almost 30 years ago, came with her family from Vancouver to show them where she had studied and how we discuss the issues of the day in the context of Christianity.

Later Alice, who studied with us 20 years ago and then came back 8 years ago, now spent time here with her daughter Naomi before she goes off to college. Annie came to review her understanding of the nobility of work and the rightfulness of her PhD studies around a new kind of complicated microscope. Stephanie came from Germany with related questions, this time about missions, into which her Christian friends want to push her.

We talked for hours, they read my old book ProExistence and Gene Veith’s God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in all of Life. Our conversation centered on the Biblical view in contrast to what we call a Greek view, which has many times crept into the teaching of Christians. The Biblical view sees human activity in the material, historical world as justified by the social and moral/economic mandates in Genesis. God created for six days and then told Adam to get on with it himself. Man, male and female, are meant to create further, to have dominion and to multiply, to discover, to embellish and also, after the Fall, to restrain evil and to seek justice.

By contrast, what I call the Greek view goes more in the direction of avoiding reality, a materially and historically real or dealing with it as a necessary evil to be seen only as temporary and without lasting value. In Christian circles this view expresses itself when normal work or detailed study is seen only as part of an evangelistic or heavenly calling. Sometimes it is called “redemptive” without however seeing that all life and work should be redeeming the reality of God’s creation and his mandates to us to work, to multiply and have dominion.

For the new Jerusalem will come down from heaven to earth. Earth as God’s creation will not disappear, but shall be restored through the power of Jesus’ victory over sin and death.

Work and calling, including missions and scientific precision, are therefore mandated expressions of being made in the image of the Creator. They may involve refined work that not for a large market may be of little common use. It does not even necessarily have to be understood by many, if it can stand up before God. At all times there should only be a focus on the rightful use of abilities in the material/historical world. We are a part of it, and Christ will one day restore it fully. Work helps to advocate, to support and to push forth life in the face of death, truth in the face of lies. Human reality opposes the fragmented person, who is finally more than only matter or only an eternal spirit.

The idea that Man as primarily a soul comes to us from Greek, not Biblical thought. God in the Bible saves people, not souls. People have bodies and souls. Jesus died for our soul and body. He paid for our guilt and rose for our resurrection.

Mission is after all work to whole people, telling them what is true and real in God’s creation, not only what is helpful for their soul. It involves truth about the body, about a real creation, about purpose and meaning, about God, history and salvation. Francis Schaeffer’s affirmation of the centrality of truth in the Biblical view rightly touches on both the truth of nature and the truth of grace in a unified field. There is no nature/grace division in the Bible, for God (Grace) created a material world (Nature), Jesus became flesh in it, had lunch there and will reign over it.

From this understanding Christians went out to heal the sick, to master tools for the control over nature, to establish law, to teach agriculture and technology, to preach the Good News that life is not as crazy as it often seems, and that what happens in the natural world (earthquakes, floods, famine) or from the hand of wicked people is not at all times a revelation of the will of God.

Man lives not by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3). That word touches all of life: material, spiritual, economic, legal, sexual and social. You may remember that this was my emphasis always in my teaching in Russia as well. The good news is more than my Christian experience; it is the reality of God’s existence in time and space, and the truth of the Bible. Experiences come and go. In a fallen world they often contradict each other. Yet reality corresponds to what the Bible describes in all its affirmations.

In early August Mike and Carolyn Sugimoto and their two adopted boys Michael and Jack joined us for a few days. Many of you will remember them, as Mike studied with us 25 years ago, became a Christian, and then helped for a long time during Dr. Schaeffer’s treatment for cancer in Rochester. Mike teaches Japanese film and literature at Pepperdine University and will head a European program for it in Lausanne next year. It will be a great pleasure to have them and our “adopted” Chinese grandchildren near us.

We also hope that it will add to the life of the International Church in Lausanne, where I am privileged to preach about once a month. I enjoy going there and then staying for lunch with some of the members. In addition I preach in Leysin, about an hour’s drive from us, from time to time to the group of English speaking Christians who gather in the beautiful old village church. They stay together to discuss the sermon afterwards over coffee and croissants.

We continue to be deeply troubled by the state of the world and the situation in the Near East. Undoubtedly you have done so as well. We have fought against the one-sided reporting in our neck of the woods, as well as against the blindness of many who see the whole confrontation as a result of Israeli intransigence and American domination, a war against Islam. Many here buy into the perception of Islamists., that any critique is a holy war, as the response to the Pope’s lectures has shown again. Whether in words or actions, by measures of law or civil defense, any resistance to the rule of Islam and any questioning of their absolutist claim is dealt with by mobilizing the masses, burning, kidnapping and killing. The absence of a culture of debate, doubt and discovery is remarkable. It will lead to great tragedy, as we cannot, in the name of human beings, allow such absolutist practices to spread.

It may be a great mess, yet it is unavoidable in a world in which, in the name of a religion, the life of the mind and soul is contrasted by a celebration of death. By that I mean that in the Bible we are left to ask where God is on earth, his creation. We are told that sin resulted in our being kicked out of the garden of Eden, but that we wait for God to return to restore creation. In the meantime we are to incarnate God’s will in seeking justice, limiting evil, furthering life. God’s running after Adam; his sending prophets to clarify what is true and good and to judge evil; the coming of His Son in the flesh to win the battle against sin and death; the pouring out of His Spirit to instruct us; and finally the return of the Messiah in glory: all these speak of the value and meaning of life on earth to God and Man.

That life is now imperfect, marked by death, but it is eternal. We look forward to seeing the Lord face to face, not only in heaven, but on earth.

That is contrasted by the religion of Islam, which in its present fundamentalist expression voids life of any meaning except as a time of testing and submission. Through obedience now one receives the promised bliss. Martyrdom, the embrace of death as a reward, is the only sure way to gain access to this heaven.

Sacrifice as a virtue under a god is different from sacrifice as a necessity in a fallen world or as an act of compassion. When Hezbollah functions, as it does in Lebanon and Gaza, as a social work by building schools, houses, feeding and community centers, only to stock these with 20’000 rockets in basements it shows the weakness of the elected government of Lebanon.

One may question the kind of response of Israel to the kidnapping of two soldiers (In the same attack eight more soldiers were killed on Israeli soil). Yet it is common knowledge that Israel, just like the Marines, will fight back and try to bring out the fatalities.

Only by Israel’s forceful response could the world know how much Hezbollah, during the past few years, had constructed tunnels and bunkers camouflaged as civilian houses and armed with Iranian and Syrian rockets. The unavoidable loss of civilians is not primarily “collateral damage”, but a wicked sacrifice of civilians by Hezbollah in pursuit of its stated goals: the eradication of Israel; and its open society born from a culture of life, work and freedom.

Hezbollah and its brothers expected an emotional response in our countries in the face of such deaths. It came because many among us do not understand the place of death in Islam. It does not have the same meaning as in cultures born out of Judaism and Christianity, the Bible. Consequently we in the West feel sorrow and outrage. But when death is seen as a sure way to heaven we should not sorrow in the same way. Our sorrow should focus instead on the inhuman teaching of Islam, which demands and produces such sacrifice. Either one feels grief, and Hezbollah is evil; or one should feel glad, for Hezbollah provides a sure way to heavenly rewards!

I am in no way justifying everything done by Israel. I am also not sure about better strategic alternatives. Worse is that the West is weak in the knees, because we refuse to understand the power of an evil religion and an unrealistic ideology. We can (still) afford, so it seems, that weakness, since we for the most part are not (yet) immediately exposed to that version of Islam. The tragedy is that we are buckling under images of real people who suffer terribly and have no stability, without facing up to the roots of that tragedy in the Islamic world view.
We see their loss as tragedy, because we operate from a more biblical understanding of things. But we should understand how that suffering is the result not of that much evil amongst us, but of evil visions, actions and policies that have their intellectual roots in Islam, not in Biblical thinking.

I do hope that Israel did enough damage to its enemies and those of the people of Lebanon. Whether the international force will have a sufficiently strong mandate remains to be seen. The past is not a good model for the present.

It is necessary also to keep in mind that at no time do we live in a world where innocent men, women and children can be neatly separated from soldiers, living without experiencing the consequences of acts by the guilty. That does not make them guilty, just as we are not guilty for Adam’s sin. But in a world of true significance we pay a price. Sin entered the world by one man and death through sin, but only death was passed to all (Romans 5). Neither do we face human beings who are good. When good English boys can become Islamic terrorists to model of innocence breaks down.

There is a price for significance: children suffer from the sins of their parents. A city suffers from the laxness of its police. A family suffers from the loss of a driver’s license by a parent ‘under the influence’. The time when each person will pay only for his own sins is not yet. Ezekiel 18 describes a future time of justice. In the present we all benefit and suffer from the acts of others. That this is so is no reason to avoid applying justice and punishment, for that would be unjust and cruel as well.

We must recognize that we are in a real confrontation. Many things contribute to it. Our economic, cultural, political and legal success is a sore in the sight of many. Amends must be made where it is not moral. But the failure of a whole culture to educate its citizens, to nurture the mind, to liberate the markets and schools, to give rights to each male and female, and to protect life under law must not be overlooked.

Reality caught up with Marxism and overcame it. People are not what the false trinity of Marx, Lenin and Stalin said they are. History is not just a scientific program of inevitable progress.

The same reality may have a much harder time overcoming Islam, since Islam in its teaching has no lasting genuine interest in that reality. Obedience to Allah and a quest for heaven by way of submission make the voice of reality that much more difficult to penetrate and to get a hearing, unless perhaps the reality of woman will overthrow the cruelty of Islamic male irrationality.

Totalitarian religions, whether secular like Marxism or ‘divine’ like Islam, claim that everything is already known and questions are forbidden. This leads to a wicked use of power. Modern philosophy in the West claims that nothing can be known. It results in cynicism and selfishness. Only Judaism and Christianity from the Bible allow for and require questions, review, doubt and discussions to figure out what is good, just and beautiful in the midst of the fallen world we now face.

I tend to support Israel not primarily for Christian reasons. They have their place and significance. I support Israel as the small remnant of those who still show a concern for truth, fact and rationality, for cause and effect, for justice and for persons. I guess those are Biblical reasons, just not the ones usually held up.

With warm greetings to you each,


Gift and support to the work of the Foundation can me sent to Marla McGill, 4310 Omaha, Amarillo, TX 79106. They are tax-deductible, and a receipt will be issued.

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