By: Jonathan Harris
Perhaps the best book I’ve ever read outside the Bible up to this point has been Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey. Pearcey, a former L’Abri student who studied under the tutelage of Francis Schaeffer is now a professor at Philadelphia Biblical University, a member of the Discovery Institute, and the chief author of the Pearcey Report. Reading the 400 page Total Truth is much like reading Schaeffer for today. The book is divided into four sections: What’s in a Worldview, Starting at the Beginning, How We Lost Our Minds, and What’s Next: Living It Out. Section one reads a little bit like How Shall We Then Live tracing dualistic thought from Platonic Dualism through Augustine and Aquinas all the way to our present modernist outlook. The second section deals with the Intelligent Design vs. Evolution debate in which Pearcey gives powerful apologetic reasons for rejecting a materialist worldview. How We Lost Our Minds is particularly helpful for understanding what happened to the church. Why does the church buy into a dualistic mindset? The final section is very helpful in encouraging the reader to think through the ramifications of what total truth really is, and how to apply it to life.
To understand exactly what the book is about we must look to one of the many diagrams Pearcey has included to help us understand the dualistic nature of thought throughout time.
The upper story is what is thought to be true for everyone or “universally true.” We encounter this in the science class. We are marked wrong for mathematical error. The lower story is what is subjective and open to interpretation. We encounter this in the ethics class. It is that which relates to aesthetics, feelings, and yes, religion. So one is true for all and one is true for each individual separately. One is objective, one is subjective. One is rational, one is romantic. Though this dichotomy has taken on many different shapes throughout time from the Form/Matter dichotomy, to the Grace/Nature dichotomy, to the Mind/Matter dichotomy, today we have a kind of Fact/Value dichotomy governed by both Modernism and Postmodernism. Our culture believes that there are certain things empirically verifiable that all humans are governed by (Modernism) yet morality or values are not in this category. Everyone can choose what works (Pragmatism) for them according to their own likes and dislikes (Postmodernism).
Christianity however is total truth. It is a complete philosophical system which does not recognize this distinction. Jesus is the truth, all wisdom and knowledge have their origin in Christ, all our thoughts are to be taken captive to Christ, etc. It use to be that Christians functioned this way. They knew that God had an awful lot to say about science, government, personal morality, etc. There was no distinction. However, with the rise of Fundamentalism and its offspring Evangelicalism in the mid-1800s, Christianity has been relegated to the lower story- the story of values, not facts. Evangelicals used emotions and personal experience to verify their beliefs taking it outside the realm of “science” and into the realm of “religion.” It is no longer “total truth” for most of us. Pearcey challenges this conventional wisdom with Scripture, philosophy, and by showing the negative effects of such thinking. It has lead to practical atheism, the woman’s liberation movement (which she spends a whole chapter on), theistic evolution, etc. Basically, the church has stopped being salt and light.
But the book isn’t merely and indictment against the church. It is a call to the individual (especially the college student) to apply Christian principles in every area and to show the foolishness of this dichotomy to those around us thereby shattering it. Much is said about apologetics, but much more is said about applying Christian principles to your life. The book is entertaining, easy to read, extremely enlightening, and a MUST READ before or during college.