“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” Romans 1:16
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect“ 1 Peter 3:15
An Intellectual Masterpiece on the Modern Worldview
Some things in life are really good. Like my wife’s lasagna. A hug from your child. Sunrises and sunsets. Fresh coffee. Good art. The finish line of a hard race.
A good book ranks as one of the better things in life. A good book opens the mind to new perspectives or ideas. It takes you away, lifts you to new places and/or brings you down to places you hadn’t experienced. Good books deliver pure mental pleasure. In Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity, Nancy Pearcey has written such a book. A totally good book.
Well, a nearly totally good read. The book was a wonderful surprise, to include that I now have a favorite non-fiction book with which I have significant disagreement. Ms. Pearcey’s book is so well written, however, that its strength compensates for and overshadows the areas of weakness with which I disagree. More on that shortly.
Several months ago, I wrote a blog piece about truth – Truly, there is a God who will be known. In it I pondered how inconsequential and incompatible the concept of truth should be in the secular humanist worldview, yet how aggressive militant atheists argue regarding the truth of origins and destiny. In contrast, truth is a foundation concept for Biblical Christianity, and the belief in truth is hard-wired into who and what we are, itself an apologetic for the truth of Scripture. I didn’t think it was a controversial proposition, so I was a bit surprised when a few atheists became apoplectic at what I said. Interestingly, while they attacked ancillary points with fervor, they never confronted the central issue presented – in a world without God, what is truth and why should we care?
The topic brought me to a book that some colleagues mentioned in passing over the years: Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth. Once I picked it up, I did not want to put it down again until I had finished. A real gem that in this reader’s experience starts well and gets better with every page turn.
God blessed Ms. Pearcey with a tremendous mind and wonderful writing skills. Her insights and logic are reminiscent of her mentor Francis Schaeffer, and her style reminds me of C.S. Lewis. Like Professor Lewis, it requires very little effort to read Ms. Pearcey and she has a wonderful efficiency with words. Her reasoning is clear, concise and to the point, which is essential given the scope and magnitude of thought in this volume. Total Truth is a remarkable intellectual accomplishment.
Ms. Pearcey divides her book into four parts. In Part One, which she titles “What’s In A Worldview?”, Ms. Pearcey explains the centrality of worldview to how we live. I’ve read and attended innumerable articles, books, lectures, and sermons on “worldview.” Frankly, after so many iterations, I rarely find something new or interesting. Accordingly, I tend to shy away from works presented as worldview lectures. But this book is different. Ms. Pearcey transitions effortlessly from contemporary and personal anecdotes and experiences to explaining the historical and philosophical origins of the secular-sacred divide in Western thought, what she calls the “Modern Schism.” One of the more prominent consequences of this schism in our beliefs is that most believers remain blissfully unaware and undisturbed that by and large we do not form and live a Christian philosophy of business, politics or culture. While expressing personal conversion to faith in Jesus Christ, we live largely the same as our secular humanist counterparts, having compartmentalized secular versus “sacred” value systems.
This Modern Schism did not start in the 1960s. Ms. Pearcey takes the reader from the ancient Greeks to today to explain the dichotomy of Western thinking and why “Christianity no longer functions as a lens to interpret the whole of reality[and why] it is no longer held has total truth.” Ms. Pearcey explains, “We have to insist on presenting Christianity as a comprehensive, unified worldview that addresses all of life and reality. It is not just religious truth but total truth.”
After diagnosing the symptoms of our age and how we arrived in this condition, Ms. Pearcey draws the battle line in Part Two of her book. She identifies the battle over origins as the key and foundational intellectual battle of our time; she titles this section of the book “Starting at the Beginning.” I could not agree more with her prescription, however, as noted below, she advocates that we should all join the battle over Intelligent Design, a tactical mandate with which I do not agree, per below. Over several chapters, Ms. Pearcey lucidly explains how philosophical materialism permeates our thinking and culture, as a “universal acid.” She marches straight through the meaning, purpose, frauds and faith of Darwinian dogma and sets out compelling rebuttal evidence and arguments from Intelligent Design. She concludes Part Two with the chapter “Today Biology, Tomorrow the World” in which she sets forth the universal ambitions of Darwinian philosophy — how it seeks and is largely succeeding in its efforts to present itself as the total solution for all areas of human thought and endeavor, albeit a false solution.
In Part 3, “How We Lost Our Minds,” Ms. Pearcey traces the origins and history of evangelicalism and points out consistent trends and patterns therein, particularly those that left evangelicals so vulnerable to philosophical naturalism. I found this section fascinating, having never studied it before. The patterns illuminated many issues I’ve seen and experienced in churches and within ministries. As part of her review, Ms. Pearcey takes issues with evangelical’s somewhat anti-historical and positivist view of biblical interpretation, with particular criticism for Lord Bacon’s Biblical hermeneutics. She explains how empirical theology stems from Enlightenment thinking. She also reiterates C.S. Lewis’ admonition to read the old books, creeds and confessions.
Ms. Pearcey then ties in the history of evangelicalism and the Modern Schism. She quotes Richard Hofstadter’s observation that to a large extent “the churches withdrew from intellectual encounters with the secular world, gave up the idea that religion is a part of the whole life of intellectual experiences, and often abandoned the field of rational studies on the assumption that they were the natural province of science alone.”
The last chapter in Part Two, “How Women Started the Culture War,” is a distinct, insightful and quite educating analysis of changing female roles during the Industrial Revolution, the Second Great Awakening, and on through to the early 20th Century and how these changes affected families.
In Part 4 “What Next? Living It Out”, the most spiritual portion of the book, Ms. Pearcey reviews the importance of making sure our actions comport with a Biblical as opposed to a secular worldview. She takes issue with Christians living their lives and conducting their affairs utilizing worldly methods through the flesh instead of relying upon the ways of God. I heard distant echoes of Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life in this section. She concludes this section in a similar vein, taking issue with Christian ministries conducting themselves as secular enterprises.
In total, Total Truth ranks as one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read, and an excellent world view assessment. It could become a classic. There were however, three points with which I disagreed with Ms. Pearcey and which I believe are worth sharing.