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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Diagnosis, Strange Cure...,
This is one of the best books to point out the slow break from Christianity that has pulled Western Civlization into a moral tailspin. If you want to know why a nation with every mark of an advanced culture can approve of abortion without batting an eye, buy this book.
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 Holistic Analysis,
Francis A. Schaeffer covers a lot of territory both geographically and in terms of subject matter in this book. Chronologically he starts with ancient Rome and goes to the 1970s, the time the book was published. Illustrations are included to assist in making his case. Schaeffer contends there is a flow or pattern to history and in this book he sets out to explain the flow of Western culture. On page 52 he discusses the role philosophy had in separating the influence of divine revelation as found in the Bible from man-made epistemology. He uses Raphaels' painting of "The School of Athens" (c. 1510) to illustrate the separation. Symbolically the painting depicts two viewpoints, one looking upward toward God, the other viewing lower sources such as man. In Europe this gravitation toward one or the other direction took the forms of the Reformation (God) and the Renaissance (man). He discusses the philosophies of the prime movers in each of the two schools of thought. On page 108 he notes "Many good things in England came from Scotland." One of them being the concept of "Lex Rex: Law is King." The concept was that no one was above the law, that it was the same for everyone regardless of rank or position. He traces the idea for the American Revolution back to these seeds planted in the minds of those of English ancestary. The reader is carried up to the 1970s. This is a thought-provoking book that helps a person see cause-and-effect consequences over the long haul. It reminds one of the observation of Russell Kirk, "ideas have consequences."
5.0 out of 5 stars Ideas matter,
By A Customer
In 1972, I received my MA in English, with a concentration in 19th century American Literature, from a very secular university. With that in hand and serious doubts about the historical authenticity and relevance of Christianity, I read some of the earlier works in which Schaeffer explored the ideas developed in HSWTL. I was struck by the piercing insights into Western Thought and Culture that paralleled my English studies.
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.
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 of philosophic thought through time. As for a Christian agenda, he makes no secret about the fact that he is viewing history from a Christian world view.
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,
"How Should We Then Live?" is a wonderful summary of western world history written from a Christian perspective by Francis Schaeffer. The people and events presented throughout the work reminded me of my basic European history class I took in high school, but throughout Schaeffer adds his views.
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,
In "How Should We Then Live," Francis Schaeffer seeks to give an analysis of the events of history and how they have shaped our present cultural philosophies, thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. Schaeffer begins with the culture of Ancient Rome and leads us all the way through to (written in 1976) the present. How has our current way of thinking developed? Through philosophy? The arts? Science? Religion? The answer is through all of them, and Schaeffer shows how a Christian worldview (or a lack of one) did and continues to affect people and nations. According to Schaeffer, modern man really only cares about two things: personal peace and prosperity...at any cost. How we have arrived here is a very interesting story...
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.
4.0 out of 5 stars One of Schaeffer's Best Works,
This book, which was also produced into a film, is one of Schaeffer's best works. This is because, he matches history, art, rise of cultures, etc, and compares them to a Christian worldview and how Western Culture has steadly declined after certain ideas have surfaced in soceity.
These ideas and their consequences are demonstrated and connected to certain events in history. For example, he connects the Englightenment ideas to the French revolution and the horrors it produced. (Another reviewer dismisssed this idea, however, it has been well documented by many historians that the French revolution and its terror was a result of Enlightenment thinking-because there were no moral restraints).
Schaefffer is not a historian, expert in art (even though he loved art) or a professional philosopher and sometimes this is appearant as he makes some conclusions that are not completely warranted. For example, to connect humanistic ideas with Michelango's David is a far reach (P. 72).
The strength of his critique on the decline of Western Culture is in the realm of morals and virtues. The assertions are warranted and very accurate. It is also quite prophetic and chapters 8 thru 13 are well worth the read.
Lastly, coming from Schaeffer, this is a pleasent read. Some of his books are slow and difficult to get through. His style has often been burdensome. This book, is very easy, yet, detailed, and not cumbersome in any way. A very good book on modern culture, even though it is twenty plus years old.
3.0 out of 5 stars Sincere, but seriously flawed.,
...I believe the book is an articulate expression ofconservative Christian thinking, regarding the decline of Westerncivilization. It is more "intellectual" than many otherChristian books. I agree, with Schaeffer, that the West, generallyspeaking, is increasingly fragmenting. There are forces in Westernsocieties which encourage a de-humanization of individuals. And thereare ethical concerns, coming from that de-humanization process, suchas violent crime, drug use, not to mention war, genocide, andterrorism.
But I have to part with Schaeffer, in his explanation ofwhat accounts for these phenomena. He affirms that it all stems from asociety not having a "consensus", arising from a"Judaic-Christian" worldview. In other words, if the folksin charge of running the show, and the general populace, have a strongfaith in the God of the Bible, then there'll be solidity andorder. That's why, for example, he uses the Roman bridge as anillustration of how civilization in the West lasted so long.
Aftergetting through one chapter, one gets the impression that Schaeffer'sout of his league, when it comes to history, and the issues ofsociology. His specifically-Christian premise, and the way heselectively tries to bolster his argument, doesn't jibe withhistory. The Roman empire lasted for roughly 300 years -- but notbecause of Jewish-Christian theism. Roman religion did play a role incementing their world together. But it certainly wasn't the only, orthe primary, factor. Schaeffer also tries to make the point -- notvery well --that the ideas of the Enlightenment led directly to theatrocities of the French "Reign of Terror". They didn't. Atthe same time, he conveniently ignores the fact that secular thinking,in large measure, contributed to the Declaration of Independence, theUS Constitution, and the stress on freedom and human rights.
It canbe argued, persuasively, that the excesses of capitalism andconsumerism (the corporate need to make a buck, over the needs of theindividual), urbanization, and immigration, are as much a causes ofthe mediocrity in the West, as the decline of religiousbeliefs. Probably more so. An ethical culture is a worthwhile goal toshoot for, and to preserve. But to say that the one, valid way for itto happen is by having faith in the Bible, and cultivating a Christiansociety -- that's myopic, in the least, and, to me, a bitarrogant. History doesn't really bear that out that view. Democracy,secularism, and a concern for human needs can, and do, gotogether. (Take a look at most of US history, Scandinavia, Canada, anddemocratic Western Europe.) Humane policies, and ethical behavior bycitizens, takes place without belief in God. Not always. (See Stalin.)But theism isn't a necessary prequisite for loving one's neighbor. Itcan precede it. But too many examples of religious tyranny, along withhumanistic literature, art, and social endeavors, tend to discount thetheory, promoted in this book, that theism is THE way togo.
Secularization isn't the culprit behind Western society's ills;a combination of many other social forces have contributed to thefrustrations of our modern life. But Schaeffer tends to oversimplify-- and in the process, distort -- what's really happened inhistory. The value of reading the book, along with his "ChristianMaifesto", is learning the rationalization for much ofconservative Christian politics. It expresses a genuine desire toappreciate and improve our culture. But like the Puritans of NewEngland, it's a misdirected approach, which advocates theocratictendencies in government as the only cure. Schaeffer has a point, whenhe says that a cultural consensus should be sustained, to help a givensociety survive. But why should theism be a necessary component?Schaeffer never really answers the question.
"How Should WeThen Live?" should be read by more people, because of itsinfuence -- but thoughtfully and crtically. He shouldn't be agreedwith, just because he was a spokesman for "a Christianworldview". His arguments relating to history arewell-intentioned, but weak. As a result, he makes a poor case for histhesis.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Rise & Decline of Western Thought & Culture,
"People's presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions."
Schaeffer does an amazing job in tracing the coarse of ideas, where they came from, who originated them, and what they eventual lead to. Schaeffer's walk through time gives the modern reader a clear understanding of our own world, as we are able to clearly see where ideas came from and how they developed.
Though Schaeffer does not ever directly answer the question of "how should we then live," he does raise the question in the readers mind as he shows how we do live. Schaeffer traces the history of philosophy, religion, and science in the Western World. He begins with Rome (with the incorporation of Greek values) and proceeds through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, Industrialism, Modernity and the post-modern world.
This is a very basic history covering the past 2000 years. However, there is substantial depth in this book. Schaeffer is able to extract the most important people and events that spurred the dominant ideas that have shaped Western Civilization, past and present, in a clear and concise manner.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in History, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Art, Culture and or Ideas. Schaeffer also provides an excellent chronological index for quick referencing along with over sixty pictures of notable people, places, and works of art.
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How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture by Francis A. Schaeffer (Paperback - Feb. 15 2005)
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