Is Reality Secular?: Testing the Assumptions of Four Global Worldviews, By Mary Poplin
Is Reality Secular?
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Dimensions: 6 × 9 in
  • Published: January 02, 2014
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: 4406
  • ISBN: 9780830844067

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What is the nature of reality?

At the root of our society's deepest political and cultural divisions are the conflicting principles of four global worldviews. While each of us holds to some version of one of these worldviews, we are often unconscious of their differences as well as their underlying assumptions.

Mary Poplin argues that the ultimate test of a worldview, philosophy or ideology is whether it corresponds with reality. Since different perspectives conflict with each other, how do we make sense of the differences? And if a worldview system accurately reflects reality, what implications does that have for our thinking and living?

In this wide-ranging and perceptive study, Poplin examines four major worldviews: naturalism, humanism, pantheism and Judeo-Christian theism. She explores the fundamental assumptions of each, pressing for limitations. Ultimately she puts each perspective to the test, asking, what if this worldview is true?

If reality is secular, that means something for how we orient our lives. But if reality is not best explained by secular perspectives, that would mean something quite different. Consider for yourself what is the fundamental substance of reality.

"Truth, a wise man said, is valuable because it is what allows us to navigate reality. Mary Poplin has done us a great service—she helps us explore where truth lies and how it guides. This is fair-minded, clear-seeing and deeply informed."

John Ortberg, senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and author of Who Is This Man?

"This is a serious book by a serious thinker. What's most appealing is its authenticity. Mary Poplin guides readers through the pitfalls of the same secular beliefs she held personally for many years until finally discovering the truth of Christianity at the age of forty. Her analysis reflects the insight of someone who has lived out secular philosophies and knows from the inside how destructive and dehumanizing they are. She makes the case that Christianity is not just a better theory, it is reality."

Nancy R. Pearcey, director, Francis Schaeffer Center for Worldview and Culture; professor, Houston Baptist University

"This is a thorough and remarkably informative critique of what is wrong with today's predominant worldview, that is, secularism. The many atheists, humanists and materialists controlling so much of what is read in our colleges and presented in the media should put it on their informal but effective list of 'forbidden books.' Of course, Poplin's book should go on the list of required books for all Christians trying to survive the politically correct rejection of God and Christ now nervously maintained by our governing elite."

Paul C. Vitz, professor, Institute for the Psychological Sciences; professor emeritus, New York University; author of Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism

"In her book, Mary Poplin, an academic with many years of insider knowledge of the secularist mindset, questions what for many people, particularly in the West, is beyond question—that secularism is reality. With great honesty and sensitivity she takes us on a journey—her journey—intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual from the secularist worldview to vibrant Christianity. Her voice deserves to be heard as she explores one of the most important questions of our time."

John Lennox, professor of mathematics, University of Oxford; fellow in mathematics and philosophy of science, Green Templeton College

"It is unusual these days for a book to be both provocative and reflective, but that is precisely what Professor Poplin has accomplished in Is Reality Secular? The roots of her reflection are clearly in what began as a personal quest for meaning and truth, but she has produced an extended essay that addresses a universal longing and therefore speaks to us all. Her fellow Christians will find the book edifying. I myself certainly did. But others, too, will find value in it. Even at its most provocative, it is never merely polemical. It provokes, rather, by engaging the reader where he is and challenging him to join her in thinking ever more deeply about ultimate things."

Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University

"Mary Poplin and I take very different sides on the topics discussed in her book. That is why I prize her writings, because they are so fair and comprehensive. She shows me clearly what I must grapple with and defeat—or give up and join her side! Very much recommended."

Michael Ruse, Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University

"This clearly written and wide-ranging book shows Mary Poplin to be an important Christian intellectual voice. The cumulative force of her best evidence provides a compelling case, one all the more relevant because of her personal story."

Craig Keener, professor of New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary

"This masterful book will be a much-debated and a welcome addition to graduate and undergraduate courses in religion, philosophy, and social and political culture. I suspect readers will spend many hours pondering the powerful arguments that Poplin advances."

Carol M. Swain, professor of political science and law, Vanderbilt University

"With the increasing threats to our religious freedom from our government and beyond, Poplin's book is most welcome. She helps us understand the emergence of the 'dictatorship of relativism' and reminds us, as Pope John Paul II has reminded us, that 'truth enlightens man's intelligence and shapes his freedom.'"

Anne Hendershott, director of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio

"The attractiveness of this book results from its combination of two qualities not often found together: Though it is intellectually serious, at the same time it is deeply personal—you might call it 'warmly logical.' Mary Poplin understands that the truth of things concerns us in our very depths, for unlike all of the myriad whats of the material world, we are whos."

J. Budziszewski, departments of government and philosophy, University of Texas at Austin

"Mary Poplin has lived out many of the ideologies of the past fifty years—secular humanism, ivory-tower Marxism, radical feminism, New Age spirituality, you name it. Is Reality Secular? is her penetrating analysis of these ideologies and a brilliant exposition of the profound truths of the Christian faith. A terrific book for undergraduates, grad students and all those who want to be really educated—that is, aware of the sweep of intellectual history, what it has been and is now, and where it should be headed."

James W. Sire, author of The Universe Next Door

"The line of argument Mary Poplin develops in this book is vital for the future of education today and tomorrow, both for secularists and for Christians. . . . Mary breaks the impasse between secularists and Christians by intelligently reframing the questions which must be asked and answered for thoughtful and honest living today."

From the foreword by the late Dallas Willard, professor of philosophy, University of Southern California

"This is the best book I've read since 2002. . . . I recommend it highly to all church libraries."

Church Libraries, Summer 2014

"Mary Poplin's well-documented, insightful book delivers far more than is promised by its subtitle."

Jerry Ford, Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1/2

"This volume stands as proof for (religious) experience as a source of knowledge. Every Christian who wants to make sense of her or his faith needs to read this book. It is easily readable; although the topics are highly philosophical."

Joshua Iyadurai, Missiology, July 2015


Foreword by Dallas Willard

Part 1: Is Reality Secular?
1 Truth and Consequences
2 Confessions of a Professor
3 Worldviews as Operating Systems of the Mind
4 Tracing History up to Now

Part 2: Material Naturalism
5 Everything Is a Thing
6 Science as the Only Truth
7 The Purposeless Universe Emerged from Nothing
8 No Miracles Allowed
9 The Ethics of Things upon Things
10 Countering God as Creator

Part 3: Secular Humanism
11 Man Makes Himself and His World
12 Radical Individual Freedom
13 Varieties of Secular Humanism
14 Principles of Secular and Christian Psychology
15 Finding Moral Truth in Human Dialogue
16 Exorcising Sin
17 Contesting Jesus as Divine

Part 4: Pantheism
18 Immanence - The Spirit Within Us
19 To Eliminate Suffering, Jettison Desire
20 Pantheism?s Many Faces
21 Western Pantheism - Spiritual, Not Religious
22 Spiritual Transactions in People, Nature and Nations
23 Contesting the Holy Spirit

Part 5: What If Judeo-Christianity Is True?
24 A Wider Rationality
25 The Triune God
26 Jesus, Perfect God/Man: Redeemer of Man and the World
27 Signposts of Reality

Name Index
Subject Index


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Mary Poplin

Mary Poplin (Ph.D., University of Texas) is a professor of education at Claremont Graduate University in California, where she has served as director of the teacher education program and dean of the School of Educational Studies. Poplin conducts research inside urban classrooms and schools that promote both justice and accountability. She teaches courses on pedagogy, history and philosophy of education, as well as Christian principles related to these areas. She is also a frequent speaker at Veritas Forums and for both Protestant and Catholic retreats across the country.