I read Nancy Pearcey’s book, Total Truth and “Finding Leonardo” last year and found them to be really compelling. Pearcey’s experience at L’Abri Fellowship with Francis Schaeffer inspired her to reclaim her Christian faith and delve into areas of Philosophy and Apologetics that are often times denigrated by evangelicals. In this follow up book to Total Truth, Pearcey wants to equip Christians with tools that combat idols. Taking a page from Romans 1, Pearcey builds her thesis on verses 16-32. Romans 1 is easily one of my most favorite chapters of scripture. She calls it a guide to apologetics.
Pearcey’s utmost concern is about worldview. She argues that Christianity is the most coherent worldview among all the philosophies of the world. This is why the Apostle Paul can say, in Romans 1:16, that he is “not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.” It is only through the Christian worldview that men can have a dignified and complete view of humanity.
Pearcey has a 5 step guide to diminishing idols in our lives. She argues that idols don’t just have to be other gods, but an idol is defined as anything that replaces God. Therefore, philosophies can be idols because they inherently replace God with other ideas. Here is her 5 step guide summarized:
- Identify the idol. Every worldview outside of the Christian worldview replaces God in some way. For the rationalist, they replace God with science. Postmodernist replace God with the supreme power of ideas in a community or within themselves (they alone possess the “truth”, because there are no other truths except for the truth that there are no truths). Marxists replace God with an idea of economics and distribution of wealth. The point Pearcey makes is that every philosophy fails to answer the question with any precision, why are humans unique and what makes them special? For this reason, they replace God with an idol, just as Romans 1:23 says, “[they] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”
- Identify the idols reductionism. Reductionism, in its most basic sense, is the idea of extrapolating on a certain point when not considering the whole. For example, postmodernists focus in on the idea that they have a monopoly on truth. What is true for me is true for me and what is true for you is true for you. While this may work in the realm of ideas, it is less consistent in fields like engineering and math. When you pres 3+5 into a pocket calculator, it will always come up with the answer, 8. There is no relativity in that. Pearcey states that it is a lot like putting the world into a box and then lopping off whatever doesn’t fit inside the box. You have to ignore all the things that reduce your worldview to something that doesn’t make sense. Reductionism also inherently devalues humanity. In the realm of Darwinism (materialism, rationalism, determinism etc.), humanity is nothing less than a meat machine with no real purpose. Our choices and thoughts are all conditioned by our biology so that we are simply meat-computers. This does two things: 1) first it devalues humanity in the sense that your worldview has told you that we are simply acting on the basis of biology, so how does one define what is right and wrong? 2) it is reductionistic because humans have free will and the ability to make decisions that are outside of basic biology.
- Test the idol: does it contradict what we know about the world? I have alluded to this point already, but I will flesh out some other examples. Since postmodernism has been on my mind lately, I will use this example again. Postmodernism will tell us that there is no absolute truths, that truth is relative. But as we have seen, the fundamental flaw is that no one can feasibly live by this philosophy pragmatically without running into serious problems. If you believe that murder is relative (and to define murder, this is the killing in cold blood induced by anger, not justifiable killing such as in war time), you will go on a rampage, killing everyone you don’t like or who looks at you funny. The law will eventually catch up to and put you into prison. As seen in this example, it is not really practical to believe in relativism because it translates poorly to the world in which we live. I’ve already mentioned the example of math and engineering: you don’t see engineers at NASA saying that engineering is relative so it doesn’t matter how you put together a space craft. That would be foolish and greatly endanger the lives of the astronauts, who depend on engineers to do their job so they don’t get killed in the process.
- Test the idol: does it contradict itself? The relativist’s position really has no legs to stand on when we consider the statement that I’ve already made, “there are no truths except the truth that there are no truths.” This is, in itself, a contradiction. Rationalists commit the same error when they claim that there is no purpose to humanity. They have a bleak outlook on life which is counter to the full, rich lives that we experience. Marxism contradicts itself because it does not take into account the obvious human element of the fallen nature. Christianity is the only worldview that does not contradict itself and therefore is seen superior to all other worldviews.
- Replace the idol. Simply: share the Gospel. Once you’ve knocked down a worldview, you need a replacement for it. Pearcey, coming from an evangelical standpoint, points out that the Christianity is the only worldview that holistically has a coherent and non-reductionistic worldview. So much so, that other philosophies have to borrow from Christianity ideals of a high view of humanity etc. For example, the founders of this nation believed that all humans have dignity and are inundated with the fact that: “…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Notice that these rights come from a creator. Similarly, other philosophies have borrowed this idea. Postmodernists say that all truth is relative but cause a storm when the rights of the LGBT movement are squashed. How is that relativism? Christianity alone accounts for the dignity and high view of humanity that people desire.
As you can see, this is great information. I want to end my review with a conversation that I had with a relativist a couple of months ago (one that I think would make Nancy Pearcey proud). I went back and re-read what I had written to him, and it struck me that I was already employing some of the tactics outlined in this book. To have an understanding of other philosophies is really an essential for Christians in a fallen world. I hope that you will pick up this book (and Total Truth) and become familiar with what you are up against as a Christian:
“You’re reasoning in your outline contradicts what you have already said: that there are no moral absolutes. If there are no moral absolutes, how can you advocate that belief shouldn’t effect anyone around you ? Is that not an absolute ?
My point in the slavery/fascism illustration is to say that there is evil in the world, and we should oppose evil because there are moral absolutes. If something is wrong, we should stand against it. According to the Bible, homosexuality is wrong and while I think it is equally wrong to hate those people, I do believe Christians should stand in opposition to fallen humanity.
You say something very interesting too: “if anyone wants to actually see change in the human race you have to observe and accept the way it operates and act realistically.” We finally have come to common ground because I agree. But I think our common cause is again dependent upon worldview: for the Christian, understanding that man is inherently evil is acting realistically. The fact that God has put into us a conscious and the creation of the world, let alone his divinely inspired word (Romans 1:18-32), is enough to condemn us. Further we are tainted with a sin problem (Romans 3:23), making our attempts to get to a holy God futile. That is why God sent a mediator to earth, Jesus Christ, who was 100% God and 100% man (John 1:1-16); His manhood was representative of those He was on earth for and his Godhood was the only means by which one could be a suitable substitute for sin. Therefore, when he died on the cross it wasn’t for sin but the punishment for sin (Romans 3:24-26). The word “justification” describes this process in which one comes Into the courthouse and is condemned by his evil actions by the judge (God); but while he is guilty, Jesus Christ steps in to take the punishment. This is achieved “by faith” (Romans 4:3-6): faith that Jesus Christ was God, that he took upon himself the punishment for sin, and that you repent of your old way of living and conform to that of God’s. This is the Christian Gospel.
My point being understanding the evil condition of man is much more realistic than a moral fortitude that changes with popular opinion (notice that homosexuality was much more of a non-issue 20 years ago with most people against it when compared to 2015)… My goal was not to convince you that the Bible is infallible, but to demonstrate that it makes logical, coherent sense without contradiction. I hope I’ve proved not that my view is the “right” way (although I believe it is), but that to be practical relativism is not a worldview without contradiction.”