Prof. Nancy Pearcey describes her former struggle as an agnostic searching for truth among varying worldviews, and how her search led her to Christianity. For those facing a similar struggle in searching for rationale, reasonable answers to life's big questions, Nancy offers wisdom-based principles for determining whether a worldview can be trusted.
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Nancy Pearcey: I realized I had a borrowed faith in other words. I was a Christian 'cause my parents were and that was not a good enough reason. We all need to have our own grounding in knowing why Christianity is true. But at any rate, since I wasn't getting answers, I rejected Christianity. I very consciously set aside my religious upbringing and decided, I guess it was up to me to find truth on my own and so, I started looking at different philosophies and religions and trying to sift them through and decide which one was really true.
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John: Observations from Nancy Pearcey about why we need to know what we believe and why we need to pass those convictions on to our children. And you'll hear a lot more about faith, philosophy and worldview on today's "Focus on the Family" with your host, Focus president author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, many Christians could say the same thing Nancy is sayin' right there. You believe in God because you were raised that way. You've gone to church your whole life and that's all you've ever known and that may sound fine until someone or something really challenges what you believe and what you think you know about God. It's not enough to claim Christian beliefs unless you live by them. And quite frankly, that may be the problem we're havin' in the culture today. We hear a lot about how Christians should behave and unfortunately, we often don't behave that way.
Do you study God's Word and apply it to your everyday life? Do you talk about your faith with your spouse and your children and encourage one another in what you believe to be true? That's family devotion[s]. Our goal today is to help you deepen your understanding of God, the Bible and Christianity and to help prepare you intelligently to share your faith with others.
John: And Nancy Pearcey is our guest and she's a professor of apologetics, a scholar in residence, as well at Houston Baptist University. And she's written a number of books. One that 'll be the basis of today's program is called Finding Truth: Five Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism and Other God Substitutes. Jim, you and I have the privilege of traveling to Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky to record this conversation.
Jim: We did and Dr. Gray and the whole staff at Asbury were so wonderful. They have a terrific communications and arts department there, so I was thrilled to be a part of that. And it was a good opportunity to meet with so many young people. In fact, I also did their chapel service, which was so kind of them to let me speak to the students there. It was really fun.
John: Yeah, there was so much energy and you're right. They've got a top-notch facility and program there. So, our thanks to the university and now, let's go ahead and hear Nancy Pearcey on today's "Focus on the Family."
Jim: Nancy, you have written this wonderful book, Finding Truth. I mean, that really captures the heart of all of us as Christians, what we want to do. It's what Jesus said He was here on earth for, wasn't it? When he was in front of Pontius Pilate, He said, "I'm here to proclaim the truth." And I find that fascinating that truth is so core to your search and your story. Talk about your early days. You were raised in a Christian home, right?
Nancy Pearcey: I was raised in a Lutheran home and memorized the catechisms, memorized the Bible, but when I went to high school, it was a public high school, I was surrounded by secular ideas—my textbooks, my teachers, my friends—and I started wondering how do we know that Christianity is true? This question of truth, like you said, it was just central. I just wanted to know how can we be sure it's true?
Jim: How old were you at this point?
Nancy: Midway through high school.
Jim: Okay, 15—
Nancy: So, 15—
Nancy: --16 and unfortunately, none of the adults in my life were able to answer that question. I had a chance to talk to a Christian who was a university professor and I said, "Why are you Christian?" He said, "Works for me."
Nancy: That's all I got.
Jim: The Ph.D.
Jim: That's what he could come up with.
Nancy: And I even had a chance to talk to a seminary dean and his response was, "Don't worry; we all have doubts sometimes," as though it were a psychological phase that I was going through.
So, I eventually decided that maybe Christianity just didn't have any answers and my thinking at the time was, if I don't have personal reasons, if I personally don't have good reasons for believing something, then how can I say I believe it, whether it's Christianity or anything else? I mean, I realized I had a borrowed faith, in other words. I was a Christian 'cause my parents were, right and that was not a good enough reason. We all need to have our own grounding in knowing why Christianity is true.
But at any rate since I wasn't getting answers, I rejected Christianity. I very consciously set aside my religious upbringing and decided I guess it was up to me to find truth on my own and so, I started looking at different philosophies and religions and trying to sift them through and decide which one was really true.
Jim: Before we get to that part of the story, you know, I have a 15-year-old and a 13-year-old and that would be my concern. Am I supplying them the right answers? So, I'd like for you to speak to parents right now about that. Sometimes we may not know the answer. What should we do when they're asking a tough question?
Nancy: Research it. (Laughing) Do the work. In other words, apologetics should be driven by love. We should love people enough to care about their questions, even if they're not our questions. Each generation has different questions and generational change is happening so quickly these days, that we almost need to see our communication with our own children as if we're almost cross-cultural missions, you know, in the sense that they are coming up with a completely different set of ideas, values, societal norms and so on, than we knew. And so, we're the missionaries. It's up to us to learn their language. It's up to us to learn their thought forms, just as if you were going to another culture, another country.
Jim: You know, so often, as parents, we can get that rigid with that. If we don't know answers, we could just tell 'em in essence, you know, "It works; don't question it." You're saying, don't do that. Do the research you need to do as a parent and let them ask those questions at the dinner table. Invite them—
Nancy: Well, it is—
Jim: --to do that.
Nancy: --it is natural. It is natural. It is, like I said before, you don't really survive on a secondhand faith. And our children will not survive if they are believing Christianity, if their holding their Christian convictions just because they respect you as their parents. And see, I see it from the students' side. I'm a professor at a university, so I'm interacting with students all the time and I'm constantly getting students coming to me and saying, "My parents won't engage with me."One student was in high school actually. This is when I was teaching home school high school classes.
Jim: Teaching home school high school. (Laughter)
Nancy: And this high school student said to me, "Every time I ask my parents a question, they say, 'Why can't you just have faith like we do?'" Well, it didn't take long for her to walk away from her Christian upbringing altogether.
Nancy: Another student said, "Every time I bring up some idea that I'm considering, my parents just slap it down. 'You can't prove that.'" And he said, "I know I can't prove it; I'm just a kid. I'm just exploring these ideas and I need my parents to explore them with me and explain why these ideas are not sound."
Jim: Well, that has to connect with you, given you walked that same journey, I mean, when you were that 15-, 16-year-old girl and you were walkin' away from the faith. How and what caused you to rediscover your faith? What were those seeds that were planted in your heart to say, "Okay, maybe there are some answers?"
Nancy: Right, you just put your finger on the real motivation behind my book, Finding Truth is my heart really goes out to parents whose children are asking those questions,. because I was that kid. And I wasn't even looking for answers in Christianity anymore, to tell you the truth. I went through several years as an agnostic.And I was going to school in Germany, because we had lived there when I was a kid and I'd gone back. And through a series of happenstances, otherwise known as "God's providence"—
Jim: Right, "God-incidences," right.
Nancy: --I ended up at L'Abri, which is the ministry of Francis Schaeffer in Switzerland. And that was the first time that I met Christians who could engage the secular ideas that I had picked up by that time, who knew the secular philosophies and could guide me through them, show me why they didn't hold water and challenge me to see that Christianity gave better answers.
And so, that experience is what has made me so passionate about apologetics and about helping equip parents to answer their kids' questions and to, you know, be open to hearing those questions and not threatened by them.
Jim: So, you're in that environment of L'Abri. Again, what was the rope that God used to pull you towards Him?
Nancy: What was really impressive about L'Abri is, they knew the secular ideas better than I did.
Nancy: And they could help me put a label on it. In other words, I had absorbed a lot of ideas from the surrounding culture, but in a sort of a confused incorrect way, right. So, for example, I had absorbed moral relativism. Well, I didn't have a label for it. I just knew that in my friends back in high school and my group of friends, I was the one arguing you can't know that there's any right or wrong. You can't say anyone is wrong in their behavior.
Jim: That was your line.
Nancy: That was my line (laughter) with my friends and at L'Abri they said, "Oh, okay, that's called 'moral relativism.'" They gave me a name. They gave me a handle. They said, "Here's where moral relativism comes from. Here's where it leads," which is very bad. In other words, you cannot say a Nazi's wrong and you can't say, a Mother Theresa's right. You know, they showed me the consequences of ideas. They gave me a handle on it. They showed me it's false.
I would go that far. It is false. How do you know it's false? Because all through human history, all cultures, all civilizations, all people groups have known that there's a right and wrong. They've all had a moral sense. They've all had a moral code. This is part of universal human nature.
And what is philosophy supposed to explain after all? It's supposed to explain universal human experience. It was a theoretical account for the things that we all know deeply in our own heart, what the Bible calls "general revelation."
We're made in the image of God.We do have a moral sense. And in writing Finding Truth, I discovered that all the philosophical arguments had their basis in Scripture. And if you start with Scripture; you start with what we love. You start with God's Word. It makes it so much easier to take the next step towards learning some of the arguments. For example, the key text is Romans 1, because Romans 1 is where we learn about general revelation. That's where Paul is writing to a congregation that had not heard him speak before. So, he's presenting the case for God in a more comprehensive way than he does anywhere else.
And where does he start? General revelation. He says, we all have knowledge of God. We have an access to evidence for God. How? From the created order, right? And most of the time when we hear that, we think in terms of the beauty and complexity of nature and that's true and I've written a lot about that.
But in Finding Truth, I focused more on us. You and I are part of the created order and we give evidence for God. Human nature is made in God's image and gives evidence for God. How? Think of it this way. The cause has to be equal to the effect. So if we are thinking beings, the first Cause that created us must have a mind. We are choosing beings, so the first Cause that created us must have a will.
Or as one Christian philosopher sums it up because a human being is a someone and not a something, the first Cause that created us must be a Someone. It cannot be the impersonal automatic blind forces of nature, as philosophies like materialism or naturalism would tell us.
So, the beauty of this argument is, you can use it with people who don't accept the Bible, right? So, you can use it with your children when they're having doubts and questions. Or you can help your children when they're getting questions from their secular friends, because it's something we all know. It appeals to what is the most intimate human knowledge about ourselves. It's what we all know about ourselves.
Nancy, in Finding Truth, you talk about running these isms through the grid of Romans. You've touched on it a little bit, but there are specifically five areas in the book of Romans the first chapter that you test these idols. Talk about that methodology and how you go about doing it.
Nancy: Right, so the first principle is find the idol. If every non-Christian worldview sets something in the place of God, as some kind of a God substitute, I tell my students this, right? Because they're sometimes facing the world of ideas for the first time and they can get overwhelmed. They don't know how to pick out what's important.And so, I say, go for the idol. Identify what a person puts in the place of God, 'cause that shapes everything else. That gets you to the core of that worldview.
Nancy: Principle #2 is find what it puts in the place of image of God. You know, when we said materialism reduces people to complex biochemical machines, every worldview does that. Every non-Christian worldview does that, because think of it this way. If you exchange the glory of God to something in creation, you're going to exchange the image of God for something in creation. So you will always have a lower view of the human person, a lower view of human value, lower view of human dignity.
Well, that leads you to the third principle, which is that allows you to test it. You can look at human nature and say, does it match up? Hey look, are we really biochemical machines with no free will? Every one of us makes choices from the minute we wake up in the morning. One philosopher said, if people don't believe in free will, then when they go to a restaurant, they should say, "Just bring me whatever the laws of nature have determined that I will get." (Laughter)
Jim: That's what John does. (Laughter) He ends up with broccoli. (Laughter)
John: It just seems so unfair. (Laughter)
Nancy: But the point is, you see, again the beauty of this is, you can use this with non-Christians. You can use it when your kids, they're having doubts. You're not limited to saying, you know, my kid's having questions, but wait a minute. This is what the Bible says and your kid says, "Well, yeah, but I'm questioning the Bible." So you take 'em, just like Romans says, that's fine. Go to general revelation with your kids then.
John: Well, Nancy Pearcey is our guest on "Focus on the Family" and you can find out more about her book, Finding Truth. We've got it at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us and we can tell you more about that and a CD of this program — 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
And we'd be happy to send Nancy's book to you when you make a generous gift of any amount to Focus on the Family today to support the work that we do, that Jim, you mentioned earlier about supporting marriages, strengthening families, proclaiming this kind of truth. And again, that number is 800-A-FAMILY.
Nancy: What's fascinating about the strategy that I've extracted from Romans 1, that I describe in my book, Finding Truth, is that the five principles are not five random questions that you can just ask any worldview. They are all interrelated. They all build on one another. So, we went through three of them and you have to understand them before you can understand No. 4.
So, No. 4 is, there's two ways you test a worldview. When you want to know if something's true, you often ask, does it fit the real world? And we talked about that last time in principle No. 3. The second thing you ask if, is it internally consistent? You know, if something has logical contradictions, then it's dead in the water. You know, it cannot be true if it's logically contradictory. So, those are really the two questions that you ask in the science lab, in a courtroom and when you're trying to figure out if your kid is telling the truth on why he didn't do his homework. Does it fit the world and does it hold together logically?
Jim: So, "My dog ate my homework" doesn't work? (Laughter)
Nancy: We'll have to test that against the real world. (Laughter) And principle No. 4 then is, how do you test it logically?And what's exciting about this method from Romans 1 is, you can be confident. You can be confident that every worldview will not fit the real world because it will have that reductionist view of human nature. And you can be confident that it will self-destruct with internal contradictions. Why is that?
Because if you have a reductionist view of human nature, this means a low view of human nature; it just means, you reduce the value and meaning of human life. If you have a low view of human nature, that affects also your view of the human cognitive faculties, of reason, rationality, of thinking.
But how does a worldview support its own case? To use reason, logical arguments and so, when it undercuts reason, it undercuts itself. And so, every non-Christian worldview ends up in a logical contradiction because it undercuts itself.
Postmodernism — many of us find that kind of arcane. What is postmodernism? It merely says you don't believe what you believe because you're rational and persuaded it's true, but because of social forces, because of race, class and gender, sexual identity. These are the things that really shape your mind and the way you think. To which you say, and what about your own theory? Are you just a mouthpiece for your race, class, gender? In which case, why should we give any credence?
Jim: Nancy, this has been good and it's somewhat theoretical. Let me bring a modern-day example into this discussion, because you know, not long ago there were all the Planned Parenthood videos. And when it comes to life, this is a debate that is really perplexing, because it's so self-evident. These are babies. This is not a blob of tissue. This is a human being. You just have to give it more time, give that child more time to grow in the mother's womb and it does what nature should do.
It seems like there is a, I don't know if it's just intellectual dishonesty, but such a disconnect between those who want to defend abortion, versus the pro-life community, who want to help the mother and that child view that child in the image of God. But why is there such a disconnect? Is it really an intellectual dishonesty when they can't simply say, "We know it's a baby in the womb?"
Nancy: This really illustrates the power of worldview and why we need to understand them. You see, ever since Roe v. Wade, people supporting abortion have argued that as long as the fetus is just biologically human, but not a person yet, it's okay. You know, abortion was okay until it becomes a person, to use a phrase that so many people use.
What are they saying? I should preface that by saying, you realize that there's not major ethicist today who denies that the fetus is human. Ordinary people, you know, may still have those debates, but in among professional ethicists, there are none who deny that the fetus is human from conception.
But the power of worldview is such that, what they will say is, as long as you speak in the category of science-- biology, it's biologically human, physiologically human, anatomically human, genetically human--you're in the realm of scientific materialism. Whereas we saw, human life has no particular value. It's just a complex biochemical machine and it's just a hunk of matter.
You can experiment on it. You can harvest it for organs and then toss it out with the other medical waste. It's the power of that scientific materialist worldview that says, until you're a person, as long as you're just human, you have no value or significance and you do not deserve legal protection.
Jim: I mean, my heart's heavy even thinkin' about that, but that is the world we live in today.
Nancy: And this gives us the opportunity to make an argument for Christianity that is incredibly positive.And this is principle No. 5. We're actually coming back to our principles and that is, we can make a case for Christianity that's incredibly attractive by arguing for those very things that secular people themselves recognize they don't have.
For example, one of the leading philosophers here in America was Richard Rorty, who died recently and he literally acknowledged that "I'm a Darwinist. I'm a materialist. I'm an atheist. I'm an evolutionist." And he said, "I realize I don't have a basis for human rights. I don't have a basis for universal human rights" because in evolutionary theory, the strong win out and the weak are left behind. So there's no basis there for human rights.
He said, "So, you know what I do? I reach over and I borrow the concept of human rights from Christianity." And he literally used the word "freeloading." He said, "I'm a freeloading atheist and I'm happy to borrow from Christianity what my own worldview doesn't give me."
Nancy: Well, the secular people are starting to realize, they don't have a basis for human rights. There's a well-known British philosopher who says the same thing, the same as John Gray. And he said, "Any attempt to have a secular view of human dignity is only a secular version of Christianity." It's a derivative of Christianity, he says. You know, people who are materialists, humanists, secular people, atheists, who are trying to have a high view of the human person are all simply borrowing off their Christian heritage.
Jim: Nancy, let me wrap up with this comment. That balance, speaking truth is something we need to do, but as we do it, we need to be engaged with that person. We need to be walking with them. It's not enough to simply say, "Do you believe in Christ?" They say yes and then you walk away. I've heard testimony after testimony where that person fell back into severe sin. We have to be able to live it with them and to disciple someone. That can be our children. It could be our neighbor. How do you feel about that in terms of that context, to be able to walk alongside somebody, like at L'Abri you found people that did that for you.
Nancy: That's what I was going to answer (Chuckling), exactly. Because L'Abri was a place where you actually lived, you know, it started because L'Abri was up in the Swiss Alps and it was so inaccessible that when young people came by, they had to sleep in for a couple of days, because it was way up in the top of the mountain. And so, it kind of naturally organically became a place where people would come and actually live and stay and have those day-to-day relationships.
And there were many people, myself included, who would say that what was persuasive about their time at L'Abri was not just the apologetics, but it was the love. It was experiencing a Christian community on the level that they'd never seen or experienced it before. And that's what made it so persuasive. That's what made it stick. So I agree with you.
Jim: (Chuckling) And those are opportunities that we need to find today, 'cause we're so much the automatic garage door community now. We just go in and out and we don't spend time with our neighbors.Nancy Pearcey, author of the book, Finding Truth, this has been stimulating and very helpful to all of us. Thank you.
Nancy: Thanks for having me.
John: Some great information from our guest on "Focus on the Family" today about sharing your faith with others and how to understand the value of God's truth and why Christianity offers so much more than all other religions and philosophies in this world.
Now it's our hope that your faith walk with Christ has been strengthened by what we've shared today. And there was so much more to the recorded conversation at Asbury College that we just couldn't fit into this program. I'll encourage you to get our extended play version on CD or the mp3 download. Nancy had some great things to say about philosophy and human worth and why we, as Christians, need to engage in political issues. And then we had a question and answer time with the students in the audience.
All of that on the CD or download and we'll encourage you to get that and a copy of Nancy's book, Finding Truth: Five Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism and Other God Substitutes. We've got these and other helpful resources at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY.
And when you get in touch, please consider a generous financial gift to Focus on the Family. We depend on your generosity to provide these spiritual growth programs. Our surveys tell us that over the past 12 months, more than 1 million people feel that we've helped them grow stronger in their faith. And that's all because you pray and generous friends give. So, please support this ministry with a donation today. And when you do, we'll send a copy of Nancy's book as a tool for your own personal edification or to pass on to someone else. Donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-232-6459.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly, I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow when we take a look at grace-based parenting and how that can transform the ways that you discipline your children.
Jeannie Cunnion: Grace in parenting is looking at our child sinner, their weaknesses and giving them the Good News of Jesus Christ in the way that we address it. It is weaving the unconditional love of God into the way that we establish our authority, require obedience and train and discipline our kids.
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John: Some great insights about guiding your children spiritually next time on "Focus on the Family."
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