Total Truth (Study Guide Edition - Trade Paperback): Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity

Total Truth (Study Guide Edition - Trade Paperback): Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity

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Does God belong in the public arena of politics, business, law, and education? Or is religion a private matter only-personally comforting but publicly irrelevant?

In today's cultural etiquette, it is not considered polite to mix public and private, or sacred and secular. This division is the single most potent force keeping Christianity contained in the private sphere-stripping it of its power to challenge and redeem the whole of culture.

In Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey offers a razor-sharp analysis of the public/private split, explaining how it hamstrings our efforts at both personal and cultural renewal. Ultimately it reflects a division in the concept of truth itself, which functions as a gatekeeper, ruling Christian principles out of bounds in the public arena.

How can we unify our fragmented lives and recover spiritual power? With examples from the lives of real people, past and present, Pearcey teaches readers how to liberate Christianity from its cultural captivity. She walks readers through practical, hands-on steps for crafting a full-orbed Christian worldview.

Finally, she makes a passionate case that Christianity is not just religious truth but truth about total reality. It is total truth.

This new study guide edition is filled with fresh stories, examples, and illustrations. Based on questions and comments raised by readers of the book, it is ideal for individual or group study.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433522352
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 02/28/2008
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 1,153,265
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Nancy R. Pearcey (PhD, Philadelphia Biblical University) is the editor at large of the Pearcey Report as well as scholar in residence and professor at Houston Baptist University. She is also a fellow at the Discovery Institute. She was previously the Francis A. Schaeffer Scholar at the World Journalism Institute and has also served as professor of worldview studies at Philadelphia Biblical University.

Read an Excerpt



Sundays were Sundays, with the rest of the week largely detached, operating by a different set of rules. Can these two worlds that seem so separate ever merge? JOHN BECKETT

Afashionably dressed college student stepped into the counselor's office, tossing her head in an attempt at bravado. Sarah recognized the type. The Planned Parenthood clinic where she worked often attracted students from the elite university nearby, and most were wealthy, privileged, and self-confident.

"Please sit down. I have your test result ... and you are pregnant."

The young woman nodded and grimaced. "I kind of thought so."

"Have you thought about what you want to do?" Sarah asked.

The answer was quick and sure. "I want an abortion."

"Let's go over your options first," Sarah said. "It's important for you to think through all the possibilities before you leave today."

Sometimes the young women sitting in her office would grow impatient, even hostile. They had already convinced themselves that there were no other viable options. After years of experience in her profession, however, Sarah knew that women who have abortions are often haunted afterward. She hoped to help the students consider the impact an abortion might have in years to come, so they would make an informed decision. If they balked, she fell back on protocol: "This is my job, I have to do it."

Why did Sarah care? Because she was a practicing Christian, as she explained to me many years later, and she thought that's what being a believer meant — showing compassion to women who were considering abortion. Nor was she alone: The Planned Parenthood clinic where she worked was located in the Bible belt, and virtually all the women on staff were regular church-goers. During breaks they would discuss things like their Bible study groups or their children's Sunday school programs.

Sarah's story illustrates how even sincere believers may find themselves drawn into a secular worldview — while remaining orthodox in their theological beliefs. Sarah had grown up in a solidly evangelical denomination. As a teenager, she had undergone a crisis of faith and had emerged from it with a fresh confidence. "I still have the white Bible my grandmother gave me back then," she told me. "I underlined all the passages on how to be sure you were saved." From then on, she never doubted the basic biblical doctrines.

So how did she end up working at Planned Parenthood and referring women for abortion? Something happened to Sarah when she went off to col-lege. There she was immersed in the liberal relativism taught on most campuses today. In courses on sociology, anthropology, and philosophy, it was simply assumed that truth is culturally relative — that ideas and beliefs emerge historically by cultural forces, and are not true or false in any final sense.

And Christianity? It was treated as irrelevant to the world of scholarship. "In a class on moral philosophy, the professor presented every possible theory, from existentialism to utilitarianism, but never said a word about Christian moral theory — even though it's been the dominant religion all through Western history," Sarah recalled. "It was as though Christianity were so irrational, it didn't even merit being listed alongside the other moral theories."

Yet Sarah had no idea how to respond to these assaults on her faith. Her church had helped her find assurance of salvation, but it had not provided her with any intellectual resources to challenge the ideologies taught in her classes. The church's teaching had assumed a sharp divide between the sacred and secular realms, addressing itself solely to Sarah's religious life. As a result, over time she found herself absorbing the secular outlook taught in her classes. Her mental world was split, with religion strictly contained within the boundaries of worship and personal morality, while her views on everything else were run through a grid of naturalism and relativism.

"I may have started out picking up bits and pieces of a secular worldview to sprinkle on top of my Christian beliefs," Sarah explained. "But after I graduated and worked for Planned Parenthood, the pattern was reversed: My Christianity was reduced to a thin veneer over the core of a secular worldview. It was almost like having a split personality." To use the categories described in the Introduction, her mind had absorbed the divided concepts of truth characteristic of Western culture: secular/sacred, fact/value, public/private. Though her faith was sincere, it was reduced to purely private experience, while public knowledge was defined in terms of secular naturalism.

Sarah's story is particularly dramatic, yet it illustrates a pattern that is more common than we might like to think. The fatal weakness in her faith was that she had accepted Christian doctrines strictly as individual items of belief: the deity of Christ, His virgin birth, His miracles, His resurrection from the dead — she could tick them off one by one. But she lacked any sense of how Christianity functions as a unified, overarching system of truth that applies to social issues, history, politics, anthropology, and all the other subject areas. In short, she lacked a Christian worldview. She held to Christianity as a collection of truths, but not as Truth.

Only many years later, after a personal crisis, were Sarah's relativistic views finally challenged. "When Congress held hearings on partial-birth abortion, I was appalled. And I realized that if abortion was wrong at nine months, then it was wrong at eight months, and wrong at seven months, and six months — right back to the beginning." It was a shattering experience, and Sarah found she had to take apart her secular worldview plank by plank, and then begin painstakingly constructing a Christian worldview in its place. It was tough work, yet today she is discovering the joy of breaking out of the trap of the secular/sacred split, and seeing her faith come alive in areas where before she had not even known it applied. She is learning that Christianity is not just religious truth, it is total truth — covering all of reality.


Like Sarah, many believers have absorbed the fact/value, public/private dichotomy, restricting their faith to the religious sphere while adopting what-ever views are current in their professional or social circles. We probably all know of Christian teachers who uncritically accept the latest secular theories of education; Christian businessmen who run their operations by accepted secular management theories; Christian ministries that mirror the commercial world's marketing techniques; Christian families where the teenagers watch the same movies and listen to the same music as their nonbelieving friends. While sincere in their faith, they have absorbed their views on just about everything else by osmosis from the surrounding culture.

The problem was phrased succinctly by Harry Blamires in his classic book The Christian Mind. When I was a new Christian many years ago, Blamires's book was almost a fad item, and everyone walked around intoning its dramatic opening sentence: "There is no longer a Christian mind."

What did Blamires mean? He was not saying that Christians are uneducated, backwoods hayseeds, though that remains a common stereotype in the secular world. A few years ago an infamous article in the Washington Post described conservative Christians as "poor, uneducated, and easily led." Immediately the Post was overwhelmed with calls and faxes from Christians across the country, listing their advanced degrees and bank account balances!

But if that's not what Blamires meant, what did he mean? To say there is no Christian mind means that believers may be highly educated in terms of technical proficiency, and yet have no biblical worldview for interpreting the subject matter of their field. "We speak of 'the modern mind' and of 'the scientific mind,' using that word mind of a collectively accepted set of notions and attitudes," Blamires explains. But there is no "Christian mind" — no shared, biblically based set of assumptions on subjects like law, education, economics, politics, science, or the arts. As a moral being, the Christian follows the biblical ethic. As a spiritual being, he or she prays and attends worship services. "But as a thinking being, the modern Christian has succumbed to secularism," accepting "a frame of reference constructed by the secular mind and a set of criteria reflecting secular evaluations." That is, when we enter the stream of discourse in our field or profession, we participate mentally as non-Christians, using the current concepts and categories, no matter what our private beliefs may be.

Living in the Washington, D.C., area, I have witnessed firsthand the growing numbers of believers working in politics today, which is an encouraging trend. But I can also say from experience that few hold an explicitly Christian political philosophy. As a congressional chief of staff once admitted, "I realize that I hold certain views because I'm politically conservative, not because I see how they're rooted in the Bible." He knew he should formulate a biblically based philosophy of government, but he simply didn't know how to proceed.

Similarly, through decades of writing on science and worldview, I have interacted with scientists who are deeply committed believers; yet few have crafted a biblically informed philosophy of science. In Christian ministries, I've met many who take great pains to make sure their message is biblical, but who never think to ask whether their methods are biblical. A journalism professor recently told me that even the best Christian journalists — sincere believers with outstanding professional skills — typically have no Christian theory of journalism. In popular culture, believers have constructed an entire parallel culture of artists and entertainers; yet even so, as Charlie Peacock laments, few "think Christianly" about art and aesthetics. The phrase is borrowed from Blamires, and when I addressed a group of artists and musicians in Charlie's home, he showed me a shelf with half a dozen copies of Blamires's book — enough to lend out to several friends at once.

"Thinking Christianly" means understanding that Christianity gives the truth about the whole of reality, a perspective for interpreting every subject matter. Genesis tells us that God spoke the entire universe into being with His Word — what John 1:1 calls the Logos. The Greek word means not only Word but also reason or rationality, and the ancient Stoics used it to mean the rational structure of the universe. Thus the underlying structure of the entire universe reflects the mind of the Creator. There is no fact/value dichotomy in the scriptural account. Nothing has an autonomous or independent identity, separate from the will of the Creator. As a result, all creation must be interpreted in light of its relationship to God. In any subject area we study, we are discovering the laws or creation ordinances by which God structured the world.

As Scripture puts it, the universe speaks of God — "the heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps. 19:1) — because His character is reflected in the things He has made. This is sometimes referred to as "general" revelation because it speaks to everyone at all times, in contrast to the "special" revelation given in the Bible. As Jonathan Edwards explained, God communicates not only "by his voice to us in the Scriptures" but also in creation and in historical events. Indeed, "the whole creation of God preaches." Yet it is possible for Christians to be deaf and blind to the message of general revelation, and part of learning to have the mind of Christ involves praying for the spiritual sensitivity to "hear" the preaching of creation.

The great historian of religion Martin Marty once said every religion serves two functions: First, it is a message of personal salvation, telling us how to get right with God; and second, it is a lens for interpreting the world. Historically, evangelicals have been good at the first function — at "saving souls." But they have not been nearly as good at helping people to interpret the world around them — at providing a set of interrelated concepts that function as a lens to give a biblical view of areas like science, politics, economics, or bioethics. As Marty puts it, evangelicals have typically "accented personal piety and individual salvation, leaving men to their own devices to interpret the world around them."

In fact, many no longer think it's even the function of Christianity to provide an interpretation of the world. Marty calls this the Modern Schism (in a book by that title), and he says we are living in the first time in history where Christianity has been boxed into the private sphere and has largely stopped speaking to the public sphere.

"This internalization or privatization of religion is one of the most momentous changes that has ever taken place in Christendom," writes another historian, Sidney Mead. As a result, our lives are often fractured and fragmented, with our faith firmly locked into the private realm of church and family, where it rarely has a chance to inform our life and work in the public realm. The aura of worship dissipates after Sunday, and we unconsciously absorb secular attitudes the rest of the week. We inhabit two separate "worlds," navigating a sharp divide between our religious life and ordinary life.


At the same time, most believers find this highly frustrating. We really want to integrate our faith into every aspect of life, including our profession. We want to be whole people — people of integrity (the word comes from the Latin word for "whole"). Not long ago, I met a recent convert who was agonizing over how to apply his newfound faith to his work as an art teacher. "I want my whole life to reflect my relationship with God," he told me. "I don't want my faith to be in one compartment and my art in another."

We would all agree with Dorothy Sayers, who said that if religion does not speak to our work lives, then it has nothing to say about what we do with the vast majority of our time — and no wonder people say religion is irrelevant! "How can anyone remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life?"

In the secular/sacred dualism, ordinary work is actually denigrated, while church work is elevated as more valuable. In his book Roaring Lambs, Bob Briner describes his student days at a Christian college, where the unspoken assumption was that the only way to really serve God was in full-time Christian work. Already knowing that he wanted a career in sports management, Briner writes, "I felt I was a sort of second-class campus citizen. My classmates who were preparing for the pulpit ministry or missionary service were the ones who were treated as if they would be doing the real work of the church. The rest of us were the supporting cast."

The underlying message was that people in ordinary professions might contribute their prayers and financial support, but that was about it. "Almost nothing in my church or collegiate experiences presented possibilities for a dynamic, involved Christian life outside the professional ministry," Briner concludes. "You heard about being salt and light, but no one told you how to do it." Lip service was paid to the idea of dedicating your work to God, but all it seemed to mean was, Do your best, and don't commit any obvious sins.

The same secular/sacred dualism nearly snuffed out the creative talents of the founders of the whimsically funny Veggie Tales videos. Phil Vischer says he always knew he wanted to make movies, but "the implicit message I received growing up was that full-time ministry was the only valid Christian service. Young Christians were to aspire to be either ministers or missionaries." So he dutifully packed his bags and went off to Bible college to study for the ministry.

Yet the more he saw the powerful influence movies have on kids, the more he thought it was important to produce high-quality films. Finally he made up his mind: "I figured God could use a filmmaker or two, regardless of what any-one else said." Dropping out of Bible college, he and his friend Mike Nawrocki started a video company. As their former classmates turned into pastors and youth ministers, they turned into the voices of Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. The videos have become immensely popular, with their biblical messages and quirky humor. Yet if these two Bible school drop-outs had not broken free from the secular/sacred mentality and decided that Christians have a valid calling in the field of filmmaking, their talents may well have been lost to the church. Every member of the Body of Christ has been gifted for the benefit of the whole, and when those gifts are suppressed, we all lose out.


Excerpted from "Total Truth"
by .
Copyright © 2005 Nancy R. Pearcey.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

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,

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