Total Truth?

Total Truth Indeed - Thanks to Nancy Pearcey

(A UK Apologetics Book Review of 'Total Truth - Study Guide Edition' by Nancy Pearcey. Published in 2008 by Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, USA. Paperback; 512 pages. ISBN: 978-1-4335-0220-8)

'The Sower with the Setting Sun' by Vincent Van Gogh. 1888.

One of today's outstanding voices within Christian philosophy, Nancy Randolph Pearcey has authored, or contributed to, several works, including The Soul of Science, which considers the history of science and Christianity, and the bestselling, award-winning How Now Shall We Live? Nancy is the Francis A. Schaeffer Scholar at the World Journalism Institute, where Total Truth now serves as the basis for a worldview curriculum.

'Total Truth' would appear to surpass everything which Nancy has previously authored. In a book of four sections and a total of 13 chapters, Nancy has produced a most outstanding work and, having just read it, I consider it to be among the very finest Christian books of the last twenty years or so, and surely within the top five or so of those! It is up there with books like Ken Blanchard's outstanding 'Does God Believe in Atheists?' But with due respect to Ken, this is even better. It is fully philosophical but it is the most approachable form of Christian philosophy. The philosophical issues are explained step-by-step in a most historically-vivid and always reader-friendly manner. Being a writer who often touches on some of these anti-Christian philosophical influences myself, I find that Nancy has advanced my understanding in certain areas and I want to thank her for that; she has, moreover, accomplished this in a remarkably painless way with little sense of 'studiness' and much pure reading enjoyment. Her work is sprinkled - but not over-seasoned - with numerous helpful quotes and anecdotes along the way and she has mastered the art of only giving the reader what is needed and when it is needed, without ever 'forcing' quotes or anecdotes.

Highly influenced by the L'Abri apologetics approach of Francis Schaeffer (under whom she studied) in which believers are expected to directly confront and address the challenges of modern culture and to form a comprehensive Christian worldview, Nancy actually takes the Schaeffer schema on to a new level, challenging modern Christian believers to come out of their separate and privatized 'upper story' abode and to confront those philosophies which have so successfully imprisoned them. Pearcey's debt to Francis Schaeffer is clear and references to the great man and his ministry appear at many points in her book. For myself, as a fellow Schaeffer-admirer, this is often illuminating.

The Schaeffer 'Upper story/Lower story' presentation of society's cultural and intellectual spiritual-romantic/science-reason duality remains a very appropriate and illuminating tool and framework for considering how renaissance/enlightenment influences have made deep Christian belief increasingly isolated and separate from everyday life. Nancy employs the tool astonishingly well with a gratifying sureness of touch and one feels very well blessed indeed to have such a fine investigative work placed before one in a book which, I may say, is far from expensive. Actually, I found that Nancy makes the relevant issues somewhat clearer than Schaeffer did, assuming little or no previous grounding in the discipline of philosophy.

In her first chapter, Nancy soon 'sets out her stall' in complaining at how modern Christians have merely acquiesced in the process of the privatisation of religious belief. She quotes John Beckett,

'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?'

The author insists that Christians must start to reject the compartmentalizing of their beliefs and develop a fully consistent worldview which affects all areas of their lives. I know exactly what Nancy means because I have long lamented the fact that many modern Christians seem to hold no sense of the need to form a Christian view of life affecting all areas and disciplines; could this be why so many modern evangelicals don't want to read the Old Testament? That is, because the Hebrew Bible is harder to fit into modern intellectual and cultural assumptions?

Some questions which this book forces us to note, then encourages us to confront (far too many to briefly summarize really but here are just a few):

'The Washer Woman' by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1891.

In her final 'True Spirituality and Christian Worldview' section, Nancy appeals to all to no longer attempt to do the Lord's work in a worldly way. This turns out to be an outstanding appeal which we should all take to heart. She appeals for a return to the principles of the theology of the cross and a recognition that we are called to suffer with Christ and to bear our cross daily rather than to seek fame and prestige and to employ worldly ways of "successful living" while professing that we are serving the Master. She also recalls seeing Richard Wurmbrand just after he came out of many years of imprisonment, served in Rumanian prisons - simply because he was a Christian pastor. This made me take special notice of her words since I too have been a great Wurmbrand admirer, though I never saw him in the flesh. Her point? Great spirituality is honed by suffering much more than by the "successful living" so encouraged in all too many "Christian ministries" today. As she writes,

'Though Christians would never accept naturalism as a philosophy, many have absorbed a naturalistic approach to marketing, adopting techniques that treat a target audience essentially as passive "consumers" to be manipulated into buying "a product."' (p 367).

In this final part, a few staggering accounts of weak and dishonest stewardship among modern Christian ministries are recounted though no names are ever mentioned. Nancy is to be congratulated for this forthright honesty because all too many modern Christian writers - in a position to make a difference when they speak out - are ignoring the problem but it is indeed a modern plague within all too many ministries and something which UK Apologetics regularly speaks out against.


I suppose that I make various criticisms of most books which I have reviewed, but here I can find no real criticism of substance, save one: The book has a pervading sense of addressing Americans only. Did Nancy Pearcey not expect her book to be read outside of the United States?

UK Apologetics thoroughly, wholehearetedly and without reservation recommends this very fine work to all. Please reject all excuses and go out and purchase yourself a copy!

Robin A. Brace, UK Apologetics, March, 2008.

Nancy's Total Truth website, including brief excerpts from the book is here.

The hardback version can be purchased (Crossway U.S.) here.

UK and European readers can purchase the (paperback or hardback) book (from Amazon UK) here.

North American readers can purchase the (paperback or hardback) book (from Amazon US) here.