About Nancy Pearcey
Heralded as “America’s preeminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual” (The Economist), Nancy Pearcey is author of Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. It won a 2005 ECPA Gold Medallion Award, and How Now Shall We Live? (coauthored by Harold Fickett and Chuck Colson), which won a 2000 ECPA Gold Medallion Award.
Pearcey has been a visiting scholar at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute, professor of worldview studies at Cairn University, and Francis A. Schaeffer scholar at the World Journalism Institute. Currently she is professor of apologetics and scholar in residence at Houston Baptist University. She is a fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, and editor of The Pearcey Report.
How Nancy Pearcey Experienced Agnosticism
“I was raised in the Lutheran Church and about midway through highschool, I started asking a lot of questions. Partly because I was in New Mexico, a very secular state and also going to a public high school, I wondered how we as Christians could claim that we were right. In my curiosity, I started asking how do we know this is true? I couldn’t find any adults in my life who could answer that. I had a chance to talk with a Christian who was a university professor. Upon asking, “Why are you a Christian?” He said, “Works for me.” I thought, that’s kind of pragmatic.
It’s not working for me anymore. I even had a chance to talk with a Seminary Dean of a Lutheran Seminary. His response was, “Don’t worry, we all have doubts sometimes.” I thought, “Well, why don’t you have answers to my doubts?” He acted as though I was going through a psychological stage. It turns out I could not get answers to a very simple question: how do we know this is true? I decided that it’s a matter of intellectual integrity. If you don’t have good reason for something, how can you really say you know it? How can you say you believe it?
Whether it’s Christianity or anything else, you have to have good reasons for it. So I made a decision about midway through high school that I would reject my religious upbringing. I tried to look at it objectively alongside other religions and philosophies. I began going to the library at the high school I attended and pulled books off the philosophy shelf. That’s where I started getting a little geeky. But the reason was if I couldn’t find any adults to talk about this with me, maybe philosophy is where they ask questions like, what is truth?”
How Nancy Pearcey Became Interested in Philosophy
“It’s interesting because this wasn’t driven by some kind of intellectual search or academic interest. It was driven by wanting to know what truth is. Having given up my childhood’s faith, I knew what I was missing. I knew that if there were was no God, then there really was no purpose to life. And if there was no God, what would be the future destiny?
When you die, you rot and what was the meaning to anything you’ve accomplished? I knew that if there was no God, there was no basis for ethics. How do you know that the choices that you make daily have any validity or larger meaning to them? So I was wrestling with those questions and trying to get my friends to talk with me. I’d corner them and say, “What do you think of the meaning of life?” Of course, most kids at that age aren’t thinking much past the party next weekend.
That’s how I ended up starting to read philosophy, is really out of a personal quest to find truth . So a couple of years later I was going to school in Germany. We had lived overseas when I was young and so I wanted to go back. I was in Germany, and through a series of providential accidents, I ended up at L’Abri, the ministry of Francis Schaeffer, in Switzerland. That was the first time I heard Christians engage with the questions of the secular intellectual world. They knew what questions the philosophers were asking. They could even help me to phrase the questions better. That was really impressive!”
Learning Under Francis Schaeffer
“For example, I was the one, of my friends in high school back home arguing that there was no such thing as right or wrong and that we couldn’t say that any choices were better than others. I didn’t know that was called relativism. I didn’t know where that came from. That was one of the things that was deeply impressive to me is that the teachers at L’Abri actually could help coach me and help me figure out where my ideas had come from; logically, where did they originate? What ism do they come from and could I evaluate them? How could I test ideas? In fact, it was so impressive that at first I left. I didn’t stay at L’Abri.
I left after only a month because it was so attractive to me to find Christians that could actually talk about intellectual and cultural questions. It was so attractive that I thought I might be drawn in for emotional reasons and I didn’t want to do that. If I was going to go back to Christianity, which I did not want to do, it would have to be out of genuine conviction. I went back to the States, but by then I had discovered Apologetics. I did not know there was such a thing as Apologetics and through my own reading, I eventually became convinced that it was true.
Then I started looking around and saying, “Where do I find other Christians?” I thought well I used to know some at L’Abri, so I went back to L’Abri a second time and stayed for four and a half months and that’s where I really got grounded in understanding what Christianity meant, and also understanding the worldview approach to Christianity that Schaffer was so good at propounding.”
How Nancy Pearcey Sees The Hunger For Truth
“I started getting calls from friends telling me, “Did you know that Lecrae is promoting your book,Total Truth and that he’s quoting it at conference talks and so on?” I had to first find out who he was and it turns out that Lecrae grew up in Los Angeles without a father, largely raised by his grandmother. Looking for significance, he filled his life with drugs, and alcohol, and gang activity. In fact, he was so wild, his friends nicknamed him Crazy Crae.
So he was the poster child for all the stereotypes of urban subculture, but eventually Christians reached out to him and he became a Christian and as you may know, he’s sold hundreds of thousands of records. He’s won multiple Dove Awards, and Grammy Awards. What’s fascinating is that in this conference, was the first time that I heard that he was talking about Total Truth, my book.
He said, “When I understood that Christianity was not just religious truth, it’s total truth.” He realized that Christians were called to roll up their sleeves and work out the implications of a Biblical worldview. This applied to science, scholarships, art and music, and for justice, for politics, and all the rest of life. What really impressed me about this, was this was not somebody who you would think was intellectually oriented. This was not the typical person who would be interested in the Christian worldview and apologetics, and yet he was hungry for that message.
He was hungry for the message of what does it mean to take my Christianity outside of just the narrow religious world, church and Bible Study? Which is good, which is important. But how do I take it out into the world of my profession, and into the public realm? It was fascinating that somebody like Lecrae would be hungry and looking for that broader understanding of Christianity. I started getting Facebook friend requests from all these Christian Hip Hop Artists saying, “Lecrae told me to read your book.”
How Lecrae Broadened Nancy Pearcey’s Reach
“It’s opened a whole new group of people that I talk to and it is fascinating. Again, just because we tend to think in your typical church, how do I get my pastor interested in this? How do I get my church interested in this? Because they tend to think worldview and Apologetics is for a certain type of person. I’m kind of a geeky, intellectual person, and it’s not for just people like me. It’s also for people like Lecrae who understand it, and find out that that’s exactly what they were looking for. Lecrae is doing a documentary on what he’s called, The Unashamed Movement, Unashamed.
The filmmaker came down to interview me and after a couple hours, he turned off the camera and said, “This is what we’re looking for. This worldview message is what we’re looking for.” So we need to be encouraged and realize that people aren’t getting it in your typical church, but they really do want to understand how to live for God in every area of life and taking it outside of the church and into their lives.”
How Do We Help People Understand Why They Believe What They Believe?
“What moves me the most, is the fact that we’re losing our kids. What’s hard is the fact that so many young people are leaving the faith, the church, and their Christian background. If we’re not succeeding in communicating Christianity to our children, we’re can’t communicate effectively to the wider culture. I run into it so often. Most recently I met a woman from a wonderful Christian family, but her son went off to a state college to study psychology.
As you know ever since Freud, most psychological theories have been not just secular, but hostile towards Christianity. They treat religion as a symptom of neurosis; it’s an infantility aggression. You just can’t grow up so you project an imaginary father figure into the sky. This young man was completely unprepared; he did not know how to critically evaluate these secular theories. He did not know how to offer a Christian alternative. That’s what we mean by a Christian worldview: that it does have something to say to every field including psychology. Within a semester he abandoned his faith. Those are the stories that drive me. They motivate a lot of parents when they realize that the culture has become increasingly secular.
Our children are facing much tougher challenges than we ever did and if we’re not preparing them, they’re not going to survive. Personally, I can’t imagine sending my kid off to study psychology without sitting down with him ahead of time and saying, “Okay, what are the major theories you’re going to encounter in your classroom and let’s talk about how you can critically evaluate them.” We have to stop being so naive and recognize that young people cannot go out into the wider public arena these days without being better equipped.”
Nancy Pearcey Discusses Postmodernism and Truth
“It’s imperative for Christians to know how to recognize worldviews when they come to us not in words, which are easier to recognize. But what about when worldviews are communicated through storyline, plotline, characterization, and composition of an image? The arts are a language that we have a responsibility to learn how to interpret just like any other language. We’re called to be missionaries and this is one of the languages that we need to learn how to read. That’s my goal in Saving Leonardo is to teach people how to recognize worldviews in the arts.
I went to L’Abri and started hearing Apologetics for the first time. I had gone so far as an agnostic that I had completely embraced relativism and skepticism. At L’Abri when I first started encountering Christianity, the staff, Francis Schaeffer, and the people he had trained, first had to talk through whether there was such a thing as an objective, transcendent, universal timeless truth as opposed to the Postmodern view of truth before I could consider whether Christianity filled the bill as being that truth. So much of Francis Schaeffer’s own writing was trying to get Christians to understand that. When you say Christianity is true, people no longer know what you’re saying.
So that’s what I’m getting at when I say, in Saving Leonardo, that we have to go through what sometimes people call “pre-evangelism.” Before you can give the gospel you have to sometimes unpack a lot of the misconceptions people have. The key one today is that view of truth; people think that when you talk about religion you’re talking about personal experience; you’re talking about preference; you’re talking about what works for me, what makes me feel good and they know no longer understand that you’re talking about truth in the older sense of something objectively there. So it takes a while of translating into their language before they even understand the claim that Christianity is making.”
How Nancy Pearcey Explains Science and Truth
“Sometimes when I’m speaking to evangelical audiences, I put it this way: there’s a Genesis 1 version of Christianity and there’s a Genesis 3 version of Christianity. Genesis 3 starts with the fall, right? And it leads to the typical revival message; You’re a sinner; you need salvation. So it tends to redefine Christianity pretty simply in terms of the conversion experience. So what happens then? You’ve become a Christian; you know you’re saved, but then what? You just wait until you die and go to heaven. What is the purpose of being a Christian? Is it just to go to heaven?
I was at a church recently where every other sentence virtually in the pastor’s sermon was so we know we can go to heaven, so we know we can be confident we’re going to heaven, so that we know Jesus loves enough that He’s going to let us go to heaven. And I thought, but what else is there to the Christian life? Again, Genesis 1 version starts with creation and it says, “God created the physical universe; God created living things; He created the first humans and then He gave them a job description. He said, “Here’s why I made you; here’s what I created you for.” Be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the earth.
Be fruitful and multiply doesn’t just mean family. Historically the family has been the basis of all the other social institutions. So it really means build up all the social institutions, including the laws and policies that govern them. The second part, Have dominion over the earth, means develop the natural resources. So it’s plant crops, make clothing, make bridges, design computers, take string and boxes of wood and make musical instruments, all of the cultural activities. This is before the fall, when God told human beings what they were created for in the first place. The fall came next. In sin, we get off track, and in salvation, God puts us back on track, but what was the track?”
How Nancy Pearcey Sees God’s Purpose For His People
“What was His original purpose for us? That’s why starting with Genesis 1 and the Creation is so crucial because He tells us that the original purpose was to be creative with raw materials, to be inventive with the raw materials God gave us. What that means is, your work is work that you do for God. Christianity is not just a religion. We should not think worshiping God on Sundays is what I do for God, but the rest of the week, well what does that have to do with God?
We need to realize that all of our work is part of the Genesis 1 vision. Theologians call it the cultural mandate, God’s mandate, or command is to build cultures. The cultural mandate lets us know that all of our work is done for God, for God’s glory, and to serve other people. That brings the joy and power, and beauty of the Christian life and that overflows into everything that we do.”
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