Book Review: Saving Leonardo

Anthony Weber —  January 20, 2012 — 2 Comments
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If you have ever wondered how history, art, science, religion, philosophy, music architecture, and literature have both reflected and shaped our world,  Nancy Pearcey can answer your questions.  Saving Leonardo  reads much like Francis Schaeffer’s How Shall We Then Live?, which is no surprise considering Schaeffer’s influence on Pearcey’s life.  Saving Leonardo offers a wide-ranging, intellectually compelling, visually striking journey through Western history.

While Pearcey critiques a number of worldviews, her main target is secular humanism: “Any worldview that posits a non-personal starting point does not have the intellectual resources to account for personal agents…the consequence of secular humanism is ultimately dehumanizing…A worldview that does not start with God must start with something less than God – something within creation – which then becomes the category to explain all of reality.”

Rather then simply quoting Christians, Pearcey gives ample space to those with whom she disagrees.  She allows the best of the non-theistic philosophers, doctors, scientists and artists speak for themselves before discussing the foundations and implications of their beliefs.  While this book provides great insight into the Christian worldview, its striking revelation of other worldviews is equally strong.

As an apologetics book, Saving Leonardo’s cultural apologetic takes a somewhat different approach than a book by, say, William Lane Craig or N.T. Wright. Many Christian theologians and philosophers use practical examples to give an image to the intellectual discussion, which is necessary and good; Pearcey to some degree inverts the emphasis, using the intellectual discussion to set the table for a cultural and artistic feast. Notice how the following quotes build toward practical insights about our world:

 “Every social practice is an expression of the fundamental assumptions about what it means to be human.  When a society accepts, endorses, and approves the practice, it implicitly commits itself to the accompanying worldview – and all the more so if those practices are enshrined in law.” 

“When a society accepts the practice, it absorbs the worldview that justifies it….it’s about deciding which worldview will shape our life together.”

“As modern people stopped believing that life itself had a coherent story line, artists stopped seeking to tell a coherent story in their paintings…why write coherent stories if the universe itself is no longer thought to have a coherent story line?” 

“A deterministic worldview produces characters that are not true to life…The artist was merely a mouthpiece for the larger social forces that produced him.. When naturalism declares freedom to be an illusion, it denies this universal human experience. After all, the purpose of a worldview is to explain the basic date of human experience, not to deny it.”

An excellent list of books, artwork, movies and music follow her worldview discussions.  It’s nice to see a writer  treat Picasso, Thomas Kinkaid, John Cage and Avatar with equal seriousness, since they all teach a message about the world.

Pearcey does not see cultural decay as a reason to withdraw or give up.  She offers an important point of connection: “All worldviews contain some grains of truth, simply because people are made in God’s image and live in God’s world. “ She encourages Christians to understand both our worldview and the worldview of others, so as to better engage a world God loves.

Her solution to the worldview battle is a very proactive one: we should enter into all areas of society and shine the light of God and His truth into even the darkest recesses of our cities.  Our response “… should grow out of the robust confidence that nothing is unredeemable – that Jesus himself entered into the darkest levels of human experience and transformed them into sources of life and renewal…”

 As Christians enter into this cultural minefield, it is important to remember that our pictures, stories, and music should reveal the hope that Christianity offers to the world: “No matter how degraded or corrupt a character may be, he or she should be portrayed with the dignity of being redeemable.  Some ray of hope should penetrate the darkness.” 

Anthony Weber

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Anthony graduated from Cedarville University in 1995 with a degree in English Education, and from Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana in 2004 with a Master's Degree in Theology and Philosophy. Anthony is a husband and father of three, an author ("Learning to Jump Again"), high school and college teacher, pastor, blogger (tcapologetics.org, empiresandmangers.blogspot.com), and co-founder of etcetera, a "street-level philosophy group" in Traverse City, Michigan.