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Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity Review by John and Diane WheelerBy Nancy R. Pearcey
A division of Good News Publishers
1300 Crescent Street
Wheaton, IL 60187
How do we prepare our children to live as Christians in the twenty-first century? What is important for them to know? How do we educate them on a Christian worldview? One excellent starting point would be Nancy Pearcey's book, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Used by adults to educate themselves, or as a text for high school students, this book is an excellent introduction (and more) for studying worldview. Not a light-weight book, this will challenge the intellect and the heart of any follower of Christ.
In the Introduction, Pearcey says, "This book?will help you identify the secular/sacred divide that keeps your faith locked into the private sphere of 'religious truth.' It will walk you through practical, workable steps for crafting a Christian worldview in your own life and work. And it will teach you how to apply a worldview grid to cut through the bewildering maze of ideas and theologies that we encounter in a postmodern world. The purpose of worldview studies is nothing less than to liberate Christianity from its cultural captivity, unleashing its power to transform the world." And, "As Christian parents, pastors, teachers, and youth group leaders, we constantly see young people pulled down by the undertow of powerful cultural trends. If all we give them is a 'heart' religion, it will not be strong enough to counter the lure of attractive but dangerous ideas. Young believers also need a 'brain' religion - training in worldview and apologetics - to equip them to analyze and critique the competing worldviews they will encounter when they leave home."
This 479-page volume is divided into four sections. In the first, the focus is Worldview. Mrs. Pearcey begins by showing how young people can grow up in Christian communities, adopt the Christian faith but never learn to think biblically and christianly about all of life. She shows how a worldview is made up of answers to the big questions in life: the questions about the origins of man, why there is evil in the world and what can be done in response to the problem of evil. Many Christian people have not worked out the implications of the answers to these questions for the whole of their lives - public and private; career, recreation, family, marriage and all of life. She discusses the joy that people discover when they integrate their whole life by allowing a Christian worldview to direct all the areas of their lives.
For many Christian believers, life is split into a disconnected dualism: the secular and the spiritual. One result is depression, a lack of joy. She shows that one of the reasons for this is that Christians have often accepted the modernist message that they should keep their religion to themselves, not letting it affect their public life. She builds her argument with many references to Francis Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis. Then she discusses the components of modern worldviews that led to the revolutions of the twentieth century - totalitarian, communist, sexual and New Age.
The second section of the volume focuses on Beginnings. There is much discussion of Charles Darwin and the flaws of Darwinist theory. Then there is a brief history of the Intelligent Design Movement, and the idea that the universe is so complex that there is no way that Darwinism and Natural Selection can explain its complexity. Recent developments in information theory and the study of DNA make Darwinism more and more implausible. But Darwinists have taken over the culture of academia, and they are fighting to hold on to their monopoly. The schools, elementary, secondary and the university, are committed to a culture of naturalism and Darwinism. This leads into a discussion of how Darwinist thinking has permeated the twentieth century culture of not only science, but education, law, philosophy and literature.
The third section focuses on the history of American evangelicalism. It shows how nineteenth and twentieth century American Christianity focused on the conversion experience, emotional appeals and anti-intellectualism. Nineteenth century American Christianity was on the frontier and individualistic. This led to a faith of common sense and sola scriptura with all of the accompanying blessings and curses. Then Mrs. Pearcey provides a lengthy section on how feminism "started the culture war," through changes in expectations of women and the family. This section is an effort to explain why so many American Christian evangelicals experience this dualism: an intensely personal and sincere faith that seems locked into the private spheres of life, never to be seen in public. Total Truth calls for a liberating end to this dualism. Christian believers can "come out of the closet" and live their faith out in all areas of their lives.
The fourth and final section of the volume addresses the fact that people listen to a message of truth when it is offered with integrity. Richard Wurmbrand and Francis Schaeffer (along with Jesus Christ) are offered as examples of people whose message is received because of the of the integrity that characterized their lives, an integrity that included suffering. As she says, "Genuine worldview thinking is far more than a mental strategy or a new spin on current events. At the core, it is a deepening of our spiritual character and the character of our lives. It begins with the submission of our minds to the Lord of the universe - a willingness to be taught by Him. The driving force in worldview studies should be a commitment to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.? (see Luke 10:27.)"
The copy of Total Truth that I have for review does not include any study guide questions. The study guide version of the book is now available, and I think the added questions would help me to use this with my students more easily. This is a clearly-written, well-reasoned presentation, but that does not mean it is easy to read and assimilate. Making sure that our students go from our lunch table discussions to godly living in college and beyond, we need to work through the questions and challenge each other to deeply grasp the implications of our worldview on all of life.
What is my recommendation? Buy this book several months before using this in your homeschool. It would be an excellent choice for a book club, allowing you to wrestle with the questions and the arguments before you begin tackling it with your students. There will still be plenty of fresh material as you go chapter-by-chapter. It is certainly geared to upper high school and older students. I have a junior high student who would love to listen in on the discussions, but I would expect my two high schoolers to be fully engaged in group discussion and written responses. Used as a Sunday School curriculum, a family night book club pick, or a co-op class, there are countless ways it could be worked into the homeschool schedule.
If you are still unconvinced of the importance of worldview studies, here is Philip Johnson's perspective from the Foreward to Total Truth:
"It would be an understatement to say that worldview is an important topic. I would rather say that understanding how worldviews are formed, and how they guide or confine thought, is the essential step toward understanding everything else."
To help you in your studies, you can get Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity anywhere Crossway Books are sold. You may also read more of Mrs. Pearcey's work on her website, The Pearcey Report, at http://www.pearceyreport.com/.