Whose Art Is It Anyway? - A Review of Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey
I cannot remember precisely when I read Nancy Pearcey's book for the first time, and yet I am still recommending it at every turn. If you are a lover of art, culture, philosophy, film, literature or worldview thinking (or perhaps all of these things), then you will certainly appreciate Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey. (Nashville: P & H Publishing Group, 2010. 281pp.). Here is a brief evaluation to wet your whistle:
Nancy Pearcey wrote this work while a research professor of Worldview Studies at Philadelphia Biblical University. Her background in worldview studies comes from her time at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland with Francis Schaeffer. This fact clearly shows itself in her manner of expression and depth of understanding in the arts and philosophy. This book could almost have been written by Schaeffer himself were he still alive today. With keen insight and clear thoughtfulness, Pearcey confronts the reader with the importance of worldviews. For the Christian reader, this work is a tool which should be highly prized.
She begins the book considering the threat of global secularism. Her first chapter heading seems to be meant for a Christian audience, but could equally apply to any individual concerned with ideas and truth. “Are You an Easy Target?” begins the book, and the startling insight she gives in this chapter sets up the rest of the work on firm ground. In this chapter she speaks to the war of worldviews currently raging and how many Christians do not even know it is happening. Whether because of a fortress mentality or because many Christians have imbibed the secular philosophies around them, most believers seem to not even realize there is a fight in action.
“Truth and Tyranny” is the second chapter and this chapter alone seemingly encompasses the entire rest of the book. If the reader can understand the duality of truth that current western culture has produced, the other philosophies and issues in art and culture fall into place and the focus becomes much less foggy. Although she does not use the quote by Ravi Zacharias “truth, by definition, is exclusive,” this could be the subtitle of this chapter.
The second part of the book essentially expounds on the two forms of truth created by secular philosophy and how those have worked themselves out in different movements and counter-movements. Chapter 4 gives a crash course on worldview basics and is followed by an excellent critique and evaluation of the age of the machine in chapter 5. As she discusses the Enlightenment heritage, Pearcey shows the bankrupt nature of the claims made by enlightenment philosophers. Science has not been the savior, and the world is still a wicked place. Is the Westerner to believe he or she is merely a tiny cog in the giant wheel of the machine’s progress and is insignificant in every form? The dehumanizing nature of such a philosophy is not only shown and evaluated, but this philosophy is pointed out in art forms and common fair of today’s Western world. This is one aspect of Pearcey’s writing that is extremely enjoyable. She not only can speak to the theoretical, but also knows when to connect it with concrete instances when it shows up in art forms. This causes her book to not fall into the trap of being purely academic, but practically helpful.
Chapter 6 shows the effects of the enlightenment in literature with such writings as Jack London’s Call of the Wild and the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, just to name two authors Pearcey mentions. Then chapter 7 shows the counter movement of Romanticism. Although the author’s keen understanding and valid critique of each movement and set of ideas is consistently given, she also points out the true elements of each system. This is refreshing and it fulfills one of her main ideas that the Christian worldview is the only one that can see truth in all other worldviews, but can also point out their errors. The truth in other worldviews is because human beings are created in the image of God, but the wrong comes when they have separated truth into two compartments instead of realizing the unified nature of truth.
Chapter 8 speaks to some issues in the Romantic’s system and to some of the back and fourth nature between the Romantics and the Enlightenment supporters. Dealing with movies as an art form is rarely done, and never with such insight as this brief chapter seems to evidence. All of the philosophical ideas she has spoken about in the book are now shown to be coming through in the movies people watch on a consistent basis.
The Epilogue concludes the book nicely with considerations of how Christians can reclaim the arts they left so long ago and both develop and guard a consistently Christian worldview.
Although this book contains several helpful illustrations and explanations, it would have been immensely improved by charting the different philosophies and how they birthed others in response to them. This would have enabled the reader to get a better picture of how all these paradigms connected. This work is helpful for the serious layman, but is more suited for a pastor or academic student with at least a smattering of theology and philosophy background. In the area of worldviews, however, one would be hard pressed to find a better or more helpful book.
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