Francis A. Schaeffer - How Then Should We Live?
The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture

In the Evangelical world, perhaps the greatest force against human secularism is Francis Schaeffer, an orthodox Presbyterian who died in 1984. In some ways Schaeffer was fantastic because he was calling Evangelicals to get involved in politics (Dominionism). He advocated the protest of abortion, and the active promotion of moral conservative values. When we look closely at his writings, he is actually asking for a return to a model very similar to the Catholic Church. Here are some of the things that come to mind that are more "Catholic" in heritage than the Presbyterian denomination he lived and worked in:

  1. Schaeffer wanted Evangelicals to take back art (which is what Catholicism did during the middle ages)
  2. He wanted to reinstate moral absolutes
  3. He wanted Evangelicals to take back politics (he called this Dominionism, which is what Catholicism did after Constantine)
  4. He wanted Evangelicals to understand that the full use of the intellect is completely consistent with a life of faith and that both the intellect and faith will arrive at the same Truth, because Truth is Truth (this is the Catholic exegesis form of theological analysis). In fact the Pope's recent famous speech where he quoted a 14th century Byzantine Emperor who said Mohammed's deeds were "evil and inhuman" was actually about the relationship of Faith and Reason.

In his last days, Frances A. Schaeffer came close to converting to Catholicism. His last book was called "The Great Evangelical Disaster." Here's a recording of his son Frank talking about his father's change of heart towards the Catholic Church.

Schaeffer wrote the book in 1976. Unfortunately, we don't hear about his movement toward conversion in Evangelical circles. Instead he is held up as an icon of anti-Catholicism. No book has done greater harm to Catholic relations with Evangelicals since Alexander Hislop's "Two Babylons." Mr. Schaeffer accused the Catholic Church of paganism because it honoured some of Aristotle's philosophical concepts. He seems to ignore that the Bible itself uses Greek philosophy, was written in Greek, and the apostles Paul and John both draw on Greek philosophy, in the Bible.

There are similarities between Alexander Hislop's "The Two Babylons" and Schaeffer's "How then Should We Live?" They are both full of footnotes, dates, and references to give the impression of meticulous research and scholarship. Mr. Schaeffer's book has many photos to help make his points. Both books are radically anti-Catholic, and have become classics in the Evangelical World. Both these books fall into pieces the moment they are put under any serious academic scrutiny.

Schaeffer's accusations with responses

Mr. Schaeffer's attacks on the Catholic Church (before he began his walk towards the Catholic Church late in life) fall into a few categories that he repeated frequently in the book "How then should we live?" The themes are:

  1. Christians should never have let Greek philosophy into the faith.
  2. The Church after Constantine is responsible for the introduction of Greek.
  3. Aquinas should never have introduced Aristotle or "reason" into theology
  4. The materialism of the renaissance Popes is a result of Aquinas' attention to "reason".
  5. Humanism in the Renaissance was also because of that.
  6. Modern Secular humanism is because of that.

The book tries to tie history up into a nice neat package with a bow, laying all the blame at the feet of the Catholic Church. The first half of the book slams the Catholics. Then the book completely turns on itself in the second half and advocates that Evangelicals do the very things that the book criticized about the Catholic Church in the first half of the book.

Below is a list of quotes found in the book "How then shall we live?" with short responses and links to further information:

Criticisms of Catholicism Responses

"That it was the Christians that were able to resist religious mixtures, syncretism, and the effects of the weaknesses of culture speaks of the strength of the Christian world view. This strength rested on God being infinite personal God"
(pg. 22)

They [earliest Christians] rejected all forms of syncretism…they allowed no mixture: all other Gods were seen as false Gods
(pg. 26)

After Constantine …the majority of the people went on in their old ways.
( pg. 26)

Greek was part of Christianity from the beginning. The earliest Christians were the ones who welcomed the Hellenisation of Christianity. Greek philosophy is in the Bible. Paul quotes Epimenides (500BC) and Aratus (300 BC) in Acts 16:28. John opens up his Gospel with Greek philosophy Logos. (Jn 1:1) Paul often talks to the Jews and Greeks in his midst. (Rom 10:12, Gal 3:28, Col 3:11)

The Dogma of the Trinity was defined after Constantine, which is accepted by every Christian denomination. The Bible New Testament was given to us after that in 397AD. It is incorrect to say that the quality of faith dropped after Constantine. See also:

Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman Empire, so naturally there were some Roman subjects who were Christian by name only and were not "in the Spirit." However there is no evidence that Christianity lost ground after Constantine. In fact, the legalization of Christianity allowed it to flourish and mature so that it could be "shouted from the rooftops". There are many saints from that time and Christianity spread faster than ever.

Augustine (354-430) strongly emphasized a true biblical Christianity …Later in the Church there was an increasing distortion away from the biblical teaching… [incorporating Greek] (pg. 30)


Although the book criticizes the use of Greek philosophy we see that Mr. Schaeffer had an affinity for Augustine who incorporated Greek philosophy in much of his work. Augustine loved the Greek philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, and true biblical Christianity uses elements of Greek Philosophy. Paul quotes Epimenides (500BC) and Aratus (300 BC) in Acts 16:28. John opens up his Gospel with Greek philosophy Logos. (Jn 1:1) He also fails to mention Martin Luther was a strong supporter of Greek philosophy as a basis for theology.

The Catholic Encyclopedia says: "[In Augustine] we seem to have found united and combined the powerful and penetrating logic of Plato, the deep scientific conceptions of Aristotle, the knowledge and intellectual suppleness of Origen, the grace and eloquence of Basil and Christendom Whether we consider him as philosopher, as theologian, or as exegetist...he still appears admirable the unquestioned Master of all the centuries." Philip Schaff (op. cit., p. 97) admires above all "such a rare union of the speculative talent of the Greek and of the practical spirit of the Latin Church as he alone possessed."

Increasingly, the authority of the church took precedence over their teaching of the Bible
(pg. 32)

There was no Bible in the early Church. Just a bunch of letters and the Septuagint Old Testament… the early Church was run on the authority of the bishops and the patriarchs in Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. The Catholic Church was given stewardship and authority over the Scriptures. It was they who decided on what goes and stays. In 397AD they decided on the New Testament that all Churches and all denominations use today. History of the Bible

Much of Christianity up until the sixteenth century was either reaction against or reaffirmation of these distortions of the original Christian, biblical teaching
(pg. 32)

Again, original Christians had no New testament back then. So naturally the authority didn’t come from the Bible, it came from the bishops (Patriarchs of Rome, Antioch and Alexandria) who were given stewardship over Scripture. And they came together and decided on the Bible. The Bible uses Greek philosophy. You can't throw away Greek philosophy without throwing out the Bible.

Aquinas has already begun in difference to Aristotle (384-322BC), to open the door to placing revelation and human reason on an equal footing
(pg. 43)

That is a misrepresentation of Aquinas. It is notable that although "How then Should we Live" has a bibliography of over 300 books, there is nothing by Aquinas. Nor is there any book in his bibliography by the Early Church fathers, who completely support the concept of Greek philosophical elements in Christianity.

Aquinas' position was simply that the intellect is part of the discernment process. Pope Benedict has a great speech about that which has now become famous because it is where he quoted the 14th century Byzantine emperor who said Mohammed did "evil and human" things. It is here.

Aquinas thought that the Fall did not affect man as a whole but only in part. In his view the will was fallen or corrupted but the intellect was not affected. Thus peopled could rely on their own human wisdom, and this meant that people were free to mix teaching of the Bible with the teachings of non-Christian philosophers. 
(pg. 52)

…to Thomas Aquinas the will was fallen after man had revolted but the mind was not.
(pg. 81)

Aquinas never said that the intellect was "unaffected" by original sin. He simply said that original sin was primarily an act of will so the will was subject to a greater compromise in the original fall of man. He said the intellect is greater than the will (not faith) only when taken by itself. But when the two are compared to their objects, the will is greater.

All of the Jewish prophets were non-Christian philosophers also. Mr. Schaeffer talks a lot about non Christians before the time of Christ. As obvious as this seems, everyone was non-Christian before Christ, including the Jews. There were no Christians before Christ. There were only a few Prophets (Jewish and non-Jewish) who had a rough idea about Christ's coming.

If the Jews were so turned off by the Greeks, it would seem strange that Greek became the popular language of the Jews. The Jews translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, with all the nuances of Greek philosophy.

On page 133 he says "God is a reasonable God, as the Bible says he was." This is also what Aquinas was saying, "Don't throw out reason!"

…as a result philosophy was gradually separated from revelation – from the Bible – and philosophers began to act in an increasingly independent autonomous manner.
(pg. 52)

Actually, this is the exact opposite of what Aquinas did. He incorporated philosophy into revelation. Again the book shows a lack of understanding of Aquinas, an understanding that is recognized by most scholars. Aquinas philosophical positions were integral to his faith.

In 1263 Pope Urban IV had forbidden the study of Aristotle in the universities. Aquinas managed to have Aristotle accepted, so the ancient non-Christian philosophy was re enthroned.
(pg. 52)

It is interesting that the book would rely on the words of a Pope to defend its position.

Actually, the Papal Bull went out in 1261 and it was primarily put out because people were attributing to Aristotle things that Aristotle did not write. And it was causing doctrinal errors among the youth of the University in Paris. What Mr. Schaeffer doesn't say here is that the Pope temporarily forbid the study of *ALL* Physics and Metaphysics. The prohibition just applied to Paris and it was temporary until they sorted out the problems. Aquinas sorted out the problems. The genius of Aquinas was his ability to purify the truth found in Aristotle's work. Much like someone looking for gold among stones.


Two things …laid the foundation for what was to follow: first the gradually awakened cultural thought and awakened piety [he thinks this is bad] of the Middle Ages; and second, an increasing distortion of the teaching of the Bible and the early church. Humanist elements had entered. For example, the authority of the church took precedence over the teaching of the Bible; Fallen man was considered able to return to God by meriting the merit of Christ; and there was a mixture of Christian and ancient non-Christian thought (as Aquinas’s emphasis on Aristotle). This opened the way for people to think of themselves as autonomous and the center of all things.

(then he sets Wycliffe and Huss against that)
(pg. 56)

There is no doubt that at the end of the Middle ages there were abuses. Every Catholic scholar knows that. However that is distinct from the book's accusations about the authority of the Church which Mr. Schaeffer came to respect later in life.

The Church did not "take" precedence over the teaching of the Bible. The Church always had stewardship and authority. We know that sounds like a strong statement but it is an observable fact from history. The Bible itself says that the Church was given the authority by Jesus in Mat 16:18 though Peter and his successors.

There were some abuses of indulgences, absolutely, trying to raise money...much like today's Evangelical pastors who say "Dig deep into those pockets, it will be a blessing to you." Human greed is always around. The theology of the Church stayed solid as far as Dogma is concerned. See also Faith vs. Works

Our current Pope, Benedict XVI gave a famous speech in Germany (where he quoted about the "evil and human" things of Islam). In this speech he said that "In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek ... and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism ..."

Pope John Paul II also apologized. More about indulgences here.

On one hand Mr. Schaeffer criticizes the Church for not letting people think for themselves. Then he accuses the Church of paving the way to people thinking for themselves.

Martin Luther said "Just me with a Bible is necessary for all understanding" This is more "autonomous" than the Catholic Church of the Middle ages.

Prior to this time [Renaissance], Mary was considered very high and holy. Earlier she was considered so much above normal people that she was painted as a symbol. When in the Renaissance Mary was painted as a real person, …but now not only was the king’s mistress painted as Mary with all of the holiness removed, but the meaning, too was being destroyed. 
(pg. 71)


Mr. Schaeffer speaks against his own logic. He says the Church worshipped Mary in the Renaissance, yet he says, Catholics painted her as a real person. He says we degraded her by making her bourgeois in Art, and says we worshipped by making her too Holy in Art.

Huss returned to the teachings of the Bible and of the early church and stressed that the Bible is the only source of final authority and that salvation comes only through Christ and his work.
(pg. 80)

The Book's use of the word "returned" here is not correct. Huss picked up on Wycliffe's propositions. Wycliffe was the first to propose the final authority of Scripture. It has given birth to over 33,000 denominations who don't agree on what Scripture is saying but who all claim it is the only authority...

It is also incorrect to say the early Christians considered the Bible the only source of authority. They didn't even have a "Bible". See also:

The Early Church claimed that the Eucharist was the true Body of our Lord. Wycliffe and Huss taught agaiFnst that. Whether you agree that the Eucharist is the Body of Christ or not, it is clear that the early Church taught unanimously that it was the true presence of Christ.

Wycliffe and Huss were not returning to the "good old days" of Christianity. They were making a radical departure from the Christian beliefs that trace back to the time of Christ. They are departing from the words of Paul and all the early Church and Jesus himself about the Eucharist. That's why the Church tried to stop them. What does the Bible and the early Church say about the Eucharist?

The Reformers turned not to man as beginning only from himself, but to the original Christianity of the Bible and the Early Church. Gradually they came to see that the church founded by Christ had since been marred by distortions. ... Rather they took seriously the Bible’s own claim for itself-that it is the only final authority…the Reformers accepted the Bible as the Word of God in all that it teaches…it was Sola Sciptura, the Scriptures only. This stood in contrast to the humanism that had infiltrated the church after the first centuries of Christianity. 
(pg. 81-82)

Mr. Schaeffer says something very powerful here. He said that the Church that was founded by Christ was "marred by many distortions." Since his whole critique in the early part of the book is about the Catholic Church,

Schaeffer is saying here that the Church that Christ founded is the Catholic Church.

According to Schaeffer's son, he accepted this near his death and was on his way to becoming Catholic. Listen to his son speak about it here. The history of the Church is here.

He says that the Bible claims that it's the only authority. We would challenge him to
find one place in Scripture where it says that the Bible is the only authority. It doesn't say that. It says that the Church is the only authority. (Mat 16:18) Catholics and the Bible

At its core, therefore, the Reformation was the removing of the humanistic distortions which had entered the Church.
(pg. 82)
A very good argument can be made that exactly the opposite is true. More here.

But Michelangelo, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, also combined biblical teaching and non-Christian pagan thought; he made the pagan prophetesses equal to the Old Testament prophets.
(pg. 82)

Along the tops of the walls of the Sistine Chapel are people who envisioned Christ before he came. Christ was for all people. Scripture says the Truth is written on all our hearts, Jew and Gentile, Greek and Roman. (Rom 10:12, Gal 3:28, Col 3:11) In the Bible, Ruth was not Jewish but she was welcomed into the Jewish people because of her holiness.

The non-Jewish visionaries on the wall of the Sistine Chapel are people caught the vibe and envisioned the coming of Christ before he came. That is what won them a place on the wall of the Sistine Chapel alongside of the Ancient Jewish prophets. Mr. Schaeffer is not of the Hebrew bloodline, yet he claims Christ. We don't understand why he would have a problem with the acknowledgment of non-Hebrews before the time of Christ prophesying that Jesus the Messiah would come.

The Reformers wanted to go back to the church as it originally was, with the authority being the Bible only...
(pg. 82)

Here is his recurring theme, and the recurring answer is that there was no New Testament in the Early Church. The early Church put the Eucharist at the centre of the community. More here.

On pg. 113, the book says that the Reformer Calvin only celebrated the Lord's supper every 3 months. The early Christians had the Eucharist each time they met. They believed in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, unlike Calvin. The Reformers also abandoned praying for the dead which began with the first Christians.


Photo: Latin writing in the catacomb of Priscilla that says:
"I implore you, brothers, to pray whenever you come here and invoke the Father and Son in all your prayers so that they might save Agape (the person in the tomb) forever"

The Reformers were not returning to the "good old days" of Christianity, they were going in a new direction that had never been tried before. For the early Christians, unity was everything and it was obtained through the Eucharist and the hierarchy. It is 500 years since the Reform and there is no denomination that looks anything like the reformers vision of the Church. There are currently 33,000 variations.

they [Reformers] indeed had many and serious weaknesses, in to regard to religious and secular humanism...they did not mix humanism with their position.
(pg. 82)


Here he is completely contradicting himself within one paragraph.

...the Bible gives unity to the universal and the particulars.
(pg. 82 theme on pg. 86)
I totally agree and it is exactly the Greek language influence and Greek philosophical concepts found in Scripture that unites the universals and the particulars. (i.e., Logos)
The individual person, they [Reformers] taught, could come to God directly by faith through the finished work of Christ.
(pg. 87)
Individualism is one of the defining traits of humanism which is what he condemns in the book but he praises it when it applies to reformers. And yet he condemns the Catholics for allowing people to be individuals. (pg. 56).
To men and women of the time, these were images of worship. The men of the Reformation saw that the Bible stressed there is only one mediator between Toe and man, Christ Jesus. (pg. 88)

That is a stretch of the truth. Catholics don't worship statues...they were teaching tools, because people couldn't read...

Statues in Church

That is like saying Evangelicals worship the music that they use in worship services today. which is not true.

This rested on the fact that the Bible gives unity to the universal and the particulars, and therefore the particulars have meaning. ...variety and diversity without chaos. There is variety yet resolution...
(pg. 92)
I totally agree. And it is exactly the Greek language influence and Greek Philosophical concepts found in Scripture (i.e., Logos) that unites the universals and the particulars. It is the Augustine and Aquinas influences of scriptural interpretations that make this great unifying factor.
We must of course, remember Handel ...Handel followed the Bible's teaching exactly ...
(pg. 92)
The book doesn't mention that Handel used to rewrite his soprano parts for his various mistresses... The book is claiming that Protestant artisans (composers, artists, etc) were more holy than Catholic ones. No reputable historian would agree with that. Rembrandt was messed up too. Honestly, most artists, Catholic or Protestant are messed up in some way... We can say that because I'm a composer. He shouldn't do the "our artists are better than your artists" thing.
Anyone...who reads Martin Luther's books, can see how his teaching is so clear and transparent when he sets for the holy gospel
(pg. 97)
Martin Luther left the books of James and Revelation out of his Bible. We don't think this is "clear" and "transparent" Biblical teaching. He called the Book of James the "Epistle of Straw."
Salvation didn't come through the addition of man's works but through Christ and his work only...
(pg. 97)
What happened to "Christ working through me.. " ?
It is not only Christians who can paint with beauty, nor for that matter only Christians who can love or who have creative stirrings. Even though the image is now contorted, people are made in the image of God. This is who people are, whether or not they know or acknowledge it. God is the great Creator, and part of the unique mannishness of man, as made i9n God's image, is creativity. Thus man as man paints, sows creativity in science and engineering and so on. Such activity does not require a special impulse from God, and it does not mean that people are not alienated from God .
(pg. 97)

This comment confuses us because the book has now completely jumped on the other side of the argument. He says that God's work can shine though in people who don't know him, because God made everything. That is what he spent 50 pages condemning in the Catholic Church's approach to pre-Christian philosophers.

Aristotle and other Greek philosophers stumbled on timeless truths about the nature of Truth. Even though they did not know that the source of this wisdom was God, they nevertheless found some Truth that Paul, John and other apostles understood and used in the Bible.


In 1609 Galileo began to use the newly invented telescope ...Aristotle had been mistaken in his pronouncements about the makeup of the universe.
(pg. 132)

Here the book bounces over to advocate for Humanism. Galileo was a supreme Humanist. Yet Schaeffer is advocating for Galileo. The reason for that is because in this case Galileo was mostly right. He found the Truth about the round spinning Earth. Even though he was a Humanist.

The reason Galileo got an inquisition is because his thesis was against the all Christian understanding about the Immovable world spoken about in Scripture. Both Protestant and Catholic theologians interpreted scriptural references to the world being "immovable" to reject the idea that the world is spinning. (i.e., 1 Chronicles 16:30, Judges 50:31, Ecles 1:5, James 1:11a, Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, and Psalm 104:5).

It was the Church's love of Scripture that caused them to try to stop the Humanist Galileo.

It should also be noted that Galileo actually taught that the sun was at the center of the universe, not just the solar system; later evidence showed that the sun also orbits the center of the Milky Way galaxy; it thus would have been bad if the Church had given an unqualified endorsement to Galileo's theory, for his specific form of the theory turned out to be false.

Just as Galileo built on Aristotle and found errors, modern science has found errors in Galileo.

More about Galileo here

These creative stirrings are rooted in the fact that people are made in the image of God, the great Creator, whether or not an individual knows or acknowledges it
(pg. 132)
This is a complete turn of 180 degrees. It is saying that we can create godly things without knowing God, which is exactly what Aristotle did. And it is why Christianity accepted the aspects of Greek philosophy which were true. Mr. Schaeffer is arguing against himself here. is not only a Christian who can paint beauty or who ha creative stirrings in the area of science. These creative stirrings are rooted in the fact that people are made in the image of God, the great Creator, whether or not an individual knows or acknowledges it, and even though the image of God in people is now contorted. This creativeness-whether in are, science, or engineering - is a part of the unique mannishness of man as made in the image of God.
(pg. 133)

In the second half of his book, after the reformation, it is like a different guy is writing the book.

Here he is saying you don't have to be a card carry Christian to create beauty or see Truth. Because the Truth and the search for it are written on the hearts of all men.

Based on Schaeffer's own logic in the second half of the book, there is nothing wrong with Aristotle finding the Truth about some fundamental things before Christ, and for us to recognize that. But in the first half of the book he says that non-Christians couldn't have any Truth.

Non-Christian philosophers from the time of the Greeks ...assumed that man...can gather enough particulars to make his own universals.
(pg. 145)
I would say they were trying to discover universals, not make them up...

Existentialism...[tries] to find an answer in something totally separated from reason.
(pg. 169)

Here he is criticizing Existentialism for its absence of reason. He advocating for the use of reason, which is exactly what Aquinas was doing. The book's logic has shifted 180 degrees and the last half of the book argues in favour of the things that the first half of the book argues against.

The book shows a man who was very divided over the issues, and he was working his way through them. "How then should we live" is not very convincing to those with an understanding of history. His inner struggles that later led him toward the Catholic Church, are evident.

The rest of this series of articles:

Related articles

  1. History of how the Bible came to us
  2. History of the Catholic Church
  3. Flowchart of Catholic Doctrine
  4. Dogma