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The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

Long Letters

CH 1882 Gryon, Switzerland
Until December 10: 313 East 92nd, #5E
New York, NY 10128

Summer 2009
Dear friends,

The summer has finished, it is September, and we have returned to New York. We look back over the past few months with satisfaction for what we were able to accomplish. Once again, it is time to catch you up on our activities, our life and the people we hosted during the past few weeks in Gryon, where autumn arrives with a change in the weather. It is first felt in the air. The moisture level in the mornings is higher and soon the purple-blue fall crocuses will pop up.

We said farewell to the last students and sent them off with greater awareness of the Gospel’s truth and its related demands and comfort. It is our hope that perhaps they left with more questions to pursue, and will be aware at times of the greater responsibility to live and work “n the image of God” in their corners of life. Conversations, lectures and sermons are not only for producing knowledge, but also for producing doubt through which one grows.

We also saw family and friends before returning here to a different venue of our work for the fall and winter, one that brings us closer to many of you for a while. We would love to hear from you or even arrange to do something for you while in the US.

It has been a very busy time of interwoven activities, consisting of periods of difficult exposure to the pain of a fallen world, along with many interruptions, surprises and unplanned, but necessary, uses of precious time.

Our students this summer came in two groups. At the end of May and into June we hosted eight students from classes I taught last year at the King’s College in NY. They discussed further some of the issues we had touched on and wanted to hear more about this Biblical view of life. They had been to Albania earlier and thus were full of questions and new observations. We discussed the limits to cultural variants and the vibrancy of cultural creativity. With that, we wrestled according to the Bible with issues of specific forms and how to delight in freedoms, avoid relativism and safeguard pluralism. God is neither tyrant nor laid-back friend (or what in the Greek pantheon were the ideas behind Apollo and Dionysius). We talked about culture and art, sexuality and film; we worked side by side, hiked across a narrow pass in snow and rain and we went together to Lausanne for church, where I preached in English for an international congregation. We studied how the Bible tells us about being human and how to live as followers of Christ without reducing Christianity to an ideology.

At the same time, a couple stayed with us as well. Charla met me on some earlier trips to Eastern Europe when I was speaking at teacher training seminars on the need for a moral and intellectual foundation for society. She had found the lectures with their specific focus on the truth of Christianity very helpful. Now she had come with her husband Roger to spend a few days with us to discuss similar ideas together.

Through discussion, we try to help our guests and students understand the unique truth of Christianity in the course of personal conversations, shared work and long meal times. Frequently that truth has been dealt with in their pasts only on the level of particular commands, isolated verses and moral teachings. While that is a start, one is left with a faith and concerns which always revolve only around questions of obedience, not of wisdom and insight. Obedience to whatever tenets is required by various worldviews, not always with much comprehension of the bigger picture and often brings great harm through neglect of the mind. Later this can lead to confusion and even great emotional harm and personal resentment.

Obedience outside of considerations of truth, facts and reason is characteristic of secular and religious tyrannies. By way of contrast, believing Scripture and the God who reveals Himself in them requires a mental even before a moral consent. Scripture lays the ground not just for obedience as a virtue, but foremost for understanding the real world, which then allows one to obey God out of one’s reason.

The world is purposefully created. Men and women are created to live to create and enjoy all kinds of things, even before the added mandate is given to repair the flaws and effects of sin in a fallen world. This is done through faith in Christ and doing good things under the Spirit’s direction and with his help.

During the weeks with our students we also joined an outside group from Western Kentucky University a few times. They were staying nearby for a summer study program on Romantic Writers under the direction of our friend Prof. Lloyd Davies. I gave a lecture on Swiss history, as so many Romantic artists came through this country in search of the natural and the sublime, which they sought in unspoiled mountains, rivers and clouds.

The excellent little book, How an Alpine Pass Became a Country, by Joelle Kuntz, a Geneva journalist, was originally written for Russians in their language to explain how a small country with two religions and three languages has functioned so well for generations without any major conflicts. The book became popular in French and has now been issued in English as well for Indian and Pakistani tourists. It talks about the influence of the Reformation in shaping a culture of discipline, work, creativity as well as tolerance, limited expectations and peaceful mediation.

You will quickly see how this might be helpful in the conflicts between many of the former Soviet regions, from Belarus in the West to all the various “-stans” in Central Asia. Some of the ideas presented in the book would also be helpful in the India/Pakistan conflicts, if only people were really interested in a solution. Instead, those cultural regions do not know such things which we have only learned from Christianity: that there is nothing ideal in the real world, that power is not always right, that law diminishes evil, but does not produce good, that both tyranny and anarchy are equally destructive, etc.

Deborah gave a lecture to the students on the Swiss writer Ramuz and his book The Day the Mountain Fell. It is like a modern Greek tragedy set in Alpine scenery, where glaciers, like snakes, creep down “from up there” to catch their prey. The mountains have their own will and way; they are against us and still as death. Evil lurks in dark crevices under a sullen sky.

Ramuz was strongly influenced by both the majesty and fearsome power of the ever-present mountains, and by Calvinism, which for generations has been the hidden, yet weighty presence in the minds and lives of people. Man is at the mercy of both mountains and God; both are larger than man. God is majestic and powerful like the Alps, inescapably present and the source of protection and also punishment. The relationship to both mountains and to God is very contradictory. One wishes to be free, yet is dependent; to be able to trust, yet is aware that anything can happen, from avalanches to massive landslides. Both the mountains and God hold unpredictable power, and one’s relation to them is one of utter personal insignificance. They exist and act without moral considerations, and we have no recourse, always weighed down by fear and dread resulting from guilt and insignificance.

Ramuz describes all of life as being under a cloud of feeling accused, of being unable to escape our condition, of seemingly random acts against us by mighty mountains and a mighty God. How important it is that we should realize that this is not the God of the Bible, the Father of Jesus Christ, full of compassion, showing grief rather than accusation in the midst of such a threatening, fallen world. He is the God Who runs after Adam, sending prophets and then his son; Who knows the feeling of our infirmity and demonstrates His righteousness and moral steadfastness in all situations. The difference lies not only in God being personal rather than impersonal like the mountains. His personality is such that he wants to redeem, not punish; deliver, not imprison; and make all things whole again, not leave us in constant dread within a corrupted universe.

During one week in June, I was invited to lead French pastors in Geneva in the study of Apologetics. As I see it, this is not so much, a method of telling the truth of Christianity, but rather an effort to explain to the doubter or the ignorant the reason why we can and should believe with integrity. All possible opposing viewpoints, from evidences to emotional hesitations, from intellectual hindrances to the recognition of our finiteness need to be dealt with fairly and then responded to. The arguments against have to be made one’s own in order to address them sensitively, with compassion and with the content of the truth of Scripture and the real world. The ground must be prepared to make belief in God the most plausible response to life’s many questions.

Once back from Geneva, we opened a second session with students, including a young theology student from Norway. Long conversations covered, as my father would have said, “everything about God and the world”. When he left after three weeks, he wrote that he had been able to sort out true from false questions. His faith is once again more solidly grounded and he has greater confidence that Christianity is the explanation for the real world, that life’s questions are answered in the most cohesive way in its view of reality, and that the message of the fallen world is the only possible answer for the reality and origin, and also for the solution, to very real evil, injustice and death.

Having students with us every day, with discussions over long meals, also gave Edith Schaeffer the opportunity to get out of her home and to join us for meals in the garden whenever possible. It was also a break for Jane, our wonderful, generous and capable friend who helps us with the 24-hour care of Mrs. Schaeffer. For her it was a time to be with people of similar minds, to listen to their comments and to respond to them. We are so thankful for her imaginative help and her kindness to Edith! She agrees so much with our respectful philosophy of helping older people to stay in touch with the world around them by stimulating their minds through talking about the characters in a book or on TV, by listening to music and imagining the instruments, and by remembering past events and people. Insisting on enough food and liquids for their needs is also part of the respect given an elderly person.

Edith will be 95 in a couple of months and is physically healthy, though she did require a surgical removal of a totally abscessed tooth. The infection reached into her sinuses, but now that is over and soon she will be able to have more solid foods. Otherwise she is well, though always terribly afraid of falling, easily confused and closed in. We encourage her to respond to sight and sounds, to books read out loud and conversations with her. Besides Jane and a neighbor lady, both of whom Edith pays a salary, we have the assistance of social workers paid for by her health insurance. When Jane needed a break in July, Cassi was back for three weeks to take over, and Lloyd and his son Sam regularly played piano and clarinet for Edith. We took Edith and Jane to spend an afternoon with two of our children’s families, watched Woody Allen’s latest movie, Whatever Works and then went out to a Chinese dinner.

We draw Edith into our lives, as much as she has drawn us into her demands, caring for her in every way to see that she is always surrounded and cared for actively. Outside of these many efforts, Edith has had very few visitors during the past years, but this past summer she has received varied attention.


Along with all the good things to report from a productive summer, we were also struggling with painful and worrisome news. Let me start with our dear friend and member of our board, Staffan Johansson, with whom we have worked for the past 40 years, first in L’Abri, then as we took turns with the seminars in Eastern Europe, and whose name is on FOOTNOTES as well. He is seriously ill with a malignant brain tumor, which incapacitates his left side, hinders his speech and has turned him into an invalid. He has had radiation therapy for five weeks in Sweden. He is promised a course of chemo, but it appears that without more pressure from those around him, the doctors keep him in the dark about what is actually going on. I cannot help but suspect that he has been written off, that chances of success are too low and that further treatment might be too expensive. There has been no recognizable improvement so far. Please pray for him to get well again. The tumor has torn him from his busy life, stopped all his activities and left him with great anguish, worry and no other focus than his immediate suffering.

That is a frequent result of brain tumors. They often lead to changes in personality, behavior and moods on top of one’s whole world imploding into the present as into a black hole. For us outsiders it is terrible to see how a dear, creative and public person is so damaged by the effect of a brain tumor. The illness becomes the only focus, a fearsome power and presence. Everything revolves around it and nothing else is able to distract the person, neither bits of the beauty of the day nor people, nor memories of past times. One finds it impossible to crawl out from under it and does not have the strength to do anything about it. It also creates a sense of guilt and failure. A big part of life has been cut off and all ability, pleasure and appreciation are gone.

We heard about Staffan’s illness in April, and by June his situation had so deteriorated that I decided to visit him even though he did not want to see anyone. Once there, I could organize help, pray with and for him, accompany him on two days during the long drive on a stretcher in a van to and from Lund hospital. I tried in many ways to break the sense of abandonment and to distract him from his fear for a few moments at a time. Please pray for him, that God will be able to do a mighty work against this terrible loss of an active life in a body and mind so damaged by a wild cancer.

Deborah and I were with him again for four days last month before packing and returning to NY. We wanted to protest against the evil of cancer, to take time to focus on nothing but Staffan’s needs and to make a statement against such horrible unfairness to Staffan and his family. It is a protest against the unfairness of it all, the wrong in God’s world and the wrong of so many who accuse, or glory in, God being behind everything that happens. Just as many took to the streets of Teheran in protest to the stolen election, we felt a similar need to protest the wrong done to our friend’s life.

For God created the world good. It is thus no longer, and we ache for the day He will make it so again. Come, Lord Jesus, come! We side with him in his battle against sin and death.

Unfortunately Staffan indeed hears from some people that this is God’s way of dealing with people; that he should take it as an act of God intended to make him sit up and learn what God wants him to know; and implying that had he lived differently he would not be in this situation.

Such thoughts, of course, come to mind as one reviews one’s life. Poor choices have their effect somewhere or another. But it is part of the unfair reality after the Fall that we do not always get to experience the consequences of our choices, either good or bad. Very often we inherit those of other people, again both good and bad, as we all inherited those of Adam and Eve: “As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, so death was passed on to all men (but not guilt for death!!), so also…” It is therefore not justified to assume that our choices produce cancer, when a link cannot be clearly established.

Yet we are troubled! To assume direct responsibility is to assume a fair world. But sadly, (and it must make God very upset) these thoughts are not balanced by an affirmation of God’s grace and favor, nor by pointing to His compassion at a creation so much under the effects of the Fall. Even anger is shown in the fury of Christ over Lazarus’ death in John 11. It is so untrue to Scripture to assume that at all times God could do anything to make all things whole, when Scripture tells us that wholeness cannot be restored until Christ’s return. Until then there is yet an enemy: death! And therefore we should fight sickness, sin and mindless views on God’s “magical” power.

Our sadness over his situation came on top of the death of the young, athletic mother of one of Isaac’s college friends after a valiant fight against cancer. We took him on vacations with us, a real pleasure. Another friend from university is battling a rare form of lymphoma, and Jeremy Jackson again has to deal with recurring cancer.

We also continue to miss our dear friend Jack Kemp, who often welcomed us into his home and life, his thoughts and conversations before he died on May 2nd. His wife Joanne is on our board as well and we are thankful for what they together created during their public and private life. We are glad that many of their ideas will continue to be present to the public through his books, papers and speeches, but also in the classes Joanne hosts in her home. They started about 40 years ago as “Schaeffer classes” for Congressional wives in The Kemps’ home in DC; Joanne has helped so many people understand the Gospel and the need for it in the midst of a government’s needs for a moral and intellectual compass! I remember clearly the first time Joanne asked me to elaborate on the practical consequences of believing in Christ in such realms as politics, economics and law, as well as personal choices in our open society!

Whether during our conversations with our summer students or in life’s reality, we are surrounded at all times by a reality of both the tragic elements in life and the choices on our paths. History is both closed in present experiences and open to be chosen or created in the future. The Bible comforts us for both sides, both present and future. It points out that what we experience and see as painful is real. It is neither only imagined nor all and always due to personal choices. It is not only a personal view or a flawed interpretation, though at times it might be. We don’t have to imitate Eeyore, the donkey in Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, who sees everything as negative and himself as suffering, always feeling sorry for himself.

Instead, the Bible tells us that God is dissatisfied with the way things are now in His creation. Jesus argued with the teachers of His day, countered and refused King Herod and fought the devil, healed the sick wherever he could, was furious that Lazarus had died and altogether manifested God’s character and mind -- often against the assumptions of the day and the events in history. He interfered and did not silently or humbly submit. Even His death on the cross as a substitute for our sin to accomplish forgiveness wasn’t an act of submission to anything circumstantial. He did the Father’s will in going to war against sin and death.

There is no dismissal of life here, no affirmation of absurdity. The death on the cross was rather a particular way of doing battle to win against Satan, sin and death itself. There was no other way to redeem and repair God’s creation than that God would take our sin and its effects in history on Himself. “He, who knew no sin, became sin for us and bore our transgression in His Own body on the tree.”

As I suggest in The Innocence of God, we understand God’s mind not so much from events in our lives, but from what He has revealed in His word. The Bible tells us that the seeming normalcy of every day should, in fact, be looked at through the perspective of its probable, or at least potential, abnormality. Whatever is, is not at all times justified. Our mandate is to correct wrong, to punish evil and to seek justice and to do right.

Noticing the specific variants of what is often called “our Western culture,” we can see that this mindset taught and illustrated in Scripture has produced very different results from what one finds in other cultures. Our focus is not on repetition or acceptance, but on analysis and transformation, on repentance and learning from Christ’s sorrow about a fallen world. Our focus is on revolt and repair. From critiquing oneself as well as governments, from objecting to destinies and fates by creating a life through effort, discipline and imagination: it is all tied into the basic awareness from the Bible that history is a record of things that did not have to have happened. Therefore, the bad should be recognized, opposed and replaced with love, work and compassion.

That is the underlying framework also of the book, Christianity versus Fatalistic Religions in the war against Poverty. The Bible gave our cultural context the encouragement to have dominion over ourselves, creation and natural situations. The Bible encourages, even requires, personal and social and economic development rather than always being stuck in repetitive patterns. Just because something has often been done, it does not become a model. Innovation, improvement, and variation are central to a Biblical outlook on life.

There is a certain comfort in knowing that when we object to evil we are not primarily irrational or arrogant, but are fulfilling our calling. We are called to be creative change agents under the direction of God, and that all the way from before the Fall in the mandates to have dominion and continuing after the Fall with the calls to live by God’s word, not nature’s or history’s dictates. Why, Elijah even went to the king and told him off!

I read several books in preparation for my teaching this fall. Besides works by Plato (The Republic and several of his shorter Dialogues), and Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics, Politics), I found Mortimer Adler’s Aristotle for Everybody very helpful. We shall also read sections of City of God by Augustine and The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. He was an early Christian, arrested in the waning days of the Western Roman Empire on the accusation of political opposition, who found Plato’s views of the eternal and unchanging a help over the vagaries of false accusations, a feared execution and the flow of time. Plato was very attractive to many Christians. Yet I feel they mistook Plato’s belief in permanent ideal forms for a belief in God. He, as many after him, would overlook the need for particular and historic justice, for moral action in changing times rather than just a belief in justice. The focus of a faith upon eternity quite logically abandons the mandates to do justice now in favor of expecting God’s eventual justice on earth.

Sailing the Wine-dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, by Thomas Cahill, is as helpful in trying to understand the unique place of and fascination for our Greek past as Mysteries of the Middle Ages by the same author is about the odd bits, strange superstitions and unscriptural spirituality during the Middle Ages. They are part of our history and yet present a distortion of how I understand Biblical Christianity. The difference affects the general culture. As one writer proposed: While Europeans were so concerned about how to get to heaven, how to deal with all the mysteries of life, and how to spin out fearful superstitions, Jewish traders worried about more practical and temporal things like how to get the shipload of grain from Egypt safely across the Mediterranean. The former are concerned about life after death, the latter about life under God’s direction “until he comes”.

In the first of Cahill’s books I found it interesting that Hebrew writing developed letters out of Egyptian hieroglyphs to form whole words and sentences in an attempt to have knowledge become more accessible to people, to become more democratic; and then also to be able to express more intimate things like love, fear and other emotions. Egyptian script could not easily do that, as it was a text relating to power, authority and trade. In interpersonal relations the Egyptians could count sacks of stuff, but not communicate trust, responsibility and disappointment.

Greek would take over this kind of alphabet (“alpha” and “beta” are the two first letters of the Greek alphabet!) and also be free to express emotions, as Homer does from the start of his Iliad, where “rage” is the first word of the epic tale.

In a different area of interest I also read The Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch, 1743-1933, by Amos Elon. I found this a fascinating historical and cultural work. It answers my curiosity about why so many Jews had such close links to Germany over the centuries. Of course that was not unique. Other countries had and still have their Jewish populations. The Jews of Spain, of North Africa, of Eastern Europe and even of India and China have been written about. But what is the particular German connection and how did that contribute to the tragedy of the 20th century across our Western world?

Amos Elon shows how a combination of “Awakened Jews” and “Enlightened Germans” came together in a project by which they hoped to create a new culture, based on a rational religion in a new era. From Moses Mendelssohn in 1743 on, many Jews felt the need to reject their poor and superstitious, ritualistic and isolated Jewish roots and associations and to break into what was then a developing rationalistic, scientific and enlightenment-nurtured educated German culture. These Jews rejected their Eastern cousins, the mysteries of tales and signs; the German middle class rejected the traditional Protestant and Biblical heritage in search of a bourgeois religion of good will and tolerance.

These two streams of thought and cultural orientation came together and hoped for a marriage of the two “rejectionists” into a new family of free citizens, a new civilization on the grounds of a common rationality, constitutional political rule and the growing scientific reading of reality. All encouraged a distancing of each group from their peasant, somewhat feudal and largely simple and uneducated past. Biblical and kabalistic myths became an embarrassment. The rules and regulations of a religious content were seen as backwards.

And yet with all the effort to assimilate, Jews were, except for a few brief times of acceptance, almost always labeled by their Jewish origin by increasingly “scientific” Anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism developed from a religious distinction into a “scientific” separation. From the former, one could escape by conversion, baptism and assimilation; from the latter there is no escape, as “Jewish blood” was considered so-called “scientific” reality and therefore an inescapable one. You can find a summary of this in Bernard-Henry Levy’s recent book Left in Dark Times.

The great hope of liberation by becoming an educated, enlightened, civilized German, freed from the confines of one’s religion’s baggage, remained unattainable. Jews enriched the German, and the whole European culture immensely, but with few exceptions they were never accepted into the new rationalistic family of enlightened people. They could never quite shed the image of being different, no matter how loyal they were in peace and war, in industry, government and the arts. As separate, they became the explanation for all the ensuing political and economic problems around the world into our own days.

The pity of it all is that two hundred years of efforts to shed being Jewish could never rid the individual of his heritage, and that every effort to redefine people according to international, rational categories could never remove the stigma of seeing the Jew as not fully German, French, English or American. The pursuit of the new human family through knowledge, common responsibility and interlocking efforts would never make the two, Jew and Gentile, members of the same family.

At the end of this letter I want and need to ask you for your help. The recession has hit our work hard, as it has many of you and other Christian works. We lost the annual grant we received for a number of years from a foundation because of their own difficulties. While I now have a salary, the Foundation’s expenses cannot be met with the gifts and donations we have received so far. We need $20,000 more this year to continue the work in the current format with guests, students, lectures, discussions and writing.

Warmly and with thanks,

Udo and Deborah

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