Christian Book Previews Home
Christian Book Previews

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt  |  Interview

Interview with Nancy Pearcey
by Pam Glass, Christian Book

Nancy’s husband began our time by telling the story of a female graduate student who read the book and remarked, “Now I know why Christian men are so lame.” He then asked, “Did she ever explain to you what she meant by that?”

Nancy: Well, in the chapter on women, it shows how the public/private division is not just a matter of ideas, but is actually incarnated in our social institutions so that pre-industrial world men and women worked side by side in home industry. Then, after the Industrial Revolution, men went out of the home and women were left home, and you begin to see the development of the public arena. Women are back home in the private arena where they become the specialists in feelings.  Men are out in the public realm, which is secularized.  As a result, men became secularized before women did.  So in many ways, then, men lost moral leadership, lost spiritual leadership in the church and the home.  And that’s what she was talking about, the de-moralization of male culture, of the very definition of masculinity. And women started the culture war, in the sense that, at first, women tried to bring men back home.  The Temperance Movement was women trying to bring their hard-drinking men home from the taverns, back to the family where they belong.  Women were trying to re-moralize the public arena.  The public arena was becoming secularized, and women were saying, “Can’t we bring back the ethos of home and family and church? You know we don’t want to lose that, we don’t want to isolate that.”  And in a marginalized part of society, they were protesting the secularization of society. And from that sense the culture war we’re fighting today was started back then.  It was started by women attempting to re-moralize the secular arena, and in particular, men.

CBP: What has been the reaction to you, as a woman, writing a heavy book like Total Truth?  There aren’t many women writing heavy books like this, so have you gotten any negativity, backlash, or comments like “Why would you do this?”

Nancy: No. The only comment I really got was from one of my students – I teach at the World Journalism Institute – and this book is the basis for the curriculum. So I did get students say things like, “As I read the book I had to keep reminding myself that it was written by a woman.  It didn’t sound like it was written by a woman.”  I think the hardest thing, to tell you the truth, is the marketing. People naturally assume that a woman wouldn’t write this kind of book.  Even getting the cover, you know the initial cover designs, were sort of traditional women’s covers with curly-Q letters and pastel colors.  And I had to tell the publisher, “This is not a 'women’s book'”.  But what we came up with is something that says, “Culture is good.”

CBP: Would you agree there seems to be a very anti-intellectual trend across the country?

Nancy: Exactly. This is the whole theme of the book; this is the title, Total Truth. Christianity is not just religious truth, but it is truth about all of reality.  Certainly the church is very much trapped in that sacred/secular split, where what’s secular is becoming more and more a matter of my private experience, my private emotional feeling,; it’s even outside the realm of what’s true and false anymore.  That’s why you can say, “What’s true for you is not true for me.” And the church is absorbing that.  In the wider culture it’s usually called the fact-value split, or the public-private split.  In public truth, facts mean science, rationality, and reason.  And then you have private values, and that’s your personal experience.  So whether you’re in the church or out of the church, you’re getting the same divided concept of truth that religion is, by definition, an emotional, anti-intellectual kind of experience.  So we’re getting it from both sides.

CBP:  As parents, what have you done raising your two sons, and how successful have you been to train them in this way?

Nancy: This is a key question.  In a previous generation, American culture generally supported Christian morality.  You could get by on a Sunday morning faith. Nowadays, you can’t do that.  Kids will not survive.  They’re getting challenges to their faith from first grade on.  There’s a much greater contradiction between what they’re getting at home and what they’re getting at church.  As a result, they need apologetics.  Apologetics has just become survival equipment in a way that it wasn’t a generation ago, and a lot of parents haven’t quite caught up to that.  They need to realize their kids are on the front line, and in some public schools they’re on the front line every day. But to finish your question, our oldest son goes to Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia.  He had to make his faith his own.  He never left the faith, but he had to make it his own. And we’re really thankful he’s come through with a very strong faith, a thoughtful faith.  He reads serious Christian books and wants to have the whole experience.  You know, loving God with your mind, as well as your heart and soul.  

CBP:  One of my sons just finished his junior year in high school, his first year in a public school.  At Back-to-School night a parent asked, “From what perspective do you teach history?”  His response was, “Well, there’s really no way to know what’s true and false, what’s right or wrong. History is open to individual interpretation.”  His lessons consisted of moral dilemmas posted on the blackboard that students would have to write about in their journals.

Nancy:  Have him read the second section of the book, chapter eight, because it deals with this.  It’s the impact of Darwinism -- that’s the turning point.  Basically, American education was shaped largely by John Dewey.  He had more influence than anyone else in the twentieth century.  And he was constantly saying, deliberately, consciously saying, “Darwinism is true. What does that mean for the human mind? What does that mean for the way children learn?”  So it was very conscious application of Darwinism to education.  And what he came up with was that learning was a sort of mental evolution and should follow the same pattern. Just as an organism confronts a challenge in it’s environment, and has to adapt to survive, so the mind.  To teach children, you give them a problem, a dilemma, one that’s too hard for them to answer by just using what they’ve learned from their parents and church.  That’s why they’re deliberately difficult, to shock kids out of the right answers they’ve learned from their parents.  It’s very deliberately done.  And then the child comes up with a pragmatic strategy to work through it.  This showed up first as "Values Clarification."

CBP:  I remember that from education textbooks in the 1970’s.

Nancy:  Yes, whenever a term becomes contentious they drop the term but they integrate it somewhere else.  So you’re seeing it integrated into history.  Actually, the biggest fad in education today is what’s called constructivism.  It’s the idea that knowledge is a social construction, which is what Dewey said; knowledge is just something that society has constructed.  Then we should teach kids how to construct their own knowledge. And one of the examples that I give is from the state history standards in one state that says that by high school, students should be able to reconstruct history.  Isn’t that an Orwellian phrase?  This is why kids now in the lower grades are taught to make up their own spelling system, their own grammar rules, their own math procedures and such.  It’s the same thing.  Students should construct their own knowledge.  So this is where it’s all coming from, it’s the application of Darwinian concepts to education.  Most people don’t realize it’s not just mutation, natural selection. You can’t understand the twentieth century unless you understand Darwinism.  And Dewey was part of the whole school that applied Darwin to the human sciences.  If Darwinian processes produced the human brain, then it produces all of our thinking.  And so John Dewey reframes education, you’ve got Oliver Wendell Holmes applying evolution to the law; legal philosophy saying that law is just a product of evolving truth.  You have William James applying it to psychology, Charles Peirce applying it to theology and giving us a sort of evolutionary theology where God is just a spirit, a presence, evolving through the world, which is Process Theology.  So across the board, Darwinism has had a dramatic impact on the American mind.  


At this point in the interview several people greeted us, and the interview began to conclude, but other conversations were started.  At one point, the discussion turned to a recent television interview in which an atheist was praising the memory of his Christian father.  I wondered how this son could speak so warmly of his father’s entrance into heaven when he didn’t believe in it himself!

Nancy:  It seems a bit of a throwback. In other words, for a long time, that’s what America was. It was moving away from a commitment to Christianity, but trying to live off the faith of the culture capital of it: “We can still have morality, we can still respect. . .”

CBP: But you would never say, “I’m an atheist.”  You would just say, “Well, I’m not as religious as the guy next door.”

Nancy: Sure, that was more common, wasn’t it?  The typical atheist is too politically savvy to attack religion directly, to try to just debunk it as false.  The most typical strategy is to transfer it to the "'value" realm.  And that way, they can talk about how much they respect our religion, how much they respect our values--“That’s fine for you”--while still denying that they’re really true, and that they have any relevance in the public square.  Because that’s where we talk about what’s really happening, in the fact realm, this is the world of reality. But you know, “we respect the people who live over here in this other realm, and they’re nice people.”  It’s very patronizing.  Unless we understand the fact/value split, we can be taken in by it, and not realize that they’re de-fanging Christianity by saying it’s not really true and putting it in a safer box where it can be a nice thing for nice people who need that. But we’re totally boxed in, and that’s the point of the subtitle, Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity. The captivity is precisely that fact/value split where, put in the value realm, it has no more power. You have your view, I have my opinion, and it’s not a matter of true or false.  At the appropriate moment we’ll hold it up and say how much we respect it.  Phillip Johnson, who wrote the foreword, has a nice image: he said there’s the offensive team and the defensive team.  The offensive team is when secularists are feeling like they have a lot of cultural power.  They come right out and say, “We’re atheists, Christianity is false, Darwin has disproved it, no one in the modern era can believe that kind of stuff.”  But of course, they don’t want their science grants cut off, they don’t want the public to start saying that science is the enemy.  They don’t want to lose elections; they know there’s a lot of public feeling behind the God issue. And so then they bring out the defensive team.  And the defensive team reassures us that, of course we believe in religion – undefined, vague – of course many scientists are religious without telling you what they really mean.  Many scientists will say, “I worship the order of the universe, the Steven Hawking kind of god, God is the order of the universe.  

CBP:  Speaking of that, I loved your comment about The  Berenstain Bears and Carl Sagan!

Nancy:  That was a bit of a shock.  I bought a Berenstain Bears book on nature, and here we are reading, “Nature is all that is or was or ever will be.”  A dramatic, philosophical statement for five- and six-year-olds! This is why, again, back to your earlier question, we have to teach our five- and six-year-olds to recognize philosophical naturalism.  Another example I give in the book is about a first-grader who came home from school one day and said to his mom, “Who’s lying, Mom, you or my teacher?”  And that day, he’d been taught evolution, and he knew it didn’t square with what he was learning at home.  And sadly, he decided it must be his mother who was lying, because the teacher was the expert.  She’s the professional.  And his mother realized she had to start with her first-grader, beginning to give him reasons for faith, teaching him how to evaluate the case for creation, the case against evolution.  She had to begin to give him actual arguments at such a young age.  So it ties back to your earlier question; parents have a much tougher job today. They have to give their kids a worldview. When their kids go off to college they’re going to face incredible challenges.

CBP:  Well, as you say in the book, even at Christian schools the kids have to be on guard.  Parents say, “You learned what?  The teacher told you what?”  

Nancy: Do you remember the story of a young writer who just graduated from high school, and she said, “On my first day of class, my theology teacher drew a heart on one side of the blackboard, and a brain on the other.  She said, ‘The heart is what we use for religion, the brain is for science.’”  As soon as kids adopt that mentality, anything goes.  We’re turning out kids who are Christians in their devotional life, and secularists in their mental life. So then they end up becoming compromised because they have no biblical grid in their mental life, they don’t really have a biblical grid to evaluate the ideas they’re running into at school and the culture.  So what you end up having is kids who are Christians who have totally non-Christian worldviews when it comes to their professional life, their understanding of the general culture.  It’s really a lot harder for parents who have grown up since Darwin.  Before that, you often had Christian roots as a basic idea in your field.  The people who established psychology as a modern discipline were people like Pavlov and Freud, people who were explicitly Darwinists.  And so that was the founding of the field.  And we had a reaction against that in the 60’s with what’s called humanistic psychology, Abraham Maslow.  But they were just as evolutionary.  But they were trying to work against that reductionism, and you know what they ended up doing?  A fact/value split. The reductionists said humans are just complex stimulus/response mechanisms.  Then the humanist psychologists like Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers got into Eastern stuff, you know, touchy-feely, create your own self by your own choices kind of thing.

CBP:  And even Christian psychology has adopted so much of that.

Nancy: I know.  A lot of Christians are looking at the end result, the practical side.  But they don’t analyze the ideas and where they came from. I was talking at a teacher’s conference once, when a Christian school superintendent came up to me and said, “All my teachers are constructivists.  Every one of them.”  I said, “Don’t they realize that they’re accepting the idea that knowledge is a social construction, and what does that mean for their faith?  To be consistent, are they going to say their faith is just a social construction?”  And he said, “What they do is live in two worlds. Faith is over here, but they take what they learn in the classroom under the auspices of the experts as being somehow a separate arena from their faith and their life; they just live with the dichotomy.”  And that’s what so many Christians end up doing.  But they don’t have a worldview, they don’t know how to make the connections, they just a live a fragmented, divided life.  

In this book I’m trying to help people realize the reason you don’t have power and joy and focus in your Christian life is because you’re living in this sacred/secular, upper/lower, story fact/value – whatever you want to call it – dichotomy.  Naturally you’re going to feel divided.  The opening story is most dramatic, the young woman who thinks she can work at a Planned Parenthood clinic. That’s more dramatic than most, but you run into it all the time, Christians who have just not thought through their field. That constructivism.  

Every time I give that talk on Darwinism, Christian teachers come up to me and say, “But constructivism has some good things to it!”  And the reason is, they’re looking at it just as methodology. They’re thinking “All it means is we should let kids figure things out for themselves.” Well, of course you should!  Every good teacher knows that.  That’s not what it means.  If you read the theorists, the theorists tell you quite frankly that it’s their application of epistemology, a theory of knowledge, that’s Darwinian.  You have to read the theorists to find this out. And the Christians have bought this wholesale. That’s why they don’t have Christian minds.

CBP:  In your travels and research, have you encountered any churches and schools that are doing a good job teaching their people about this?  

Nancy:  I run into people who say, “We’re trying.” Usually it’s new and hasn’t been around a long time.  A lot of people were influenced by my earlier book which was written with Chuck Colson, along with Harold Fickett, How Now Shall We Live? I’ve met a lot of educators who say they were influenced by that book.  

CBP: But you’re encouraged?  

Nancy:  I’m encouraged by the hunger.  I do see a great hunger among people for a comprehensive worldview.  Christians have been jolted out of their complacency and recognize we do have a responsibility to help shape the public culture. They’re reaching out for tools, which is why I wrote the book, to say, “Here are some tools, here’s how you can do it, here’s the first step.”  The first step is to recognize the sacred/secular split because that’s what prevents us from bringing our faith across the border into the public arena.  In any society, the dominant definition of truth is what functions as the cultural gatekeeper.  And in order to have any sort of impact, you first have to get past the gatekeeper. The gatekeeper is a split view of truth that says, no, Christianity doesn’t belong over here in the public arena; Christianity is only a matter of private, personal experience.  That’s what traps it, and prevents it from filtering down and having a wider impact. Some people define worldview as being right on the issues. And I think the trouble is they’re trying to jump to the conclusion without going through the thought process. We have to begin by saying, “How do we get out of the fact/value split?”  That’s the first step.  Once you get out there, you may find that the questions are completely different from what you thought.  We have to get out there first.