How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture

Crossway Books has done us a favor in reprinting this outstanding and important book in preparation for the recent celebration in St. Louis, of the 50th anniversary of L’Abri’s ministry and one of America’s most influential evangelical thinkers, the late Francis A. Schaeffer. Our readers are not strangers to Schaeffer. We refer to him often in Equip.

Of his more than twenty books, this is one of the most important ones because he paints a big picture of the history of Western thought and culture. Schaeffer not only demonstrates his unusual grasp and understanding of Western civilization and thought, he uses that knowledge to set forth the practical truth of the Christian faith clearly and effectively. Revell Publishers first published How Should We Then Live with accompanying leader’s and study guides. It was also made into a film and is available through the Christian Education and Publications video library.

In the publisher’s foreword, Lane Dennis summarizes my sentiments when he writes, “Schaeffer’s thesis was that if we are to understand (as stated in the title) ‘how we should then live’ today, then we must understand the cultural and intellectual forces that brought us to this day.” Schaeffer thus begins his penetrating analysis with the fall of Rome, followed by the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, while focusing in the twentieth century primarily on the influence of art, music, literature, and film. As kingdom disciples, we must not only understand the Word, we must understand the world, if we are to communicate the truth to our generation.

Because this book was written thirty years ago it did not reflect some of the latest understanding of postmodern philosophy. Schaeffer demonstrated himself, however, as a bridge person who understood the shortcomings of modernism and how it was leading western culture toward the path of postmodernism. He had an ability, as a cultural apologist, to demonstrate how a post-Christian mind impacted the arts, music, drama, the media, as well as theology. This made his ministry uniquely applicable to his 20th century audience. It also paved the way for us as we moved into the 21st century.

In chapter after chapter you will find underscored the importance of understanding Christianity as a total life system or as Nancy Pearcey has written, “total truth.” In his closing remarks, Schaeffer wrote, “This book is written in the hope that this generation may turn from the greatest of wickedness, the placing of any created thing in the place of the Creator, and that this generation may get its feet out of the paths death and may live.” Those same words can be said of the rising generations today, as well.

While Schaeffer demonstrated time and again that Christian thinking was on the wane, at the same time he challenged his generation to develop a Christian mind that thinks from a Christian perspective about all things. He stood on biblical truth as he wrote and taught these truths. His key text was Ezekiel 33:1-11, 19 and especially verse 10. Like Ezekiel of old, Schaeffer, in his prophet-like style, challenged the readers to be watchmen, knowing how they should live.

If you have not read or studied this book, by all means do so. I have enjoyed working through it with colleagues and small group study. It would be a good textbook to include in any curriculum.

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Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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