In 1974, Schaeffer began work on a book and a ten part film that would bring him to widespread attention among American Evangelicals. The project was called How Should We Then Live?17 It was an in-depth study of the rise and decline of Western thought and culture, presented from a Christian worldview.
Beginning with the Roman Empire, Schaeffer explained how a Humanist belief in Man led to a society devoid of any standard of right and wrong, resulting in a moral rottenness that ultimately destroyed the Empire from within.
During the Middle Ages (500 to 1500 AD), the theology of Thomas Aquinas (125-1274) resulted in the distortion of Christianity because he argued that the Fall of Man had only corrupted Mankind’s will, but not his intellect. Therefore, truth could be perceived through reason, and the Church began to mix Scripture with the ideas of non-Christian philosophers like Aristotle. Increasingly, Man became the center of religion and the decisions of the Pope and Church Councils began to replace the authority of the Scriptures.
The Renaissance (1300 to 1700) propelled Humanism to the center of all intellectual activity, including the arts. This movement began in southern Europe, focused in Italy, and gradually spread to all the continent. It served as a bridge from the Middle Ages to modern history. Man was placed at the center of all things and was glorified in the arts — as with Michelangelo’s statue of that was titled David. Concerning this artistic masterpiece, Schaeffer observed:18
Michelangelo took a piece of marble so flawed that no one thought it could be used, and out of it he carved this overwhelming statute. But let us notice that the David was not the Jewish David of the Bible. David was simply a title. Michelangelo knew his Judaism, and in the statue the figure is not circumcised. We are not to think of this as the biblical David but as the humanistic ideal. Man is great!
But in northern Europe there was a retreat from Humanism that was motivated by the Reformation that began in 1517. God and His Word were propelled back into the center of the Church and society. Once again, Man’s fallenness was recognized, but at the same time, there was a renewed emphasis on the dignity of Man as created in the image of God.
Schaeffer pointed out that both the Renaissance and the Reformation produced greater freedom for people, but whereas the Reformation led to responsible freedom, the Renaissance produced an irresponsible freedom of license because, being grounded in Humanism, there was no basis for morality.
This inherent problem with Humanism was demonstrated in the 18th Century in France with the rise of what came to be called, “The Enlightenment.” The French philosopher, Voltaire (1694-1778) argued for a society based on reaon rather than faith or Catholic doctrines. Schaeffer observed: “To the Enlightenment thinkers, man and society were perfectible.”19 The French proclaimed the “Goddess of Reason” and committed themselves to a thoroughly secular society. The result was the bloodbath of the French Revolution (1789-1799) which led to the authoritarian rule of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Meanwhile, a Scientific Revolution had started with the Polish astronomer, Copernicus (1475- 1543) who formulated a model of the universe that placed the sun rather than the earth at the center of the universe.
Both the Renaissance and the Reformation helped to fuel the increasing emphasis on the scientific method — the Renaissance through its emphasis on reason and the Reformation through its insistence that we live in an ordered universe of natural laws created by God. Many of the leading scientists were Christians, including such people as Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Isaac Newton (1642-1727), and Michael Faraday (1791-1867).
But this Christian base did not last long as Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and others like him with a Humanist worldview began to push God aside, elevate human reason and convert Mankind into an accident of evolution living in the midst of a meaningless universe.
All of which produced what Schaeffer called “The Age of Fragmentation,” when both philosophers and artists began to view life as an absurdity.”20 All is chance. There is no purpose. Both the world and Man have become fragmented. There is no right or wrong. God is dead.
This radical shift in which all of God’s creation is viewed as nothing more than and accidental machine, including people, led to the horrors of the 20th Century: the Communist Revolution, the Nazi Holocaust, the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Cambodian Genocide.
These atrocities illustrated a point Schaeffer made when he wrote: “If the unsaved man was consistent, he would be an atheist in religion, an irrationalist in philosophy…and completely amoral in the widest sense.”21 And so it came to be.
The American Application
In both the ending of the book and the film, Schaeffer brought all this home to the United States in what he called “The Age of Personal Peace and Affluence.” By the time of the mid-20th Century the erosion of a Christian consensus in America had produced a population where a majority of the people had adopted “two impoverished values” — personal peace and affluence.” He explained his observation as follows:22
Personal peace means just to be left alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people…Personal peace means wanting to have my personal life pattern undisturbed in my lifetime, regardless of what the result will be in the lifetimes of my children and grandchildren. Affluence mans an overwhelming and everincreasing prosperity — a life made up of things, things and more things — a success judged by an ever-higher level of material abundance.
According to Schaeffer, these two predominant post-war secular values produced the cultural revolt of the 1960s, as young people decided there must be more to life than selfishness and greed. As Schaeffer put it, “They were right in their analysis of the problem, but they were mistaken in their solutions” — mainly Hedonism as expressed in drugs and sex.23
Schaeffer concluded by speaking prophetically about our society. He said, “As the memory of the Christian consensus which gave us freedom within the biblical form increasingly is forgotten, a manipulating authoritarianism will tend to fill the vacuum.”24 Specifically, he warned of rule by an arbitrary elite with arbitrary values.
He also warned of three future dangers:25
- Genetic tinkering with human beings.
- Manipulation by the media, particularly television.
- Reliance on sociological law — that is, law not based on the Bible or Natural Law or the Constitution, but law based on shifting public opinion.
The final statement in his book was an ominous one: “This book is written in the hope that this generation may turn from that greatest wickedness, the placing of any created thing in the place of the Creator, and that this generation may get its feet out of the paths of death and may live.”26
The book, How Should We Then Live? was published in 1976. The film based on the book was released in 1977. Seminars featuring the film were held all across America in 1977 and 1978. In October of 1978 Schaeffer was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer, and he began treatments at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
His Collaboration with Koop
Meanwhile, he continued working on a new book and film in collaboration with his old friend, Dr. C. Everett Koop (1916-2013). Later, in 1982 Dr. Koop became President Reagan’s Surgeon General. This new book was titled, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?27 Both the book and the film were released in 1979.
The book began with a powerful dedication that read: “To those who were robbed of life, the unborn, the weak, the sick, the old, during the dark ages of madness, selfishness, lust and greed for which the last decades of the twentieth century are remembered.”28 This book and film focused on the abominations of abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, as practiced in America at that time.
The first sentence in the book summed up its thesis: “Cultures can be judged in many ways, but eventually every nation in every age must be judged by this test: how did it treat people?“29 The authors continued with this observation: The reason we are writing this book is that we feel strongly that we stand today on the edge of a great abyss.”30 They then zeroed-in on the reason for this crisis:31
The Christian consensus held that neither the majority nor an elite is absolute. God gives standards of value, and His absolutes are binding on both the ordinary person and those in all places of authority…because the Christian consensus has been put aside, we are faced today with a flood of personal cruelty.
The book proceeds to present a passionate, logical and biblical case against abortion, with the warning that it will lead to the acceptance of both infanticide and euthanasia. In the process, they provide many horrifying examples of the practice of infanticide and euthanasia among the medical profession, although neither was legal at that time.
They point out how we as a nation are being reconditioned in our thinking to accept infanticide. After all, what is the difference in killing a baby a few minutes before birth or a few minutes after? Both are murder. And if parents can pay to have their children killed, what is going to prevent children from paying to have their parents killed? “Within [the Humanist] worldview there is no room for believing that a human being has any final distinct value above that of an animal or of nonliving matter. People are merely a different arrangement of molecules.”32
With the publication of this book, Schaeffer crossed the line between the realm of philosophy and theology into the world of social action. He and Koop concluded the book with detailed instructions about what people can do to support the sanctity of life and to vigorously oppose abortion, infanticide and euthanasia.33
In the third and last segment of this look at Francis Shaeffer’s fascinating life and theology, we’ll learn how Schaeffer concluded his life’s work.
17) Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1976). Film by the same title issued by Gospel Films and produced by Billy Zeoli and Frank Schaeffer, V.
18) Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture, L’Abri 50th Anniversary Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), page 71.
19) Ibid., page 121.
20) Schaeffer, film version of HSWTL? Part 8: “The Age of Fragmentation.”
21) Francis Schaeffer, “A Review of a Review,” in The Bible Today magazine, October 1948, pages 7-9.
22) Schaeffer, HSWTL? page 205.
23) Schaeffer, film version of HSWTL? Part 9: “The Age of Personal Peace and Affluence.”
24) Schaeffer, HSWTL? page 245.
25) Schaeffer, film version of HSWTL? Part 10: “Final Choices.”
26) Schaeffer, HSWTL? page 258.
27) C. Everett Koop and Francis Schaeffer, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1979).
28) Ibid., page v.
29) Ibid., page 1.
31) Ibid., page 7.
32) Ibid., page 81.
33) Ibid., chapters 6 & 7, pages 129-149.