An evangelical Christian who works on Capitol Hill once told me that God put him there just so he could share the gospel with his colleagues. Sadly, he's not alone in thinking that God cares only about saving souls, and is uninterested in the legislative battles raging in Congress, much less the renewing the culture through the arts, academia, and entertainment.
True, most orthodox Christians think that God hates abortion and is not so thrilled about same-sex marriage. But beyond those "culture-war" issues, many of them have no idea that their faith has implications for all public policies, from welfare to transportation to taxation. They are privately spiritual, but publicly agnostic.
Nancy Pearcey's new book, Total Truth, was written to shake them up.
Her central thesis is that Christianity is not just religious truth, but truth about all of reality. It is a comprehensive worldview. As such, it is meant to straighten out God's creation which has been twisted by sin. This, Pearcey says, includes not just the Great Commission to bring others to faith, but a cultural commission to bring health to every aspect of human experience, from network television and Broadway plays to biology and astronomy.
Unfortunately, too many American evangelicals have bought into the lie that it is "true for me" or true about a slice of reality, but not true for everybody and true for explaining the world.
Pearcey seeks to uproot the historic anti-intellectual tendencies of American evangelicalism that have contributed to its banishment from the public square.
She traces the long tradition in American evangelicalism of emphasizing the spiritual dimension and denigrating the intellect. Some early American evangelicals like Geroge Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards managed to make Christianity a passionate, personal experience without compromising the life of the mind. Sadly, much of evangelicalism quickly devolved to a privatized faith that transformed one's personal life but was indifferent if not hostile to rigorous thought.
Even as evangelicals gained hearts, they surrendered their minds to secularism.
As Darwinism gained traction in academia, Christians further retreated to the realm of personal values. In the end, they were left with a "two-realm theory of truth" in which the upper story holds the private/spiritual/nonrational/noncognitive dimension, and the lower story the public/scientific/rational/verifiable. The upper story became "true for me," and the "lower story" simply fact. Challenging this bifurcation of reality is step one in liberating Christianity to shape every aspect of culture, argues Pearcey.
Step two is challenging the philosophical naturalism that masquerades as science.
Pearcey has spent years writing about the philosophical underpinnings of Darwinian macro-evolution. Her rigorous logic makes clear that until Christians challenge the naturalism that begins with the assumption the universe is closed and there is no God, they will fight a losing battle for the soul of the culture.
That may explain why Americans are among the most religious people on the planet, yet whose cultural elites in academia, media, and entertainment are among the most secular.
She closes the book by showing that true spirituality is rooted in a comprehensive Christian worldview. If Christianity really is the total truth about the world, then it is logical that the life of the spirit not be relegated to a private, mystical experience, but is necessarily open to facts, reason, evidence and wed to one's everyday activities.
Pearcey skillfully explains difficult concepts in plain language. Her formal education in theology and philosophy - in Germany, Canada, the U.S. -- combined with her conversational writing style, make her otherwise dense subject matter easily digestible. Perhaps this is so because she's a homeschooling mom. Or maybe because she's a former atheist who wrote a paper on "Why I'm not a Christian" when she was still in her teens and long before she learned of Bertrand Russell. Her grappling with philosophy has not been esoteric but a lived experience of great personal consequence.
Pearcey's work reflects the life and thought of her mentor, the late Francis Schaeffer, who hosted seekers at his chalet in the Swiss Alps in the 1960s and 1970s. After rejecting the faith of her parents and embracing the despair of nihilism and the drug culture, Pearcey was won over by Schaeffer's rigorous intellect and his passionate conviction that Christianity was meant to renew every part of the culture.
But if you're looking for a simple redux of Schaefer's work, look elsewhere. Pearcey advances well beyond Schaefer, both in the maturity of her thought and in her original work with source documents.
Total Truth is written with evangelicals in mind, but it should be read by orthodox Christians of whatever theological stripe who want to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the American religious tradition, dominated as it has been by evangelicals. It will help them see more clearly the flawed view of knowledge that has relegated Christianity to the private sphere and muted its witness in what seems to be a pervasively religious population.
The issue is not the number of Christians, but their ability to let their religious convictions shape their view of the world. For when Christianity is no longer just an affair of the heart but a total picture of the world as it actually is, its power is unleashed to transform culture from top to bottom.