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Interview with Nancy Pearcey

Philosophically, how do we get to the root of why we truly hold onto our beliefs? On the broadcast, Nancy Pearcey shares her own spiritual journey.

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, which 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, a fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, and editor at large of The Pearcey Report.


EASLEY: So what in the world does Lecrae have to do with number one with Michael Easley, and number two with our broadcast today? Well we are going to be talking with Nancy Pearcey. Nancy is the editor in large of the Pearcey Report, a scholar in residence and professor at the Houston Baptist University, and also the Director of Francis Schaeffer’s Center for Worldview and Culture, her bio goes on and on. We are most interested today in her two books, Total Truth and Saving Leonardo. We are glad to have Nancy with us today on the broadcast.

Nancy, tell me about your journey and being an agnostic. I’m presuming you were always an intellectual geek even in high school, right?

PEARCEY: I don’t think people would have called me that. I don’t come across that way.

E: Well that wasn’t nice. You’re brilliant so it had to come up somewhere in your highschool, or college years and you determined that you were agnostic. So what did that mean to you?

P: By the way, I had long blond hair and people were always asking me if I was a cheerleader.

E: Hah!

P: I didn’t come across as a geeky person.

E: You broke the mold, okay?

P: 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 and it was a very,very secular state and also going to a public high school, I started wondering how we as Christians could claim that we were right. I started asking what should be a fairly fundamental basic question; 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. I said, “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 and 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 the most intellectually honest thing, and that is how I thought of it; it’s a matter of intellectual integrity that 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 and try to look at it objectively alongside other religions other philosophies. I literally began going to the library at the high school I attended and was pulling 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?

E: Were you always a reader?

P: Oh yes! That I was. But it’s interesting because this wasn’t driven by some kind of intellectual search or academic interest. It was driven by: I want to know what truth is and having given up my childhood’s faith, I knew what I was missing. It’s possible that some pagans, you know the stereotype of the happy pagan that doesn’t know what they’re missing, well I wasn’t that way. I knew what I was missing. I knew that if there were was no God, then there really was no purpose to life. We were just kicked up by chance on a rock flying through space, 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 and how do you really know that the choices that you make day by day have any validity, any larger meaning to them? So I was wrestling with those questions and trying to get my friends to talk with me and 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.

E: Right, the game, the prom, the boys, the girls.

P: So 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 then through a series of accidents, providential ones, and I ended up at L’Abri, the ministry of Francis Schaeffer, in Switzerland. That was the first time I had ever heard Christians who could engage with the questions of the secular intellectual world, who knew what questions the philosophers were asking. They could even help me to phrase the questions better. That was really impressive!

E: Right. Right.

P: 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.

E: Wow!

P: 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.

E: He was brilliant. One of my professors at seminary said,”We think we think, but we don’t think,” and when I read through Total Truth and Saving Leonardo, Nancy, one of my frustrations even as a pastor in talking to this culture is; (a) they don’t read and (b) they really don’t think beyond what is the current issue of the day. The producer and I were just talking about some of the problems on the news right now. Give us some encouragement, give us some diagnosis on what’s going on in our culture, that we don’t think critically especially with issues of God, but even beyond moral relativism, right and wrong, secularism, and so forth.

P: Let me share something encouraging and that is, I still think people are still hungry for a deeper understanding of Christianity; hungry for something that’s intellectually challenging and that’s a complete worldview. This hit home recently when I heard about the Hip Hop Artist Lecrae? Do you know who he is?

E: I know of him. I’m not the one to ask.

P: (Laughter). Well, I didn’t know about him either. I had no idea who this was and 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?” Like you, 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, “The turning point was not just when he converted to Christianity, the turning point came when he understood,” and here’s a direct quote from that talk, “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 for science, for scholarships, for art and music, of course especially for Lecrae being a musician, 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 someone you would think was 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.”

E: I love it.

P: I have a fun little group now of Christian Hip Hop Artists among my Facebook friends.

E: You never know how you’re going to used.

P: 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, (I get this all the time from my readers;) 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. To use the word you used earlier, 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 they 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 again, here’s a black filmmaker from a very non middle class background and after interviewing me for 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.

E: When we talk about worldviews of course that’s a massive category of different ways of looking at things. We look at our current culture with Islamic influence, terrorism, that we’re afraid of; we’re talking about ISIS, unlike anytime before in our history, the moral relativism of religion, much less Christianity, in our culture. So we’ve got this almost, not to be condescending, but like seventh grade view of what truth is, what truth isn’t. Help us understand where we start. I’m with you on Apologetics. I think we’ve got to help our folks understand why they believe, what they believe, which is one of my hobby horses. But how do you start, Nancy? Let’s say there are some that are hungry, but many of them are not.

P: What moves me the most, is the fact that we’re losing our kids. I think for many people, what’s hard is the fact that so many young people are leaving the faith, leaving the church, leaving their Christian background. If we’re not succeeding in communicating Christianity effectively to our own children, we’re certainly not going to be able to 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 kind of stories that drive me and motivate me and motivate a lot of parents, at least, 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.

E: Your book Total Truth, of course is a great work but I love what you do in Saving Leonardo, because for my language, you’re putting the cookies on a little lower shelf for more of a consumer, at least that’s the way I’m reading it. One of the things that struck me was the way you defined Postmodernism with this Post Modern and Modernity metric subjective and objective truth. Talk about that a little bit.

P: Oh, I am so glad you like Saving Leonardo! I love it too.

E: Love it!

P: I love it because it shows the idea of permeating our culture through the arts, and humanities, the movies we watch, and the music we listen to. This is how most people pick up their ideas about life. They don’t say, “Oh, I need a philosophy of life,” and then go sign up at the local university for philosophy. So, 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, the plotline, the characterization, the 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.

E: You write in Saving Leonardo, What is crucial for Christians to address is the crackup of truth itself. Before they can make a case for Christianity as true, they first have to clarify what they mean by truth. That’s the theme, obviously through both of your books. Give the primer on how we clarify what is true.

P: I’m glad you asked that because this is something that was essential to my own search when I was an agnostic. I went to L’Abri and started hearing Apologetics for the first time and I had gone so far as an agnostic. 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 at L’Abri, Francis Schaeffer, and the people he had trained, first had to talk through whether there was even such a thing as truth before I could consider whether Christianity was that truth. So much of Francis Schaeffer’s own writing was trying to get Christians to understand that. The conflict of truth has shifted so when you say Christianity is true, people no longer even know what you’re saying and that was personally relevant for me as well. I had to first understand and be persuaded that 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 that’s what I’m getting at when I say, in Saving Leonardo, 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 even 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.

E: You give a great example of that in Saving Leonardo. If we’re going to talk about science, there’s no debating it, but the moment we interject faith or religion, it’s all suspect.

P: One way to think about that is: we’re always told, “Don’t impose your religion on me,” but nobody ever says, “Don’t impose your facts on me.” The assumption is that science is about facts. We’re all expected to accept whatever the pronouncements of science are, no matter what we believe religiously or theologically; we’re all expected to all accept science. But when you jump over into the realm of spiritual or religious truth then suddenly, that’s when you hear people say, “That can be true for you, but not for me.”

E: All subjective. I remember in college, science being taught as a theory and a number of the professors I had said, “We know certain facts about science, but much of science has to be reproducible, has to be a fact, so forth and so on.” Now that’s been amalgamated into, I mean, God help you if you challenge the climate change. You’re an idiot if you don’t believe science knows for sure these are facts.

P: Yes, you’re right. I think in the past people were more likely to fulfill the ideal image of science; that it is always tentative. When secular people want to discredit Christianity, they’ll say, “You have blind faith,” but we’re open to constantly changing our beliefs because of science. But in fact, you’re right, there’s been so much politicization of scientific issues that now science has taught us easily as dogmatically, if not more so than any other realm.

E: Give us some help. How do we go forward? I mean you’ve done a great diagnostic in Total Truth and Saving Leonardo, but how do we go forward as parents, as educators, and perhaps as a twenty something teenage mind? How do we get them started?

P: 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 to get saved. 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, but historically the family has been the basis of all the other social institutions, for church, and school, and industry, and nation and so on. 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 prefall, before the fall, when God tells human beings what they were created for in the first place, and it was to create cultures, to create civilizations. The fall comes next: In sin, we get off the track, and in salvation, God puts us back on the track, but what was the track? 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.

E: Thanks again for your time Nancy.

P: Thank you!

E: Okay, blessings.

Prior to Jesus crucifixion, He stands for the Governor Pilate. Pilate asked Him, “Are you King of the Jews? Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own authority or did others tell you about me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and chief priests delivered you to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, than my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews, but as it is my kingdom is not of this realm. Therefore, Pilate said to Him, “ So you’re a king?” Jesus answered, “I am a king. For this I have been born and for this I have come into the world to testify to truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” Pilate’s question hangs in the balance for many of us. We don’t know what’s true; we don’t know whats truth and in the context of moral relativism, where what’s true for you,what’s true for me can somehow be at odds. A Biblical view of the world says, “No.” There can’t be two opposite truths that occupy the same space. As you read Scripture, as you’re challenged by movies, by films, by the culture’s view of things, you need to understand why you believe what you believe and you need to understand it in the context of: did God speak? Is His Word true? Does God’s Word trump what the world says about these issues? Always bear in mind we have the world’s view, and the Word of God’s view. That’s your decision. Will you look at this in the context of Scripture? In the context of Christ speaking to you and me? This is Michael Easley inContext.

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