Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Review of Nancy Pearcey's Saving Leonardo; a Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Learning

Nancy Pearcey’s new book Saving Leonardo; A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning is an excellent book that proves God has given her a double portion of the spirit of Francis Schaeffer. The book is an exploration of the common secular worldviews in our culture, how they have affected culture (and even the church), and how they contrast with the real Christian worldview.

Pearcey helps us learn how to do worldview analysis on our own with examples of how to evaluate movies, books, art, and more. She shows how approaching the arts as though they were only entertainment can be dangerous. This well-researched guide is of great importance because what we believe matters: it affects our behavior and choices. What we believe can undermine effective actions of love for our family and our neighbors. What we believe can affect our relationship with God. And what we believe can impact our feelings and motivations in ways that make Christian practice and growth more difficult.

Mrs. Pearcey starts with examples of how Christians can be deceived into exposing their children to secular worldviews if they lack parental commentary and support. She counters the cultural claim that neither truth nor ideas are important with wise counsel from figures like C.S. Lewis and Socrates.

A key set of insights in the book is an exploration of the major ways in which our culture divides life into “upper and lower stories” – dichotomies in which the lower story is accepted as the exclusive source of facts, and an upper story designed to deal with the rest of human experience without giving those areas traction in public policy, business, and critical choices. These bases of the so called fact/value spilt are a hydra of personal and social problems in the contemporary world. They include the current dualist acceptance of postmodernism in religion and morality while we still use modernism in science and industry. In a similar fatal division, the liberal view of the human being divides personhood (realm of the “autonomous self”, entitled to freedom and dignity) from the body (a mere “biochemical machine”, and hence, disposable and manipulatable). This false dichotomy facilitates the rationalization of abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research on a public policy level, and the dehumanizing “hookup culture” of sex separated from relationship. It goes even further in allowing the separation of identity and desires from biology and reality.

A magnificent panorama of history unfolds as the author describes the major paths to the secular worldview – the ideas of the enlightenment, such as empiricism and rationalism on the one hand, and romanticism on the other. She traces these roads, not only through their expression in art and literature, but as they changed philosophy. Pearcey illustrates how changes in the world of philosophy had real impact on “everyday” life and thought. She also explains the philosophical fork which leads to the split between analytical philosophy and European philosophy.

We are guided from Kant’s dualism of freedom and nature through the two major streams of modern art – one protesting the scientific worldview, the other portraying the scientific worldview, or in other words, expressionism and formalism. The book sails through the seas of art handing out broadsides and laurels to both sides of the great split. The analysis will please non-artists who have any interest in worldviews, theology, philosophy or apologetics as well as providing a fascinating perspective to those who do know and love art of all sorts. There are also surprises. It never occurred to me to class the Pre-Raphaelites (my personal favorite in art) on the “science” side because of their romantic subjects from myth, legend, and literature, but Pearcey’s analysis is persuasive

Pearcey also deals with so-called Christian art, and attacks head-on the need for good art as opposed to the cloying saccharine sweetness of so much craft devoted to Biblical objects. She gives some excellent examples of quality art by Christian artists such as Fujimura.

After a well thought-out discussion of worldview in movies, the book concludes with a challenge to believers to be makers of quality culture ourselves instead of responding with reaction and criticism to the values of secular culture.

Throughout this whole expedition into darkest culture Nancy Pearcey is remarkable in her attitude of charity and understanding. The book points out what happened and how it happened, but does not condemn anyone for the roles they played. Pearcey seems to expect that we cannot just break out of the confines of the current ideas. She understands that the most godly, talented and creative of Christian artists will still create art in the traditions of expressionism and formalism even while exploring new directions and pushing the envelope of culture because we are where we are, culturally speaking.

The book is very well-written and communicates complex ideas in understandable ways without reductionism. While Schaeffer was a true prophet of the problems of the church, he was often criticized for some controversial opinions in intellectual history. Nancy Pearcey’s book is far above possible reproach in this area. She bases her conclusions on the writings of a host of eminent and well accepted scholars while at the same time holding fast to the truth in her critique of the church, her explanation of secular beliefs, and her diagnosis of how Christ’s people can escape seduction by the spirits of the age.

It is, almost always, only by understanding the false categories that have led us into bondage to the spirits of this age that we can be free of them, and not cast them out only for them to return and find a tidied up vacancy ready for them to move back in. We need to know them so we can pray for God’s help, and receive the mind of Christ, to reject the false ideas of our time and to fill our minds with the genuinely good and true and beautiful. Without analysis like Pearcey’s we are like the church of
Laodicea. So often, our society has taught us to say we see and are clothed and in our right mind when we are spiritually blind, wretched, poor, and naked.

The good, truth and beauty really exist, and are to be found in God Himself. We can know Him by knowing Jesus. We know Jesus by believing and understanding what the Bible actually says. The Bible assures us that if we seek Him we will find Him, indeed because it is God who draws us to seek Him in the first place. When we believe God, we suddenly begin to see that all creation also speaks of Him. The knowledge of God already covers the earth as the water covers the sea, but we deny that we are wet. When we believe God and acknowledge that all the problems and pain we experience come from human sin (Adams, ours and other people’s) and that while mysterious and often unpleasant, the ways of God are just and good, not in error, Jesus cleanses us from our sin, corrects our errors, and slowly restores His damaged image – always there, but twisted and under a lot of gunk. We can then participate in Christ’s work in the world; work that includes not only preaching and helping the poor, but growing things, making things, doing art, writing, teaching, serving, designing everything from beautiful buildings to beautiful spoons, and glorifying God in all we do. Christianity is infinitely simple-those who call on the name of Jesus will be saved-but it is also infinitely complex. Learning the fullness of the Christian worldview and applying it to every area of life is the life’s work of a civilization, not even an individual or many individuals. But the gemstones we uncover in the search are well worth the effort. We need to return to the Christian tradition of searching out the precious stones of beauty, truth and goodness, polishing them to luster and displaying them for all to enjoy for the glory of God.

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