139 of 144 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2005
The idea of the project How Should We Then Live?, both as a film documentary and as a book, was conceived in 1974 and completed in 1976. In the Acknowledgments, Francis Schaeffer writes about the idea behind the project: "Using my study, over the past forty years, of Western thought and culture as a base, we could attempt to present the flow and development which have led to twentieth-century thinking, and by so doing hope to show the essential answers." The subtitle to How Should We Then Live? is "The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture." Starting from ancient Roman times, tracing man's development throughout the Middle Ages, going to the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment, he shows the steps which led to the modern era.
Chapter One-Ancient Rome
The finite Graeco-Roman gods were not a sufficient inward base for the Roman society: Rome crumbled from within, and the invasions of the barbarians only completed the breakdown.
Chapter Two-The Middle Ages
The Middle Ages were the post-Roman age: a time of uncertainty in which there were great advances of the church but also great distortions of Biblical truth, eventually leading to the Renaissance and the Reformation.
Chapter Three-The Renaissance
Although the Renaissance revived the realization that man and nature are important, it went overboard by making man the measure of all things-and by that destroyed the importance of man.
Chapter Four-The Reformation
Like the Renaissance, the Reformation sought to bring freedom to man, yet unlike the Renaissance it did not lose sight of the Bible and absolute values.
Chapter Five-The Reformation-Continued
The impact of the Reformation on society at large was the opportunity of freedom without chaos.
Chapter Six-The Enlightenment
The Enlightenment believed in the perfectibility of society, and sought to bring it about mainly by the means of revolution.
Chapter Seven-The Rise of Modern Science
Modern science could only have arisen from a Christian foundation: namely, that man is not part of a closed system but can observe and act into the system.
Chapter Eight-The Breakdown of Philosophy and Science
The foundation in Philosophy and Science was changed from antithetical thinking to dialectic thinking-and because of it reason became more and more pessimistic.
Chapter Nine-Modern Philosophy and Modern Theology
Due to the pessimistic view on reason, Philosophy and Theology started to seek meaning in the irrational.
Chapter Ten-Modern Art, Music, Literature, and Films
What began in Philosophy now made itself felt in the Arts: the abandonment of reason and increased fragmentation.
Chapter Eleven-Our Society
We have come full circle, since our society has become like the declining Roman Empire of old: it is marked by the love of affluence, a widening gap between rich and poor, an obsession with sex, freakishness in the arts, and an increased desire to live off the state.
Chapter Twelve-Manipulation and the New Elite
Because our society stands on the verge of chaos, we are in danger of coming under an authoritarian elite which will increasingly manipulate our lives.
Chapter Thirteen-The Alternatives
The only plausible alternative to authoritarianism is to align ourselves to a Biblical worldview-a worldview which produces freedom without chaos.
Whether or not one agrees with all of Schaeffer's points, his passion to be a Christian who engages secular culture has laid the foundation stone for much of Christian thinking in the past three decades.
- Jacob Schriftman, Author of The C. S. Lewis Book on the Bible: What the Greatest Christian Writer Thought About the Greatest Book
90 of 96 people found the following review helpful
In "How Should We Then Live," Francis Schaeffer seeks to give an analysis of the events of history and how they have shaped our present cultural philosophies, thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. Schaeffer begins with the culture of Ancient Rome and leads us all the way through to (written in 1976) the present. How has our current way of thinking developed? Through philosophy? The arts? Science? Religion? The answer is through all of them, and Schaeffer shows how a Christian worldview (or a lack of one) did and continues to affect people and nations. According to Schaeffer, modern man really only cares about two things: personal peace and prosperity...at any cost. How we have arrived here is a very interesting story...
Schaeffer himself admits in the introduction that a comprehensive study of the rise and fall of Western thought and culture would be a near impossibility. He's right. But many times in the book I think he fell short. Schaeffer tends to explain concepts during certain periods in history very clearly, then assumes that the reader is familiar with other periods without the same foundation being laid. Again, as he said, the problem is he can't treat the subject comprehensively in only 258 pages (many of which are photographs). I also felt that Schaeffer was somewhat uncomfortable in knowing how to fit musical influences into the book. His musical statements don't seem to support some of his ideas very well at times. (However, he handles the influence of art quite well.) Also, as with any book examining culture that is 25 years old, much of the material is outdated. It's a shame that Schaeffer didn't live to see and comment on some of the events of the past decade. It would have been very interesting to hear him speak of things (such as cloning) which are now very real.
I have read four previous Schaeffer works. None of the books I have read are very long (well under 300 pages), but some can be a pretty rough road. "How Should We Then Live" is very readable and most of the time very clear. The book is well worth your time.
81 of 87 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2000
"People's presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions."
Schaeffer does an amazing job in tracing the coarse of ideas, where they came from, who originated them, and what they eventual lead to. Schaeffer's walk through time gives the modern reader a clear understanding of our own world, as we are able to clearly see where ideas came from and how they developed.
Though Schaeffer does not ever directly answer the question of "how should we then live," he does raise the question in the readers mind as he shows how we do live. Schaeffer traces the history of philosophy, religion, and science in the Western World. He begins with Rome (with the incorporation of Greek values) and proceeds through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, Industrialism, Modernity and the post-modern world.
This is a very basic history covering the past 2000 years. However, there is substantial depth in this book. Schaeffer is able to extract the most important people and events that spurred the dominant ideas that have shaped Western Civilization, past and present, in a clear and concise manner.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in History, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Art, Culture and or Ideas. Schaeffer also provides an excellent chronological index for quick referencing along with over sixty pictures of notable people, places, and works of art.
46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
In reading How Should We Then Live, I found that Francis Schaeffer reminded me a great deal of another famous Christian writer, John Foxe. Like Foxe, Schaeffer's writing--specifically, his accuracy in assessing and describing art and culture--improve the closer he comes to his own era. I had never read anything by Schaeffer before but had always heard him highly spoken of, so when I came across this book recently I bought it on impulse. It was a fascinating, brisk read that I completed in two days.
What Schaeffer sets out to do is follow the development of the Western philosophy of life from the decadence of Rome to the decadence of the modern world and explain what has gone wrong with our society. He also seeks to describe how a proper worldview balances the universal with the particulars and how most modern philosophies overstress one or the other to a fault.
Schaeffer's flaws are not many, but they are often great. He begins the book with a brief explanation of presuppositions--unfortunately, many of his own presuppositions give an otherwise welcome brief history a bad flavor.
Starting with his presupposition--pointed out ad infinitum by other reviewers--that all pre-Reformation Christianity is unquestionably bad, he grossly misinterprets the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, Dante, and Michelangelo, to name only a few. His view of Greco-Roman culture is also oversimplified. Ironically, for someone so keen on balancing the universals and the particulars, he is often only generally accurate in the broad strokes and does poorly on the particulars.
I've dwelt on the flaws, but this is still a good book. Just read it knowing that much of the early material is either oversimplified or misinterpreted. Once Schaeffer reaches Nietzsche, he is within his depth and gives a good, if too brief and simplified, overview of the major philosophical movements that shaped the 20th--and now 21st--century.
How Should We Then Live? is an ambitiously conceived book--its problems lie with the author's presuppositions and, to an extent, its brevity. If you're looking for a book with similar themes and goals, I'd recommend John Blanchard's Does God Believe in Atheists? instead. Blanchard's work is much more detailed and exhaustive, and far more balanced in its treatment of viewpoints that don't square 100% with his own.
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 1998
If you want to understand the terms of the culture war, and why so many people are dedicated to restoring Christian values in our society, read this book. Schaeffer explains his world view in terms of a divinely inspired Bible, it's truths, and why they are true. There's more, too. Even for the skeptic, this book provides an excellent background (used as supporting evidence) in Western culture, arts, philosophy, music, and architecture from the Roman Empire days until present. Schaeffer, in his 40 years of study and skepicism himself found the truth of the Bible and God's revelation alive in just about all mankind does. An excellent book. An excellent reference. Schaeffer is in the same league as C.S. Lewis and "Mere Christianity".
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2003
Not many people know that there was a 10 episode film series with the same title, and that there is a paper back study guide that compliments this book. I first read this book 22 years ago when I was trying to figure out why the world was going to hell in a handbasket. It answered a lot of my questions and made me ask more questions. I rate this as one of the 10 most important books I've read in my lifetime, and I'm getting to be an old lady now. I'm getting ready to read it again because I feel it has a new relevance for our time in light of the persecution of Christianity in the public arena. I also bring to your attention his book, A Christian Manifesto. If you seek true wisdom born of knowledge, this is your book!
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on February 29, 2000
This has to be one of the best books on this subject available thus far. It's *very* easy to understand, and it's not long or drawn out. Basically Schaeffer divides man and his view on the world into two categories; belief in an infinite God vs. humanism (belief in the absence of an infinite deity). The first creates a solid basis for morales, ethics and right and wrong. Man has *meaning* and a *purpose* in the world, something to hold on to and develop a strong sense of direction from. The latter induces that the world is of random chance (the big bang theory) and that man is nothing more than a machine. Morales are subjective to each person, a personal decision. There is no base for right or wrong, or good or evil. Man loses his sense of direction and ultimately, he falls. Schaeffer also provides a deep analysis of how science, in it's infancy, was based on the belief of and infinite God and how the early scientists were almost all Christian, like Newton. He describes the failure of the humanistic scientist back then and it's defeat against the Christian science and it's transition into the vice-versa of modern day. A fantastic read!
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2003
Francis A. Schaeffer covers a lot of territory both geographically and in terms of subject matter in this book. Chronologically he starts with ancient Rome and goes to the 1970s, the time the book was published. Illustrations are included to assist in making his case. Schaeffer contends there is a flow or pattern to history and in this book he sets out to explain the flow of Western culture. On page 52 he discusses the role philosophy had in separating the influence of divine revelation as found in the Bible from man-made epistemology. He uses Raphaels' painting of "The School of Athens" (c. 1510) to illustrate the separation. Symbolically the painting depicts two viewpoints, one looking upward toward God, the other viewing lower sources such as man. In Europe this gravitation toward one or the other direction took the forms of the Reformation (God) and the Renaissance (man). He discusses the philosophies of the prime movers in each of the two schools of thought. On page 108 he notes "Many good things in England came from Scotland." One of them being the concept of "Lex Rex: Law is King." The concept was that no one was above the law, that it was the same for everyone regardless of rank or position. He traces the idea for the American Revolution back to these seeds planted in the minds of those of English ancestary. The reader is carried up to the 1970s. This is a thought-provoking book that helps a person see cause-and-effect consequences over the long haul. It reminds one of the observation of Russell Kirk, "ideas have consequences."
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 1999
Schaeffer's analysis of a world which chooses to deny theexistence of a supreme Creator is dead on. Furthermore, the facts of history bear out Schaeffer's most poignant assertion--men tend to live according to their presuppositions whether or not they realize they are doing so. Man's pessimism in a world which he believes to have been created by time plus chance alone follows from his denial of the Christian worldview. Nonetheless, humanist man still struggles to sow meaning from a meaningless foundation. Schaeffer shows with compassion and honesty that Christianity is the cure for a hurting world.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2003
In 1972, I received my MA in English, with a concentration in 19th century American Literature, from a very secular university. With that in hand and serious doubts about the historical authenticity and relevance of Christianity, I read some of the earlier works in which Schaeffer explored the ideas developed in HSWTL. I was struck by the piercing insights into Western Thought and Culture that paralleled my English studies.
On a personal level -- and there is always a personal level, one of the ideas in the book -- I have had many opportunities to examine the presuppositions of my education, upbringing, and culture in the light of those ideas. In 30 years, I have found those ideas to be challenging and illuminating. I can say from personal experience that in no way does Schaeffer offer glib answers. Also, there is nothing intellectually cheap about his analysis. The cultural analysis framework in HSWTL has continued to be helpful through a career in Information Systems and Enterprise Architecture. I find that framework still helps me see the "really big picture" facing companies in the 21st century (which, it turns out, includes deep moral issues).
One of Schaeffer's notable ideas is that truth should not only be self-consistent but practical/livable. Based on my experience, "How Should We Then Live?" is a credible analysis of the history of ideas.
PS: Perhaps the reader might wonder I did not end by saying the book contains a "powerful prescription" or "an excellent social roadmap," etc, as if Schaeffer had an agenda he wants all of us to follow, lock-step. He is unapologetic about being a Christian and pointing to the person of Christ (of the Bible) for credible answers to modern dilemmas. If that makes readers uncomfortable.... Well, that is his purpose--to make us (the modern Church) uncomfortable.