Saturday, June 07, 2008

Propositions to Ponder on "How Should We Then Live?"

[I posted this on the blog dedicated to my class on the Schaeffer films, "How Should We Then Live?" Those who have seen the films and/or read the book may be interested in this.]

Propositions to Ponder in Light of
“How Should We Then Live?” Book and Film Series
by Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-84)

The following thoughts are offered to review some of the most salient ideas of this series and to stimulate further thought for your discipleship under Christ and before “the watching world” (as Schaeffer put it). I make no claim that this list is exhaustive or that I have necessarily covered all the most important points.

1. A person’s thinking effects everything about that person. The thought forms of a culture largely determine the fate of that culture. A culture is only as strong as its sense of and obedience to divine reality. See Matthew 7:24-29.

2. Western Christians should know something of the history of Western civilization, in spite of (and because of) the loss of historical knowledge today. This shortfall is especially egregious among those under thirty. See Mark Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation (Tarcher, 2008). Some historical knowledge is required if we are to understand the present, our place within it, and what we should to for the Lord (see 1 Chronicles 12:32). Can we “read the signs of the times”?

3. The secular humanist project of making sense of life and giving meaning to it apart from biblical revelation has failed, philosophically, culturally, and personally. See Proverbs 8:35-36.

4. Christianity alone gives the proper meaning, dignity, and significance to human beings (as created in God's image, fallen into sin, but redeemable through Jesus Christ), but does not make them the center of reality. Because Christianity is theocentric and Christocentric; it is not anthropocentric, but neither is it misogynistic. For a biblical (and Pascalian) view of the human condition and plight, see Doug Groothuis, On Pascal (Wadsworth, 2003), chapter eight.

5. Art often tellingly expresses the worldview of an age. Artists are often like antennae that pick up on culture trends and moods before others do so. Moreover, the art of a culture probably affects culture more than its overt philosophy. See Francis A. Schaeffer, Art and the Bible (InterVarsity, 1973).

6. Eastern religions cannot give true significance to humans or to nature, since all is dissolved into an impersonal and infinite reality that is beyond reason. For an assessment of how eastern thought has effected the West, see Doug Groothuis, Unmasking the New Age (InterVarsity, 1986) and Confronting the New Age (InterVarsity, 1988).

7. Contemporary people tend to put meaning, value, and significance into an “upper story” that is immune from philosophical investigation or empirical verification:

8. Meaning, value, significance, spirituality. Realm of non-reason; requires a leap
Facts, science, verification. Realm of reason; no leap required
Christians should reject these fact/value distinctions since (a) Christ is Lord over all of life (Matthew 28:18-20) and (b) Christianity can be supported through reason; it does not require a blind leap of faith into the dark (to reach the upper story). For more on Schaeffer’s apologetic arguments, see He is There, He is Not Silent (Crossway reprint, 2001). The God Who is There, 30th anniversary ed. (InterVarsity, 1998), and Escape from Reason (InterVarsity Press). For a tremendous exposition of the fact/value dichotomy by a student of Schaeffer, see Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Crossway, 2004).

9. The scientific revolution was based on a theistic worldview, not a naturalistic one. This was in keeping with a Christian concept of nature as rational and knowable. See Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God (Princeton, 2003), chapter two.

10. We owe the benefits of individual freedom, human rights, and constitutional form in civil government to the ideas that flowed from The Reformation in Europe. Schaeffer also developed these ideas in A Christian Manifesto (Crossway, 1981).

11. Contemporary science—especially after Darwin—has junked any theistic basis for nature and exiled design as “unscientific.” But Darwinism cannot explain either (a) the origin of life or (b) the diversity of the biosphere, since it can only appeal to time, space, chance, and natural law for its explanations. The critique of Darwinism and the arguments for design in nature have come a long way since Schaeffer’s day, but he was on to the basic ideas. See William Dembski, The Design Revolution (InterVarsity, 2004) and Jonathan Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science and Intelligent Design (Regnery, 2006) and Icons of Evolution (Regnery, 2000). See also the DVDs: “The Case for Creator” and “Unlocking the Mystery of Life.” Both are by Illustra Media and available at

12. Contemporary media often manipulate the populace through selective reporting and its implicit worldview of naturalism. Christians should critique the worldview of the mainstream media and consult alternative sources. On scientific matters, see The Discovery Institute: On philosophy and culture, see Doug and Rebecca Groothuis web page: Doug Groothuis blog: Rebecca Merrill Groothuis blog:

13. Much of supposedly Christian theology is held hostage to alien worldviews, perspective antithetical to historic Christian orthodoxy. Schaeffer was especially concerned with traditional liberalism (Harry Emerson Fosdick) and neo-orthodoxy (Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Paul Tillich), both of which grant far too much ground to naturalism. Today many Christian thinkers are compromised by postmodernism. See Doug Groothuis, Truth Decay (InterVarsity Press, 2000), especially chapter seven. Thinkers such as Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) and Rob Bell (Velvet Elvis) are afflicted with postmodern glibness, flippancy, and an unhealthy infatuation with mystery and paradox that robs Christianity of its rational, explanatory, and apologetic power (see 1 Peter 3:15-17; Jude 3). These writers reassert the fact/value dichotomy warned of by Schaeffer forty years ago.


pgepps said...

Good stuff! I'm a fan of Schaeffer, for sure. With regard to 7 and 8, though, a couple thoughts/questions.

A) "contemporary people" -- insofar as "fact/value dichotomy" is not simply a perennial, flawed response to the "Ideas of Sensation" and "Ideas of Reflection" difference as experienced, surely it is characteristically modern to justify this using empiricist and structuralist stratagems?

B) So we reject this structuring of "Lessing's Ditch" (in 8). Right, of course, to do so. But how do we do so?

C) Do we try to immanentize the "upper story" within our personal or institutional experience of the here-and-now?

D) Do we try the move of Coleridge and the Transcendentalists, who sought configurations of the here-and-now such that in "co-inherence of subjective and objective" we realize the unity of upper/lower stories--roughly, moving the lower story into the upper?

E) Do we replicate the same upper/lower structure within whatever structure we prefer to it? "Truth is objective, rational, propositional; Sensations are subjective, irrational, irreducible." Then substitute reasons/tastes, data/interpretation, and whatever iteration of this structure survives the purge. Apollos is asserted in every Dionysian revel; every iconoclast is a dogmatist.

The question of "How Should We Then Live?" continues to reverberate in my ears. Epistemologically, I find myself moving away from attempting to remedy fact/value by insisting on objective/subjective--the move I'm finding a distressing number of wise evangelicals seem to be counselling ever more fervently and tragically.

I am working on the assumption that (a) these dichotomies are a real part of (my) experience, sharpened and developed by the already/not-yet of my faith; and (b) that according to Romans 1 there is no epistemic ground proof against aversion from God, that even for the believer "other foundation can no man lay"; and (c) that in the co-inherence of Christ historically crucified, buried, raised with the "for me" affirmed by the baptism and communion of the saints there is always and inexhaustibly both fact and meaning whose adjudication is eschatological, not logical (nor even analogical).

Trekin4JC said...

Great points from Schaeffer. I love all of his books and the DVD set for How Should We Then Live. I just began re-watching the DVD's this past week.

We must pay attention to culture, history, and worldviews and know how to engage our times for Christ.

Ed Darrell said...

12. Contemporary media often manipulate the populace through selective reporting and its implicit worldview of naturalism. Christians should critique the worldview of the mainstream media and consult alternative sources. On scientific matters, see The Discovery Institute:


Seeing the Discovery Institute on scientific matters is a lot like seeing Elizabeth Taylor for fidelity in marriage.

I cannot figure out why you keep turning a blind eye to the ethical lapses of those guys.