PeaTota 08-07-94  

Total Truth

Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity


Nancy Pearcey

Crossway Books, 2005, 511 pp., ISBN 1-58134-746-4




Nancy Pearcey is editor-at-large for the Pearcey Report and the Francis A. Schaeffer Scholar at the World Journalism Institute.  Pearcey has been publishing pioneering works on Christian worldview since 1977.  This follow up to How Now Shall We Live by Colson and Pearcey is a practical worldview or philosophy text for ordinary people.  It all begins with Creation.  If origins are ceded to natural causes, a nontheistic worldview is determined. 


Part I outlines the current secular/sacred dichotomy.  Part 2 deals with Creation.  Part 3 looks at our evangelical heritage.  Part 4 sets forth the practical, personal application.   


“It is not uncommon to find well-meaning evildoers, as it were, who are quite sincerely convinced that they are Christians, and attend church faithfully, and may even hold a position of leadership, but who have absorbed a worldview that makes it easy for them to ignore their Christian principles when it comes time to do the practical business of daily living.”  (12, Foreword by Philip Johnson)


“To survive in modern or postmodern American culture without being overwhelmed by its concealed prejudices, everyone needs to know how to recognize those prejudices, to understand what kind of thinking brought them into existence, and to be able to explain to ourselves and others what is wrong with the pervasive assumptions that often come labeled only as ‘the way all rational people think,’ and that will swamp our faith if we are not alert to them.”   (12, Foreword by Philip Johnson)



The first step in forming a Christian worldview is to overcome the sharp divide between the "heart" and the "brain," the public/private split.  "We have to reject the division of life into a sacred realm…over against a secular realm that includes science, politics, economics, and the rest of the public arena."  In our culture "Values have been reduced to arbitrary, existential decisions." (20)  It looks like this:

       Upper Story - VALUES are matters of individual choice.  nonrational

       -- -- ---- -- ---- -- ---- -- ---- -- ---- -- ---- -- ---- -- ---- -- ---- -- ---- -- ---- --

       Lower Story - FACTS are binding on everyone.  rational, verifiable


This grid defines what is to be taken seriously, as knowledge, and what is simply wishful thinking.  Christianity is trapped in the upper story of private values.  "We need to liberate the gospel from its cultural captivity, restoring it to the status of public truth." (22)


Part I.  What's in a Worldview?

1.  Breaking Out of the Grid

For many Christianity is a thin veneer over a secular worldview core.  Faith is a purely private experience. (32)  Christian families are sincere but have absorbed their views on just about everything by osmosis from the culture. (33)  We inhabit two separate worlds. (32-35)


"'Thinking Christianly' means understanding that Christianity gives the truth about the whole of reality, a perspective for interpreting every subject matter." (34)  It is a lens for interpreting the world.  (35) 


What are your ultimate premises, the assumptions you accept by faith? (41)  There are two groups: "those who follow God and submit their minds to His truth, and those who set up an idol of some kind and then organize their thinking to rationalize their worship of that idol." (42)  If we do not consciously develop a biblical approach we will unconsciously absorb some other philosophical approach.


"Our worldview is the way we answer the core questions of life that everyone has to struggle with: What are we here for?  What is ultimate truth?  Is there anything worth living for?" (51)  


"Christians need to move beyond criticizing culture to creating culture." (58)


2. Rediscovering Joy

"Ordinary Christians working in business, industry, politics, factory work, and so on, are 'the Church's front-line troops in her engagement with the world,' wrote Lesslie Newbigin."  "The church is nothing less than a training ground for sending out laypeople who are equipped to speak the gospel to the world."  "We are to be like missionaries, actively translating the language of faith into the language of the culture around us." (67)


"The private sphere has become increasingly religious, while at the same time the public sphere has become increasingly secular." (68)


 "In practice, the notion that reason is religiously neutral means that secularism and naturalism are often promoted under the guise of 'neutrality.'"  "The effect of such a stance, however, is that Christians will abandon the world of ideas to the secularists.  …secularism is itself a philosophical commitment….  It is impossible to think without some set of presuppositions about the world." (94) 


3. Keeping Religion in Its Place

Most believers compartmentalize their lives, maintaining a personal devotional time but operating by secular assumptions at work. (98)  "The rules of professional scholarship rigidly enforce the public/private dichotomy, so that Christians are often made to feel they have no choice but to play by the rules." (99) 


Darwin completed the naturalistic picture of the universe and isolated value from fact.  If evolutionary forces produced the human mind, then religion and morality are not transcendent truths, merely ideas produced by the mind. (106)  The idea of objective truth still reigns in science but not in ethics. (107)


Is a human being a machine (science) or a free agent (ethics)?  While science is insisting that people are simply machines, people are making choices and claiming freedom and dignity. (108)  Scientific naturalism is not an adequate worldview because it does not explain human nature as everyone experiences it.  (110)


If Christianity is trapped in the upper story, it has nothing to offer.  Christianity is "a comprehensive, unified worldview that addresses all of life and reality.  It is not just religious truth but total truth." (111)  "Christians must find ways to make it clear that we are making claims about reality, not merely our subjective experience." (119)  "Christianity rests on historical events that are confirmable by empirical evidence…." (121) 


4. Surviving the Spiritual Wasteland

The way to construct a Christian worldview is to ask three sets of questions:

1.      "CREATION: How was this aspect of the world originally created?  What was its original nature and purpose?

2.      FALL: How has it been twisted and distorted by the Fall?  How has it been corrupted by sin and false worldviews?

3.      REDEMPTION: How can we bring this aspect of the world under the Lordship of Christ, restoring it to its original, created purpose?" (128)


Autonomous individualism makes the individual prior to moral communities such as marriage, family and church.  This is a central factor in the breakdown of American society.  (141)


Part Two: Starting at the Beginning

5.  Darwin Meets the Berenstain Bears

"To communicate a Christian worldview, the first step is learning how to make a winsome case for creation." (150)  A theory of origins plays a foundational role in a worldview.  Every worldview starts with some account of beginnings.  Whoever shapes those concepts will determine the dominant worldview.  (154) 


"Darwinism was implacably naturalistic, explaining life's origin and development by strictly natural causes." (155)  G. K. Chesterton said fifty years ago that scientific materialism had become the dominant 'creed' in Western culture. (157)  "Under the guise of teaching science, a philosophical battle is being waged.  And if Christians do not frame the philosophical issues, someone else will do it…." (158)


"The heart of the battle is whether the universe is the result of Intelligent Agency or of blind, noncognitive forces…." (174)  "Either the universe is a closed system of cause and effect, or it is an open system, the product of a Personal Agent.  Everything that follows stems from that fundamental choice." (175) 


6.  The Science of Common Sense

"The heart of design theory is the claim that design can be empirically detected." (180)  "Both sides of the evolution debate agree that, taken at face value, living things look for all the world as though they are designed." (184)  Perhaps the most powerful evidence for design is the DNA code. (191)  "When you see a message, a language, you immediately conclude that it is not a product of natural causes." (192)  Chance processes do not produce complex information; they tend to scramble information." (193-4)


"Trying to make life by mixing chemicals in a test tube is like soldering switches and wires in an attempt to produce Windows 98.  It won't work because it addresses the problem at the wrong conceptual level." (198 quoting Paul Davies)  Information does not arise from forces within matter but must be imposed on matter from the outside. (198)  "The key to interpreting the organic world is not natural selection but information." There is an author. (201)


7.  Today Biology, Tomorrow the World

"Christians need to engage Darwinian evolution not only as science but also as a worldview." (208)  Once the evolutionary premise is accepted, applying Darwinian explanations to human behavior is simple logic. (211)  Evolutionary psychology can explain anything from mothers who kill their newborn babies to mothers who do not.  It says whatever proponents want it to say. (213)  No one can live by it.  Universal human experience confirms the reality of moral choice.  When deterministic theory gets too restrictive, people simply claim their autonomy from it.  (218) 


8. Darwins of the Mind

Theism understands mind as prior to matter.  The Darwinian view is that mind was produced by matter and quite late in the evolutionary process.  The mind is an evolutionary by-product.  It has been naturalized.  *230)


Prior to Darwin, human knowledge was considered reliable because human reason reflects the divine reason.  God created our minds to 'fit' the universe He made of us.  Our cognitive faculties are designed to give us genuine knowledge.  "If blind, undirected natural forces produced the mind, then it is meaningless to ask whether our ideas reflect reality.  Ideas are simply mental survival strategies…."  (231)


If Darwinian evolution is true, then the mind is a product of evolution and ideas and words are merely tools for controlling the environment, including other people, as postmodernism claims. (243)  Naturalism has some uncomfortable logical conclusions.  If people can't live with the consequences it would be well to reconsider the premises. (244)


Objective truth is possible only if a Creator has given us divine revelation. (246)


Part 3.  How We Lost Our Minds

9. What's So Good About Evangelicalism?
How did we lose a full-bodied conception of Christianity as truth about all reality?


10.  When America Met Christianity--Guess Who Won?

"Evangelicalism is growing 'theologically broad to the point of incoherence….  We may even be witnessing the gradual disappearance of doctrine.  This style may not be so much distinctively Christian as it is distinctly American. (292, quoting sociologist Alan Wolfe)  Wade Clark Roof concluded that "the real story of American religious life in this half century is the rise of a new sovereign self that defines and sets limits on the very meaning of the divine."  "In every aspect of the religious life, American faith has met American culture--and American culture has triumphed." (quoting Roof) (293)


11. Evangelicals' Two-Story Truth

Historically the evangelical movement has claimed two wings, one populist (focused on subjective experience and individual conversion) and one scholarly (focused on theological orthodoxy and biblical authority). (295) 


"Those who attempt to jettison the past [and start over again] are likely to simply sanction their own current prejudices and preconceptions as unquestioned truth."  "Instead of seeing farther by standing on the shoulders of giants, they are limited to what they are able to see from their own narrow perspective within a tiny slice of history." (302)


Christians themselves "adopted a form of methodological naturalism, which eventually opened the door to metaphysical naturalism.  After all, if you can interpret the world perfectly well without reference to God, then His existence becomes a superfluous hypothesis…"  The methodology was transformed into a worldview. (311)


"When speaking with nonbelievers, our goal is to show them that Christianity is the only theoretical system that accounts for the truths we know by pre-theoretical experience."  (313)  "The task of evangelism starts with helping the nonbeliever face squarely the inconsistencies between his professed beliefs and his actual experience." "We want to help people see that if their worldview contradicts commonsense experience, then it cannot be true."  "Common Sense realism points out that no one can really deny the testimony of the senses."  "The entire scientific enterprise is based on the trustworthiness of sense data…" (314)


"Our claim as Christians is that only a biblically based worldview offers a complete and consistent explanation of why we are capable of knowing scientific, moral, and mathematical truths.  Christianity is the key that fits the lock of the universe."


"In evangelism, our goal is to highlight that cognitive dissonance--to identify the points at which the nonbeliever's worldview is contradicted by reality.  Then we can show that only Christianity is fully consistent with the things we all know by experience to be true." (319)


12.  How Women Started the Culture War

"For if humans evolved from the animal world, the implication was that the animal nature is the core of our being.  This was a startlingly new concept: From antiquity, virtue had been defined as the exercise of restraint of the 'lower' passions by the 'higher' faculties of the rational spirit and the moral will.  But now, in a stunning reversal, the animal passions were held up as the true self." (339) 


"Among the many causes of the rebellious youth culture of the 1960s was a great deal of 'father hunger.'' (344)


Part 4.  What Next?  Living It Out

13. True Spirituality and Christian Worldview

"It is all but impossible for people to accept new ideas purely in the abstract, without seeing a concrete illustration of what they look like when lived out in practice."  "When people see a supernatural dimension of love, power, and goodness in the way Christians live and treat one another, then our message of biblical truth becomes plausible."  "A verbal presentation of a Christian worldview message loses its power if it is not validated by the quality of our lives." (355)


"Knowing the truth has meaning only as a first step to living the truth day by day."  "And how do we drive our beliefs down into the reality of daily experience?  By dying to ourselves, that we may live for God." (355)  "If it does not seem hard, then we are probably accommodating to the world without realizing it." (356) 


"In a culture that measures everything in terms of size, success, and influence, we have to say no to these worldly values as well." (357)  "God's strategy for reaching a lost world is for the church to function as a visible demonstration of His existence." (361) 


"Visible results can be deceptive.  In the seen world, we may appear to make a great advance…[but] have accomplished little of value in the unseen world.  The opposite is likewise true." (363)



Pearcey puts together a very rational and understandable description and defense of a Christian worldview.  She also addresses, in an important last section what it means to Christians and how to live it out.  The difficulty lies in the difference between understanding something and both living it and arguing cogently for it in the presence of those who don't share your understanding.  Living out a Christian worldview is terribly difficult in a contrary culture, but giving a brilliant rationale for it that is convincing requires deep thought, the ability to articulate difficult concepts clearly, and considerable practice.


Further Reading:

How Now Shall We Live, Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey

Deliver Us From Evil (and other writings) by Ravi Zaccharias



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