Book Review: ‘How Should We Then Live’ by Francis A. Schaeffer

How Should We Then Live by Francis A. Schaeffer The Garrett Ashley Mullet Show

The title of Schaeffer’s book drew its inspiration from Ezekiel 33:7-11.

“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.

And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”

Francis Schaeffer’s ‘How Should We Then Live?’ was first published in 1975, making it 11 or 12-years older than I am. No matter. Schaeffer could just as easily have written it today.

The thoughts and accounting here are not old, they are timeless. And their timeliness may only be greater now than when he first published because the fruition of some of what Schaeffer explains is becoming more apparent with each passing day as secular humanism wreaks more havoc than many were willing to imagine four-and-a-half decades ago.

Floating Downstream

Culture is upstream of politics and downstream of religion. And here is Schaeffer to tell us the story of our civilization in light of how beliefs about God and ourselves have influenced the kind of art we enjoy, the way we organize ourselves and live our lives, and subsequently how we govern and are governed in turn.

Interestingly enough, so much of modern history has had to do with pursuing greater freedom. Yet at the same time, as Schaeffer makes clear in surprising ways, our pursuit of liberation apart from God has made us slaves more than ever the more we have pursued the illusion of life apart from God.

“There is a flow to history and culture. This flow is rooted and has its wellspring in the thoughts of people. People are unique in the inner life of the mind — what they are in their thought-world determines how they act. This is true of their value systems and it is true of their creativity. It is true of their corporate actions, such as political decisions, and it is true of their personal lives. The results of their thought-world flow through their fingers or from their tongues into the external world.”

If you listen to this podcast often at all, I hope you know that this is its premise – that I seek to cultivate the Christian worldview for this reason, because our worldview determines how we act and interact, both with God and with one another and with ourselves.

Our God-given role is to serve as a watchman on the wall, giving warning to turn back whether our countrymen will listen or not, regardless of whether they will love us or hate us for it.

Authority and Authoritarianism

Schaeffer could have predicted the totalitarian moment we have been living through these past two years. To him it was the inevitable logical descent of our ways of thinking – religious, cultural, and political. And Schaeffer was able to do this because he understood not only that ideas have consequences in the abstract, or that there is no new thing under the sun in a vague and general sense.

No, Schaeffer read and studied and thought widely and deeply enough to realize that the ideas we in America have been trying for decades have actually been tried for centuries and more, and always with the same end-result: death.

The ways we sought to liberate ourselves were inseparably linked to what we thought we were enslaved by. And what we thought was oppressing us informed which restrictions we placed on ourselves, as well as which restrictions we jettisoned entirely.

Yet herein lies the recipe for the ostracization and eventual persecution of Christians, when Schaeffer writes the following.

“No totalitarian authority nor authoritarian state can tolerate those who have an absolute by which to judge that state and its actions.”

That is to say that Christians through the pandemic, for instance, have found themselves in the crosshairs consistently for the same reason they always have throughout the history of the Church. The specific charges may vary, but being called “science-deniers” is as good a stand-in as any for the actual beef, that we do not welcome the absolute rule of arbitrary men when we have already submitted ourselves to the absolute rule of God.

The answer is given for how should we then live – by continuing to insist in every way, in every facet of life, in every sphere, that Christ is Lord.

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