Total Truth

Compartmentalisation is a problem for Christians. What I mean is that we have got into the habit of looking at the world in different ways depending on the situation we find ourselves in, whether at home, with the church, at work or wherever. It’s an indication of a lack of a coherent ‘worldview’. Any new Christian experiences this to some extent as the gospel brings new eyes to life. The hope is that over time the maturing Christian’s worldview becomes well-rounded and consistent over all areas of life. However, many Christians seem to get stuck at an early stage and just decide to live with the tension of compartmentalisation.

Nancey Pearcey’s book, Total Truth (Crossway, 2004), brings a spotlight to bear on this issue and shows that the problem is wider than simply personal discomfort. Rather the problem has been around for a long time, and has resulted in the containment of Christianity in society to the private sphere, while the public sphere is left to practical materialists.

The book is divided into four parts. The first traces the roots of the public/private divide, starting with the medieval nature/grace dichotomy, showing the emergence of the fact/values dichotomy of the modern period.

Part 2 examines the foundational question of any worldview: the question of origins. Here Pearcey presents an analysis of Darwinism, which she shows to be not simply a scientific theory but the basis of a materialistic worldview which is the accepted premise of many other disciplines. The implications of Darwinism are critiqued. Pearcey also compares the merits of Intelligent Design.

Part 3 looks at the development of Evangelicalism (in the USA) since the Reformation. In particular the relationship between early naturalist philosophies and early American political theory are explored. The confluence of political sceince and the changes brought about in the church by the First and Second Great Awakenings, leading to spiritual individualism, if anything made a virtue of the public/private split. The advent of Darwinism made the split permanent as evangelicals lacked the intellectual weaponry to resist. As a result, evangelical Christians live effectively without a coherent worldview.

Part 4 draws us back to the nature of true spirituality and the need for the complete renewal of the Christian mind. Only Christian theism can make sense ot the world we actually experience.

This was a facinating and enthralling book. It is well written, has many personal anecdotes and also pays due respect to the influence of Francis Shaeffer on Pearcey’s life. Only in part 2 does the argument become somewhat technical. For those without some knowledge of science the section may prove difficult.

It gives a satisfying explanation as to why we are where we are – why evangelicals seem so weak in the public sphere. We are weak privately and we have not seen it coming. Evangelicals have been like the proverbial frogs boiled slowly in water. We know something is wrong but we see no need to jump out.

The book closes with the reminder of the kind of Christian lives we must live. We must follow in the footsteps of Christ, taking up our cross daily, putting self to death, and following him in new life. Pearcey furnishes us with plenty of anecdotes of how this is absent in Christian ministry in the USA.

What I find interesting here is that Pearcey is laying out the practical outworking of the doctrine of sanctification – the ongoing, daily living in the gospel, a life marked by daily repentance. Pearcey’s conclusion flags up that the failure of evangelicalism in the public sphere is really a failure to grasp the gospel in its fullness. Recover the gospel and destroy compartmentalism.

Buy the book.

Total Truth