How Should We Then Live?

by Francis A. Schaeffer
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 387

Francis Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Christian Thought and Culture was both a book and a documentary series. It does not have characters as a novel does. Instead it has historical figures, civilizations, and schools of thought.

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The Roman Empire is shown as the start of Western civilization rather than Greece or Egypt as most historians argue. Schaeffer argues Rome fell to barbarians because of its paganism and failure to embrace the Christian belief. Historian Edward Gibbons argued the opposite, that Christianity is precisely what weakened the Roman Empire. Most historians now argue that Rome weakened for other reasons and its emperors turned to Christianity to strengthen it, but it was not enough.

The early Christian church is depicted as simple and strong in its faith, a model for which all Christian churches should emulate.

The Catholic Church is portrayed as straying from that original simplicity, in line with long standing Protestant depictions of it.

Thomas Acquinas is portrayed as the worst Catholic thinker, the one who argued for cultural relativism. Most Catholic scholars strongly disagree and say that Moore instead argued for the absolute nature of God and truth in all societies and circumstances.

The Renaissance and the Enlightenment are both regarded as wrong turns that Western culture made. Schaeffer sees both as leading to secularism and humanism, societies and worldviews no longer with God as central to them.

Modern art movements are depicted as alienated, without purpose, nihilistic, and searching for meaning.

Pablo Picasso is portrayed as both the originator and the highest example of alienation in modern art. Both Picasso and his admirers would disagree, arguing instead that his non representational art is simply a different way of viewing life and the world, bringing healing and understanding to both.

Schaeffer himself is a major character in his own book and documentary series. Schaeffer began as the head of a seminary in Switzerland. Then he became a leading presumptionalist theologian, a religious analyst looking at the central ideas behind cultures and schools of thought. Schaeffer's work was embraced by many evangelical and conservative Christians. Coming out in 1974 after Roe v. Wade and the antiwar, feminist, and civil rights movements, many saw in his book an explanation for what they saw as a decline in Christian influence and modern life.

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