An Interview with Nancy Pearcey
The Economist once referred to Nancy Pearcey as "America's pre-eminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual." And with good reason. She has authored or co-authored six books and contributed to several more. She has spoken before power brokers in Washington, D.C., cultural icons in Hollywood, leading scientists at prestigious labs, and at legion universities. She speaks gently, but her messages carry the freight of deeply grounded philosophy, rigorously strung out with flawless logic. She is married to Rick, and they have two sons, both of whom they homeschooled, and she teaches Christian worldview and apologetics at Houston Baptist University. Salvo was delighted to get her reflections on her intellectual journey, the importance of worldview thinking, and her latest book, Love Thy Body.
Tell me about your intellectual journey.
I grew up in a Christian home, but about halfway through high school, I started having questions. I was attending a public high school where all my teachers were secular and all my textbooks were written from a secular perspective, and I began to ask, How do we know Christianity is true? Really just that one fundamental question.
Unfortunately, there were few Christians at the time who had any acquaintance with apologetics, and I could not find anyone who could answer my question. I asked a college professor who attended church, "Why are you a Christian?" He said, "Works for me!" And I thought, "That's it? That's all you have to offer?"
I had an opportunity to talk to a seminary dean, hoping that someone with his theological training would have a better answer. But all he said was, "Don't worry, we all have doubts sometimes," as though it were a psychological phase I would outgrow.
When I could not get any substantial answers, I decided the only intellectually honest thing to do was to reject my religious upbringing. After all, if you don't have good reasons for something, you should not say you believe it—whether Christianity or anything else. So I started on an intentional search for truth—I decided I would investigate all the religions and philosophies in the marketplace of ideas and determine which one was true. A pretty tall order for a 15-year-old! But I started going to the library at the public high school I attended and pulling books off the philosophy shelf, because I thought maybe that was where people ask questions like, What is truth? How do we know it? Is there any meaning to life? Is there a foundation for ethics to guide the choices we make?
It did not take long for me to absorb all the secular "isms" of our day—moral relativism, determinism (because we're just complex biochemical machines), and finally radical skepticism.
A few years later, when I was living in Europe, I happened across L'Abri in Switzerland, the ministry of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. I was stunned to learn that Christianity could be supported by good reasons and rational arguments. Because I played the violin, I was also impressed that the Schaeffers urged Christians to care about the arts. And finally, it fascinated me that most of the students at L'Abri were hippies. This was in 1971, and most churches had not learned how to reach out to disaffected young people. I thought, Who are these Christians, and why are they so different from any I've ever met before?
In fact, I was so impressed that I left L'Abri after only a month of study. I was afraid of being drawn in emotionally—because it was so attractive—and I did not want to do that. I had investigated Christianity before, and it had let me down.
However, through L'Abri I had discovered that there exists such a thing as apologetics, and I kept reading—especially Schaeffer and C. S. Lewis, along with Chesterton and others. Eventually, strictly through my own reading, I realized that I had become intellectually persuaded. So, a year and a half later, I went back to L'Abri and studied for an additional four months. That's when I really got grounded in my understanding of a Christian worldview.
My own experience is the reason I'm passionate about worldview and apologetics. It's the only way I would have accepted Christianity. Today's young people need an approach that addresses their questions. As Schaeffer used to say, we must give honest answers to honest questions.
It seems you built your worldview from the very taproot up. But believing in God is not the same thing as becoming a Christian and beginning to be transformed by the gospel. How did that come about?
After converting to Christianity, for the first year and a half, all I read was apologetics. I kept second-guessing my decision to become a Christian. I wanted to make sure I hadn't just made a mistake!
After that, I started reading books on Christian psychology, seeking to find ways to apply the wonderful truths I had discovered to my life. That process of personal application—emotional and psychological healing—just keeps going deeper and deeper as I mature spiritually.
Your latest book, Love Thy Body, addresses the most pressing category of ideologies today, the sexual ones.
Every day in the media we are bombarded with moral issues like abortion, assisted suicide, homosexuality, transgenderism, and so on. Typically, we try to answer each issue separately. But I discovered that there is a common secular worldview that underlies them all, and if we master that, we will be much more effective. It's a worldview that reduces the body to a product of blind, material forces, and then draws the logical conclusion that the body has little value or worth. This devaluing of the body has wide-ranging consequences.
All the hot-button moral issues rest on your view of the body. For example, perhaps the most controversial issue over the past decades has been homosexuality. No one really denies that in terms of biology, physiology, and anatomy, males and females are counterparts to one another. If I adopt a same-sex identity, then, I contradict my own biology. Implicitly, I am saying, Why should I take any cues from my body in framing my sexual identity? Why should I give my body a voice in my moral choices? Queer theorists themselves talk about a "mismatch" between the body and sexual desire. Today it is widely accepted that when there is a disjunction between body and mind, the mind wins. But why? Why accept such a low view of the body?
Transgenderism gives an even clearer example. As a BBC documentary puts it, at the heart of that debate is the idea that "your mind can be at war with your body." I am currently reading a book by a Princeton professor defending transgenderism, yet she admits that it involves "disjunction," "self-division," and "self-estrangement."
The solution is to show that the biblical ethic overcomes that self-division and self-estrangement. It grants the body the dignity of being an integral part of the person. It is one aspect of the image of God. What God creates has inherent dignity. Christians should be reaching out with a positive message that the Bible actually supports a higher view of the value and dignity of the body than any secular ethic.
What do you see as the greatest threat to the next generation?
The greatest threats are the issues covered in Love Thy Body because they involve the family—and children who grow up without a secure, loving family do not do as well in any area of life, including their spiritual and intellectual lives. Practices like contraception, abortion, and artificial reproduction are already creating an attitude that having a child is merely a lifestyle choice, an accessory to enrich adult lives and meet adult needs. The hookup culture is destroying people's ability to form the secure, exclusive relationships they need to create stable, happy families. Porn is decimating a generation of young people who are literally being trained to objectify others for their own sexual gratification. When they marry, they are shocked—shocked—to discover that they are unable to experience a sexual response with a real live person. They are only able to respond to pornography. Homosexuality and transgenderism are both creating a gender-free society by denying the value and purpose of biological sex as the foundation for gender identity and marriage.
We are often told that these issues won't affect anyone else, but that is not true. As the law changes, we are all affected. In a free society, certain rights are honored as pre-political rights. That means the state does not create them but only recognizes them as a pre-existing fact. For example, the right to life used to be a pre-political right—something you had just because you were human. But the only way the state could legalize abortion was by first deciding that some humans are not persons with a right to legal protection. The state now decides who qualifies for human rights, apart from biology. That is a huge power grab by the state, and it means we are all at risk. No one has a right to life now by the sheer fact of being human, but only at the dispensation of the state.
In the same way, marriage used to be a pre-political right based on the fact that humans are a sexually reproducing species. But the only way the state could legalize same-sex marriage was by denying the biological basis of marriage and redefining it as a purely emotional commitment, which is what the Supreme Court did in its Obergefell decision. The state no longer merely recognizes marriage as a pre-political right but has claimed the right to decide what marriage is, apart from biology.
Gender used to follow from your biological sex. But the only way the state can treat a trans woman (born male) the same as a biological woman is by dismissing biology as irrelevant. That's why public schools are enforcing policies telling teachers whom they must call "he" and "she," regardless of the student's biological sex.
Same-sex activists say the next step is parenthood. In a same-sex couple, at least one parent is not biologically related to any children they have. So the only way the state can treat same-sex parents the same as opposite-sex parents is by dismissing biology as irrelevant and then substituting a new definition of "parent" (perhaps based on emotional bonds). You will be your child's parent only at the permission of the state.
And what the state gives, the state can take away. Human rights are no longer "unalienable." These issues are sold to the public as a way of expanding choice. But in reality, they hand over power to the state.
How has the book been received so far?
I've been surprised that the most frequent response has gone something like this: I picked up this book hoping to learn some handy arguments for current issues, but what I discovered is that the book was transformative for me.
In other words, many people are trapped in the sacred/secular divide more than they realized. As one of my students put it, "I was always taught 'spirit = good, body = bad.'" In Love Thy Body readers are learning that the Bible has a much higher view of the body than they had been taught.
What's your greatest joy?
In recent years, one of the things that has been most exciting is that I discovered how to be absolutely certain that Christianity is true. Because I used to be an agnostic, I have always felt responsible to answer the questions and objections raised by agnostics and atheists. I was also concerned to stay intellectually honest myself, open to the possibility that someday I would encounter an objection to Christianity that I could not answer—something that would persuade me that Christianity might be false after all.
But in the course of writing Finding Truth, I came to see that any non-Christian worldview has to be false. Why? To think at all, you have to take something as the ultimate reality—the uncaused cause of everything else. And as Paul says in Romans 1, if you don't start with the transcendent Creator, you will start with something in creation. After all, what else is there? There's God and creation. So, if you reject God, you must propose some part of creation as the ultimate reality. And that something, Paul says, is your god substitute, your idol.
But because your surrogate god is something in creation, it will always be too "small" to explain all of reality. Why is that? Because it is part of creation, and a part is always too small to explain the whole. Only a transcendent God can give us a perspective on the whole.
This strategy can be used on any worldview. For example, the prevailing philosophy in the universities today is materialism, the claim that matter is all that exists. Is matter part of creation? Sure it is. So it fits the definition of idol in Romans 1. In materialism, matter is the god substitute—the ultimate explainer for everything that exists. The implication is that whatever is not material is not real—spirit, mind, free will, love, moral sense, aesthetic sense, and consciousness itself (yes, the cutting-edge scientists today deny that even consciousness is real). These things don't fit into the "box" of matter, so they are dismissed as illusions.
What that means, though, is that materialism cannot explain a good deal of what humans throughout history have experienced as real. (In Finding Truth, I give several surprising quotes from leading scientists who admit that their materialistic worldview does not explain reality as they themselves experience it.)
Every worldview proposes a "box" and then tries to fit all of reality into its box. But because its box is a part of the created order, it will always be too small. You can be absolutely sure of that. It is strictly logical. And that will give you the confidence that you will never encounter a worldview, philosophy, or system of thought that you cannot answer.
What do you encourage your students to do, given the culture in which we live?
Be intentional about your Christian faith. Make sure it's not something you just inherited from your parents or church. Think through for yourself why it is true. Work apologetics into every subject matter, so that you have a Christian worldview on science, politics, psychology, English—everything you study, everything you do. Your goal should be to know not only what a biblical worldview is, but also why it is true.Terrell Clemmons
Terrell Clemmons is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.Get Salvo in your inbox! This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #45, Summer 2018 Copyright © 2023 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo45/the-full-body-of-truth