Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity
A review of Nancy Pearcey's, "Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity," by Dr. Douglas Groothuis.
Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 2004. 479 pages.
Why are so many American evangelicals so theologically uninformed? Why do the Barna polls (www.barna.org.) keep repeating the bad news that evangelicals do not have a biblical worldview, are biblically illiterate, and differ very little from their unbelieving friends? Why are there so few public intellectuals who are thoughtful Christians? Why are so many sermons so thin, weak, emotional, and decision oriented? Why do many evangelical seminaries fail to require a basic apologetics class for their Master of Divinity students? (Denver Seminary is a blessed exception to this tendency.) Why do evangelicals typically know nothing of creeds, confessions, and the history of theology or philosophy? And, most importantly, what can be done about this sorry state of affairs?
Nancy Pearcey, an independent writer and editor who formally co-wrote material with Charles Colson, answers these questions and others in a conversational, anecdote-rich, yet intellectually meaty fashion. As a student of Francis Schaeffer (and the Reformed tradition in general), she explains the meaning of a “worldview,” develops the concept of a Christian worldview, explains why evangelicals have lost a biblical worldview (with its necessary themes of creation, fall, and redemption) and how their thinking tends to be wrongly divided into a spurious secular and sacred dichotomy. Pearcey explains that Christ is Lord over the entire creation and over the intellect as well (see Matthew 22:37-39; 28:18-20; Romans 12:1-2; Colossians 1-2). Thinking well is a necessary (if often neglected) part of divine worship.
Pearcey’s treatment of Darwinism and Intelligent Design is the best introduction to this vital topic I have seen. She has been researching, writing, and teaching in this area for many years. She, unlike many evangelicals, realizes that Darwinism is incompatible with Christianity because Darwinism is rooted in and fueled by philosophical materialism, not by the empirical facts of science. If a wedge can be inserted between philosophical materialism and the empirical facts of nature, Intelligent Design will receive a proper hearing in American culture. Pearcey does not discuss this in detail, but a strong case can be made that Intelligent Design, as a legitimate scientific theory, should be taught in public schools as a critique of, and (eventually) as alternative to, Darwinism. (For resources on the controversies surrounding this issue, see The Discovery Institute web page: www.discovery.org.) This is because it is not a full-fledged theological doctrine of creation, but a means of detecting design in empirical objects and systems through proven rational principles. For more on this, see William Dembski, The Design Revolution (InterVarsity Press, 2004).
Pearcey also evinces the call to integrity in ministry so evident in her mentors, Francis and Edith Schaeffer. She pointedly, but tactfully, indicts evangelical ministries that rely on hype, ghostwriting, and overworking their staff members—realities common in the business world, but antithetical to biblical ethics and reliance on the Holy Spirit.
I have profitably used Total Truth for a Seminary course called Christian Ethics and Modern Culture, although it could be used at the college level as well—or even for more precocious high school students preparing for the intellectual warfare of college life. For adult education classes that are serious about learning, this book would serve very well. Even Schaefferites and academic philosophers such as I will find thought-provoking and beneficial material in what is essentially an introductory book.
The book, however, is flawed in a few ways. Pearcey at times sounds like a fideist (in spite of herself), especially when she speaks of worldviews being based on what cannot be proven (see page 41). What she needs is a version of foundationalism in which basic beliefs are either self-evident, logically necessary, inescapable, or incorrigible. One can then reason from those beliefs to other beliefs, and worldviews can be verified or falsified on the basis of these foundational beliefs. Worldviews can be tested for truth according to: (1) the internal coherence of their defining beliefs, (2) the factual adequacy of their claims, and (3) whether or not the worldview can be lived out without deep philosophical hypocrisy. In fact, Pearcey addresses this third test very nicely on page 220. Although she engages in this type of intellectual critique, her epistemological foundation is wanting in some respects.
Pearcey, like so many otherwise well-informed evangelicals, lumps all feminism into the same secular category, when, in fact, feminism really began in the nineteenth century among mostly Christian women who opposed slavery and worked for women’s suffrage. Pearcey’s chapter “How Women Started the Culture War” makes no mention of this—a gaping omission to be sure. For more on the varieties and history of feminism, see Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Women Caught in the Conflict (Wipf and Stock reprint, 1997).
I could carp about a few other more minor issues, but my primary concern is with some of her comments on epistemology, as noted. The Dooyeweerdian school of Christian philosophy from whom she draws (and which, along with Cornelius Van Til, influenced Schaeffer himself) is weak in this area, despite the richness of its critique of non-Christian schools of thought.
All in all, I heartily recommend Total Truth as a powerful antidote to what I have elsewhere called “truth decay.” So, please: turn off the television, turn off the video games, set aside the iPod, and read this book as soon as possible. Then give copies to your friends—and be sure to pester them until they have read every page of it.
Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy