“Christianity is not a series of truths in the plural, but rather truth spelled with a capital ‘T.’ Truth about total reality, not just about religious things…Biblical Christianity is Truth concerning total reality – and the intellectual holding of that total Truth and then living in the light of that Truth.” ~Francis Schaeffer, 1981
The book begins with an excellent quotation from Charles Spurgeon, “The gospel is like a caged lion. It does not need to be defended, it just needs to be let out of its cage.” Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth shows how Christians have been quite content with letting the lion remain in the cage; in fact, we may be the ones who put it there in the first place.
This 500-page tome reads like an American history of ideas and worldviews, and what the implications are for us today. Part I: What’s in a Worldview? presents the idea of the two-story theory of truth, with “objective” truth on the bottom as foundational, and value-based truth on the top. Pearcey shows how this chasm blocks the religious worldview from entering into discussion in the public marketplace of ideas merely because it is religious. If Christianity is true, she argues, it is true for all issues and discussions, and not just ones related to values. It is a total Truth.
She next tackles the Darwinian naturalism worldview in Part 2: Starting at the Beginning. This was not the usual evolution book that arguing from small pieces (e.g., the problem of the eye) against Darwin’s theory; rather, she addresses the problems and results from the worldview in its entirety. If naturalism is true, how can we have free will, morals, altruism, love? While the smaller pieces in the argument are necessary when discussing this issue, seeing the bigger picture of the worldview is far more valuable to see the logical consequences of it.
The third part titled How We Lost Our Minds is a history of American Evangelicalism, tracing modern churches to the First and Second Great Awakenings. While I enjoyed the history lessons and connecting two time periods, this book felt more like a textbook. One of the chapters, “How Women Started the Culture War,” was a clear perspective of the advent of feminism, but it seemed out of place from the scope of the book.
Throughout each chapter, Pearcey provides ample references and footnotes, some so fascinating that I wondered why they were not in the text itself. My only real criticism (and it is hardly that) is that she shows too much love for Francis Schaeffer. She cannot contain her giddiness in recanting her times at L’Abri in Switzerland. I appreciate Francis Schaeffer’s contribution to Christian philosophy, apologetics, and interaction with culture, but Nancy Pearcey really, really loves Francis Schaeffer!
Total Truth is one of those books that I know that I will read again, one that I feel that I must read again. It has a weight to it that I have not felt with other books lately, and I liked that. This is certainly not the book I’d recommend to one seeking to understand what Christians believe and why. There are other books I’d suggest for that (Tim Keller’s The Reason for God is one). This is one for Christians who are interested in thinking rightly about worldviews, and who want to interact with the world around them.
Christianity is not a fairy tale that needs manicuring and placating; instead, it is a vigorous system of beliefs that can hold its own in the marketplace. We Christians need merely to let it out of its cage so it can engage.