Unmasking the Substitutes

Nancy Pearcy’s biographical sketch, woven into the pages of Finding Truth, chronicles her journey from agnostic, teenage skeptic to professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University — but that is not the point of the book.  Her goal is to make a case for critical thinking in the church.  Offering her memoir as exemplar and Romans 1 as a training manual, she follows the Apostle Paul’s arguments and presents his diagnosis of the human condition:  those who “do not see fit to acknowledge God” will adopt Creator substitutes, ending up with “two-story worldviews that are not defensible as logically consistent, coherent, or realistic.”  Pointing to alarming statistics regarding teens who have fallen away from Christianity (32% say they left the church because of doubts and questions), Nancy makes a strong case for the inclusion of apologetics in the curriculum for high school and college age learners, and then stresses the importance of equipping the church (particularly parents) to be open to all the questions that arise in our post-Christian society.

Her Five Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes referred to in the subtitle are a tool for organizing one’s thoughts in analyzing a worldview — either a religion or a philosophy.  Following the trail of logic laid in Romans 1, Pearcey invites her readers to begin by identifying the “idol,” i.e., “What has this worldview put in the place of God?”(Principle #1).  Then, because this idol is a “lesser god,” it follows that human life and all else will also be devalued (Principle #2).  The resulting philosophy or religion with its reductionism will not fit the contours of our real world (Principle #3), and will ultimately contradict itself (Principle #4).  Once revealed in this way, the leap of faith and the rationalizations required to sustain one’s belief in the false system are obvious:  adherents must exempt themselves from the critique they apply to everyone else, and, furthermore, they must live “as if there actually were a God” or “as if a Christian epistemology is true” in order to make their worldview work.   The chart below demonstrates the process by which Principles 1-4 unmask and test the idols of a philosophy, a religion, and a political theory.

The idol The reductionism Cognitive dissonance
Post-modernism   (a philosophy) The forces of culture or community Humans are merely products of social forces If there is no universal/objective truth, who can believe post-modernists?
Pantheism (a religion) The universe (The “One” or The “All”) Individual self has so little value, it should be dissolved into “The One.” Can they really regard their children and loved ones in this way?
Nazi-ism (a political theory) Race Those who don’t fit into prescribed box are suppressed. Ultimately leads to tyranny and death

Once the idol has been unmasked in this way, it can be replaced with Truth, and this is, perhaps, the most important section of Nancy’s approach to defending the faith.  Making a case for Christianity (Principle #5) involves responding to the weak points of a reductionist worldview and offering Christ as a path to intellectual credibility.  To shore up our confidence, Nancy Pearcey details examples in which foundational tenets of the Christian faith have been “borrowed” by secularists.  The idea that life has an ultimate purpose, the existence of an objective moral standard, the idea that God speaks and that the heavens are open are all uniquely Christian claims that have been borrowed  because adherents cannot live within “the cramped confines” of their secular worldview.

I have come away from my reading of Finding Truth very grateful for Nancy Pearcey’s clear (but not simplistic)  work in training her reader to think like an apologist.  With Romans 1 conveniently in the appendix and a complete study guide in the back, this book is perfectly designed for classroom or small group use.  Additionally, when I stumble upon a book that has 44 pages of footnotes and discover that there is so much “good stuff” back there that I stick a bookmark to keep me from missing anything, I think of it as “bonus material.”  I don’t have the intellect or the rapier wit to produce the incisive retorts that I have long associated with well-known apologists, but it turns out that that’s o.k.  “A gentle answer turns away wrath,” and it is a far better thing, following Nancy’s five steps, to find the deficiencies in an unbeliever’s worldview, and then — gently — to offer Christ.  “Here, let this truth fill your vacuum.  Let His love fill your heart.  Let His purpose fill your life.”

This book was provided by David C. Cook in exchange for my honest review.

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8 thoughts on “Unmasking the Substitutes”

  1. Sounds like an excellent read! I need to prepare as my children grow. Right now they are only 6 and 9 but this will go by so quickly and they will be faced with many untruths as they go out into the world….Thanks for sharing!


    1. Amy, you are smart to begin preparing. Nancy Pearcey sounds an alarm for parents — especially those who have kids with an inquisitive bent, because “pat answers” to real questions only feed doubt and discourage kids from bringing forth important questions. Thanks for stopping by!


  2. Nancy Pearcey is one of my favorite authors to just sit and soak up in small segments. I have not read this book, but it is now on my list for this summer. I have read through ( not beginning to end, mind you) Total Truth and The Soul of Science is currently my read at the moment. Her thoughts go deep, take us there with her and make us think. I love it. Isaiah 1:18.. Let’s reason together.

    Thanks for sharing this review!


    1. Yes, Nancy is deep, and her brain clicks much faster than mine does, but I love that feeling of stretching my mind around Scripture. Thanks for reading the review. You’ve made me want to read Total Truth! (book envy?)


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