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F. Earle Fox
A Review of Total Truth -
(see also - The Black Hole of PoMo Truth) & What is Original Sin? by Earle Fox
by Nancy Pearcey
Crossway Books, 2004
ISBN 1-58134-458-9, 480 pp.
The secular/pagan worldview has problems keeping together a whole host of items which, in common sense reality, are naturally joined together. Just a partial list: Reason/revelation, masculine/feminine, autonomy/dependency, chance/determinism, being/doing, and reason/revelation. In Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey focuses on sacred/secular, or (as perhaps better put) metaphysical/empirical.
The world without God will never be able to see these basic complementarities as other than opposites, and often hostile to each other. Pearcey is strongly suggesting that the worldview with God can indeed put them together. Or, at least, the sacred and the secular.
Pearcey tells of beginning as a Christian young woman, losing her faith as she left high school, and then being turned back to her faith because she found, largely through the ministry of Francis Schaeffer's L'Abri in Switzerland, that Christian belief had an astonishing intellectual credibility. Truly one of the world's best kept secrets -- thanks mostly to we Christians ourselves.
A theme running through her book is that "worldview" is not merely an academic exercise, it is the intensely personal lens through which we view all other things. Like the lens of our eye, we do not "see" the lens, but we see all things through it.
Worldviews can, and must, be articulated academically, but all living persons, academic or not, have some view of "the way things are", by which they interpret their experiences and draw conclusions. So it behooves us to pay attention to our own worldview, and to see whether there is any way of deciding who has the right worldview.
Many of today's intellectual elite scoff at such a notion as metaphysics at all, let alone of deciding between competing worldviews, but that only underlines their ignorance of their own worldview and their own metaphysical presuppositions.
The reason so many Western persons and groups cannot communicate is that Western culture has lost its worldview consensus (inevitable if we treat truth as "relative"), so we use the same language yet at the same time mean opposing and contradictory things. We do not understand why we so intransigently disagree, and have lost any logical way of mediating between opposing views. Our discussions are thus full of contradiction, frustration, and, in the end, name-calling and violent power struggle.
Either we get back to objective truth, or we will destroy ourselves in a welter of emotional self-absorption, or in a totalitarian control-state far more sophisticated than the jackbooted realms of yesteryear.
Total Truth is divided into four main sections.
1: What's in a Worldview - describes the secular/sacred split which has infected probably the whole of human history. Her chapter two, "Rediscovering Joy", is one of the best summaries available of the unhappy effects of Hellenic philosophy on Christian thinking and practice. The adoption by Christian thinkers of Greek philosophical categories led inevitably to the adoption, to a significant degree, of the secular/sacred and reason/revelation splits, splits which do not exist in the Biblical worldview. The effect of that error on Biblical theology was monumental and disastrous, inhibiting, to this day, a fully developed Biblical doctrine of creation, compromising severely Christian capacity to defend against the inroads of Darwinian evolution.
Sadly, Christians, although wrongly adopting aspects of Platonic worldview, for the most part, have neglected or abandoned the truly helpful side of Greek philosophy, learning how to use the logical tools of rational inquiry, the principles of clear thinking. Christians must repent of their foolishness and intellectual timidity.
2: Starting at the Beginning - points toward setting that right, noting that Biblical theology begins with creation, not with the Fall, as so many, both Evangelical and Catholic, writers and preachers seem to imply. In other words, redemption can make sense only because the horror which is the Fall is preceded and surrounded by creation (and its goodness) and by the Creator (and His). Original Goodness preceded and (still) surrounds Original Sin.
Pearcey's insights help explain why Christians, as we look back at history, entered the modern era with a lame understanding of the doctrine of creation, and so were no match for Darwin's theory of evolution of the 1800's. That meant the almost total collapse of the Biblical worldview so far as the public arena was concerned, and, as Nietsche rightly predicted, the most brutal and debauched century of human history -- thanks to technology ungoverned by the law and grace of God, who, as Nietsche said, had been duly dispatched by us mortals-come-of-age.
Christians thus isolated themselves from the public arena, retreating into their church walls and denominational shells, further enabling the sacred/secular split, a theme to which Pearcey returns again and again.
3. How We Lost Our Minds - explains why Evangelicals have no strong worldview tradition. They accepted the opposition between personal and public religion, one form of the sacred and secular split. Evangelicals thus condemned themselves and their Christian witness to a reputation for being intellectually "incredible", insuring that they, the Evangelicals, would be run from the public arena, and that secular and pagan folks would run that arena. Hence the butchery and license of the 20th century.
Pearcey, rightly, I think, points to Scottish Common Sense Realism as a part of the answer to the sacred/secular split. The primary insight of Scottish Common Sense is that philosophical explanations are meant to explain, not explain away, our basic experience of life. If our philosophical or psychological explanation ends up destroying our very capacity even to ask intelligent questions, that is not of sign of profundity, but of we having lost our way. So much for most of modernism and post-modernism.
Common Sense Realism will work, I think, but only if seen through the lens of George Berkeley, Anglican Bishop of Cloyne during the 1700's. Berkeley warned that the new Newtonian worldview of ontologically independent, hard, massey atoms eternally bumping into each other to form various combinations of the-way-things-are would become a buffer against God, and further, that there was no possible logical or empirical evidence for such a view. Berkeley was right, I believe, on both counts. Berkeley was not attacking the empirical science or mathematics of Newton, only the Newtonian metaphysical worldview. (See Personality, Empiricism, & God for a philosophical view of the matter.)
4. What Next? Living It Out - reunites the sacred and secular by demonstrating the connection between life-as-thought-out and life-as-lived-out. Pearcey upsets every code of contemporary academics by talking candidly about her own religious experience in the middle of her philosophizing (yes, she gives her testimony...), and suggesting that the way of the cross might just have to do with academic credibility. I had wondered how she could hit so many bulls eyes, until I understood her focus on the cross life.
John Macmurray, a Scotsman, and probably devotee of Scottish common sense, said, about 1900, that all thought is for the sake of action, and all action is for the sake of relationship.
That is a statement very at home in the Biblical worldview, and perhaps nowhere else. Relationship can be ultimate only in a world where persons, not physical atoms, are the ultimate building blocks of reality. God is building a Family, a Community, Heaven, which, by the way, needs physical stage props, not a chance-generated machine out of which, mirabile dictu!, persons emerge. Total Truth is right in this tradition.
The world is fractured morally and politically. Some worldviews are also fractured ontologically, which explains much of the moral and political fracturing. Parts of their very worldview being are set against each other.
If we should bump into a worldview in which those fractures, by the very nature of that worldview, did not arise, there would be a powerful incentive for truth-seekers to take a longer look in that direction. Biblical folks should be offering that challenge to the rest of the world. Jesus' command, "What God has joined together, let not man put asunder," refers to marriage. But both Nancy Pearcey in Total Truth and C. S. Lewis in The Great Divorce remind us that there are much wider issues at stake, the greatest divorce being that between heaven and hell -- the ultimate and final fracture between good and evil, and between being and non-being.
The author has the delightful gift of being able to write heavy-duty philosophy, taking on some of the toughest issues before Western Christendom in a friendly, engaging, and personal way, and is a good example of the Common Sense principle that philosophy is meant to explain (not explain away) our everyday experiences. May her tribe increase. Her work begs for follow up in many directions, and from many resources, fleshing out the vision of putting our fractured world back together, and challenging Christians to get involved in the project. The need is most imperative in the realm of epistemology, restoring our confidence in truth, and in how we identify truth.
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Nancy Pearcey is the Francis A. Schaeffer scholar at the World Journalism Institute. She received an M. A. from Covenant Theological Seminary, and did further graduate work in philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. She has served as a Visiting Scholar at the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University, and a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute.
Earle Fox is an Anglican priest and president of Emmaus Ministries, dedicated to Christian apologetics. Fox received a BA in philosophy from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, an M. Div. from the Episcopal General Seminary in NYC, and a D. Phil. from Oxford on the relation between science and theology. Information about him and Emmaus Ministries may be found at the Emmaus Ministries Page.
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