Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey

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Pearcey is a disciple of Francis Schaeffer. In Total Truth she reintroduces Schaeffer and his apologetical approach (sadly, many today need to be introduced) to a new generation. But she does much more than that as she traces the historical and philosophical underpinnings of Western culture as we experience it today.

Pearcey develops three separate but overlapping themes. The first is worldview, sort of a buzz word today but nevertheless an important one. Our worldview will determine how we process information, which explains how a creationist and a Darwinian can handle the same data and come to different conclusions. It is true, Pearcey affirms, that “all truth is God’s truth,” but such a statement makes sense only if one possesses a Christian worldview (p. 313).

Every philosophy has to answer three questions: How did it all begin? What went wrong? What can we do about what has gone wrong? Pearcey believes that only the Christian worldview answers these questions in a way that matches the reality of life. As a result, we can boldly challenge competing worldviews through the use of “common sense realism,” a method she learned from Schaeffer (pp. 111, 217, 244, 319). Much of Total Truth is given to proving that other worldviews and philosophies cannot ultimately stand because they do not answer the key questions in ways that satisfy reality.

The second section is devoted to the challenges of Darwinism, not just on the scientific front but on the philosophical level as well. There is much worth pondering here.

As a bonus, in section three Pearcey traces the historical development of a number of philosophies and worldviews including Marxism, humanism, and especially feminism. She then shows how these philosophies have influenced Christianity down through the years. Chapter twelve, “How Women Started the Culture War,” was one of the most interesting chapters, at least to me. Here Pearcey carefully traces the evolution of male and female roles in America beginning with the Industrial Revolution (pp. 325-348). The roots of many frustrations in our society as well as our churches, from the lost status of fatherhood to the fury of feminism, are identified.

Total Truth is an exceptional book in many ways but it is not without its problem spots. For example, there are the favorable comments about questionable Christian leaders such as Roman Catholic mystic St. John of the Cross (p. 321) and Lesslie Newbigin (pp. 22, 332), a missiologist who is frequently cited by emergent church proponents.

Of most concern is Pearcey’s understanding of what she calls the “Cultural Mandate” (pp. 47-49, 66, 72-73, 82, 129). Those, like Pearcey, who believe in a Cultural Mandate, draw their biblical support from Genesis 1:28 where Adam and Eve are told to subdue the earth. The Cultural Mandate is the popular idea that mankind in general, and believers in particular, are called to engage, influence and transform culture (p. 35). Christians should be God’s change agents, working to alter any cultural development or expression that is counter to His will. In the process, culture will be transformed, even redeemed, for the Lord’s purposes. What Pearcey, and others who are promoting this idea, fail to note is that the so-called Cultural Mandate was given before the fall of man—and not repeated afterwards. There is absolutely no Scripture to support a Cultural Mandate for Christians today. A brief reading of the New Testament verifies this. Throughout Acts and the epistles there is no action taken, or instruction given, on reforming culture. Rather, we are commissioned to draw men out of the domain of the devil and into the Kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13). That Christians should be concerned about and protect this earth, that we should do our best to promote justice and help the poor, that we should do our job to the glory of God, go without question. But that we have a Cultural Mandate to transform society is lacking biblical grounds.

Pearcey, following a recent trend, even redefines redemption: “The term does not refer only to a one-time conversion event. It means entering upon a lifelong quest to devote our skills and talents to building things that are beautiful and useful, while fighting the forces of evil and sin that oppress and distort the creation” (p. 49). But this is not the biblical definition of redemption and it muddles the gospel message itself. The gospel is about the redemption of fallen people, not about the improvement of life on earth. Christians should be combating injustice, sickness, poverty and misuse of the world’s resources but we must not confuse this with the gospel, nor give these things the same priority as we do the Great Commission. To proclaim we have been mandated by God to transform culture, when there is absolutely no New Testament warrant, commission, example or allusion to such, is a grave error. What Pearcey is saying about the Cultural Mandate is exactly what the emerging church leaders are saying. And both are drawing from the missional views of Lesslie Newbigin. This is scary.

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