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

There are a variety of Christian writers who have filled my bookshelves with their ramblings over the last many years.  Some of their books were good while others were just a waste of paper.  The one who had the greatest impact on my life of faith and has influenced my understanding of teaching and preaching in the church the most was Dr. Francis Schaeffer.  I would strongly suggest that you read something that he wrote. How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture would be a good place to start. It is available in paperback from Amazon for less than $13.00.

In February of 1972 or 73, I met Francis Schaeffer in Chattanooga, TN at Covenant College.  Dr. Schaeffer was giving a series of lectures on the condition and direction that he saw Western civilization moving toward.  I was attending this lecture series with Dr. Luder G. Whitlock, Jr.  who was the minister of my home church.  I was a freshman or sophomore in high school at this time and I was only mildly interested in this encounter.  The first thing that struck me when I meet Dr. Schaeffer was his odd appearance.  He was a small man who spoke with a soft voice as his wild chin-whiskers flew violently about his wrinkled face and his eyes seemed to be half melted.  He looked as if he had always been tired.  Dr. Schaeffer was very kind to me and seemed to show a genuine interest in me.  Shortly after meeting him, our conversation turned to the copy of The Confessions of Marcus Aurelius that I had carried with me to the lecture series.  Our conversation was cut short because he needed to get ready for the upcoming lecture ( a little more than 30 minutes away).  As I walked around the college, I slowly became aware of the fact that I had just had a conversation with an adult who treated me as a fellow adult.  I, at this time, was unaware of the number of books that Dr. Schaeffer had written or of the notoriety that he had acquired.

At the lecture series, Dr. Schaeffer announced that he was working on a project that dealt with an analysis of the flow of history from early Rome to our present time from a Christian perspective.  This project not only involved the writing of a book, but it also involved the production of a film series.  The title for this series was to be How Should We Then Live?  During the lecture series I became awed at the breath of knowledge that Dr. Schaeffer possessed.  I also was quite startled to find that I had read several of the classical works that were mentioned.  It was only after my visit to the bookstore of the college that I began to realize how much Dr. Schaeffer had written.  Dr. Whitlock suggested that I read some of Schaeffer’s works and offered to loan me one of his books.

A year or two later, I attended another lecture series that featured Dr. Schaeffer.  Over the next four years, I attended five lectures by Dr. Schaeffer.  I also read all of his books in print.  I was fortunate enough to be at one of the first screening, in this country, of the film series, How Should We Then Live?  At all of these lectures, Dr. Schaeffer took time to speak to the audience and to discuss a variety of topics. I believe the last time I saw Dr. Schaeffer was in 1978.  He died in 1984

As I read Dr. Schaeffer’s works, I became aware of an intellectual dimension of Christianity that was somewhat foreign to my upbringing and the prevailing ethos of spirituality in the early 70’s (in the South).  I also began to see value in studying a variety of classical and contemporary authors for spiritual development in my walk with Christ.  I saw a need in the life of individual Christians for acquiring a wide breath of knowledge.  It is not enough in our constantly changing world to read only the Bible.  It is not enough to simply read the great classics or to concentrate on learning calculus.  Schaeffer’s articulation of the flow of history awoke in me a desire to learn as much as I could about everything.  While in college, I took a wide variety of classes from Partial-Differential Equations to the History of Jazz while majoring in Geology.  This thirst for knowledge also led me to read the entire Bible four times while I was in High School and three times while in college.  I also began to read about the historical-critical method of dealing with Biblical literature and to explore books like People of the Covenant.  Upon Dr. Schaeffer’s suggestion, I began to read the various writings of Augustine of Hippo as a sophomore in high school (a habit that exists even to this day).

Dr. Schaeffer’s wide breath of knowledge and his outspoken nature has influenced me in ways that I was not aware of until entering seminary a few decades ago.  I found two significant truths in my encounters with Dr. Schaeffer; All knowledge can be profitable for Christians and we don’t have to agree with what we read in order to benefit from it.  By example, I was shown that I could explore a variety of ideas and that I could criticize those ideas without attacking the people behind them.  This has direct implications for me as a pastor, a parent, and a grandparent.  It means I can explore a variety of theological positions with a more balanced view.  It frees my mind to be able to ask new and probing questions.  It gives me confidence to challenge assertions given by traditions, a variety of authors, teachers, pastors, family, and friends. It gives me the confidence to give up some of my own opinions.  The greatest gift I have been given by my encounter with Dr. Schaeffer has been the freedom to lay claim to many of the traditional claims of Christianity without leaving my intellect behind and without depending upon my intellect (or any part of me) for my salvation.  In essence, I found the freedom to embrace the Reformed tradition and the freedom found in the grace of Jesus Christ.

It is my hope, for each of you, that your faith journey will lead you to deeper levels of spirituality, greater heights of intellectual endeavor, and  an unimaginable sense of the joy that can only be found in Jesus Christ. May his peace be upon you now and always.