Inerrancy and Worldview by PoythressFor evangelicals, there are few hot button theological issues that will incite a myriad of responses like discussing the doctrine if inerrancy. There is much debate that is as broad as Evangelicalism (including Fundamentalists) itself. For many evangelicals it is a deal breaker for claiming to be an evangelical. For others who want to stretch the stakes and broaden the evangelical tent, inerrancy is an outdated doctrine that needs to be either abandoned or better informed based on modern scholarship in a myriad of fields.

What can often times be missed in the discussion is the role that one’s worldview plays in the discussion. It is to the issue of worldviews and inerrancy that Vern Poythress tackles in his recent book Inerrancy and Worldview: Answering Modern Challenges to the Bible published by Crossway. The essential argument of the book is that the fundamental divide between those who disagree over the possibility of an inerrant Bible lies at the level of one’s worldview. “Modern worldviews are at odds with the worldview put forward in the Bible. This difference in worldview creates obstacles when modern people read and study the Bible.” (p. 14) As such, this is not a book that seeks to articulate and defend the traditional doctrine of inerrancy from a more theological stance.

Through a series of thirty six chapters divided under ten sections, Poythress briefly addresses a number of modern challenges to the traditional view of inerrancy. The chapters are short and by that I mean the shortest at just under four full pages and the longest at barely eight pages. Undoubtedly, Poythress is writing for the laymen and acknowledges that he is merely scratching the surface with the issues addressed in each chapter. Nevertheless, the succinctness of each chapter enables one to see the broader worldview issue(s) in view without drowning the reader in a deep theological hole.

What one gleans from the book is that the modern challenge to the traditional view of inerrancy is not a simple objection but is rather broad in scope, thus showing the breath and interconnectedness of one’s worldview. This is the point of course. Even putting inerrancy aside, one can easily see the stark differences between the worldview of a modern and an Evangelical throughout the book. Worldviews influence every facet of a person’s thought world or belief system.

For Poythress, at the heart of the worldview focus as it relates to inerrancy is whether ones worldview is open or closed. That is, does one’s worldview allow for the intervention of an external agent to act within the natural world or not. Further this speaks to whether ne has a personalist or impersonalist worldview. For an impersonalist there is no room for an outside agent. For those who hold a personalist worldview there is room for an external agent to act within the universe and on earth among mankind.

An example of how this shakes out can be seen in the hotly debated use of the historical-critical method as it is applied to Scripture more specifically. Poythress defines it as a tradition that “attempts to treat the Bible as a collection of books from human authors, like any other books by human authors – it does not focus on or think about God as divine author.” (p. 46) Following the lead of Ernst Troeltsch, he sums up the three principles of the historical-critical method as follows: (1) Criticism of past documents as unreliable, (2) Analogy of past events to present ones in order to verify the claims of the past and (3) Correlation of events before and after the event in question. (p. 47) Ironically, Poythress believes that these principles have their foundation in God though on an impersonalist worldview they are greatly misused. (p. 48) So, the basis of the principle of criticism is the ability make judgments which has its root in God. Analogies exist due to the constancy and permanency of the created order which was created that way by God. Finally, the principle of correlation as cause and effect is founded in the way in which God made the natural world to operate and well as mankind. The misuse of these principles is summarized as follows:

The historical-critical method rests on unsound foundations. In fact, it denies at the beginning the existence of the God described in the Bible. Over time, generations of very gifted people working with this method can produce plausible explanations for the origins of the Bible by rearranging, hypothesizing, and building layer on layer of plausible sequences of naturalistic explanations. They end up with naturalistic explanations because naturalistic explanations are the only ones they are searching for and the only ones that count within the framework that they have already adopted. The result, though it contains some positive insights by common grace, is an illusion. (p. 55)

Including the historical-critical method, Poythress addresses many claims against the possibility of inerrancy in the fields of science, language, sociology, anthropology and psychology. Additionally, Poythress goes to the depths of the human condition as affected by sin. For Poythress, the heart of the issue for impersonalists is that sin has corrupted their minds (Eph. 4:17-18). It is this corruption of the mind by sin and its only remedy in the gospel of Jesus Christ that Poythress spends part eight addressing. Part of the transforming power of the gospel is its ability to remove the effects it has on the human mind and thus enable one to accept the truth of God’s Word as it speaks to, among other things, the truth about the nature of God and His written Word, Scripture. Since God speaks to man in Scripture revealing truths about Himself in it Scripture is a testimony to and bears the marks of the character of God Himself. Thus, as it applies to the point of the book, if God’s character is wrapped up in the revealed truth of Scripture then it cannot be with error for to be so would call into question the character of God. Poythress elaborates,

The Bible contains many forms of communication, including not only assertions but questions, commands, exclamations, and expressions of personal feeling, which belong to various genres. Some people think of “truth” as confined to assertions. So we need to think about how God’s trustworthiness applies to other forms of communication as well. God is trustworthy in all the forms of communication that he uses: he uses each form in accord with its own character that he has ordained. His trustworthiness includes the truthfulness of what he implies in these various forms of communication. (p. 205)

So with all of the helpful worldview critiquing of an impersonalist view of inerrancy, how could one find fault with the book? I do have one issue with the book. While Poythress does address the difference in worldviews through various sides of the issue, he could have done a better job of tying in at least each main section topic to the doctrine of inerrancy itself. I think there were less than ten uses of the word inerrancy in the whole book. The core thesis of the book could have had more impact and clarity had there been a summary at the end of each section that explicitly connected the discussion at hand to the doctrine of inerrancy. For instance, how, on a personalist worldview, can the fields of sociology and anthropology actually contribute to the defense of inerrancy on a worldview level?

That criticism aside, Inerrancy and Worldview is a view of the debate from 30,000 feet in the air as it address the worldview issues that underlie the possibility of an inerrant Bible as written by the hands of men and inspired by the Spirit of God. Given the potential for each section to have become a book in itself and the highly intellectual writer that Poythress is, overall, the brevity of each chapter introduces the reader just enough to the issue at hand without losing one’s interest in utter simplicity. He gets to the heart of the matter in a very short span of pages which speaks to his grasp of the issues he addresses and the doctrine of inerrancy. This is a good place to start to get one’s feet wet on the bigger issues at hand before one delves into the more theological discussion of the doctrine of inerrancy.

NOTE: I received this book for free from Crossway and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

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