JRF’s #9: Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey



We’re big Nancy Pearcey fans around here.  Ron has already given an excellent review of this book that we read together during our days in Okinawa.  To read it go here 

I had to reread the book for a class I’m taking. I was asked to write a short paper interacting with Pearcey’s ideas on culture and how it affects church ministry.  Here are my thoughts:


Early on in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade professor Jones is teaching his intro to archaeology class and makes the assertion that, “Archaeology is the search for fact, not truth.  If it’s Truth you’re interested in Dr. Tyrie’s philosophy class is right down the hall.”  This Fact/Truth split is exactly what Nancy Pearcey, like her mentor Francis Schaeffer, hones in on as the underlying worldview that has precipitated the moral decline of Western civilization.   

While Schaeffer and Pearcey can be credited with crystalizing this critique of the modernist and postmodernist worldview, there have been others who have pointed it out before as well.  For instance, I believe C. S. Lewis was referring to the two-tiered Enlightenment worldview when he said, “Nearly all that I loved [values] I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real [Facts] I thought grim and meaningless.”  Biographers point out that a turning point in Lewis’ thinking came when his good friend J. R. R. Tolkien told him that Christianity was a “true myth,” meaning Lewis saw for the first time that only in Christianity are the beautiful values of the upper story and the   hard verifible truths of the lower story unified. 

I think that the tendency to suppress the truth by dividing it into two disconnected categories of facts and values can be seen even as far back as the Gnostic heresies and Manichean dualism and other ancient philosophies that saw a fundamental division between the material and spiritual worlds.  Even Pontius Pilate when face to face with the Living Truth wrestled with understanding the nature of truth and saw it not as something revealed by God in the hearts of every person (Romans 1) but as something to be questioned and debated (John 18:38).

In Saving Leonardo Nancy Pearcey expands and clarifies on the two-story model of truth that she first discussed in her book Total Truth.  This two-story model that Pearcey traces primarily to the modernist movement that originated in the Enlightenment divides truth into two parts: facts and values.  According to this view the “real” and verifiable, scientific truth makes up the foundational first story and values (which are only relatively “true”) are of less authority and relegated to the upper story of the model.  This division is fundamentally contrary to the Biblical worldview of a unified truth. Jesus Christ rose from the dead in factual history and He offers hope and eternal life for those who trust in His person and work that happened in history.

While Pearcey focuses on the world of art, culture, and philosophy in Saving Leonardo she, I believe accurately, exegetes other areas of modern life and thought in her other books, most notably her recent book Love Thy Body where she illustrates the total destruction that the two-story view of reality has wraught on how Western society views sexuality, gender, and the value of life.  The Christian worldview offers a unified view of personhood: the body AND the person is all human. The Christian worldview is unified in sexuality, stating that our gender and our physical body are one; one informs the other.  I believe this fact/value split can be seen in almost every spectrum of modern societies thinkin.  For instance I see this split operating in the current political scene.  When assessing potential candidates, constituents no longer care about the character (values) of a candidate, only promised results (facts).  

Pearcey illustrates how this two story worldview is changing the conversation on university campuses by quoting Josh McDowell when he states that he noticed a change on university campuses in how students challenge his claims for Christianity. They used to say, “Prove it…Give me some evidence.” Now, they respond with, “What right do you have to say that?” (31).  I would argue that things have even changed from McDowells assessment.  I think that on today’s university campus the offense isn’t over the assertion that my standard of truth is better than your standard of truth.  What is offensive now is the mere assertion that there is such a thing as truth that is knowable. In reality, the fact is that most in the younger generation don’t even talk about truth any more.  The existence or knowability of truth is a non-issue.  Reality is non-important.  Only what one feels is important.  Students are no longer taught how to think, or even what to think.  They are taught how to feel about what they think.  It is no longer acceptable to even tacitly disagree with the cultural zietgeist, you must celebrate the supression of truth.  This follows to a tee the downward spiral outlined in Romans 1 where a culture first refuses to worship God as Creator and chooses instead to worship the creation, then rebels through sexual revolution, then homosexual revolution, then finally God gives them over to a totally corrupt mind that celebrates the very thing that destroys them.

As I look at the current Western secular culture, including the United States, I’m not sure that I can find any Biblical reason to think that this decline can be reversed.  When God gives a culture over to their own sinful desires nonthing but the supernatural gracious intervention of God can reverse that.   I biblically see no reason to expect God to continue to bless America, regardless of how presidents end the state of the Union address. When a country has been given so much blessing and light, such as America has, and has consciously, intentionally and enthusiastically rejected that light, an expectation for God to bless that nation is not substantiated in the Scripture.  Western secular culture is not running towards a cliff, it is already in freefall.  Having severed it’s mooring line free of the objective, authoritative standards revealed in God’s Word and supressing the truth in their hearts, secular society is now adrift in a sea of relativism, not only without a moral compass but without even a rudder.  God in His sovereignty has his purposes for the post-Christian West,  just has he did for the Roman Empire, the Persians, the Babylonians, and every great empire that has come before.  But short of an unprecedented national repentance and revival enacted by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit regenerating individuals throughout the nation, I fear the future is grim for the land that once considered itself a “light on a hill”. 

While I would rejoice to see a revival on a national or international scale happen, and to see the gods of Western secularism be torn down by a corporat repentantance, I do not believe that will ever happen if the Western Church does not first repent of adopting and participating in the same unBiblical worldview.  I believe that this secular two-tiered mindset has infected the thinking of much of God’s people and can be seen in many areas of Western Christian culture.  For example, I think a failure to recognize the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life (or even to promote a non- Lordship salvation view) is in part connected to the belief that a person can divide their life into secular and sacred categories.  In this view, how I live my daily life (secular) is disconnected from my relationship with God (spiritual).  The Lord’s prerequisite to take up my cross and die to self if I want to be considered His follower (Matt 16:24) has been reduced to signing a card, walking an aisle, or praying a prayer.  How I choose my political candidates is disconnected from God’s priorities and in His Word, but rather guided by my cultural loyalties and personal concerns.  How I entertain myself with media is not first run through a grid of Biblical discernment.  Where I choose to live and work is not determined first by where I believe I could bring the most glory to Christ, but by where I can meet my physical needs and desires easiest. I do not seek to make Christ the Lord of all of my life, only the areas deemed “spiritual”.   

Another area in Western Christian culture (and I must confess in my own life as well) that I see a two-tiered view of reality functioning is in the area of prayer.  I believe that the secular mindset has subtly crept into many Christians’ worldview and thus has moved prayer into the “values” or “feelings” category.  This has created an attitude towards prayer that 1) only compeles someone to pray when they “feel” the need to and 2) disconnects prayer from God’s working in objective, tangible ways.  Often the result of this attitude towards prayer is cynicism which emaciates faith in the Living and Active God.  As Paul Miller states in his book A Praying Life:

“It used to be that only university professors believed in secularism, but with the advent of television and the rise of popular culture, the Enlightenment has made its way into the living room. It has captured the West, obscuring our view of what the world is really like. Now, we see a flat, two-dimensional world that relegates God to the sidelines as a feel-good cheerleader. Prayer is private and personal, not public and real. If it makes you feel good, then pray for sick people or commune with God, but don’t take it seriously or make it public.”  (Miller, Paul. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (Kindle Locations 1345-1348). NavPress. Kindle Edition.)

Lastly I think as believers we can also be guilty of introducing a two-tiered view of our walk with God when we talk in terms of heart knowedge vs. head knowledge or religion vs. relationship.  These are false dichotomies for the faithful believer in my opinion.  Knowledge about God (head knowledge) should stir my affection for God.  Orthodoxy should produce orthopraxy.  Right thinking about God should produce right worship of God and right worship of God should nourish right thinking about God.  My longing to be closer to God should drive me to study His Word more and discover what He says through His Word about Himself.  I should not be studying the Word only for truth claims, but to encounter the the Triune God who is Truth (John 14:6; I John 5:6; I John 5:20).

All that to say is that I believe that the focus needs to be on calling the Church to repent of believing in a dichotomized view of reality and instead return to a Biblical worlview that presents a unified epistimology under the Lordship of Christ who is the beginning, end, full expression and embodiment of Truth.  This is especially true of those in the church that are currently adults and younger.  The older generation will not be incredibly impacted by the cultural shifts happening in the West right now.  The battle will have to be fought by the current generation and generations to come.  This means that no longer can the church see youth ministry as something merely to entertain the young while their parents go to “real”church.  We cannot expect our kids to be bombarded with the agendas of the world throughout the week and the be equipped to face those challenges to their soul with just a few hours a month of surface level Bible chats, fun youth group games and a cool worship band.  We must be nuturing a hunger for the meat of the Gospel and a fully orbed Biblical worldview amongst the youth of our churches, or we will not only lose the culture battle, we will lose the next generation of the church in the West.  The current Western secular culture is a culture adrift without an epistimological compass, sail or rudder and it most likely soon will be wrecked on the rocks.    By God’s grace, I think there is a small yet growing number within the younger generation that are realizing the futility of the age and are being drawn to solid robust Bible teaching that produces Christ-centered living that can boldly and lovingly stand in stark contrast to the current zietgeist of the age.   May their tribe increase!  Cultures and human kingdoms will come and go but we know that Christ, “will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:18)  As Nancy Pearcey reminds us “Christians should speak out on moral issues not because they feel ‘offended’ or because their ‘cherished beliefs’ are threatened, but because they have compassion for those who are trapped by destructive ideas. Their motivation should be that they are compelled by the love of Christ (2 Cor 5:14)” (68).  May we be prepared to point those wrecked by the futile mind of the to the restoration and hope offered only by being reconciled to God through Christ.  We are the only one’s with the Life giving answers!  This is the era of church history God has put us in by His sovereignty and may we be faithful “in such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).



About JRF 157 Articles
A broken sinner saved by the gracious work of Jesus Christ. Husband to the greatest woman of all time. Seriously. Father of 4. I enjoy surfing, SCUBA, basketball, and exploring. I also like to read and write and want to get better at both.

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