Former King's Professor Udo Middelmann Opens Philosophy Lectures to Public

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On the evening of November 14, former King's professor Udo Middelmann taught the fourth in a series of philosophy classes at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church. Entitled “The Ideal and the Real,” Middelmann sought to describe and warn attendees of the dangers of utopianism. Middelmann originally prepared the series for a class at The King’s College he intended to teach in the fall, but opened them up to the public at he and his wife Deborah’s church when the school did not renew his contract for this year.

The classes will also be available on the church’s website after editing is complete for the series. In Monday’s class, Middelmann explored the utopian ideologies of various philosophers in history and compared these to his understanding of what is really real or what is truth. He discussed Thomas Moore, Neil Ferguson, Hegel, the Huguenots and many more.

Earlier classes met October 24, November 7, and November 14 and the final will be held on November 28.

Deborah and Udo Middelmann also frequently invite students and friends to their home on Fridays for “cheese night,” a more casual time of philosophic discussion and cheese. One of Udo's primary hopes is that attendees will leave with a better understanding of the implications of utopianism. Deborah is the third daughter of Francis Schaeffer, and Udo was Schaeffer’s Associate Pastor at L’Abri Fellowship for 22 years.

The Middelmanns lived in the largest L’Abri chalet in Switzerland, at which L’Abri students would stay during their time there. Students would join the Middelmanns at such events as lengthy dinner-table discussions and work in the gardens in order to talk through difficult theological, philosophic and existential issues.

With regard to Schaeffer, Udo says he sees very few differences between their “worlds of ideas."

“I worked very closely with him for many years,” Udo said. “I’m not aware of any significant differences. He always told us he could trust us. In L’Abri when people came, he’d always send us the more difficult people because he thought, ‘They can cope with them.’”

The Middelmanns left L’Abri 25 years ago when the organization’s leadership changed, leading to significant shifts in the teaching there.

Udo says that he would like his listeners to be aware that this utopianism is everywhere. “It’s in high expectations we have of other human beings, of relationships, of schools, of churches, of jobs,” he said.

Another of his goals through the series is to develop in his guests more developed critical thinking skills, to “... give some of the tools which encourage a person to be more honest and to grapple with what is truth and what is my responsibility to apply that. I think all of us have a calling to be human beings, a central calling, and in a fallen world it’s to diminish the evil. And for that, you have to recognize where it is,” he said.

The series has drawn King’s students—at least six at the last lecture. King’s student Betsy Brown (’11), who came to the November 14 lecture, took Middelmann’s Culture and Aesthetics class while he taught at King’s. She stayed with the Middelmanns in Switzerland for 3 days last summer (2011), and said she has learned a great deal from the Middelmanns and gained a lot of wisdom through their teaching.

“Udo is a really interesting person, and he and Debbie bring a really fresh perspective to Christianity,” Brown said. “Especially through Udo’s European heritage and Debbie’s connection with Francis Schaeffer, they have a really developed philosophy on life that I really enjoyed getting to learn about.”

“I enjoyed that some King’s students are coming to the lectures,” Udo said. “For us it was nice to get our students out of class and into a more familial setting, and those were wonderful evenings of discussion, L’Abri-like,” Udo said. “That’s what we plan to do every time we come back [to King’s], and I regret I’m no longer here.”

Campus, CityRebecca Jacobson