22 Jul 2022


Shaeffer Critique: How to Improve Your Writing

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“How Should We Then Live?” is authored by a theologian named Francis Schaeffer and was first published in 1976. The author was born in 1912 and died in 1984. During his life, he was an evangelist, theologian, social critic and apologist. His numerous works inspired a breed of evangelicals that adopted a wide and integrated Christian view on issues affecting the world. In the book explains western civilization from the ancient Rome to the middle Ages, the renaissance, and the preceding ages. This paper seeks to provide a critique of the book. The purpose, thesis and biases, theoretical assumptions, historical and current issues, and its contribution to law and ethics will be discussed.

Purpose of the Text 

According to the author, the book explores the Western history all the way from the Ancient Roman empires to 1976. Schaeffer’s target audience is the Christians. References are made in the book to the decisions made in the Bible and their outcomes. The author criticizes some of the historical decisions, arguing that different decisions based on the Bible and God would have led the world to a better path (Schaeffer, 1976). The purpose of the text is not only to provide information to Christians on the western history, but also to bring together broad topics such as architecture, music, and theology for Christian critique.

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Thesis and Bias 

Schaffer’s thesis emphasizes a concept Schaeffer referred to as “Freedom without chaos .” This can be achieved by basing our lives in the society and judgments in the Bible and in God. He states that when human beings base the society on humanism, there is no way to differentiate between what is right and what is not right. The argument on what is wrong and right for each particular group leads to the fragmentation of thoughts which can lead to more trouble in the society. Schaffer also stated in the book that the desire not to be affected by worldly problems and the thirst for increased income can cause people to sacrifice their freedom for values from an authoritarian government.

Several biases can be identified in Schaeffer’s thesis. For instance, some evangelicals have referred his thesis to be “rationalist” or “modernist”. The author also sometimes misrepresents some people in the book. For instance, his portrayal of Aquinas in the book has been a topic of discussion among many theologians and even the Catholic Church. He claims Aquinas; despite influencing many during his period, he had an incomplete view of man's fall since the man had already veered from God’s way (Schaeffer, 1976). In contrast to Schaffer’s views, some view Aquinas as an enemy of relativism.

Theoretical Assumptions 

Schaeffer makes some theoretical assumptions in his book. One of these is the assumption that the actions of men and pattern of historical events are affected by presupposition. This is untrue since research shows patterns in history are affected by actions and decisions that human beings make. He also assumes that viewing of the events from a non-Christian perspective will not provide any meaning. He argues that non-believers are philosophically and emotionally lost. Some Christian writers have debunked his assumptions through the use of other theories such as the theories of predestination. The theory explains God’s control in the world as free and unchangeable (Dockery, 2012).

Historical and Current Issues 

The book describes the reason for the failure of Rome was due to the fact that absolute values cannot only be based on citizenry consensus but also in the teachings and values of God. Failure of the Romans to embrace any values led them to accept the authoritarian rule of the Caesars. Fallible leadership and values are still an issue in the modern world. Values are being eroded with current trends which could result in the fall such as that experienced by the Romans. There are dictatorial countries in the world whose leaders do not live by the morals of God and the Bible.

The fall of Rome resulted in an age of great up veal, both intellectually and politically. The Middle Age, which is normally referred to as the “Dark Age, ” gave rise to autonomous humans. The church was distorted, and several humanistic elements added. The created traditions would in some instances override the Bible’s authority (Schaeffer, 1976). In addition, Aquinas’ philosophy encouraged the mixture of non-Christians and Christians. The issue of humanistic elements still plagues churches and teachings of the Bible. For instance, there is a rise of modern atheist that refer to themselves as “brights” that hold a naturalistic view of the world.

Contribution to School Laws and Ethics 

Schaeffer was a man of the reformation age. He notes that the views of this age were agreeable to both the culture and the church in his book. The views challenged authoritarianism which hindered some freedoms (Duriez, 2008). With the reformation, the freedom of religion came into being. The right to be represented in the government also started at this age. This made a huge contribution to the current laws and ethics. For instance, the freedom of religion and representation are still held highly in many school systems.

Schaeffer warns about sociological laws. These are laws that are devoid of meaning or stable authority. The laws depend on a government that is neither accountable to God or the citizens. He warns that such laws would be the cause of the fall of human beings. This has affected some ethics and morals held in schools. His emphasis of ethical and moral uprightness throughout the description of the evolution of humanity is being implemented in most schools with considerable benefits. Christian ethics are also used in the creation of school laws and regulations. For instance, some days of the weeks are not school days to give the students and employees time to worship.


The text is chronologically written and presents an almost prophetic view of the decline of western civilization. The book foresees the situation human beings are in today through the use of philosophical arguments throughout history. He demonstrates that following of humane ways leads to moral degeneration and debunking of the value of man. Schaffer takes the reader through history chronologically from the Roman era to the present times. Several changes such as in art and music are recorded. He also describes some influential people in history and their effects on the path the world has taken. It is a book that can be read by both the religious and the non-religious to increase their understanding of history and religious effects to humans.

One can, however, find some issues in the book that might not be agreeable. Schaffer’s explanations can sometimes obscure some information or present unsatisfying information. These errors are; however, subtle and explainable since most things were just theories that were yet to be proven. Generally, the strengths outnumber the shortcomings. The book should thus not been ignored since it contains important nuggets of information that can help human orient themselves to avoid the errors made in the course of history.


In conclusion, “How Should We Then Live?” strives at presenting the historical life of human beings in relation to Christianity. The author, Francis Schaeffer, uses his vast knowledge to describe the origin and development of the western civilization which is believed to have started with the Romans. The book is an important read for anyone hoping to understand this history and how human decisions in the past have influenced the human race today.


Dockery, D. S. (2012).    Faith and learning: A handbook for Christian higher education . Nashville, Tenn: B & H Academic. 

Duriez, C. (2008). Francis Schaeffer: an authentic life . Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books.

Schaeffer, F. A. (1976). How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company

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