Francis A. Schaeffer’s focus in How Should We Then Live? might best be seen as a Christian view of the development of the West. Like the writer of the biblical books of 1 and 2 Kings, he looks at the history of the West through Christian spectacles. He freely admits his work is selective, apologetic, and evangelistic in intent. Above all, the author seeks to show that the Christian view of the world is the only one that can make sense of and properly guide the actions of humankind in any given historical moment. The flow of Western history in all its manifestations in philosophy, artistic endeavor, government, and science becomes a proving ground for Schaeffer’s thesis.
Schaeffer launches his Christian analysis of Western civilization by stating the importance of understanding people’s presuppositions in decoding the flow of Western history. By presuppositions, Schaeffer means the basic way an individual looks at life—that individual’s worldview. For Schaeffer, it is fundamental to understand that people act out what they think. To see how presuppositions are worked out in the flow of Western history, he believes that one must trace their impact through the philosophic, the scientific, and the religious spheres. For Schaeffer, there are really only a few worldviews: those that begin with man alone and try to interpret reality and the Christian worldview, which begins with belief in God, who is there and who has spoken to man the truth about himself and the universe.
Schaeffer begins his analysis with the Roman state as the direct ancestor of the West. Noting that Roman thought was influenced by Greek ideas of the polis, or city-state, and its many gods, Schaeffer asserts that Rome failed because neither the city-state nor the gods provided a sufficient basis on which to build a society. The city-state fell because absolute values cannot be based only in the state as a consensus of the citizenry; neither could the gods provide such values, because they were finite and even sinful. Because the Romans embraced no absolute values, they abandoned the republic and accepted the rule of authoritarian caesars to maintain their personal peace and affluence. These fallible caesars could not provide the absolutes either, so Rome ultimately decayed and fell from within.
In contrast to pagan Rome, the embryonic Christian church stood against persecution and the vicissitudes of life exactly because Christians had absolutes by which to measure and interpret their experiences. They believed in the infinite personal God, who had revealed himself in the Bible. They had true knowledge of the universe and the nature of man and absolute values by which to live and to judge all actions—even those of the state. Thus armed, they were willing to suffer and even die for their faith.
The demise of Rome and the barbarian invasions resulted in a time of social, political, and intellectual upheaval and comparative decline in learning known collectively as the Middle Ages. Though not a true “dark age,” the era witnessed trends that paved the way for the rise of human beings as autonomous. There was the distortion of the Church, the addition of humanistic elements (such as the traditions of the Church) that would override the authority of the Bible and the ability of individuals to save themselves by meriting Christ. Most important, however, was the increasing mixture of Christian with non-Christian thought flowing from the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, which marked a watershed in the history...
(The entire section is 1445 words.)