A Review of Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey

 There is a world of difference between getting a masters degree and pursuing a Ph.D. The difference lies within the way students in these programs pursue knowledge. The course of study for most college degrees involves the taking on of knowledge; the student is basically a consumer of knowledge. At the doctoral level a shift occurs, the student learns to become a producer of knowledge. Part of producing knowledge is seeing through the everyday muck of thought and understanding how people think, including yourself. We often don’t take the time to really understand how we process information and turn it into a usable guide for navigating this life, or consider why we think the way we do. Nancy Pearcey’s book Total Truth is a phenomenal help in rolling back the mystery and fog when considering how we think. I was encouraged by a friend to read Total Truth right after I finished seminary. My friend touted Total Truth as one of the best books he had read in his Ph.D. program precisely because it helped him understand how he thinks as well as the people he is shepherding. Stepping into my current pastoral role, it was imperative that I consider the insights in Total Truth to aid me in developing an all encompassing view of Christ’s work that breaks through to the western mind, my own included. Pearcey does a great job exposing our own psyche by developing the idea of worldview, showing the roots of the western mind’s worldview, and piecing together a proper Christian worldview that can compete with any worldview in practice today. Pearcey’s purpose in writing Total Truth is to help liberate Christianity from its cultural captivity so that it can properly transform the world (17). In the following paragraphs I would like to consider some of the great and eye opening topics that Pearcey discusses in her book and also offer a critique of a few items. Pearcey’s book is fairly lengthy, but very clear in its presentation and is a must for any one who is producing knowledge or calls themselves a teacher.

Pearcey begins her work by developing the concept of worldview. She wants everyone to understand they have a worldview. Everyone sees the world through their worldview and makes decisions based on its premises. Pearcey sees every worldview absolutizing or putting forth some aspect of created reality as the ground for and source of everything else, “the uncaused cause, the self-existent” (41). In contrast the Christian worldview starts with God as the self-existent, and knowledge of God is gained through God’s own revelation. Pearcy wants to help Christians regain a complete system of thought, to readopt the worldview that once was the narrative that gave “the truth about the whole of reality, a perspective for interpreting every subject matter” (34). Pearcey adopts the traditional reformational worldview cased in terms of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. It is great to orient a Christian worldview around these categories because these categories make up the major movements of the Biblical story.

One of the most important distinctions in Western thought that Pearcey explores is the fact/value divide. The fact/value divide relegates religion to the value sphere where meaning is socially constructed, and truth becomes part of the fact realm of empirically verifiable information. The Darwinian and Materialist worldview have taken up residence in the fact sphere trying to destroy any claim on truth by religion. Pearcey does a fantastic job giving the history of the divide, showing how it came to be the dominant thought pattern of our Western minds. She also shows how this divide has not always existed. Truth was sought with God as its starting point, but now the popular starting point is matter. Christianity has also bought into this divide withdrawing from engagement in intellectual confrontation with the secular world and only thinking about practical Christian living. Pearcey wants Christianity to regain its voice in the fact realm. To hold a properly Christian worldview means that we believe we have real truth.

This divide puts the creation debate at the forefront for the battle for truth. Christians must own the creation story that the Biblical narrative sets forth if they are to have a cohesive worldview. The Darwinian worldview begins with matter and has no place for morality in general or the message and values that Christianity sets out. Pearcey has a very extended discussion concerning Darwinism and the many aspects of culture and thought it has infected. Following her discussion on the Darwinian worldview she makes a case for Intelligent Design. These two sections of Pearcey’s work are so long that it almost seems to be an excurses on Creation verses Evolution.  But Pearcey is right to focus on the root issues of the whole worldview problem. Christians start with a God who creates, Materialists start with matter.

One of my favorite chapters in Pearcey’s book is entitled “How Women Started The Culture War” (326). I found this chapter to be very eye opening, in fact, I have called this chapter the “missing link” (no pun intended from the discussion above) for complementarianism.  I am a complementarian, but I have always been a little dissatisfied with the overly emphasized, culturally defined, masculine and feminine characteristics that are sometimes defined as the biblical norm. I do believe men and women have Divinely defined roles, but those roles sometimes have cultural additives that are not helpful nor Biblical. What Pearcey does in this chapter is give a quick and thorough history of how the wide divide between men and women’s roles has developed. She then fits this divide into the overall fact/value divide discussion. What particularly struck me in this chapter is how Pearcey traces the way work has been removed from the home. Through factors surrounding the enlightenment and then the industrial revolution, work was taken out of the home. The household ceased to be the primary economic unit. Men began to leave the home to go to work leaving all the household responsibilities to the women. What Pearcey shows through her discussion is this fracture is unbiblical and detrimental. The home was the fundamental work unit, it made up a family enterprise. The whole family was engaged in the family business. If it was farming, the wife and the husband were capable of working the farm with the children. If it was running a store, they all were engaged in running the store. If it was producing a product, the whole family was able to engage in producing the product. This close community of the home meant that wives participated in the husband’s work, and the husband was at home to participate in family rearing bringing more fulfillment to both husband and wife. This arrangement comes closer to the Biblical roles and gender norms than our current situation. I found this chapter to be very encouraging, and I think it is imperative the Christian worldview regain this understanding of the family and gender roles.

I only have two areas of Pearcey’s book that I would push back on. One is Pearcey’s suggestion to adopt the Intelligent Design language for Christianity. While I agree with her emphasis on God being the Intelligent Designer, I am leary to adopt the Intelligent Design language with all its political baggage. I would prefer to stay in traditional Biblical terms of God as the Creator, that God created the world. Secondly, I would push back on the aspects of her view of our participation in the redemption of the world. Pearcey sees within the Cultural Mandate of Genesis, man participating with God as agents of His common grace. One of our primary purposes then becomes working to improve the world and in the new heavens and the new earth there will be a continuation of the creation we know now and our efforts, purified by fire (49). This conception of redemption is particularly spelled out in Al Wolters’, Creation Regained, and I disagree with some of Pearcey and Wolters’ conceptions of redemption and the new heavens and the new earth. Particularly, I can’t get around Isaiah 24:1-6 where the earth is destroyed and Isaiah 65:17 where it says, “For Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.” This does not seem to leave much room for a continuation of things from this world in the new heavens and the new earth. In addition, 2 Peter 3:10 talks about a complete destruction and burning up of the earth leaving none of our previous works. While I think the overall redemption narrative does bring a lot of meaning to our everyday work, and Pearcey is right to make this point, it does not have the carry over affect that Pearcey and others see. We do redeem the world by living godly lives in the places God has placed us. We also should work hard, as if working for God in our occupations so life will go well for us and our city (Jeremiah 29:7), but this does not mean our labor is lasting. God definitely uses our efforts, sanctifying what we do everyday for the advancement of the Gospel, but I don’t think our work has the transforming affect that Pearcey sees. Sure we see glimmers of reform, but only glimmers. It is God that is working to redeem the world through Christ and we should give Him all the glory. We join Him in His work, but it is only the work of the Gospel that seems to make an impact on the new heavens and the new earth by reconciling people to their God. Typically when I speak of the Biblical narrative of Creation, Fall, and Redemption, I like to add a fourth category of Restoration/New Creation. There seems to be more of a break between Redemption and Restoration in the Biblical narrative than Pearcey and Wolters give credit. This fourth category helps us to think about the completion of redemption and eternal life in the future.

There are so many great things to say about Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth. I hope you have tasted a little bit of the great work she has done analyzing the Western mind and constructing a proper Christian worldview. I highly recommend this book to any Christian that is in an educational occupation or is hoping to be a producer of knowledge. It is a high level read, yet Pearcey has made things as explicable as possible for readers of all levels. Take Pearcey’s work slow and pour over her insights. The all-encompassing Christian worldview that Pearcey sets out is a must.  In fact, the Bible never called us to anything less.

Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004. 512 pp. $20.99.

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