Years before words like “worldviews” and “truth claims” entered the common evangelical vocabulary, Schaeffer was introducing the terms and stressing their importance. He knew that the great conflict of worldviews was underway, and he cared deeply about a generation of young people who were even then deciding between Christianity or intellectual revolution.
The year 1976, the very year that many Americans came to know that evangelicals even existed, continues to reverberate throughout evangelical Christianity. The towering giants of the evangelical world at that time seemed to see our world in increasingly hopeful terms. The urgent cultural crises of the 1960s appeared to be in recession.
As we now know, it was not really so. In 1973 the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand nationwide. Larger intellectual currents were setting the stage for a massive shift in the culture. Evangelicals were wearing “I Found It” buttons and building massive megachurches, but the culture was shifting toward a hostile secularism that would not be fully apparent for a generation.
Still, some saw it coming. I turned 17 years old in 1976, facing my last year of high school and trying to figure out the world around me. An apologetic crisis had troubled me for a couple of years by then, and I needed help. I was already facing some of the issues and questions that would explode onto the American scene in coming decades.
Thankfully, I did get help, and from multiple sources. D. James Kennedy introduced me to the writings of Francis Schaeffer. I devoured He Is There and He Is Not Silent and Escape from Reason and The God Who Is There. At that point, I had not met Francis Schaeffer, but his writings were a form of theological rescue for me. I did not fully grasp all that Schaeffer presented in his books, but I did get his main points, and they gave me a way of understanding how the Christian faith related to and answered the questions of the world around me.
I was asking huge questions. At the same time, I was captivated by a world that had opened to me through two British television series, both like nothing that had been presented in that medium before. I watched every minute of Lord Kenneth Clark’s magnificent series Civilisation and then Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man. Bronowski’s telling of the human story and the rise of modern science was fascinating to me, but I knew that much of what he was presenting flatly contradicted Christianity.
Civilisation, on the other hand, raised no such alarm. I was hanging on every word and image as Kenneth Clark told the story of Western civilization and illustrated every epoch with his masterful explanation of painting and architecture, literature and music. I was hooked, and I wanted to see the cathedrals and abbeys and museums and libraries that Lord Clark showed me on television for the very first time.
But Kenneth Clark was also telling a story — a story with art and aesthetic values at the center. I knew of the Protestant Reformation, but I did not know enough to understand that Lord Clark was telling the story of the civilization and culture of the West from a humanistic worldview.
In 1976 Francis Schaeffer released How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture, and I bought one of the first copies. I read it from cover to cover with intensity, knowing that Schaeffer was telling the story of Western civilization as well.
How Should We Then Live? was both a book and a multi-episode video project, just like Lord Clark’s Civilisation. This was not a coincidence. Schaeffer was deliberately answering both Bronowski and Clark in his project, but Clark most directly. He was telling a very different story.