Christian scholar, educator, and author, Nancy R. Pearcey, was the guest speaker at PBU’s spring Commencement ceremony on May 5, 2007.
Formerly an agnostic, Pearcey is now regarded for her ability to provide poignant commentary and analysis from a Christian perspective, focusing on cultural and scientific issues. Her most recent book, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, won the 2005 ECPA Gold Medallion Award for best book in the category of Christianity and Society. She is currently the Francis A. Schaeffer Scholar at the World Journalism Institute and a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute.
Pearcey studied under renowned Christian scholar and author Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri Fellowship. These early studies in Christian worldview would help prepare her for a variety of culturally engaging roles, including executive director of the daily radio program BreakPoint featuring Chuck Colson, policy director and senior fellow of the Wilberforce Forum, and a monthly columnist for Christianity Today.
Nancy has addressed staffers on Capitol Hill and at the White House; scientists at Sandia and Los Alamos laboratories; students and faculty at universities across the country; as well as educational and activist groups, including the Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC.
In honor of her advocacy of the truth of God’s Word and its impact on our world, the University awarded Mrs. Pearcey an Honorary Doctorate in Religious Education degree during Commencement. Dr. Pearcey then addressed the graduating class. Portions of her address follow.
We typically hear Christians say that the Bible is the authoritative source of truth for faith and morals. But we don’t always hear Christians say that the Bible gives a framework for the rest of knowledge as well—for law and politics, for business and economics, for the arts and humanities.
Philadelphia Biblical University boldly declares that all truth is God’s truth, that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.” Notice that verse does not say only spiritual wisdom. It says all wisdom. In another verse, we’re told that God’s Word is a light to our paths—not only to certain paths with a road sign marked “spiritual life,” but to all our paths.
In the New Testament, we’re commanded to take every thought captive to Christ—not just moral or theological thoughts, but every thought. In other words, we’re called to craft a Christian worldview, which simply means a biblically informed view of the entire world and everything in it.
To use another biblical metaphor, we are engaged in spiritual warfare, commissioned to liberate captives from the kingdom of darkness. But we are also called to occupy territory, to actively penetrate enemy territory and reclaim it for the Lord. Historically, in World War II the goal was to liberate people from Nazi oppression, but also to regain territory—to reclaim France, Holland, and Czechoslovakia. The spiritual parallel is that we are to be agents of God’s redemptive power first to individuals but also to the world of ideas that shapes the way people think and act and order their lives together.
For example, we’re called to bring the gospel to people who work in politics. But we’re also called to transform political structures, to bring biblical principles to the formation of civil society. We should reach out to teachers as individuals. But we are also called to bring a biblical view of education into our schools. We want to save artists and musicians, but also to save the art world, making Christianity the great inspiration for artistic and musical creativity it once was. We want to save scientists, but also to recover the approach held by the early modern scientists (who were virtually all Christians), so that science is no longer used as a weapon against religion but once again becomes a means of discovering the orderly structure of God's creation.
This is a much richer calling than many Christians recognize. It means we must go beyond criticizing the secular world around us, and move forward to actively create a healthy and humane culture to replace it, based on a biblical worldview. This is sometimes called the Cultural Mandate, and the primary biblical basis for it is right at the beginning of the Bible.
In Genesis, God gives what we might call the human race’s first job description: “Be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth.” The first phrase, “be fruitful,” means to develop the social world, the social institutions, starting with the family and going on to the rest of society, which is ultimately built upon the family—churches, schools, governments, and the whole of civil society.
The second phrase, “subdue the earth,” means to harness the natural world, the forces of nature: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, compose music. We are to cultivate the earth, Genesis says, which has the same root as culture. This passage is sometimes considered the source of the Cultural Mandate—because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures, build civilizations, to the glory of our Creator.
Of course, living out such a comprehensive view of Christianity brings us necessarily into confrontation with non-Christian worldviews. We might say that secularists have their own cultural mandate. They’re constantly seeking to remake culture according to their vision of truth. Christians are called to stand against the spirit of the age—and the tough thing about obeying that call is that, in every age, that spirit changes to some degree. In order to obey the command to resist the spirit of the age, then, we must recognize the form it takes in our own day. We must learn how to analyze the underlying worldviews that are driving the issues we read about in the daily news.
Consider a few of the hot-button ethical issues in the headlines today. A few days ago I clipped a newspaper article by a liberal broadcaster who said she’d always been pro choice . . . until her own baby was born. Then she began to struggle. Her little boy was clearly human at birth, she wrote, so what about a few minutes before birth? A few days? A few weeks? Finally she interviewed a philosopher, who resolved her struggle: He told her an unborn child is alive, but it’s not a person. “In the end I have to agree that life begins at conception," she concluded. "But perhaps the fact of life is not what is important. It’s whether that life has grown enough to start becoming a person.”
What’s happened to the definition of the human being here? It’s been split in half. If you can be alive and human, and yet not be a person, then obviously these have become two separate things. This is a radically new, dualistic view of the human person, a fragmented view of what it means to be human.
In the past, supporters of abortion simply denied that the fetus is human: "It's just a blob of tissue." Today, because of advances in DNA and genetics, even pro-choice ethicists agree that the fetus is human—biologically human, physiologically human, genetically human. But that’s in the realm of science, where, according to naturalistic evolution, life is a product of blind, mechanistic forces and therefore has no intrinsic value or dignity. As a result, just being human does not confer any moral status, and does not warrant legal protection.
The turning point is said to be the stage when the fetus becomes a person, typically defined in terms of self awareness, the ability to make choices, and so on. This is called personhood theory, and it’s being applied all across the board.
Consider euthanasia. When the Terri Schiavo case was in the news, the media presented it as a right-to-die case. But Terri was not dying—so that was not really the heart of the issue. On a television program called "Court TV," a leading bioethicist was asked, “Do you think Terri is a person?” He replied, “No, I do not. I think having awareness is an essential criterion for personhood.”
Personhood theory says that it’s not enough just to be part of the human race. You have to meet an additional set of criteria—you have to achieve a certain level of awareness or cognitive ability in order to earn the status of personhood. Anyone who falls short is considered a non-person, which can include the fetus, the newborn, and the mentally impaired. Many ethicists have begun to argue that non-persons are expendable and can be used for harvesting organs, research and experimentation, or simply discarded, subject only to a utilitarian cost-benefit analysis.
Of course, the problem with the concept of personhood is that no one can agree on how to define it. Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of the double-helix structure of DNA, said we should give every newborn three days of genetic testing to see if it has any deformities. Until then, it’s not a person and has no right to life. Peter Singer at Princeton University used to set the cut-off at about a month, but in a recent interview, he said personhood remains a "gray area" even at three years of age.
The debate over the life issue is often portrayed as a conflict between liberals who want the state to be "neutral" on moral issues, over against conservatives who want to "force" their beliefs on others. But the liberal position is not at all philosophically neutral. It is based on a fragmented, or dualistic, view of the human being, derived ultimately from a naturalistic account of evolution.
I was once invited to be on an NPR program in San Francisco, and in a pre-air interview the program researcher voiced the common view that abortion is morally acceptable "until the point when the fetus becomes a person.” I responded by explaining that the liberal view "is dualistic—it divides the body from the person, treating bodily, or biological, existence as having no moral significance." By contrast, I explained, "the biblical view is holistic, treating the human being as an integrated unity. The body is an integral part of who we are, has its own intrinsic value."
Then I said: "The liberal view is exclusive: Some people don’t make the cut, don’t measure up. By contrast, the biblical view is inclusive: As long as you’re a member of the human race, you’re in. You have the dignity and status as a full member of the moral community."
To communicate the gospel effectively in our day, we need to understand the worldview of the person we are addressing. Then we need to know how to counter it with an equally comprehensive and powerful Christian worldview. This is where you come in. I speak now to those of you who are graduating today. You’ve had the unique opportunity of studying under teachers and administrators who know how crucial it is to craft a Christian perspective in every subject area.
I am utterly convinced that the opportunity that you've had to attend Philadelphia Biblical University was a special privilege—that God has a reason for each one of you to be here. I would like to inspire you with a vision to take the Christian worldview that you’ve learned here and bring it out into the world. The gift you were given here becomes the gift you give to others—in the church, neighborhood, workplace, and everywhere else within your sphere of influence. My charge to you as you graduate today is to take this message with you into the world.
Voddie Baucham, a former football player, likes to say that “sending young people into the world without a biblical worldview is like sending an athlete onto the field without a playbook.” So as you prepare to leave PBU and go on to higher education or out into the work world, I hope you’ve all packed your playbook.
As God leads you to the next stage in your life, move forward with the confidence that his playbook equips you to move forward in every area of your life, every challenge you may face. As the Psalm that was read earlier says, “May he establish the work of your hands.” May God grant you the grace to live out a Christian worldview, in a credible way before a watching world.
By Nancy Pearcey, PBU Today, Summer 2007, p. 8-11.
This speech was originally printed in PBU Today, the quarterly magazine of Philadelphia Biblical University and is reproduced with permission.