Saturday, August 17, 2013

Book Review: Inerrancy and Worldview by Vern Poythress

The past few years have seen the rise of inerrancy—an issue that many thought was resolved come to the forefront of current theological debate, once again. Inerrancy is an important theological truth that while not directly tied to the Gospel itself nevertheless affects how one will ultimately understand issues directly related to the Gospel such as redemption, sin, justification among a host of other issues.  For this reason, the issue of inerrancy while not “of first importance” certainty ranks way up there on the priority of Christian doctrine.

It really shouldn’t surprise Christians that inerrancy is becoming an issue again at all—since the issue of inerrancy is directly tied to the question of who is authoritative: God or man. Theological liberalism has convinced many parts of Christianity today that inerrancy is unimportant because according to them the Bible is a book full of errors. The sad thing is when one looks at the churches of those who deny the inerrancy of the Scriptures it becomes readily apparent who is in “charge”—man and not God. Making much of man is not the church’s mission, but making much of Jesus and spreading His fame to the nations is the Church’s mission. This is exactly why the issue of inerrancy is so important because it deals definitively not just with whether the text of Scripture is with or without error but rather with the larger question of who is authoritative, God or man. This is also the reason why I was excited when I heard about Dr. Vern Poythress new book Inerrancy And Worldview: Answering Modern Challenges To The Bible, because in the past few years I’ve been spending more time studying the doctrine of inerrancy. Through my study, I have become increasingly convinced that this issue will be one of the biggest theological battles in our generation.

Dr. Poythress notes that the traditional evangelical view of inerrancy says that the “Bible is inerrant; that is, it is completely true in what it says and makes no claims that are not true” (13). The author rightly notes that, “The Bible has much to say about God and about how we can come to know him. What it says is deeply at odds with much of the thinking in the modern world. And this is fundamental difference generates differences in many other areas—differences in people’s whole view of the world. 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. People come to the Bible with expectations that do not fit the Bible, and this clash becomes one main reason, though not the only one, why people do not find the Bible’s claims acceptable” (14).

When some people read the title Inerrancy and Worldview they will think that they are reading a book about inerrancy itself, but such an idea would be mistaken. This book is not all about inerrancy but rather deals with the effects of inerrancy as it relates to how people view the world. In other words Inerrancy and Worldview was not written to address the question of inerrancy, as much it was in understanding how inerrancy is under attack from competing worldviews.

Dr. Poythress in his book tackles common religious difficulties such the question of “How can only one religion be right, and “Are moral rules a straitjacket?” He also tackles science, materialism, challenges from history, language, sociology, anthropology, psychology, examples, attitudes and corrupt spirituality before concluding the book with examining Scripture and worldviews. Every chapter is condensed and could very easily be made into entire book length treatments on the topics the author examines.

Since this book addresses the effects of inerrancy on our worldview, I want to focus the remainder of our time together examining the last chapter. The issue of worldviews is one that we are increasingly seeing become a bigger issue in our day whether be it with the statements of politicians, or religious leaders—we are seeing many people reveal where exactly they stand on the issues. In many ways this is good because it tells us whether we as Christians can support them or not as Christians. The issue of worldview is important because Jesus has transferred us from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus—He has quite literally transformed our worldview from one that is sinful to one is centered on Him and all for His glory and praise.

The author rightly notes that the central problem of our day is “our rebellion against God in the heart. This rebellion leads to rejection of Christ and his ways” (243). When we have a low view of God and of His Word—the natural result of this is to push God out of our lives which is also to commit high-handed rebellion against Him. Dr. Poythress frames the issue this way, “Many people in this modern world continue to trust in Christ and read their Bibles in a believing way, in spite of the pressures around them. Many of them are not philosophical reasoners. They may not be intellectually brilliant. They have come to know Christ. They trust him because they know him personally. Christ teaches them through the Holy Spirit, and they grow in discernment. They come to distrust much of what claims to be knowledge in the mainstream culture around them, because it does not seem to help them in understanding the world in a biblically informed way. And some of what they hear from modern culture directly contradicts what they find in the Bible. They may end up rejecting a lot of modern culture, because once suspicion grows, they do not know where the falsehoods stop. Many people in the mainstream then look at these exceptional faithful people as ignoramuses. Biblically based Christianity seems to the mainstream to be a threat to intellectual life. And some of the faithful have indeed become anti-intellectual. But one of the reasons is that intellectual life as conceived in the modernist mode, conceals assumptions that deny the true God from the outset” (243).

Whether you are interested in understanding how inerrancy is under attack from popular culture or whether you’re just interested in learning more about Christianity, Inerrancy and Worldview is an important book that addresses the issue of inerrancy at the worldview level. By examining the worldviews of our day, the author successfully and wonderfully accomplishes his goal to provide the first worldview-based defense of inerrancy showing how worldview differences create or aggravate most perceived difficulties with the Bible. The author’s engaging response to current attempts to abandon or redefine inerrancy will enable Christians to respond well to modern challenges by employing a worldview that allows the Bible to speak on its own terms. I highly recommend you pick up this book as it gets to the heart of an issue that Christians will see not decrease, but increase.

Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Dave Jenkins is the Director of Servants of Grace Ministries. He enjoys biblical, systematic and historical theology and apologetics. More of his writing can be found at http://servantsofgrace.org.

10 comments :

MaryLou said...

I think that the rejection of the doctrine of inerrancy is the first step in a church's slide down the slippery slope to apostasy. Once people start cutting and pasting the Bible to suit their own purposes, replacing the Word of God with the words of humans, there's no going back. From your review, Dave, it sounds like this book might help to prevent that folly. Thanks very much for it.

Stephen Edgecombe said...

There is no doubt that the doctrine of inerrancy has profound implications for our view of man and God and the proclamation of the Gospel. Your review suggests this book provides a critical understanding of the issue and gives guidance to believers facing an anti-God worldview. I will have to get a copy. Thanks Dave for sharing.

Stephen Edgecombe
website: www.steledgemarketing.com

R Lidster said...

Page 205: "the Bible is the written word of God." How do we know this to be true? Because "God is truthful and what he says is true." Therefore, because the Bible says that it is written by God (something I wish he'd have elaborated on more since I don't really follow it), and because God is truthful, therefore the Bible is written by God? That's just circular. The Qur'an states that it is divinely inspired written word of God many times. That does not make it true. I may as well, as several tongue-in-cheek atheists have done, write down on a napkin "The Napkin Religion is the one true religion because it says so right here on this napkin."

So, when we appeal to evidence outside the Bible, instead of relying on the Bible to prove itself circularly, even Poythress says that conflicts arise. He calls this a problem with "worldview." I call that a problem of willful blindness.

It is not unreasonable to ask for evidence that, for example, the Exodus ever occurred. Alternatively, one could ask for ways to explain away the abundant evidence that the Exodus as it is described in the Bible did *not* occur. If the response is, as Poythress's seems to be, that we have to take the Bible as the starting point to all knowledge, then it is begging the question. He is assuming inerrancy in order to prove it. He's also avoiding the questions raised by the extant data.

The Noahic Flood is another example where he states essentially that we have to start by assuming the Bible to be true in order to prove it to be so. The age of the Earth, the conquest of Canaan, and even the resurrection itself are similarly defended not on account of the evidence but by blindly asserting that all evidence that contradicts the Bible or even could contradict the Bible in principle is invalid.

I can at least agree in one sense, that this does affect people's worldviews dramatically. Assuming that the entire cosmos is 6,000-some-odd years old has real consequences. Almost all of the knowledge accumulate in the fields of astronomy, biology, physics, and archaeology has to be ignored or dismissed. So, when Poythress says "...Biblically based Christianity seems to the mainstream to be a threat to intellectual life. And some of the faithful have indeed become anti-intellectual," I'm inclined to agree. It's no wonder how.

The Janitor said...

Ryan,

You have misrepresented Poythress. He doesn't say the we know the Bible is the Word of God because God is truthful and what he says is true. That sort of assertion wouldn't even make sense and we should give Poythress some benefit of the doubt of not being a complete idiot, right?

Here is the full context of Poythress' statements that you quote:

"The Bible says that it is the written word of God. That is, it is God’s speaking, in writing. God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit speak in harmonious voice and in agreement with the eternal harmony that they enjoy in love. Because God is truthful and what he says is true, the Bible is true."

Poythress isn't trying to provide support for "the Bible is the word of God in that paragraph." The final sentence provides support for "the Bible is true." Why is the Bible, which Poythress has already pointed out is the Word of God, true? "Because God is truthful and what he says is true."

I don't have time to address the rest of your remarks right now, but it doesn't really matter since it's all branching out from a gross misreading of Poythress on page 205.

MaryLou said...

R. Lidster wrote: "Alternatively, one could ask for ways to explain away the abundant evidence that the Exodus as it is described in the Bible did *not* occur."

Okay! I'm asking! What is the "abundant evidence" that the Exodus did not occur?

R Lidster said...

I apologize if I misrepresented Poythress. That wasn't my intent. I'll admit that I still don't fully understand the distinction you're making, but I admit that I've probably gone beyond what Poythress says explicitly. My interpretation was as follows:
1) The Bible says that it is God's word
2) God is truthful and what He says is true
3) Therefore, the Bible is true
[*4, where I allegedly misunderstood him: Therefore, the Bible is God's word]
If there's another part of the book where he clarifies that, then I'd be happy to re-read.

As for the evidence that the Exodus did not occur as it is described in the Bible, there are quite a few instances of anachronisms. 1 Kings 6:1 dates the Exodus to 480 years before the construction of the temple of Solomon, so about 1450 BCE, but Egypt had conquered the Levant in 1492 BCE and by 1450, they had established settlements throughout Canaan and had territories as far north as modern Syria. They fought intensely with the Hittites of Anatolia, and there are Egyptian, Hittite, and Assyrian records of those conflicts, culminating in the Treaty of Kadesh about 200 years later that *still* has Egyptian territories all throughout the land where Moses and his people would have been wandering. In other words, they would have still been inside Egypt. Separately, Numbers 33:35, for example, mentions Ezion-Geber as a place where the Israelites journeyed to, but that was built centuries after the Exodus was supposed to have occurred. Exodus 9:3's mention of camels is anachronistic in that the introduction of domesticated camels is announced by Egyptian records during the reign of Cambyses II, nearly a thousand years after the Exodus was supposed to have occurred. That's a small sample of the evidence against it, although the lack of any evidence of nearly 2 million Jewish exiles wandering around Sinai for a generation is pretty powerful as well.

MaryLou said...

Thanks for that information re: the Exodus. There is a dispute among scholars re: its date. Some take the number of years from 1 Kings 6 literally. Others take it symbolically (eg. 12 X 40 = 12 generations). The argument over whether it took place in the 15th century or the 13th is outlined by Bryant Wood and James Hoffmaier in the Journal of Evangelical Theology here:

http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/50/50-2/JETS_50-2_225-247_Hoffmeier.pdf

http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/50/50-2/JETS_50-2_249-258_Wood.pdf

Some even consider the information to be “telescoped” with the exodus actually taking place over two centuries – from the 15th to the 13th. Obviously, when it is dated makes a difference re: some of the stated objections to the historicity of the exodus.

Re: Egypt rule – yes, they had fortified cities that extended up as far as Syria. That’s why the Israelites went into the unpopulated wilderness, to keep away from them.

Re: Ezion-Geber – Archaeologists are questioning whether the site at Tell el-Kheleifeh is actually Ezion-Geber and have suggested a couple of other possibilities for its location. See G. D. Patico’s Excavations at Tell el-Kheleifeh: A Reappraisal, for example. That means the real site of Ezion-Geber has yet to be found.

Re: camels – A. S. Saber of Asuit University (Egypt), in his The Camel in Ancient Egypt, asserts that camels were found in Egypt as early as 2500 B.C., basing this belief on archaeological records, rock engravings, etc. Others agree including M. Ripinsky. "The Camel in Dynastic Egypt", Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 17: 131-141. 1985 and P. Rowley-Gonwy, P. "The camel in the Nile Valley. New Radiocarbon Accelerator (AMS) dates from Qasr Ibrim", Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 74: 245-248 1988.

MaryLou said...

I thought I'd better split my post in two since it was pretty long. Here's the remainder of it:

As for there being no evidence of the Israelites around Sinai, bear in mind that absence of evidence doesn’t necessarily mean evidence of absence. These people were nomads living in tents. Therefore, they built no edifices, roads, etc. They engaged in no industry and dug no wells. I don’t see that they would have much to leave behind.

As for Egypt not recording the exodus, it would be unusual for them to record such a huge humiliation. Usually, they left behind tales of great power and glory, not of defeat.

Craig Evans (Acadia University, Nova Scotia, Canada) notes that only five per cent of the sites of the Biblical world have been excavated and only partially so at this time. We still have much to find and, hopefully, future discoveries will answer many of our unresolved issues.

R Lidster said...

The data on camels is very cool. If confirmed, it would change a lot about how we think of Egypt's history of animal husbandry. Certainly, I think everyone could agree that that's worth looking into.

As for the rest of the suggestions, inerrantists would be hard-pressed to accept many of them. Essentially, we have the following:
- If 1 Kings is wrong about the date of the Exodus...
- And if the books of Exodus and Numbers are incorrect in describing how many people left Egypt together, when, where, and for how long...
- And if instead of settling down in the Promised Land outside Egypt, 2 million Jews somehow "hid" from the Egyptians within their territories (again, the Treaty of Kadesh is 1259 BCE, so still 13th century, and it took much longer for Egypt to lose its hold on the Levant)...
- And if Egypt was somehow magically able to wipe out all record of millions of Jews living in Egypt as slaves and 10 plagues that devastated farm land, turned the Nile to blood, and killed off the firstborns of all of its populace and their cattle...
- And if all the other defeats that Egypt did record--including the battle of Kadesh that led to that very same treaty--were anomalous...
- And if the Assyrians and Hittites were so uninterested in Egypt losing 40% of its total population in slaves and being devastated from within that they chose not to report the event or capitalize on it...

...Then (and only then) would an Exodus-like event have not been thoroughly impossible, and we have to hold out hope that one day we will find some credible evidence that it occurred.

That hardly seems like evidence for inerrancy. Even in that model, pretty extensive liberties have to be taken with the text.

Veritasdomain said...

Wow thank you for this review of Poythress' work.

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