How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture, Francis Schaeffer

I read Nancy Pearcey’s book, “Total Truth” last year. Pearcey became a Christian when she visited the L’Abri house in Switzerland which Schaeffer founded. This was my first introduction to Schaeffer. A couple of months ago, I was referred to this book and I am not disappointed to say that I’ve read it; just disappointed that I didn’t read it sooner!

I think “How Should”, published in 1976, could be considered one of Schaeffer’s most lasting achievement before he died 10 years later. It traces human thought through three veins: the theological, the philosophical, and the scientific. He examines these three categories in detail through various stages of human development in the West. He starts in Greece and Rome, moves to the Middle Ages, the Renaissance,  the Reformation (he spends two chapters here),the enlightenment, the rise of modern science, the breakdown in philosophy and science (19th century), and the present. In each period, he closely looks at the reigning philosophical system and demonstrates how this influenced not only those who went after them, but how theology was changed because of it. Philosophy is moving forward where each system builds on top of the system before it. To discover how we got to where we are today, Schaeffer traces each system and reasons that each builds on each other: from the philosophies of Ancient Rome and Greece, to the modern day. One particularly poignant quote is this:

“Edward Gibbon… said the following 5 attributes marked Rome at it’s end: First, a mounting love of show and luxury, that is affluence; second, a widening gap between the very rich and the very poor (this could be among the countries in the family of nations as well as a single nation); third, an obsession with sex; fourth, freakishness in the arts, masquerading as originality and enthusiasms pretending to be creativity; fifth, an increased desire to life off the state. It all sounds so familiar. We have come a long road from our first chapter, and we are back in Rome.”

He utilizes art and music heavily throughout the book, showing that the impact of these philosophies were not contained within the brilliant minds of the day, but influenced the artistic realm as well. For example, he speaks at length of the rise of postmodernism which is essentially is: 1) the universe was created randomly through chance, 2) there are no absolutes except for the one absolute that says that there are no absolutes, 3) morality, among other things, is subjective depending on the individual. To characterize this movement, he cites a painter who cut holes in the bottom of paint cans and suspended them above a canvas, showing that the drippings onto the canvas were purely random and unintentional. This shows how the worldview of postmodernism translated into the arts.

I think Francis Schaeffer was a brilliant mind and I see a lot of what he wrote about in Nancy Pearcey. Pearcey is an advocate of the arts and believes that art and worldview are intrinsically linked. I can see now that Pearcey probably came to this conclusion after sitting under Schaeffer. Schaeffer ends the book saying that the title is from Ezekiel 33, the famous “watchman” passage:

“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. f I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord GodI have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?’”

A fitting end for a culture that has rejected God.

Leave a reply:

Your email address will not be published.

Site Footer