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Home > Friday's Lecture Calls Christians to Unify Experience & Intellect

Lecture Calls Christians to Unify Experience & Intellect

February 23rd, 2010

By Sarah Pride and David Halbrook

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722

Dr. Nancy Pearcey, cultural commentator, at the podium for PHC's spring 2010 Faith & Reason lecture

As the newest addition to a growing tradition of Faith and Reason lectures at Patrick Henry College, cultural commentator Nancy Pearcey challenged the PHC community to “take back the English department.” Her lecture, entitled “Saving Leonardo: How to Recognize and Resist Secular Worldviews,” outlined how “the history of ideas has been a pendulum swinging back and forth” ever since the Enlightenment and subsequent Romantic movements. It has swung, she explained, between those locked in the intellectual realm and those wedded to the world of experience.

Speaking to students in Town Hall, Dr. Pearcey demonstrated how the visual art of various ages illustrated the underlying world philosophies—and helped to create them. Ideas and art of all kinds build on each other in the culture at large.

“We are all called to be a redemptive force within our society,” she stated, “—not only to critique secular ideologies, but also to offer a richer, fuller biblical perspective.”

One of the many small-group discussions scattered across campus; here, led by Dr. Mark Mitchell, Associate Professor of Government (center)

Many in attendance were instantly intrigued at Dr. Pearcey’s focus on the world of art, rather than, as with previous F&R speakers, subjects such as metaphysics, theology, or academia. Accompanied by slides projected to illustrate her thesis, Dr. Pearcey’s lecture complemented another of the College’s cultural objectives, impacting the world in literature and the arts. It also touched on a topic dear to PHC Provost Dr. Gene Edward Veith: the concept of Christian vocation.

The doctrine of vocation teaches that God lays specific callings, as individual as a fingerprint, on the lives of every human. Although some Christians are called to become pastors or missionaries to foreign countries, many more simply work for excellence where they live.

In general, Friday’s lecture tracked quickly through families of thought as divergent as rationalism and pantheism, Dr. Pearcey demonstrating how secular, non-Christian thought since the Enlightenment and the Romantic movements has followed two distinct pathways. On one side, thinkers have argued for an “Analytic” philosophy, the idea that only human reason can derive truth through the analysis of sense data. As this philosophy failed to satisfy, she detailed how artists reacted to the Analytics in the “Continental” tradition by trying to “create meaning for a world that materialistic science had robbed of meaning.” In so doing, the secular world has swung back and forth between relying on the intellect and on personal experience.

The faculty panel for spring 2010 faith and reason consisted this semester of Dr. Veith, Dr. Pearcey, Assistant Professor of Literature Dr. Bonnie Libby, and moderator Dr. Mark Mitchell, Associate Professor of Government

During the afternoon panel discussion, Dr. Veith observed: “What most defines secularism is the separation of these two realms, as Dr. Pearcey showed us.  The challenge for Christians is to bridge those realms—the intellectual and the experiential—and show that they are two parts of a whole. I think only Christians can do that.”

To wrap up the day, students peppered Dr. Pearcey and the faculty panel with questions, always a highlight of the Faith and Reason seminar. Their small groups, led by other faculty and staff members, had earlier met to discuss the lecture and choose delegates to ask questions stemming from those discussions. Queries ranged from senior Tanner Lovett’s request for practical ways in which students might “march on the English department,” to senior Joanna Griffith’s query as to whether all art styles are redeemable. Several students also asked for opinions on current films, such as Avatar and The Book of Eli. As always, lively exchanges sprung up on the panel, which consisted this semester of Dr. Veith, Dr. Pearcey, Assistant Professor of Literature Dr. Bonnie Libby, and moderator Dr. Mark Mitchell, Associate Professor of Government.

Junior David Turner presents a question during the student Q&A

Closing thoughts from Dr. Pearcey’s lecture, quoting the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer, served to summarize the entire spring 2010 Faith and Reason seminar: “One of the greatest injustices we do to our young people is to ask them to be conservative. Christianity is not conservative, but revolutionary.

“We must teach the young to be revolutionaries, revolutionaries against the status quo,” Dr. Pearcey, quoting Schaeffer, concluded. Then, in her own words, she exhorted students: “We are called to revolt against false worldviews and the power they exert over minds and hearts—to be on the front lines liberating society from its captivity to secular worldviews.”

Dr. Pearcey’s new book, Saving Leonardo, will be available for sale in September, 2010.

Dr. Veith, who began his career as a cultural commentator while working with Dr. Pearcey on Chuck Colson’s “BreakPoint” radio series, has written extensively on the topic of vocation as outlined in Dr. Pearcey’s lecture. Dr. Pearcey herself has clarified the concept at length in her book, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity. For young people seeking to make their first steps in the world, the College has long emphasized this doctrine as especially important in the cause of leading the nation and impacting the culture for Christ.

Click on the video below to watch summary snippets from Friday's lecture.