Why is Christianity so severely marginalised in our society today? Where has our ‘true for you but not for me’ culture sprung from? What has relegated the Christian faith to a purely private sphere of relevance?
Total truth by Nancy Pearcey (Crossway) offers some answers. It is a book about worldviews – how we and others view the world in which we live.
Defining and critiquing philosophies can be a daunting and ‘slippery’ process, but I found this book both practical and helpful. Pearcey defines three areas which every ideology must ultimately account for – (1) Creation (how did everything begin; where did we come from?); (2) The Fall (what went wrong; why is there suffering?); and (3) Redemption (how do things get better; what can be done about it?)
Through the grid
This idea is not original, but Pearcey applies it in a simple way – suggesting that any worldview can be run through this threefold ‘grid’ (as she calls it) of creation, fall and redemption.
The answers provided by any particular worldview constitute a good summary of that ideology and, importantly, allow it to be assessed in the light of Scripture. How do its answers differ from what the Bible proclaims as true?
Pearcey runs a number of different worldviews through this grid to show how the process works, including Marxism, Pantheism and the philosophy of Jean-Jaques Rousseau. But the strength of this simple approach to other worldviews lies in the help it affords to Christians themselves in understanding the ideologies they encounter day by day.
Impressed by Darwin
In the middle chapters of Total truth the author focuses on the typical Western naturalistic worldview – both its origin and effects. As an example of the impact a worldview can make, she recounts the story of two students training to be priests in the Russian Orthodox Church. One of them writes:
‘Joseph heard me out and after a moment’s silence said, “You know, they are fooling us; there is no God”. I was astonished at these words. I had never heard anything like it before. “How can you say such things?” I exclaimed. “I’ll lend you a book to read; it will show you that the world and all living things are quite different from what you imagine, and all this talk about God is sheer nonsense”, said Joseph. “What book is that?” I enquired. “Darwin. You must read it”, Joseph impressed on me’.
The Joseph in this story is Joseph Stalin.
Pearcey continues: ‘We all know what happened after that. Having become an atheist, Stalin went on to murder literally millions of his own people in his attempt to construct an officially atheistic state’.
Substitute for Christianity
This book is not primarily about evolution, but because Darwinism has had such a huge impact on people’s thinking (whether they know it or not) she spends time explaining why Darwin was wrong and how naturalistic thinking is illogical and ultimately unfulfilling.
She debunks the idea that evolution is based on indisputable fact, and shows it is actually a position of blind faith. This is done most effectively by quoting evolutionists themselves.
Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science, went as far as to say, ‘Evolution came into being as a kind of secular ideology, an explicit substitute for Christianity’. He goes on, ‘I must admit that … the [biblical] literalists are absolutely right. Evolution is a religion’.
Pearcey shows how hostile this self-confessed ‘religion’ is towards Christianity. Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin has famously said that science must above all things hold to materialism – ‘we cannot allow a divine foot in the door’ (p.171). Another prominent scientist has openly stated that ‘If science helps bring about the end of religion … it would be the most important contribution science could make’ (p.171).
The need for a designer
But Pearcey isn’t content just to criticise what is wrong – she also presents the answer. To this end she outlines a number of key arguments in favour of intelligent design (ID), supporting them with clear and compelling examples.
She believes that ‘the most powerful evidence for design … is the DNA code’ (p.191). Genetic information is, in every definable way, a language. It is not a random assortment of “letters” produced by chance, nor does it follow a ‘regular, repeatable, and predictable’ pattern (p.195) which could be explained by natural laws.
Rather, it is a form of communication – carrying information and designed for a purpose. The message (or language) is independent of the medium and so ‘was not created by forces within that medium’ (p.197). ‘The words you are reading right now were printed with ink on paper, but they could also be written with crayon or paint or chalk’ (p.197).
The point is that the message stays the same because it is not inherent in the materials (such as DNA molecules) in which it is present, but has been created by an external source of intelligence – a designer.
Reason crowned king
But despite the promotion of the Darwinian worldview in the media and the classroom, few ordinary people follow it through to the conclusion that there is no God. Instead, they do something almost as dangerous – divide their thinking in two.
Francis Schaeffer likened it to a two-storey building, and Total truth adopts this picture. On the lower storey is reason, logic, fact, science and public truth, while on the upper storey is experience, feelings, religion and private truth.
This dichotomy in thinking became ingrained, at least in Europe, during the so-called ‘Enlightenment’ period, when reason was crowned king. From that time on, the upper storey of religion (which must be kept personal and private) has had no right to interfere with the lower storey of substantive public truth.
Pearcey shows how this split in thinking has become endemic in every part of Western life, including the church. Many Christians seem to accept that the Bible is only really concerned with ‘personal’ matters and has no place in the public sphere.
We may proclaim it as being ‘true’ but far too often we silently add, ‘on a purely spiritual level of course’. Total truth tells stories of converted young people who, when they enter university or secular employment, find that their faith doesn’t answer the questions posed by unbelievers.
Of course, Christianity does have the answers – they’ve just never been told. It is the church’s responsibility to equip its members with a full and deep understanding of God’s Word and its practical application to every area of life.
Huge range of issues
Total truth considers how to apply a Christian worldview to a huge range of issues. For example, I have a four month old son, and I found this book profoundly helpful in regard of my duties as a parent. I am responsible before God to bring up my son ‘in the training and instruction of the Lord’ (Ephesians 6:4). Other issues addressed include abortion, the welfare state, feminism, art, the industrial revolution, evangelism and science.
But I think Nancy Pearcey’s main objective is to give Christians the tools to start thinking about these issues for themselves – so that they might discover in their own lives what it is to live and work in a thoroughly Christian way.
Believers should not only apply Christian ethics to their own lives, but also be able to critique the underlying ideologies of the world around them. For example, what assumptions underpin the approach to education at my school? What management or marketing strategies are used where I work? What are parenting programs on the television telling me about how to raise my children? And most importantly – what does the Bible have to say about these things?
The Christian Institute
Philosophical thinking is a lot more than just thinking – it has profound practical effects on our lives and society. That is why The Christian Institute exists. For more than 15 years we have sought to exercise a public influence in an increasingly secular society.
Our 20,000 supporters have faithfully prayed, written, protested and donated to many causes. We have been involved in a wide range of issues over the years, but at present we are particularly involved in defending religious liberty.
Not only are good laws being eroded but new laws are being imposed on Christians which threaten their freedom to ‘live peaceful and quiet lives’ (1 Timothy 2:2).
We are not sure where the future of this nation lies but we are to act on what we know is true. That truth is the Word of God – applicable and relevant to every person in every part of life.
Total truth by Nancy Pearcey is published by Crossway (512pp; ISBN: 13- 978-1-58134-746-3 and 10-1-58134-746-4).
The author has been a publications assistant for The Christian Institute since 2005. He and his wife Kerry are members at Welbeck Road Evangelical Church, Newcastle upon Tyne.