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

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  10,444 ratings  ·  366 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
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.
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.
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
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
Sep 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
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
Sarah (Gutierrez) 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
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
Jan 29, 2017 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Interesting Amazon review/discussion here (re: Schaeffer's understanding of 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:
Episode 3:
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
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
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.
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
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
Felipe Barnabé
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, teologia
Muito bom.
Sep 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Now a classic in certain circles, How Should we Then Live? is a crash review of western philosophy and culture told at breakneck speed to support the author's thesis that the intellectual, social and economic stability of the western world is in peril of its own making. Though the book was written in the mid 1970's, it seems remarkably prescient and current. In it, Schaeffer proposed that the western world is being damaged by our rejection of epistemological universals in favor of relativism -- ...more
Jun 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Francis A. Schaeffer covers a lot of ground in "How Should We Then Live?", from the Roman Empire to modern times ... meaning 1976, when this book was written. (Schaeffer died in 1984.)
Just from the breadth of his knowledge, you know he's a brilliant scholar, but he communicates in a simple, easy-to-understand way. To some extent, this book covers the same ground as Jacques Barzun's "From Dawn to Decadence," only Schaeffer's book is written from a Christian perspective and it's not tedious.
It al
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the second Francis Schaeffer book I’ve read. I loved the first one, The God Who is There, and How Shall We Then Live is just as excellent. It’s such a great book that I read it twice back to back - it’s that good! I highly recommend it to everyone, especially young people who are about to go out into the world and be inevitably educated with the prevalent secularism by the anti-Christian Intelligentsia.

Schaeffer wove through the history of western thought in the book and its influence in
Sep 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I took up this book, partially, to confirm its reputation - that it is Francis Schaeffer's greatest work - and I was not disappointed.

Schaeffer takes us down the historical timeline of Western thought from the era of the Roman Empire to the present age (this being the late 70s, when the book was published). Though I have read many book on the philosophical and ideological history of the West, Schaeffer's work is unique because he is the first author (I have encountered) who bothers to trace a pa
Wendy Rabe
Jun 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
We read this book immediately upon finishing our R.C. Sproul study on the history of philosophy ("The Consequences of Ideas"), which made reading Schaeffer much easier to follow. Schaeffer's work provides a sweeping overview of philosophy beginning in Ancient Rome, the same subject matter that Sproul had dealt with by teaching in more detail on each philosopher beginning with the Greeks through the Moderns. Both trace the rise and fall of Western civilization, ending up with man declaring himsel ...more
Kevin Greenlee
Mar 08, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: theology
In some ways this isn't a fair review. It isn't fair because I simply skimmed through the book (how I came to do that is a story for another time). Still, I feel that skimming gave me a pretty good idea of the book, and it's not a very positive one.

There's no denying that Schaeffer is intelligent, in that he attempts to tackle all of Western civilization, and has obviously tried to gain a vast knowledge of it. The problem is that most of his understanding of what he has approached is wrong.

His a
May 24, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think I would basically call this a history book from a thinking Christian's perspective. At points, I was extremely bogged down in historical names, dates, and facts that I haven't studied well enough to be interested in. However, Schaeffer makes a brilliant point about how philosophical schools of thought trickle down through the visual art, music, culture, and finally the church. The main value in this book is that it is a call to take every thought captive to Christ and His Word. Secondly, ...more
Audrey Dodge
May 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: EVERYONE!!!!!!!!!!!!
This is indeed an incredible book, especially for those readers who are interested in the heritage of the the west; from its history, art, and schools of thought. It is especially refreshing to get the perspective of such a "thinking" Christian man who clearly believes and loves Christ but is willing to ask big questions and to analyze aspects of the world and the Christians that live and shape it. This book is a great starting point in digging for more, in understanding more about who God is an ...more
Dan Chance
I'm actually done. The rest of the pages are the index. I'm too tired to write much now but I'll start. What you don't know IS going to not only hurt but kill you. The world view you act upon provides the support for the world system you live under. If you don't believe the Bible is true you subtly but surely encourage all who encounter you to doubt it's validity as well. When that foundation is gone then everything we depend on goes as well. Schaeffer starts with paganism and shows how Christia ...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
“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.” 29 likes
“Most people catch their presuppositions from their family and surrounding society, the way that a child catches the measles. But people with understanding realize that their presuppositions should be *chosen* after a careful consideration of which worldview is true.” 25 likes
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