A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance
By Nathan Sundt
About the Author
Nancy R. Pearcey is editor-at-large for the Pearcey Report and the Francis A. Schaeffer Scholar at the World Journalism Institute. She earned an M.A. from Covenant Theological Seminary, followed by further graduate work at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. She has authored or contributed to articles in numerous journals and magazines, as well as Crossway’s The Soul of Science and the best-selling, award-winning How Now Shall We Live?
Total Truth opens with comments from a Christian schoolteacher who confessed to thinking of “salvation strictly in terms of individual souls.” The believer was surprised and enamored with a lecture of Nancy Pearcey’s that argued Christians also should be “redemptive forces in every area of culture.” Total Truth addresses the “deep hunger among Christians for an overarching framework to bring unity to their lives” and “offers a new direction for advancing the worldview movement.” In particular, the book ensures that worldview thinking is available to the average person in everyday life. Pearcey emphasizes “the secular/sacred divide,” a tool that gives “practical, workable steps for crafting a Christian worldview” and for unlocking faith from a ‘private sphere’ of ‘personal truth’.
Christianity is not just personal truth, nor political truth—it is Total Truth. Therefore, worldview thinking aims to affect not just political action but the entire culture, which is upstream of those politics. Such thinking will help Christians “not lose their children” by means of a more rigorous discipleship. Pearcey argues that a “two-realm theory of truth” relegates values and religious claims to a private sphere of personal preferences that are non-rational, while privileging “scientific knowledge that is binding on everyone”: “The reason it’s so important for us to learn how to recognize this division is that it is the single most potent weapon for delegitimizing the biblical perspective in the public square today.” Instead of bearing the burden to debunk (or even attack) religion, secularists just relegate it to a sphere of ‘value.’
Worldview thinking can reassert the power of the gospel in every sphere of life and do so in a way that is “not just a power grab,” because it engages with the mental map that every man and woman, boy and girl naturally puts together and stewards throughout their lives. The task is not merely for academic or philosophical people because it intends to interpret “every aspect of creation in the light of His truth. God’s word becomes a set of glasses offering a new perspective on all our thoughts and actions.”
Table of Contents
Unit 1: What’s In a Worldview?
1 Breaking Out of the Grid
2 Rediscovering Joy
3 Keeping Religion in Its Place
4 Surviving the Spiritual Wasteland
Unit 2: Starting at the Beginning
5 Darwin Meets the Berenstain Bears
6 The Science of Common Sense
7 Today Biology, Tomorrow the World
8 Darwins of the Mind
Unit 3: How We Lost Our Minds
9 What’s So Good About Evangelicalism?
10 When America Met Christianity—Guess Who Won?
11 Evangelicals’ Two-Story Truth
12 How Women Started the Culture War
Unit 4: What’s Next? Living it Out
13 True Spirituality and Christian Worldview
Appendix 1: How American Politics Became Secularized
Appendix 2: Modern Islam and the New Age Movement
Appendix 3: The Long War Between Materialism and Christianity
Appendix 4: Isms on the Run: Practical Apologetics at L’Abri
Unit 1: What’s In a Worldview?
Chapter 1. Breaking Out of the Grid
The story of a young Christian woman opens chapter 1; with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, she had imagined that abortion was the natural answer (following the course of cultural thought). When her relativistic views were challenged, she realized she thought abortion was wrong at nine months, yet she could not establish any point along the spectrum when she thought abortion was, in fact, morally right. Quite shaken, she represents many Christian young people who realized they “held to Christianity as a collection of truths, but not as Truth.” Pearcey notes how evangelical Christians particularly represent a phenomenon widespread in American life that divides our minds rather than unifying our thinking and decision-making. Evangelicals may be susceptible to this phenomenon due to a strong emphasis on personal piety and the salvation of the soul. Americans may be susceptible due to a strong emphasis on pluralism. Christian professors often keep faith and science “in separate, parallel tracks” without a “Christian worldview that brought the two together.” “Secularists reinforce the split mentality by claiming that their theory does not reflect any particular philosophy….” No theories, Pearcey assert, are “unbiased or neutral, unaffected by any religious and philosophical assumptions.”
From the history of ideas, Pearcey notes that this way of thinking is itself based on the success of a “particular philosophical tradition.” From the history of Christian thought, she points to Augustine‘s “City of God and City of Man”: no matter what, all humans are building and inhabiting one of the cities. All systems of thought are theory-laden, and even atheists are “usually just as emotionally engaged as believers.”
Pearcey sinks some pillars of Christian thought into these shifting sands: (1) common grace (even something as simple as the possibility of applied mathematics) provides a point of contact and shows God as the creator of an ordered creation; (2) the creation/fall/redemption framework is the meta-narrative of Scripture and helps the Christian interpret life; (3) the Cultural Mandate (Genesis 1:26-28) affirms that redemption not only saves from sin but also to “the task for which we were originally created.” For Pearcey, these pillars help show how awful is our fall into sin but how awesome is the recovery of our task in creation, the building of redeemed culture. She concludes the chapter by sketching her personal journey, including and especially the influence of Francis Schaeffer through her time spent at L’Abri. The section reinforces the fact that worldview is “not an abstract, academic concept” but one that is fruitful for answering life’s “intensely personal questions….”
Chapter 2. Rediscovering Joy
Pearcey argues that, in the public/private split, “work and public life are stripped of spiritual significance, while the spiritual truths that give our lives the deepest meaning are demoted to leisure activities, suitable only for our time off.” Uniting these activities in Total Truth, turns out to be a rediscovery of joy. A more holistic life allows the believer to rediscover joy. “Imagine how our churches would be transformed if we truly regarded laypeople as frontline troops in the spiritual battle.” This failure explains how Christian identification can remain at high percentages, while Christian influence wanes—“… no longer considered the source of serious truth claims that could potentially conflict with public agendas.” How important it is, she argues, that all believers use Christianity “as a lens to interpret the whole of reality” as Total Truth.
Pearcey asserts that the historical significance of Plato’s ideas formed in many Christians a kind of “Christian schizophrenia.” Plato strongly separated form and matter; since matter was eternally changing, it was insignificant compared to eternal reason. Augustine followed Plato at least in part by diminishing the “active life” in favor of the “contemplative life,” which encouraged Christian asceticism. However, Christianity does not claim the material world to be inferior, and Pearcey argues that Thomas Aquinas’s adoption and modification of Aristotle’s thought better treated all of nature as teleological, with purposes and goals that are designed by the Creator.[To continue reading this summary, please see below....]
Buy the books
TOTAL TRUTH: LIBERATING CHRISTIANITY FROM ITS CULTURAL CAPTIVITY (STUDY GUIDE EDITION), by Nancy Pearcey