How Should We Then Live?

by Francis A. Schaeffer

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Francis Schaeffer is concerned in How Should We then Live? with the collapse of absolute, Christian morality, which he traces through what he sees as the perversion of biblical doctrine throughout history, from the decline of Ancient Rome to the apex of Middle Age humanism and the scientific revolution. The author takes as his primary point of contention the historical period of the Renaissance and Reformation, which he argues were fundamental to shaping the theological underpinnings of the Christian West. These eras marked a drastic decline in Christian purism and a move away from a strict, to-the-letter acceptance of church texts in favor of more secular, humanist-centered interpretations. Schaeffer concludes that the disintegration of the pre-reform foundations of the Christian faith has eroded morality in the current age and led to new “presuppositions” within Western culture. These modern-day presuppositions have distorted the original Christian principles of hope and salvation, and precipitated the breakdown of science, religion, and philosophy.

Central to Schaeffer’s criticisms of Western cultural development is the gradual marginalization of God from mankind’s ability to seek meaning about itself and the universe. With the emerging individualistic sentiments of the rational philosophy of the seventeenth century, which privileged an explanation of the world that was based only on observable events and measurable phenomena, coupled with a Renaissance humanism that celebrated human beings’ ability to come to rational conclusions about existence without the need for divine intervention, Western scientific and theological culture for the past five-hundred years has supported and perpetuated an intrinsically non-religious way of thinking. This has had, according to Schaeffer, harmful repercussions within society at large, as he believes that this entirely inward view of existence is irrational and arbitrary. Without a recommitment to “absolute truth,” which Schaeffer mentions time and again in his work, mankind is likely to suffer under an equally arbitrary system of government and the perils of authoritarianism. This will come to be because, without God to serve as an external source of moral and ethical inspiration, mankind is likely to regress into egocentrism, which would preclude any genuine efforts at self-reform.

By tracing the development of this increasingly anti-Christian, anti-absolutist shift in Western cultural presuppositions through history, Schaeffer portends a bleak future. The only solution available, in his point of view, is for true believers to separate their faith in materiality and once again place it in the Creator.

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