How Should We Then Live?

How Should We Then Live?

The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture

by Francis A. Schaeffer
Publisher: Crossway Books
Trade Paperback, 288 pages
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There's a tradition within Reformed Christianity called presuppositional apologetics, which is essentially a system for defending the Christian faith based on the idea that our inmost assumptions about life, God and everything form a worldview that informs both our beliefs and our actions. Francis Schaeffer was a well-known apologist in this tradition, and How Should We Then Live? echoes the thought, study, and evangelism of a a very full lifetime.

This isn't an apologetics manual, a philosophy course, or anything as narrowly focused and bland as that. How Should We Then Live? tells the story of Western civilization from its Roman beginnings to the later part of the 20th century, putting everything in the context of the ideas and attitudes that guided men in each period. In this sense, the book is a Christian philosophy of history; but it's also art analysis, history proper, a defense of Christian faith and reason, and many more things besides.

While some would call Francis Schaeffer a popularizer of presuppositionalism, don't let that fool you: though his books are often fascinating or even fun to read, they aren't easy. This volume in particular seeks to cram in less than 300 pages many of the ideas he'd spent whole volumes talking about elsewhere: the Western embrace and later rejection of reason; the humanism that dogs our contemporary culture; the search for and reality of "true truth"; and many more.

The first half of the book is dedicated to the history of ideas from the days of Imperial Rome up through the rise of modern science. The second half deals with how this historical trajectory has impacted our own social context, the current status of thought, religion and science, and what Christians should expect in the future. Schaeffer's conclusions are easy to follow, since he's already laid the whole historical foundation in the beginning of the text.

Much of his analysis centers around how Western thought structures have influenced the arts. How Should We Then Live? is full of black and white images of famous works of art, from Greco-Roman statuary to Ingmar Bergman movie posters. Because some of the material is fairly explicit (and because this is sometimes a difficult text to grapple with!), this isn't a book you'll want to just hand your kids, especially kids on the cusp of adolescence.

It is a book families should become familiar with together, however. Schaeffer's analysis is alarmingly astute, and almost forty years after the book's initial publication we can see his predictions coming to fruition. This is a much-needed commentary in that Schaeffer was able to see past symptoms (the rise of evolutionary theory, the embrace of sexual liberation, etc.) to their sources in fundamentally anti-Christian ideas.

Easily one of the most important Christian books of the last century, How Should We Then Live? is more pertinent than ever. It's important to note, however, that it isn't Schaeffer's vast knowledge about (apparently) everything, his ability as a philosopher, or anything else that make his observations ultimately worth listening to. At the end, his clearly evident love of Jesus Christ and godly character are his most worthy credentials, both to other Christians and to the secular world.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

Table of Contents:

  1. Publisher's Foreword
    Author's Note
    List of Illustrations

  6. Ancient Rome
  7. The Middle Ages
  8. The Renaissance
  9. The Reformation
  10. The Reformation—Continued
  11. The Enlightenment
  12. The Rise of Modern Science
  13. The Breakdown in Philosophy and Science
  14. Modern Philosophy and Modern Theology
  15. Modern Art, Music, Literature, and Films
  16. Our Society
  17. Manipulation and the New Elite
  18. The Alternatives

    Special Note
    Chronological Index
    Topical Index
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Exodus Rating
FLAWS: Some mature content
Summary: This is Schaeffer's great philosophy of history as he traces the story of the West and reveals where all that will lead.

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  Schaeffer's HSWTL Is A Classic
TammyA of Oregon, 7/17/2010
Francis Schaeffer's "How Should We Then Live" is a Christian classic on apologetics and philoshophy, and deservedly so.

It analyzes the philosophies of western civilization as they developed from its roots in Rome to our post-modern age (up to the 1970's).

More importantly, Mr. Schaeffer contrasts secular thinking throughout the ages to biblical thinking. In the text, Mr. Schaeffer states "Most people catch their presuppositions the way a child catches a cold." He challenges the reader to examine what they believe and why they believe that and contrast it to biblical thinking.

Throughout the ages, he examples how biblical thinking is based upon God's truth and the only thinking that will bring man true peace and happiness.

Mr. Schaeffer also clearly understood that how a culture thinks and what it believes is reflected in its arts. He therefore brings in examples of different artistic works throughout the periods which reflect the prevailing cultural indeed does reflect real least the real thoughts the culture had about God, man, and how to perceive the world about them...which is a very telling story indeed.

This is not an easy read, but it is a valuable read. Take time to go through the book and contemplate its messages with your student.

I also recommend the small companion study guide by Jeremy C. Jackson if you would like a chapter outline and some pre-written questions to help you get discussions started.

There is also an excellent video series done by Mr. Schaeffer that presents these ideas in visual format.