How Should We Then Live?

by Francis A. Schaeffer

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live?, the author criticizes various historical movements for the supposed negative impact each had on humanity. Schaeffer’s text is often credited with inspiring the evangelical Christian resurgence that became prominent during the 1980s. The book is divided into 13 chapters with an index and note of instruction to its Christian audience.

The central premise of the book is that a God-centered approach to forming society leads to a harmonious existence for humans. Unfortunately, Schaeffer asserts, society has often based itself on humanistic principles, or the belief that people are sufficiently good on their own. Schaeffer posits that the main flaw of basing society on such principles is that people disagree on what is best for people, which creates conflict and inequality.

To support this argument, Schaeffer explains how various societies throughout history failed because of their reliance on humanism. These include the fall of the Roman Empire in Chapter 1 and the nearly theocratic system of Middle Ages Europe. Schaeffer praises the Christian elements of the Middle Ages, but he suggests that the gradual incorporation of humanism, which culminated with the Renaissance, corrupted the Bible-based foundation of society.

After discussing the failings of the Renaissance, Schaeffer spends several chapters on the Protestant Reformation, explaining why reformers wanted to leave the Catholic Church. Generally, Schaeffer paints the Reformation in a positive light, depicting how it impacted even non-Christians positively.

During the Enlightenment, however, society separated the achievements of humans from the influence of religion, a flaw that Schaeffer asserts gave way to the development of modern science. Schaeffer suggests that the flaw of this approach is that it assumes God can be easily understood or controlled by man. In fact, he discusses how over time, prominent scientists completely disavowed religion altogether, reaching the dismal conclusion that humans are simple animals who exist only by chance via a series of natural accidents. Schaeffer credits this philosophy with society’s de-prioritization of God.

He proposes that all facets of culture, including philosophy, theology, art, and literature reflect the negative impact of this trend. He cites various examples of each to show that the prevailing sentiment among humans during the time in which he wrote the book is alienation. He refers to this sentiment as “fragmentation I’d thought,” or the inability to integrate the disparate parts of life.

Schaeffer then turns his discussion to how the present state of society will lead to further social collapse. He explains how the contemporary values of personal peace—or the desire to be unaffected by the world’s problems—and affluence have corrupted humans’ ability to work toward the betterment of society. Because humans value these qualities so much, they will inevitably allow a fascist system of government to gain power over the system, promising them wealth and insular happiness in exchange for personal liberty.

In the final chapter of the book, Schaeffer calls on society to redirect its attention to Christian teachings or face the worsening of current societal ills, including depressed economy, catastrophic war, and scarce resources.

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