Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity Hardcover – Jul 15 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
As a religiously adrift young adult in the 1960s, Pearcey found her way to the Swiss retreat, and the intellectually rigorous faith, of the Calvinist maverick Francis Schaeffer. This book continues the Schaeffer-inspired project that Pearcey and Chuck Colson began in How Now Shall We Live?—awakening evangelical Christians to the need for a Christian "worldview," which Pearcey defines as "a biblically informed perspective on all reality." Pearcey gives credibly argued perspectives on everything from Rousseau's rebellion against the Enlightenment, to the roots of feminism, to the spiritual poverty of celebrity-driven Christianity. She also provides a layperson's guide to the history of America's anti-intellectual strain of evangelicalism. Unfortunately for the book's chance at a wide audience, several chapters are devoted to a critique of Darwinism and defense of Intelligent Design—with no substantive engagement with the many thoughtful Christians (John Polkinghorne, Ken Miller, Nancey Murphy, etc.) who dissent from Intelligent Design's scientific and philosophical program. Still, Pearcey deftly applies Schaeffer's core insight that modernity has been built on a "two-story" view of reality—with "facts" on the ground floor and "values" up in the air. Her critique of this view is compelling, and her final chapters, which begin to sketch an integrated Christian way of living and thinking, are exceptional. This is the rare long book that leaves one wanting to read more.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Total Truth, however, is a logical and comprehensible guide to worldview analysis. For those who live or work in hostile intellectual territory, like myself, it is a critical aid to understanding the epistemological underpinnings of worldviews that compete with Christianity for our minds and the minds of those close to us. Pearcey also provides considerable information regarding how the worldview thought has changed throughout the course of history. For the seeker interested in how Christians see the world, the book is a comparative analysis in worldview opposed to the prevailing worldviews of the secular world. It is also quite useful for those interested in apologetics, as Pearcey devotes a substantial portion of the work solely to explaining her search for God, and how the logical inconsistencies of other worldviews forced her (even against her will!) to accept that Christianity was the only logical way to explain reality.
Anyone interested in integrating their view of the world with Scripture would find this book a good read. It has been very helpful to me personally, so I highly recommend Total Truth.
Using a plethora of external sources, Pearcey dissects the philosophy of modern society. She starts with the fact/value split in society, showing how our society constrains religion to the relativistic values realm while society deems science the only realm that universal absolutes can exist. Our society allows for religion and its moral implications provided that the religious do not impose their morality on others as universally valid. We have created a sacred/secular dichotomy that restricts Christianity to the realm of religious truth. Christianity must be viewed as ultimate Truth that pervades every part of our life.
She delves deeper into the meaning of worldview. She explains, "[E]ach of us carries a model of the universe inside our heads that tells us what the world is like and how we should live in it. We all seek to make sense of life. Some convictions are conscious, while others are unconscious, but together they form a more or less consistent picture of reality." In essence, a worldview answers the question, "Why does reality exist?"
Pearcey also tackles the most pervasive worldview in society, philosophical naturalism, which is an extension of atheism. After explicating the biological impossibility of evolution, she explores the philosophical implications of naturalism. From a naturalistic standpoint, the chemical processes in our minds should not reflect the order of the universe. For example, math, which is a conjuring of the human mind, should not function in nature. Naturalism has no rational explanation for reason or logic. Pearcey also notes, "[E]thics depends on the reality of something that materialistic science has declared to be unreal."
After eliminating other worldviews as antithetical to reality, Pearcey traces the roots of Christianity, identifying the fact/value split in even the Great Awakening. She concludes with a call to Christians: we must "liberate Christianity from its cultural captivity," because Christianity is a worldview, not just a religion.
A necessary for every Christian, philosopher, and inquisitive mind, Total Truth should be on every bookshelf.
Pearcey's mastery of the material, her clear thinking, her outstanding
ability to express herself, and her compelling arguments are all a major
reason why I predict that this book will become the standard work in the
area. Pearcey makes a persuasive case for Christian involvement in
society (to become the salt of the Earth). In my opinion, as a professional
biologist very interested in the Darwinian controversies, the strongest
part of the book (and the main reason why I bought it) is the section on
Intelligent Design. She makes an excellent case for this world view and
why it is critically important. I believe that her well done critique of
Darwinism and her defense of Intelligent Design will improve the book's
chances at achieving a wide audience. Many works exist that go into
detail about the many problems with the conclusions of John
Polkinghorne, Nancy Murphy and, especially, Ken Miller, as well as
others who dissent from Intelligent Design's scientific and
philosophical conclusions. To conclude that God may have created the laws of
the universe and sat by watching as the creation created itself due to
mutations being selected in the struggle for life, as does Ken Miller,
suffers from major theological and, from my prospective, even more
serious problems with the evidence from biology, genetics and,
especially, molecular biology. My work is on mutations and it is clear
that mutations have a limited ability to create. They may damage
ribosome receptors in bacteria and, as a result, confer resistance to an
antibiotic, but even here a fitness cost usually results.
Total Truth is subtitled "Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity" and this is the task to which Pearcey dedicates the book. She shows how Christians have adopted a worldview that is bound and influenced by our culture, so that we now understand Christianity through a secular worldview. She teaches that the opposite needs to be true - that we need to see society through a distinctly Christian lens, allowing a Christian worldview to interpret all that we see, do and think. She says "This book will address [the hunger for a Christian worldview] and offers new direction for advancing the worldview movement. It will help you identify the secular/sacred divide that keeps your faith locked into the private sphere of 'religious truth.' It will walk you through practical, workable steps for crafting a Christian worldview in your own life and work. It will teach you how to apply a worldview grid to cut through the bewildering maze of ideas and ideologies we encounter in a postmodern world." (Page 17) In short, the purpose of the book is to help Christians free their faith from its cultural captivity and to see that Christianity is not merely religious truth, but is Total Truth - truth about the whole of reality. "The purpose of a worldview is to explain our experience of the world-and any philosophy can be judged by how well it succeeds in doing so. When Christianity is tested, we discover that it alone explains and makes sense of the most basic and universal human experiences."
As a devotee of Francis Shaeffer, Pearcey borrows heavily from his writing and ideas. Most notably, she understands, as did Shaeffer, that Christians have mimicked the world in adopting a two-level worldview which she calls a fact/value split. It can be represented as follows:
Binding on everyone
In the upper level are values which are mere individual preferences and on the bottom level are facts which are binding on everyone. Facts represent knowledge drawn from and proven by science and in this way they are considered objective and rational. On the other hand, on the top level are values which are considered subjective and a product of tradition. Thus are not binding beyond the individual's conscience and are essentially irrational. They have little to say about reality. This split has pervaded all aspects of society.
The thesis of this book is "the key to recovering joy and purpose turned out to be a new understanding of Christianity as total truth - an insight that broke open the dam and poured the restoring waters of the gospel into the parched areas of life." The first step in recovering a Christian worldview is to understand the bifurcated worldview which is inherent in our postmodern world. Having understood that we have made false disctinctions between secular and sacred, we can begin integrating our faith into every area of life so that we bear a consistent witness throughout. Politicians are beginning to come to the realization that politics is downstream from culture. In order to change the politics of our nations, we must first influence the culture, and to do that we must reclaim a Christian worldview. "Ordinary Christians working in business, industry, politics, factory work, and so on, are 'the Church's front-line troops' in the spiritual battle. Are we taking seriously our duty to support them in their warfare? The church is nothing less than a training ground for sending out laypeople who are equipped to speak the gospel to the world." That is the subject of the bulk of the book - training and sending laypeople who can share the Gospel with the world. Pearcey continually exposes those areas that have been polluted by a secular worldview and explains how Christians need to reclaim them.
After Pearcey thoroughly deconstructed our society's postmodern worldview in the first few chapters of the book, I found I did not have as clear an idea as to how I could rebuild a Christian worldview. But perhaps this is because there are no easy answers - there is no happy W.O.R.L.D.V.I.E.W. acronym that will allow me to follow a 9-step program to worldview reconstruction. The key is to acknowledge the deficiency of holding a two-level worldview and by immersing myself in Scripture, allowing God to shape and mould me as He sees fit. A Christian worldview must necessarily flow from the study and application of God's Word. I need to understand and believe that Christian Truth is a unified whole, equally encompassing all of life.
In reading books written by intellectuals, rather than pastors and teachers, I have often found that their theology is shaped more by the Catholic intellectuals of days past than by the Protestant theology. This is not the case for Pearcey. She strikes a good balance of praise and criticism in her presentation of Protestantism, generally defending the actions and motives of the Reformers and believers of history. Similarly she praises various Catholic scholars (such as Aquinas) for contributions they made, but is necessarily harsh when discussing their shortcomings. Throughout the book, the author maintains this important balance. It was wonderful to see that Pearcey presents significant, deep theology that clearly aligns with the Reformed understandings of the Scripture.
I am in agreement with Al Mohler who said "Total Truth is one of the most promising books to emerge in evangelical publishing in many years. It belongs in every Christian home, and should quickly be put into the hands of every Christian young person. This important book should be part of the equipment for college or university study, and churches should use it as a textbook for Christian worldview development." Pearcey has crafted a masterpiece that is intellectually stimulating but still accessible and practical. It will challenge, motivate and change. I give it my hearty recommendation.
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