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Book Review - Total Truth
January 13, 2005
I have often lamented the overuse of the term “life-changing” amongst Christians. It is not unusual to hear people walk away from a particularly captivating sermon or conference saying “that changed my life!” The real measure and test of life change is time, for only in time will we really know what has made a significant impact on our lives. Having established that I do not use the term lightly, I would like to suggest that Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey may just be a life-changing book. As believers we collectively spend millions of dollars and countless hours reading about Christian living - making our homes better, making our families better, making our lives better, discovering our purpose, rediscovering our masculine soul or our feminine soul and so on ad infinitum, ad nauseum. There are some who love to supplement with the study of theology or church history, and those are great pursuits. But if we buy so many books and read so much, why do we dedicate so little time to examining and studying worldview? I do not mean to indict the reader and clear my own name, for in all the reading I have done, this is the first book that deals predominantly with that topic.
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.