Review – Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes

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Reposted with permission from Proclaim & Defend.

Finding Truth is a relatively recent book (pub. 2015). Others have taken in hand to review it already. For a survey of the main argument of the book, you can see Challies’ review, here. For numerous reviews by readers, see Good Reads, here. In my review, I’d like to focus on ways this book can be useful to train our thinking, correct our own attitudes, and aid in evangelism. No book is without flaws (save the Bible); two stand out to me which I will note in due course.

The basic premise of the book is that, using principles found in Romans 1:18 and following, it is possible to unmask and redirect the false worldviews on which all lost people depend. These worldviews rest on some observable truth in general revelation and make that truth the “one truth to rule them all,” to the exclusion of other inconvenient truths in general revelation that contradict and overthrow every non-biblical worldview. For example, materialism assumes that reality is limited to that which can be touched, felt, seen; it denies the spiritual realm entirely. But conscience! But free will! Even personhood … a materialistic worldview cannot explain any of these realities—they are “outside the materialism box” and must be repressed. So it goes with every non-biblical world view.

The attempt to elevate one part of creation over the rest of creation has several effects. It excludes God from the picture, it reduces humanity from the dignity of an image-bearer of God to something far less, and it effectively elevates its favored aspect of creation to the status of a god. In short, this is the process of idolatry. Whether one reduces god to the image of “corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things,”1 or whether it reduces god to matter or reason or idealism, in every case an idol is formed.

Anything in creation that is proposed as the eternal, unchanging foundation of reality is an idol.2

To identify and overturn non-biblical worldviews, Nancy Pearcey explains these five Romans 1 principles:

  • Principle #1: Identify the idol
  • Principle #2: Identify the reductionism
  • Principle #3: Test the worldview against real experience (against general revelation)
  • Principle #4: Show the fatal flaw
  • Principle #5: Make the case for the Christian worldview

For more detail, see Challies’ review linked above (or read the book!).

Believers can make use of this book in several ways. First, the world often baffles us by its seeming sophistication. Where do we start in trying to find the flaw in all those arguments? Strong-seeming non-biblical worldviews can overwhelm or mute untrained believers. Taking the time to learn how worldviews work can pay rich rewards in terms of disciplined, biblical thinking and as a safeguard from worldly challenges. This book and others on worldview are useful in this regard. This one is very readable. You ought to read books like this simply to train your mind in light of the wiles of the devil.

Second, understanding the way the world thinks helps you to understand yourself. We live in this world and its views profoundly affect us. Sometimes believers retain aspects of their old worldviews in conflict with their newfound faith. Sometimes believers hang on to false ideas for a long time. In particular, the description of idolatry in Finding Truth helps us to understand our own behaviour. Sin itself is an elevation of something in this world to a place of supremacy, while at the same time devaluing both God and others in the process. For example, the thief devalues other people to the point where he justifies himself in taking something that is not his to satisfy something of supreme value to himself. Isn’t this idolatry? When Potiphar’s wife accosted Joseph with her illicit desires, did she value Joseph as a person? Didn’t she elevate her own feelings and sensations above the rights of her husband, Joseph, and the will of God? Isn’t that idolatry? Christians themselves can be trapped by an idolatrous worldview which justifies violating God’s will, even though we know better. John warned us, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”3 If we understand how we form idols in our hearts, we can strengthen our guard against them. Perhaps this knowledge will be useful in pursuing the life of victory.

Finally, the most important benefit of this book (and its main purpose, I think) is to equip believers to interact with people in the world whose self-confidence is self-defeating. How often have you heard someone glibly dismiss your witness with, “Science has disproven the Bible”? The book spends a lot of time deconstructing the popular views of our day. It is quite helpful to understand that behind every system of thought, there is a true or false starting point.

But it is impossible to think without some starting point. If you do not start with God, you must start somewhere else. You must propose something else as the ultimate, eternal, uncreated reality that is the cause and source of everything else. The important question is not which starting points are religious or secular, but which claims stand up to testing. (p. 62, Kindle loc. 612)

Our conversations with the lost ought to work to uncover the flaws in their own spiritual reasoning. Pursuing a soul-winning conversation is vital. We have to help people see that they are lost, and then give them truth that properly fills in the voids. Understanding worldviews, their flaws, as well as their strengths (the part of reality they do get right – we do live in a material universe after all, for example) will help us to point clearly to the cross and the biblical answer to the problems of life. Finding Truth is a good book to help us hone these skills.

Last, a brief word on what seem to be weaknesses in the book. The last point of the book, “Principle #5: Make the case for the Christian worldview” is correct, but I wonder if the book presents this well enough. The book seems more to emphasize winning the worldview argument than replacing the false worldview conclusions with the cross. This section could be stronger and more reliant on the scriptures as the answer to worldview questions. One almost gets a sense that we can overcome worldview problems simply with appeals to general revelation.

Another weakness is right at the conclusion where Nancy Pearcey advocates utilizing popular media forms as a means of influencing correct worldview thinking. We need, it seems, to redeem movies, music, literature and so on for the gospel’s sake. She is picking up on the way the world teaches its views.

This is how most people pick up their ideas about life. They don’t think, I need a personal philosophy and sign up for a philosophy course at the local university. Instead they absorb their ideas about life through the books they read, the movies they watch, the music they listen to. (p. 258, Kindle loc. 3010)

Her point is that since these views are absorbed unobtrusively, we need to counter with our own cultural influencers.

That is fine to a point, but she cites the “hip hop artist” Lecrae as an example of someone who is doing this. She seems to equate his music as a neutral thing that Christians can utilize for promoting truth.

Lecrae explains. “God gave us the ingenuity and tools to make a butcher knife, so we can use it to murder or serve food to the homeless.” (p. 274, Kindle loc. 3201)

However, music isn’t a butcher knife; it is a lively art. Music is something that proceeds from the heart, just as other arts do. It is not that we may turn any form of music to the purpose of teaching truth. We can only turn some forms of music to that purpose. This appears to me to be a flaw, just as the book is wrapping up.

Nevertheless, I recommend the book to anyone who wants to learn how to engage our world. I think the book itself is a mostly helpful tool. Along the way, you may find that you engage the world in your own heart as well, and that is always valuable.


1 Rom. 1:23

2 p. 83, Kindle loc. 880

3 1 John 5:21


Sounds like a great book. From this review, just purchased a Kindle version.

"The Midrash Detective"

Started reading this one over the weekend as audiobook. Enjoying it. Didn’t realize how hungry I’d gotten for something intellectually stimulating in authentically Christian way.

If you have an active mind, you can’t really be “spiritual” without being regularly intellectual as well. It’s part of you are. Matt 22.37.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

I need to buy one of Pearcey’s books. I’ve been meaning to do that for a while. I may check out the audio version from the library and listen to it on the way to work.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Pearcey is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I just finished Total Truth and I read Love Thy Body a few months ago. Looking forward to reading Finding Truth. Thank you for this review.

My library network doesn’t have this one so I got it on Audible. Pretty good reader, except that she pronounces Kant like “can’t” instead of like “want.” Very distracting.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Pearcey’s Total Truth used to be required, if I remember correctly, for teachers seeking ASCI certification. I read it for that purpose more than a decade ago and remember it being excellent. I hope they still use it.

The kindle version only cost 1.99. What a deal!

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"The Midrash Detective"

I checked out the digital audiobook from my library, downloaded it, and will begin listening to Total Truth this afternoon as I drive home.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

When I got going on Finding Truth I got both versions, as I wanted to get the better comprehension. Alas, I read faster than I listen! Still working through the audio version, but now after having read the material.

For books of this sort, one needs more or less undivided attention when listening, so I listen sporadically, while out walking. I listen to a lot of audio while driving, but it is hard for me to follow a book like this while driving.

The kindle price today is outstanding, I think I paid more than that.

I think I will get a hard copy as well, it’s a book I’d like to refer to, I think hard copy is the best way to do that.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Pearcey makes much of “free will” in the book as an argument against the determinism of materialism and pantheism, especially. But, as with so many others I read on this subject, her handling of the topic puzzles and frustrates me. People never seem to adequately define what they mean by “free.” She does point out that the human will has limits (we aren’t free to choose to do what we are incapable of doing, for example… and I think I heard a brief reference to inability to choose outside the limits of our nature—maybe).

But most of her energy on the topic goes into pointing out that materialism’s conclusion that our choices are mechanical, determined by chemistry and physics, and that this determinism is contrary to the universal human experience of making choices. At one point she uses the example of choosing ham rather than something else on a sandwich.

This is where I got frustrated. When I choose one sandwich over another, this is when it is least perceptually obvious that my choices are “free,” for the simple reason that the smaller the choice is, the less likely I am to actually know why I am choosing A over B. It’s intuitive. This doesn’t refute determinism very well, because I do not feel any experience of freedom at all in making these myriad small choices. I only feel mystery and complexity. I cannot know that my choice is “free” if I don’t even know why I’m making it. In these cases, I suggest that any perception of freedom is indeed “illusion,” because we can’t perceive the freedom of a choice when we don’t know why we’re making it. We are perceiving the absence of conscious external constraint, but as far as possible constraints go, that’s not ruling out much.

The word “free” means without constraint. And I really think that nobody believes in an entirely unconstrained will. We choose for reasons, even when we don’t know what the reasons are. And those reasons constrain us to make the particular choices we do.

So the problem with materialism is not that it sees the will as constrained, but what kind of restraint it must claim: biochemical/physical constraint. With pantheism, the situation is more difficult, because there really is no universal human experience of making choices that are spiritually unconstrained.

So I think she puts far too much stock in this argument. So far it’s the weakest part of the book in my view.

I believe the biblical view is that every time we make a choice, it’s an expression of all we are at that moment, including all the biochemical stuff as well as the spiritual. But that choice is the inevitable consequence of all that we are. It is constrained, not free.

That we are still morally responsible is clear from Scripture. But there is really no inherent incompatibility between responsibility and the constrained quality of our choices. Born in Adam, we all sin because this is our nature. We cannot chose otherwise (until transformed) but are still responsible just as Adam was. Large topic, but I think the whole “we must be unconstrained in order to be responsible” thing is a canard.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Aaron, thank you for an excellent and very helpful analysis of the difficult “free will” issue.

G. N. Barkman

Erickson says much the same thing as Aaron in his systematic, as he discusses this. Calvin (and the other, usual Reformed suspects) are also very good on whether “free will” is constrained; that is, free to act within guardrails governed by sinful desires (for the unsaved person). Sproul, in Holiness of God, also does a nice job of this. Especially look at Erickson and Sproul, and Calvin too.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Part of the difficulty of achieving clarity on the topic is defining “free” but part is defining “will.” As Pearcey gets further into her analysis, “will” seems to mean something like conscious personal desire. The determinism she objects to is mostly the sort that sees us as incapable of genuinely evaluating and desiring one option over another for reasons rooted in our conscious personhood … Reasons beyond either material/chemical process/programming or impersonal spiritual process (as a passive cog in some giant overmind). The latter is a concept that I was finding harder to distinguish from what I described above as the biblical view. But for her purposes, the key distinction is genuine individual personhood expressed in choices.

She sees this personal (“free”) will as universal human experience that any worldview must explain or go into the trash bin on the grounds of “dehumanizing reductionism” (and failure to actually be a worldview) .

So… looked at that way, the argument from “free will” is much more persuasive, to me at least—and less frustrating.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.