Atheism, agnostic, evolution, etc. books culture

Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth: A Totally Good Read

“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 opensPearcey 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.

Christian Children Are Leaving the Faith While Still At Home.

In Part One, Ms. Pearcey buys into the modern evangelical presumption that secular universities are destroying the faiths of so many of our youth.  If only that were the case.  I believe that presumption is misplaced, as evidenced and thoroughly explained in Ken Ham’s book Already Gone.  As explained there, a large percentage of young adults that were raised in conservative churches are leaving the faith; however, most make that decision while still living at home.  For most of them, college simply confirms what they had already come to believe.

Ms. Pearcey recognizes, however, that the solution lies in redefining the mission of pastors and youth leaders to include training in apologetics and worldview.  I would go a bit further, in this day, a primary responsibility of the church should be to equip and encourage believers to learn and understand apologetics and worldview and be passionate about equipping parents to equip their children in the same.

Intelligent Design, While Engaging and Informative, Is Not The Battle Line.

In Part Two, Ms. Pearcey advocates that we should stop the internecine wars regarding the age of creation and join in an all-out assault with the intelligent design movement against the lie of evolution. According to Ms. Pearcey, the age of the Earth is a secondary issue; the battle line to which all Christians should join is the Intelligent Design movement. Ms. Pearcey’s arguments rely heavily on ID and her thorough bibliography resembles the recommended reading list of the Discovery Institute.  I appreciate the wonderful minds that comprise the DI and enjoy their scholarly works in furtherance of the ID arguments.  Drawing the battle line at ID, however, as Ms. Pearcey recommends, is tactically wrong for several reasons.

First, ID does not get us where we need to go.  ID advocates have argued for years in court that they are not promoting religion, and in a certain sense that is true, though our secularized courts have thus far largely rejected the argument.  The ID movement makes no reference to the Bible and purposefully leaves out any specifics regarding who or what the “creator” or creators may be, though most ID leaders express a Judeo-Christian view of God.  As Answers in Genesis often points out, however, believing in a generic “designer” does not bring someone to salvation.  A belief in a generic designer(s) might bring someone to deism or pantheism, but it does not bring someone to a respect for the authority or relevance of Scripture.  It certainly does not bring someone to salvation. If you win the ID argument – so what?  You might conceivably have a better claim to a friendlier culture, but not much. India has remained theistic, and from a Christian perspective the culture is not much improved from the secular humanist version.  The point must be Christ, not just culture.  Christ must be and in fact is the beginning and the end. Christ not culture is our mandate and Intelligent Design makes insufficient effort to get us to total truth.  Further, win others to Christ and they will improve the culture through their spheres of influence.

Secondly, ultimately, the issue is one of authority.  If the Bible is the word of God, it must be given authority in all areas of our lives, which is an implicit tenet of Ms. Pearcey’s argument.  This is particularly important regarding topics to which the Bible speaks directly, like chronologies, Noah’s flood and creation.  You cannot get to millions or billions of years from any straightforward, intellectually honest linguistic analysis of the Genesis creation account.  As already explained in detail by Dr. Terry Mortenson, in the late 18th Century, well before Darwin, followers of Lord Bacon’s empiricism fostered and then championed the idea of an old earth. In her diagnosis of how philosophical naturalism has come to dominate modern thought, Ms. Pearcey rightfully criticizes Baconian empiricism as it has been applied to Biblical hermeneutics. Yet, Ms. Pearcey apparently gives little importance to Specimen A in the Baconian mischief: the frontal assault on the Bible’s plain reading for Noah’s Flood and the age of the Earth. Old-earth geology and theology laid the foundation upon which Darwin made his case for materialist origins. Without passages of time realistically beyond our ability to comprehend, Darwin’s theory would never have made it out of the womb. Far from being a secondary issue, the age of the earth was the original, leading assault on the authority of God’s word in the modern philosophical naturalism campaign. Still, to this day, the age of the earth is the foundation upon which philosophical naturalism and its poster-child Darwinian philosophy rests. The Darwinism with which Ms. Pearcey aims her fire is not the foundational issue.

Dr. Mortenson summarizes:

[F]ighting naturalism only in biology will not work. Ignoring the Bible—especially Genesis—and its testimony to the cosmic impact of sin and God’s judgments at the fall, the flood, and the Tower of Babel, even though arguing for design in living things (and even God’s designing activity), will not lead people to the true and living God, but rather away from Him and His holy Word. Nor will fighting naturalism only in biology, while tolerating or even promoting naturalism in geology and astronomy, break the stranglehold of naturalism on science. So the ‘wedge’ of the ID movement is not a wedge (leading to more truth) at all. It is simply a nail, which will not split the log open. It will not lead the scientific establishment to embrace the biblical view of creation, nor will it lead most people to the true God, the Creator who has spoken in only one book, the Bible.

Intelligent design fails to attack the foundation of Darwinian evolution and the real lie that empiricism trumps Scripture.  In the end, the battle is over the authority and relevance of Scripture.  See, e.g. Ken Ham, A Young Earth – It’s Not The Issue!

Thirdly, drawing the battle line at Intelligent Design is not an effective strategy. Creationists, ID advocates and Darwinian evolutionists do not each have their own set of evidence.  We have all been arguing from the same evidence, from the same present observations to draw inferences and deductions regarding the past.  The difference is that we all start from different foundations and view the evidence from a different perspective.  The evolutionist will not rest until he can interpret a piece of evidence to fit the materialist worldview.  The Biblical creationist will not rest until that same piece of evidence fits the Biblical worldview.  We have not been and are not likely to be highly effective arguing entirely and only over the interpretation of evidence.  This is not guesswork; it’s history. We’ve been here before.  In his above referenced research, Dr. Mortenson also details how in response to the original Baconian hermeneutics over the age of the earth and its corresponding rise of atheism, theologians of the early 19th century relied heavily on arguments from nature and designs in nature to prove the reasonableness of believing in God.  As Dr. Mortenson points out, that tactic did not work.  It did not stop the rising tide of skepticism and unbelief in the culture and in the church in West Europe and N. America.

Fourthly, drawing the battle line at intelligent design is a massive retreat of sorts.  It’s a concession that the battle must be fought on secularist grounds — arguing from empirical observations only.  That tactic automatically surrenders the “upper realm” of truth, which is a most surprising tactic coming from Ms. Pearcey, who eloquently explains the falsity of this dichotomy. Christianity is total truth.  We should not compromise Christ in our tactics.  Related, focusing on ID abandons the most powerful weapon for truth known to man — revelation from our Creator, the Word of truth.  He is the way, the truth and the life.  To ignore or leave aside Christ in any debate with the unbelieving world regarding truth is folly.  Can you imagine secularists agreeing to argue about truth from a purely non-empirical perspective?  Our arguments and witness should find their starting points, foundations, and reflect our confidence in the Bible.

The battle is over the authority of God’s word versus the word of man.  It is a battle over the souls of men that has raged since man’s last day in Eden. We should frame the argument as such.

The Church Must Re-Equip the Christian Mind.

The last point of criticism on Ms. Pearcey’s otherwise wonderful book is her conclusion.  There’s nothing wrong with it, but after spending thousands of words on the intellectual nature of this dispute and the importance of human origins to the battle for the modern mind, Ms. Pearcey’s ending on a more spiritual note felt surprising, if not a non sequitor.  What felt like the obvious recommendation, which Ms. Pearcey alludes to throughout her book, is that churches and Christian families must commit to learning why we believe what we do, with particular emphasis on creation. Per above, I believe families should train their children in Scriptural apologetics — both why Scripture is true and presenting the truths in all areas of life from Scripture primarily, with empirical evidence being used secondarily only.  Of course, this is the heart and mission of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum. Unfortunately, Ms. Pearcey gives no reference to AiG (or any other creationist literature from what I could tell) in her proffered diagnosis nor even in her well stocked annotated notes or recommended reading list.

Not to lose sight, Ms. Pearcey’s Total Truth is a wonderful work of Christian thought. Contrary to what may be inferred from this review, her book is not focused on promoting ID.  The book focuses on the Modern Schism and how we arrived at this point.  While I  disagree with her tactical assessment of the battle we’re in, I strongly recommend her book to all Christians concerned with culture, worldview and/or Christian education.

I look forward to reading Ms. Pearcey’s second book, Saving Leonardo. Before I do, however, I will first heed Ms. Pearcey’s advise about reading a classic, likely Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections.

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