No Compromise for Christian Bioethics: A Review of the Book Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity

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Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (by Nancy Pearcey; Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004; 479 pages)

A recent addition to the body of worldview literature, Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth is a vitally important work for the church today. Worldview thinking is “a rich avenue of joy and fulfillment—a means of letting the spark of God’s truth light up every nook and cranny of our lives” (25). For Pearcey, “every nook and cranny” absolutely includes the “public square.” As a result, Christianity discovers—in the midst of pluralistic society—the freedom to be explicitly Christian, without the necessity of subjecting itself to the self-appointed authority of secularism by opting for so-called neutral or objective methods of engagement.

In part one, Pearcey explains the secular/sacred dichotomy that has and continues to permeate society. By way of Francis Schaeffer’s two-story building imagery, she illustrates the results of dualistic thinking (21). This two-realm theory of truth relegates the nonrational and noncognitive to the upper story, and the rational and verifiable to the lower story. The cultural divide between secularism and religion is the result of this lack of integrated thought.

In part two, Pearcey explains how universal Darwinism is at the root of secularism. By critiquing evolution as a worldview and thereby showing the impossibility of living out naturalism consistently without borrowing from the “upper story,” she explains how we can avoid a “bits and pieces” approach to the public square. “We worry about things like family breakdown, violence in schools, immoral entertainment, abortion and bioethics—a wide array of individual issues. But we don’t see the big picture that connects all the dots” (208). Accordingly, Schaeffer held that one’s view of origins would permeate all areas, resulting in naturalistic moral, social, and political philosophies. Pearcey suggests that by undermining the presuppositions of naturalism and offering a positive case for Intelligent Design, Christians can avoid a piecemeal approach to the issues and appropriately ground debates in an explicitly Christian worldview.

The way in which evangelicalism has contributed to this dualism by its approval of privatized religion is a central focus of part three. For example, Christian acceptance of the Baconian definition of science as “religiously neutral,” she says, “is nothing less than tragic,” and makes Christians at least partially responsible for the privatization of faith (311). This agrees with her description of the current state of Christianity in academia, “So long as we’re allowed to hold our Bible studies and prayer meetings, we’ve turned over the content of the academic fields to the secularists” (37).

In the final part of Total Truth, Pearcey elaborates on what constitutes true spirituality. While Christianity is the “best cognitive system for explaining the world,” knowledge of this fact is insufficient; this truth must be lived out every day (355). A robust Christian worldview that can explain origins and refute other worldviews must also demonstrate Christ-like integrity. By adopting pragmatism, Christians are in danger of making use of unethical methods to accomplish their goals, essentially compromising the worldview we are called to defend. How we live speaks directly to what we know; a lack of integrity will discredit our message and reveal that we have not sought to integrate all areas of thought.

We can begin to see Christianity’s liberation from cultural captivity when we recognize that the privatization of faith is a byproduct of a godless worldview, not merely a neutral position. Total Truth is a reminder that Christian bioethics may not always be well received by its opponents, it still must participate in the public square.