My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

19 August 2005

Book Review - Total Truth

Total Truth
Nancy Pearcey

So we decided to have a summer book club. What to read? We tossed around ideas of Foster’s Spiritual Disciplines, Edwards’ Spiritual Affections, but in the end we (by which I mean “I”) settled on this new worldview book by Nancy Pearcey, a past colleague of Chuck Colson (co-authored How Now Shall We Live), and a Francis Schaeffer devotee. I must say that I was totally ready for this to be a great book, guiding us into Christian patterns of thought, dethroning old, crusty worldviews and so on. But in the end we were disappointed.

Overview: The book is split into four main sections. The first deals with Pearcey’s philosophical theory, that Christianity has been relegated to the “upper-story” of the two-story split. The lower story is inhabited by things like science and hard facts. So, while we Christians are tolerated, we are not allowed to bring our Christianity into the public square with any validity. She traces this split through several areas and in the end does a good job proving her case.

The second section is the author’s attempt to dethrone Darwinism whenever it pops up its evolving head. Pearcey is devoted to the Intelligent Design movement, and it shows. This points to one of the arguments I have with the book: in a footnote, she explicitly states that asking “What does the Bible say about this?” is “not the way to do apologetics.” I beg to differ. Anyhow, her material on ID is helpful and I learned a few points which might prove helpful.

Section three attempts to decipher how the American church got where she is. Save the chapter on how feminism started the culture war, this is probably the most helpful section. If you need an overview of American church history geared toward understanding the present, read Iain Murray’s Revival and Revivalism – if you can’t find it, read this section of Total Truth. The chapter on women and the culture war would have been much more helpful if Pearcey was more Biblical in the way she thought about women – although she doesn’t say it, it’s fairly clear she considers homemaking to not be quite as high a calling as academia.

The last chapter, section four, seems to be written by a different author. For the majority of the book, she rarely quotes Scripture (although encouraging us to think Biblically), trying to convince the reader that we need to win philosophical battles using the words/thoughts/proofs of the other side. And now she quotes God’s Word left and right and tells us to expect to be derided and not taken seriously, that Scripture is the highest authority and that obedience is more important than anything other part of a Christian worldview. I wish this would have been the first chapter and that it would have guided her in writing the rest of the book.

Clearly Pearcey has done her homework and is able to outthink me like a racecar lapping a go-kart. She is a good, but not great, and engaging writer. But in the end, the book is flawed and its audience is extremely limited. It will accomplish real worldview shift only among undergraduates in science or liberal arts studies. It contains no help whatsoever for men and women slogging for Christ’s glory in blue-collar jobs and diaper-changing. If you’re not philosophically or scientifically inclined, there are better books. If you are philosophically or scientifically inclined, this book won’t be enough to help.

Finally, my biggest beef is that while Pearcey continually urges us to get Christianity out of it’s “cultural captivity” (in the upper story, remember?), she continually uses the thoughts and paradigms which got us there in the first place. And more broadly, she neglects the fact that, while the church might not be taken seriously and while the church might be anti-intellectual, Christ made the whole house. If we whine enough for Christianity to be counted among the world’s valid thought-patterns, we might be accepted into the circus. But is that enough? The point of Christianity is not to be one option among many, but to be the option. It is not enough to be taken seriously, to be included in the halls of academia. Christ is king and every knee will bow. Let us expect and labor for nothing less.


Robbie said...

she is speaking at geneva this september.

i am doing a paper this semester on the Christian and the State - book ideas - i need a solid bibliography

Barb said...

Jared, sorry for the off-topic comment, but I just stumbled upon your blog while running down a rabbit trail.

I don't know if you'll remember me. I taught you in Sunday school many, many moons ago at Redeemer. I was Mrs. Markham then, and Justin was in the class too.

I saw your mom this summer at a wedding, so I heard about your pastorate and family. Wonderful!

Anyway, I just wanted to say hi!

Barb (now) Harvey

Kurt said...


What will be the focus of your paper on the Christian and the State?

craigellachie said...

Hi there Jared. Valerie told on you and I'm just here to say that my hubby and I are across the river from you, but we're not at your church 'cause God doesn't want us there. Yet. (And we actually got that word from Him in a sermon by your pastor, much to our surprise, but I'm sure he doesn't know it.) You've got a great group there, though!Blessings on you and your ministry.

Jeff Kessler said...

For Robbie:

I know you asked your question of Jared and this is his blog. Anyway, I thought I would leave a few suggestions. If Jared doesn't like them, I'm sure he'll let me and you know...he is not shy.

Gary DeMar wrote a 3 vol. set: "God and Government" It is probably designed more for high school than for college age, but there is still some good stuff in it. David W. Hall wrote: "Savior or Servant? Putting Government in its Place" A clasic is: "Messiah the Prince" by William Symington, also, "Lex Rex" by S. Rutherford. Calvin has some good stuff near the end of his "Institutes".

Jeff Kessler
Elder...Laf. RP

Jared said...

Hi Barb - Great to hear from you! We were back to preach @ Redeemer this summer and it was fun to see the few there who remembered me.

Craigellachie - you, however, have me puzzled. I haven't been able to decipher your name or figure out who Valerie is. Anyhow, glad to receive encouragement!

craigellachie said...

Oh, sorry. Valerie is here at SHe read your comment on a blog she frequents, and followed the link, being addicted to Reformed blogs and forums, and found out you are in my town. Well, sort of.

Jared said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jared said...

craigellachie - cool. I've read Valerie's site several times (good stuff, I believe).

glad to be in your town, sort of.

MarkPele said...

Hi Jared, long time, no comment. Rachel pointed this post out because I'm currently reading Total Truth. I'm in the middle of the second section. I'm somewhat impressed, as I formerly believed that BOTH ID and evolution ought to be taught in the religion classroom, but it seems that she makes a good case for the idea that science needs to embrace the possibility of supernatural origins.

The people I tend to run into on blogs are closet philosophers and scientists. They may actually know nothing of philosophy (like me), or science, but that's what they want to talk about. I found that Pearcey's book, thus far has helped me understand why my approach silences the critics, and why certain things are hot buttons (e.g. using the Bible to debate public law).

In regard to the Bible. I appreciate that the Bible is central to everything and that conversion really requires turning people to God's Word. What I find, however, is that talking about God's Word when they have a two-story view and are completely opposed to anything religious seems to be a bad place to start. I've found a few approaches - one is arguing about morality and where it comes from (e.g. why should murder be wrong), and the other is really picking apart the inconsistency of science (e.g. belief in the Big Bang despite the fact that it is not in line with the laws of thermodynamics).