The Jazz Theologian

The Jazz Theologian


Not Your Father’s L’Abri?

posted by Robert Gelinas

Christianity Today recently did a story on L’Abri, the Swiss shelter for spiritual seekers.  (You can read the article here)  The piece stirred up a bit of controversy.

Dr. Greg Laughery is the current director (his blog) and I recently asked him what he thought about the article.  Here is his response…

Robert,
Thanks for asking about the CT article. Here’s my response to the editor.

Letter to the Editor –

Christianity Today
David Neff, Editor
465 Gundersen Dr.
Carol Stream, IL 60188

Over the years secular journalists have visited Swiss L’Abri, interviewed Francis and Edith Schaeffer or other staff members of the Christian community, often with dismissive results. The article, “Not Your Father’s L’Abri,” (CT March 2008) has this resoundingly familiar ring to it. Considering that the author was with us for only 9-10 days at the beginning of a term, and according to her own conviction was not a Christian, this should come as no surprise.
What is shocking nevertheless is that Christianity Today, after I informed an associate editor of the author’s stance and limited contact with Swiss L’Abri, as well as the danger of significant distortions, went ahead with this remarkably inaccurate piece. Alas, a rather serious question arises: Where is CT’s credibility in its journalistic endeavors?
Extraordinary misinterpretation abounds with rhetorical flourish in this caricature. The generalized and broad sweeping negative statements and conclusions in this article lack substance and are due more to the biased interpretation of the author’s secular agenda, than to the nature and direction of Swiss L’Abri.
If anything, Swiss L’Abri is more clear of its calling and confident in its direction than ever. In many ways, we’re following in the stream of the Schaeffers’ concerns and teachings, and as they would have, openly engaging with current ideas and thought. Confronting new and different perspectives and cultural changes was part of the essence of Schaeffer’s passion, and is clearly not a break from it. He would have been desperately disappointed if L’Abri had gotten stuck merely interacting with the ideas of the past.
L’Abri has aimed, always in recognition of its imperfection, to be something of a demonstration of God’s existence and thankfully, we not only see this as a reality in the past, but as something that continues in the present. L’Abri has never tried to produce clones of Francis or Edith Schaeffer, but has gone to great lengths in time and energy to insure that the central vision of L’Abri’s theology, apologetics, spirituality and way of caring for people would be continued and built upon, which is happening in Swiss L’Abri and the other branches of I write.
There is a continual stream of serious people who come to our community seeking shelter and relevant and truthful answers to today’s questions. Usually about a third of our thirty-five students (limited to only that number because we stress a community of quality over quantity) are not Christians – some of these are from evangelical backgrounds and some not. At any given time, there are a number of students with us who are hurting, looking for healing, and making an attempt to reconnect with God (this has always been the case), but there are also many others (from Wheaton, Calvin, Regent, UNC, Univ of Chicago, etc.) who are here wrestling with today’s cutting edge ideas and issues – philosophy of language, postmodernism, biblical interpretation, emerging church, creation and evolution, to mention just a few.
For over 52 years now, Swiss L’Abri has welcomed strangers (as do all L’Abri’s) into our community where we study, work, and live together in the hope that people who come will know the living and true God, deepen their faith in Christ, grow spiritually, better understand their culture, and be educated and equipped with good and sufficient reasons for the truth of Christianity, all in order to have an impact on the world. And we’re still doing it in the same way: meeting them where they are, embodying God’s love towards them and sharing (and discussing) God’s truth with them.
Regarding L’Abri’s expansion and disunity, the article is again clearly wide of the mark. L’Abri expanded in England, Holland, Sweden, the United States (two branches), South Korea and Canada, with resource centers in Australia and Brazil, not out of any competition with the Swiss branch, but deliberately, prayerfully and with the backing of the L’Abri leadership, which is made up of representatives of each location. The various branches in other parts of the world grew out of much prayer and the conviction that this was the leading of God at the time. Furthermore, our communities are bound together by a deep commitment to Scripture as the Word of God, the loving redemptive work of Christ, and the unique and relevant teaching that has streamed out of L’Abri and graciously, thank God, is touching and touched so many lives. We have agreed on a body of statements expressing the commitment of a shared vision and direction, which are available on our website www.labri.org for any who care to read them.



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Comments read comments(10)
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Scot McKnight

posted April 13, 2008 at 8:58 am


Robert,
Can you e-mail me? I’d like to ask you to write something brief on my blog; I’m asking a number of pastors to write in and I’ll e-mail you the details.
Blessings,
Scot



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Udo Middelmann

posted April 13, 2008 at 5:03 pm


Greg Laughery’s response is a poor attempt to counter the impression given in the many quotes in the CT article by him and others at Swiss L’Abri, in which the present leadership’s disdain, arrogance and contempt about Francis Schaeffer’s ideas, insights and teachings come to light. What the CT article presents is nothing new to us. We are glad it has now been made public, that Swiss L’Abri has practiced for years a shift away from Schaeffer’s basic Christian view of life. Inerrancy of scripture is after all not a minor point, neither is the eternal divinity of Jesus. Both need to be discussed and explored at all times, but now they are openly denied by those who teach there. They refute the core of Schaeffer’s original purpose for going to Europe to warn people about Christian existentilism in the mantle of Neo-Orthodoxy.
Failure on the part of the other branches of the work to stand against that shift makes them all responsible as well.
This is not a question about people being, or not, helped at L’Abri or how many find things for their life there. What matters is that the work is “Not your Fataher’s L’Abri” anymore. People should know that and stop supporting the work or sending friends and family members to what is, by their own admission, a fraud in advertisement. It is “Not your Father’s L’Abri.”



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The Francis Schaeffer Foundation

posted April 13, 2008 at 5:13 pm


The Francis A Schaeffer Foundation would like to state that we are grateful for the article in Christianity Today, declaring that L’Abri today is “Not Your Father’s L’Abri”.
We would urge people to read or reread Francis Schaeffer’s books to allow him to speak for himself and thus rediscover his own stated views in context.
Udo W Middelmann
Debroah Middelmann
Greg Grooms, The Hill House, Austin, TX
Marvin Padgett, Wheaton, Il
Pierre Berthoud, Dean,
Free Faculty of Theology, Aix-en-Provence



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John Doherty

posted April 15, 2008 at 2:04 am


Hi all,
I would like to respond to Udo Middleman’s post above mine. I must say, I was extremely disappointed, and angered, when I read the response just last night.
I am currently at Swiss L’Abri in the role of a helper. I was here two years ago as a student for Winter Term 2006. I came as a confused young Christian, on the verge of relegating myself to agnosticism when I arrived. Through my three months here at L’Abri, with Greg Laughery (whose article is above) as my tutor, I worked through a lot of issues, including personal identity in Christ and the inerrancy of Scripture.
“Greg Laughery’s response is a poor attempt to counter the impression given in the many quotes in the CT article by him and others at Swiss L’Abri, in which the present leadership’s disdain, arrogance and contempt about Francis Schaeffer’s ideas, insights and teachings come to light. What the CT article presents is nothing new to us. We are glad it has now been made public, that Swiss L’Abri has practiced for years a shift away from Schaeffer’s basic Christian view of life. Inerrancy of scripture is after all not a minor point, neither is the eternal divinity of Jesus. Both need to be discussed and explored at all times, but now they are openly denied by those who teach there.”
This paragraph written by Mr. Middleman could not be further from the truth. As I understand it, from talking to workers and members of Schaeffer’s legacy, Mr. Middleman has not been to Swiss L’Abri in about 20 years, though he lives right up the road in Gryon. So I would caution anyone to take his view on the current state of Swiss L’Abri, and its theology and worldview, with more than one grain of salt.
The current staff here at Swiss L’Abri by no means has “disdain, arrogance and contempt about Francis Schaeffer’s ideas, insights and teachings…” If anything, they affirm many of Schaeffer’s ideas, but they are also not afraid to look critically at his writings as well (which I think we should all do as responsible readers and knowers). Tell me, if my tutor expressed “disdain, arrogance, and contempt” over Schaeffer’s ideas and books, why would he have led a small-group seminar about True Spirituality, and also encouraged me to PERSONALLY read “True Spirituality”, “He is there and he is not silent”, and “The God Who Is There”?
I want to affirm Mr. Middleman’s statement that this is “Not Your Father’s L’Abri.” But, my question is, “Should it be?” My father was here as a student in 1976. The questions being asked in 1976, and the years before, were more existential and philosophical questions about such things as the nature of evil, the existence of God, etc. Now the questions of my generation are more along the lines of the church, a Christian worldview, and much cynicism about Christianity is faced and dealt with as well. If L’Abri was unable to change to deal with the questions of the day, I would wager that its purpose would be defunct and the community should die. HOWEVER, that is not the case! I think, and many others whom I have talked with would agree, that Francis Schaeffer himself would have been gravely disappointed if L’Abri were not able to change and deal with the culture, while still keeping to the core values of hospitality, love, and a Biblical Christian worldview (which it has).
Thank you for your time.
Sincerely,
John Doherty



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Graham Weeks

posted April 19, 2008 at 1:45 am


One is saddened when brethren do not dwell together in unity.
The unanswerd fundamental question is simple. Does L’Abri today teach the same doctrine of Scripture as its founder did?



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Joe Narracci

posted April 20, 2008 at 7:58 am


Robert,
We’ve been otherwise engaged so we wanted to listen to the first two sermons on Rom. 8:28 on the web. I encourage you to continue to work with the word “all”. I’m especially pleased that you cited Col. 1:15ff. There are numerous passages and the whole of scripture that can lead our culture into the Kingdom of God. Of course we would have to abandon all that has led to the elitism so rampant in our culture, though it has taken a hit lately, and in our churches. To say “I don’t know” took a great deal of courage when you spoke to the woman who shared her story. I hear these stories every week and know something about the lost and our propensity to hurt ourselves and others. By proclaiming God’s love for her you gave her a chance to be blessed by God. If each of us surrenders our will and our lives to God, we are in the present with and in God it seems to me. If we try to drag into that present reality all our resentments and plans for making things right, we miss God. We look forward to hearing you today in person for the next installment on God’s Kingdom and majesty.



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John Doherty

posted April 25, 2008 at 10:29 am


Hi Graham,
I am not in the position to comment about “Does L’Abri today teach the same doctrine of Scripture as its founder did?”
I’m pretty sure Schaeffer was a Presbyterian minister before his crisis of faith, out of which came the ministry of L’Abri.
I think I can assure you, however, that L’Abri has not wavered in it’s commitment to the authority of Scripture, the importance of community, Schaeffer’s apologetic approach to human beings, and other fundamental principles central to L’Abri.
I can affirm that the workers are committed to the authority of Scripture and accept and affirm all that the Scriptures teach. They would also stress the importance of reading Scripture in context.
I do not think L’Abri has wavered from the founding principles. Others, such as Mr. Middelmann, apparently think that it has. But I’m confident that others who are currently associated with L’Abri would affirm what I have affirmed here.



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Nathan Clancy

posted December 2, 2008 at 12:35 pm


How can we certain that it was actually Mr. Middlemen who posted on this blog? It’s seems a little unbelievable that board of the Francis Schaeffer Foundation would post a brief comment on this blog to public state it’s postion; no offense to the blog.



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robert gelinas

posted December 4, 2008 at 10:22 am


Nathan,
No offense taken but if you’d like certainty you could easily contact the Francis Shaeffer Foundation directly. Thanks for your visit.
robert



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John Doherty

posted May 29, 2009 at 8:48 am


Hi Nathan –
I can vouch for the fact that it truly was Udo Middelmann who posted on here. He personally contacted me asking to meet last year when I was there close by in Switzerland (I was at L’Abri.)
Unfortunately our schedules never worked out.



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