2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shows its age, but still a strong critique of western thought and culture
The value of this critique is perhaps best noted in the key ideas that spring from it and seem to provide explanatory power for much of the modern condition. The "upper story/lower story" dichotomy of values is just as strong today as ever. We can also see that Schaeffer's indictment of the impoverished modern values of "personal peace and affluence" is applicable today...
Published on Oct 18 2010 by Rodge
3.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking --but it only goes so far.
Previous reviewers have called this a wonderful book, Schaeffer's best, and a book with a Christian agenda. Their ratings vary from best to worst. This reader thinks they are all correct. Schaeffer does present us with an effective sketch of Western Culture from Plato to the 1960's. He does provide an interesting framework within which to understand the ebbs and flows...
Published on July 18 2001 by Todd C. Truffin
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shows its age, but still a strong critique of western thought and culture,
This review is from: How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Paperback)The value of this critique is perhaps best noted in the key ideas that spring from it and seem to provide explanatory power for much of the modern condition. The "upper story/lower story" dichotomy of values is just as strong today as ever. We can also see that Schaeffer's indictment of the impoverished modern values of "personal peace and affluence" is applicable today as strongly as in 1976 when he published this. For these ideas alone this book is worth it. The journey from the Roman Empire to the modern culture is actually quite compelling - Schaeffer tries to draw a narrative from the history which results in some points being assumed which perhaps would require more debate. The final chapters where Schaeffer tries to look ahead to whats next are also somewhat weak - we know now which predictions of his have not come to pass. In the 70s inflation was an issue for instance, and that would get worse before it would get better - obviously Schaeffer was not an economist so his thoughts on that front were somewhat muddled (real economists are bad enough, of course).
Despite the handful of drawbacks though, and the fact that not everything Schaeffer states passes without argument, this is still a remarkably strong book, with strong ideas that will stick with you and force you to think them through as you examine the world around you.
5.0 out of 5 stars A work of genius,
By A Customer
A work of real genius.
Schaeffer knew more about the history of mankind, and of what mankind is suffering from at the moment, then anyone else I've ever read. Only C.S. Lewis comes close...
5.0 out of 5 stars A Life Changing Book,
5.0 out of 5 stars Holistic Analysis,
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Diagnosis, Strange Cure...,
The problem is that he presents a distorted view of the Reformation and thus makes a faulty case for the cure as a return to "Reformation Christianity." How does he do this? Well for starters he flat-out ignores the fact that Sola Scriptura is almost a guarantee of the religious relativism he strenuously condemns (how can it not, any possible interpretation can be thrust upon a text without an authoritive interpretation). He strangely claims that the Reformation lead to Democracy, which, considering that every nation that sided with the Reformers did so out of greed and desire for absolute power is strange to say the least. One of the negative aspects of the Reformation that he does address is that everywhere the Reformation took hold edured destruction of art and wholesale looting of monestaries on a massive scale. He tries to answer this charge by saying that the destruction pertained, for the most part, only to people who owned the art and images themselves. While it might be true for some of the cases, it makes no sense to apply this to the numerous cases of destruction and looting of monestaries, churches and church lands (along with numerous instances of martyrdom among the clergy in those lands).
While I would wholely recommend the book to anyone who wants to know how are culture descended into relativism. However the author's biases color his view of history to a degree that it might make him uncredible in the eyes of more historically oriented observers.
5.0 out of 5 stars Ideas matter,
By A Customer
On a personal level -- and there is always a personal level, one of the ideas in the book -- I have had many opportunities to examine the presuppositions of my education, upbringing, and culture in the light of those ideas. In 30 years, I have found those ideas to be challenging and illuminating. I can say from personal experience that in no way does Schaeffer offer glib answers. Also, there is nothing intellectually cheap about his analysis. The cultural analysis framework in HSWTL has continued to be helpful through a career in Information Systems and Enterprise Architecture. I find that framework still helps me see the "really big picture" facing companies in the 21st century (which, it turns out, includes deep moral issues).
One of Schaeffer's notable ideas is that truth should not only be self-consistent but practical/livable. Based on my experience, "How Should We Then Live?" is a credible analysis of the history of ideas.
PS: Perhaps the reader might wonder I did not end by saying the book contains a "powerful prescription" or "an excellent social roadmap," etc, as if Schaeffer had an agenda he wants all of us to follow, lock-step. He is unapologetic about being a Christian and pointing to the person of Christ (of the Bible) for credible answers to modern dilemmas. If that makes readers uncomfortable.... Well, that is his purpose--to make us (the modern Church) uncomfortable.
5.0 out of 5 stars A compact history of western culture.,
3.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking --but it only goes so far.,
However, one must pay close attention to Schaeffer's opening and closing point: persons operate based on presuppostitions about what is true, sometimes without knowing it. Schaeffer is not immune. While excellent in some respects, the book is trapped in a Cold War mentality. Further, several of Schaeffer's views on art seem quite arbitrary since he never defends them. For instance, throughout the book, Schaeffer is categorically against non-realistic art, but he never defends his position that realistic art is inherently good.
In the final analysis, HSWTL provides a thought-provoking analysis of western thought. However, it should not be taken as the final word on the subject. I believe Schaeffer himself would agree that no 258 page book on the subject could ever really cover the complexities therein. As a starting point, it works. As a final statement, it is woefully inadequate.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great summary of western world history,
Schaeffer is able to discuss many different topics because of the large time range he covers in the book (Roman days until present times). My favorite issues addressed included: --The concept of charity, in which Schaeffer talks about how the older churches were very compassionate with wealth, but since the Industrial Revolution, many Christians have forgotten this and focused on personal accumulated wealth. --Open vs. closed systems --Evolution and in turn the purpose and meaning of life --La Boheme, which I found very interesting because of the recent movie "Moulin Rouge." This popular opera by Puccini presented the fundamental concepts of Rousseau -- autonomous freedom leads the hero to fight all of society's standards, values, and restraints. --Origin of life (i.e. "In the beginning..."), including the idea of pantheism. --And perhaps my favorite came on the topic of existentialism. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, "Oh man! Take heed of what the dark midnight says: I slept, I slept -- from deep dreams I awoke: The world is deep -- and more profound than day would have thought. Profound in her pain -- Pleasure -- more profound than pain of heart, Woe speaks; pass on. But all pleasure seeks eternity -- a deep and profound eternity."
Yes, it is the idea that we all seek the pleasure of eternity. Nietzsche said that God is dead, and thus he believed man is dead. It's not surprising that Nietzsche went insane! Without God, what are you left with? Nietzsche said that you are left with "systems." In today's world we might call them "game plans." Schaeffer probably can summarize the implications a lot better than I can:
"A person can erect some sort of structure, some type of limited frame, in which he lives, shutting himself up in that frame and not looking beyond it. The game plan can be one of a number of things. It can be filling your life with material possessions. Or it can be a scientist concentrating on some small point of science so that he does not have to think of any of the big questions, such as why things exist at all. It can be a skier concentrating for years on knocking one-tenth of a second from a downhill run."
The final chapter of the book answers the question of "How Should We Then Live?" and although Schaeffer's suggestions are not that specific, he does get to the very heart of living, culture, and our world's future.
4.0 out of 5 stars Still an Important Work 25 years Later,
Schaeffer himself admits in the introduction that a comprehensive study of the rise and fall of Western thought and culture would be a near impossibility. He's right. But many times in the book I think he fell short. Schaeffer tends to explain concepts during certain periods in history very clearly, then assumes that the reader is familiar with other periods without the same foundation being laid. Again, as he said, the problem is he can't treat the subject comprehensively in only 258 pages (many of which are photographs). I also felt that Schaeffer was somewhat uncomfortable in knowing how to fit musical influences into the book. His musical statements don't seem to support some of his ideas very well at times. (However, he handles the influence of art quite well.) Also, as with any book examining culture that is 25 years old, much of the material is outdated. It's a shame that Schaeffer didn't live to see and comment on some of the events of the past decade. It would have been very interesting to hear him speak of things (such as cloning) which are now very real.
I have read four previous Schaeffer works. None of the books I have read are very long (well under 300 pages), but some can be a pretty rough road. "How Should We Then Live" is very readable and most of the time very clear. The book is well worth your time.
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How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture by Francis A. Schaeffer (Paperback - Mar 3 2005)
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