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How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  11,559 ratings  ·  456 reviews
Drawing upon forty years of study in theology, philosophy, history, sociology and the arts, Dr. Schaeffer contemplates the reasons for modern society's sorry state of affairs and argues for total affirmation of the Bible's morals, values, and meaning.
Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 1st 1983 by Crossway Books (first published 1975)
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Dec 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
How Should We Then Live is a discussion of how philosophy, art, and music have changed throughout history, and what these changes say about the human race and where we are headed.

This book reads like an art history class. Schaeffer takes you through history chronologically, through the dark ages, the renaissance, reformation, the enlightenment, all the way into modern time. Over this time period, art goes from being realistic and detailed to being highly abstract. Music becomes more dissident, f
Brenda Cregor
Nov 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing

Though they were produced during a different time, without a great deal of cash[ I assume], Shaeffer's 12 episode video collection, by the same name as the book, is on youtube. If you are not an avid reader, or want to see the art and architecture spoken of in this text, watch the episodes.

As the title indicates, this is a non-fiction chronological analysis of Western culture, since the Roman Empire.
Schaeffer wrote this book in the 70's.
Jun 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Religious or not, one must admit that Dr. Schaeffer is as scholarly a theologian as one might find. This book is worth reading as much (perhaps more) for its survey of Western Culture as for its Christian ethic.
Mar 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a prophetic book. Schaeffer saw the decline of western civilization over two decades ago, and foresaw the kind of economic collapse we are now witnessing. This is an important book for all Christians to read, and even more important for non-Christians.

Schaeffer evaluates the big philosophical arguments presented throughout history, demonstrates that the humanist ideals always lead to nihilism and moral degeneracy, bankrupting the value of the human being.

Read this book--it is the founda
Ioseph Bonifacius (Ioannes)
Apr 07, 2019 rated it did not like it
Really bad, a book that contradicts itself. The whole problem of the book is that the author says, following Mr. Luther, that reason is the enemy of faith, he then goes on to attack St. Thomas, he says in the book that Thomas would teach that human reason is not fallen, which is false, he makes it very clear that he is very ignorant in the subjects he discusses. Further in the same book he goes into discussing the contemporary times, how the artists portray the universe as something chaotic and ...more
Apr 28, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: random-stuff
I guess I was not the only one confused by the title. Schaeffer felt the need at the very end of the book to include an explanation of how he chose it. If I had to title it, I would have chosen something more like ‘Why they live the way they do’, ‘Why they paint the way they do’, or ‘What has replaced God’, because this book is more about the chaotic hopelessness of modern philosophy and its immoral results than about how a Christian should live.
Not that it wasn’t good. I think. I really don’
Jack Osider
Aug 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
If you are agnostic, atheistic, Christian, or existential in your beliefs you need to read this book. It does not matter that it's(this book's)author is Christian because he very fairly gives thought to each world-view and the ideas behind them. In a culture where truth is relativistic and sometime life makes absolutely no sense, it is important to search all possibilities. Any intellectual and open-minded person will give this book a try. Even if you do indeed disagree. We tell each other to be ...more
Dec 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a remarkable book: incisive, illuminating, and prophetic.
Feb 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I'm still working through some of this book, but I have absolutely loved what Schaeffer has to say, especially in regards to the dangers of a society that is primarily concerned with personal peace and affluence. He asserts that such a society will eventually allow an authoritative type of government to rise into existence out of a fear of losing "comfort". This certainly does not happen quickly, but is something that develops over time.

Interesting, but our culture today bears the marks of Schae
This book was a life-changer. Schaeffer transformed my understanding of history, especially the history of philosophical thought, and really enabled me to make sense of so many things that had been gnawing at me for years—ever since I was introduced to the likes of Nietzsche in an Introduction to Philosophy class at a state university. Additionally, his method of discussing developments in the arts right alongside of the philosophical transformations was an approach to history which really struc ...more
Tim Dorman
Aug 05, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How Should we than live had a profund effect on my spirituality and understanding of the culture that I live in. Schaeffer was one of the most brilliant thinkers of his generation and it shines through in this profound work. Schaeffer traces the decline of culture and thought that has occured within Christianity. Of praticular interest to me was his emphasis on the decline of art in culture and how it evolved from a God honoring tradition to post-modernism confusion. He shows for example a compa ...more
Jan 29, 2017 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Interesting Amazon review/discussion here (re: Schaeffer's understanding of Aquinas). Here's another view (and a comment) of Schaeffer/Aquinas.

Some have criticized Schaeffer because of his co-option by the Religious Right. Schaeffer did appreciate Rushdoony's work, but disagreed with Rushdooney on eschatology and law. Wikipedia has more information on the book and film series.

Videos available on YouTube:
Episode 1:
Episode 2:
Ted Rohe
Sep 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Although Francis' Schaeffer is not a scholar in the modern sense or standard of his day or today, he was a Christian intellectual who examined his day with other thinkers and brought forth important analysis and thoughts. In a sense, I could see Schaeffer as prophetic or ahead of his time as in this day an age of the new Atheist "Brights" and modern/post-modern scholarship seeking it's foothold in czar posts and public policy in a condescending manner where any type of moral or religious views a ...more
Jun 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A thorough and thought-provoking analysis of human thought from ancient Rome, Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment to the scientific "Atomic" age. Shows the progress of thought and how the vehicles of art, music, drama, writing, media, film have carried human ideas/worldviews to the culture and how the culture has been affected by them. None of the worldviews that have started with man apart from God (humanism) have been able to stand when other pressures in society come into pla ...more
May 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Schaeffer is not only an well educated man but also an excellent writer. He wrote about history and art in a way that makes you want to read more about the topic yourself. His description of how civilization have been shape with godly values or the lack thereof makes you think about what happened in the past and what is happening here and now.

His overview of how a generation that is self centered and in search of material wealth effect that describe in 1970 are still valid now
- economic breakd
Sarah Myers
Jun 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Tries to cover too much ground in too little space, and so ends up thin on much of his argumentation and historical analysis. Some of his odder characterizations of various philosophers (of Thomas Aquinas and Francis Bacon, for example) would require whole books to themselves for Schaeffer to defend himself against charges of serious misreading. That issue makes me suspicious of his readings of people such as Heidegger, with whom I am less familiar, and detracts from the credibility of the whole ...more
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
AMAZING. Unfortunately there was some that was above my level of comprehension, but I can only imagine what I'll pick up the next time I read it. I got a ton of good out of it, though. Totally a must-read and a true Christian classic.
David Schultz
Jun 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this. Full of insight and thought provoking topics.

Adam Calvert
Jan 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: apologetics
Francis Schaeffer captures a great summary/outline of this book when he quotes his son saying of humanism: "Humanism has changed the Twenty-third Psalm: They began - I am my shepherd. Then - Sheep are my shepherd. Then - Everything is my shepherd. Finally - Nothing is my shepherd." (pg 226).

In this great work, Schaeffer illustrates this quote by taking the reader through history (starting from Ancient Rome up to the modern times) showing the vast difference between a society that is built on a C
Sep 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Evangelical missionary, philosopher, and author Francis Schaeffer was a leading figure in the resurgence of evangelicalism during the 1960s and 1970s, Schaeffer authored more than twenty books, including The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, He Is There and He Is Not Silent, and Back to Freedom and Dignity. He and his wife, Edith, founded L’Abri Fellowship international study and discipleship centers.
Schaeffer’s magnum opus, How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought a
Ryan Rindels
Jun 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is the first book I've read by the Swiss theologian, pastor and philosopher Francis Schaeffer. I found it very intriguing--a great overview of western thought from ancient Greece to 1976 (when the book was published). Schaeffer stresses how a Christian worldview has fostered much of the scientific advancement, art and law seen in the west. He traces a shift and subsequent decline with the renaissance, when humanism began. With man as the "measure of all things," culture takes for granted th ...more
Oct 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Insightful, intellectual, and impactful. I'll definitely be looking up more of Schaeffer's books in the future.

I love finding books like this that analyze the philosophy behind current and past cultures. It makes me realize I'm not alone when I see the motivations behind people's actions, and link it to a larger worldview. It's so awesome reading books like this for fun.

Schaeffer paints with broad strokes, so I can understand how some would think he generalizes too much. But this book is so smal
J.J. Richardson
I should have read this book years ago. Francis Schaffer has managed to eloquently diagnose the state of western culture in a way my Christain heart knew but failed to bring together into a coherent way. Schaffer has written a timeless critique of modern man though it be 30+ years old, has full application to today. In many ways his predictions made then, have come true. This is a must read for Christians wanting to explain and tackle world views around them, their history and where they lead.
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
What an incredible synopsis of the rise and fall of Western thought and culture! The cycles we as humans have gone through to get to the point we are at now are shocking yet at the same time predictable. The responsibility of influencing our culture with God's divine revelation is overwhelming! Great time line in the back. Every Senior in High School should read this before going to college.
Alannie Marshall
Mar 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While you can definitely tell this was written in the '70s, the message remains the same. Great beginners guide to western cultures from a Christian perspective. Schaeffer is engaging and easy to read and understand.
Nov 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an excellent book! I was a little hesitant to read this because I was concerned the topics would be beyond me. There is much I am unfamiliar with in terms of philosophies and worldviews. I actually found I am more familiar than I’d realized! Schaeffer writes in such a way, that even in areas I am not as knowledgeable, I was able to get a basic understanding. He does not come across as condescending of these differing views but rather perhaps there is a sadness in his discussion of them. I r ...more
Justin Tapp

This was the free audiobook of the month on last month. I read Colson and Pearcey's How Now Shall We Live in college, which is a much longer updated version of this book with more applications. I recommend that as a follow-up text. Books on church history, histories of Europe in the Middle Ages would be helpful as prerequisites, as well as overviews of philosophy, before reading Schaeffer's work.

This book is a fairly brief summary of the development of Western culture through
Apr 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most succinctly written, flawlessly argued, and persuasively brilliant works of nonfiction I’ve ever read. Although marketed as somewhat of a super-condensed history of Western culture (and a very good one at that, considering I read this for a Western Cultural History class), the book is really more of a long essay. Schaeffer’s thesis weaves its way through decades of historical events, artistic movements, brilliant scientists and philosophers which all serve as evidence to make one ...more
J.R. Underdown
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a book where I was never quite sure what it was doing. Was it recounting the influence of Christianity over the centuries? Was it focusing specifically on art? Was it issuing warnings about government over-reach? Well, yes all of that. It works and is very insightful, it just didn't feel as cohesive. Maybe if I read it in a shorter period or watched the documentary it's based off of I'd catch the scope better. As it is, I appreciate Schaeffer's insights and perspective, helping to expla ...more
Jeremy Johnston
Jul 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding birdseye overview of Western civilization, where we came from and where we're going. Schaeffer paints in broad strokes the state of modern humanity with a prophetic-like view of the postmodernism which follows. He touches on art, philosophy, politics, psychology, sociology, history, music, film, literature, and theology. His writing style is accessible and engaging. His insights are biblically saturated and substantiated by his interactions with real, hurting people. This is a must r ...more
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Francis August Schaeffer was an American Evangelical Christian theologian, philosopher, and Presbyterian pastor. He is most famous for his writings and his establishment of the L'Abri community in Switzerland. Opposed to theological modernism, Schaeffer promoted a more historic Protestant faith and a presuppositional approach to Christian apologetics which he believed would answer the questions of ...more

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“I am convinced that when Nietzsche came to Switzerland and went insane, it was not because of venereal disease, though he did have this disease. Rather, it was because he understood that insanity was the only philosophic answer if the infinite-personal God does not exist.” 36 likes
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