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Inerrancy And Worldview: Answering Modern Challenges to the Bible [Paperback]

Vern S. Poythress

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Book Description

May 31 2012

Though the Bible presents a personal and relational God, popular modern worldviews portray an impersonal divine force in a purely material world. Readers influenced by this competing worldview hold assumptions about fundamental issues—like the nature of humanity, evil, and the purpose of life—that present profound obstacles to understanding the Bible.

In Inerrancy and Worldview, Dr. Vern Poythress offers the first worldview-based defense of scriptural inerrancy, showing how worldview differences create or aggravate most perceived difficulties with the Bible. His positive case for biblical inerrancy implicitly critiques the worldview of theologians like Enns, Sparks, Allert, and McGowan. Poythress, who has researched and published in a variety of fields— including science, linguistics, and sociology—deals skillfully with the challenges presented in each of these disciplines. By directly addressing key examples in each field, Poythress shows that many difficulties can be resolved simply by exposing the influence of modern materialism.

Inerrancy and Worldview’s positive 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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Crossway; 1 edition (May 31 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1433523876
  • ISBN-13: 978-1433523878
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 15.9 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #355,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.5 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Helpful and Positive Addition to the Inerrancy Debate May 28 2012
By ta ethica - Published on
Poythress, Vern Sheridan. Inerrancy and Worldview: Answering Modern Challenges to the Bible. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. 271 pages, paperback.*

Dr. Vern Poythress is a prolific author, writing on a wide variety of subjects from hermeneutics, theological method, the relationship between Christ and the OT Law, sociology, science, linguistics, and others, including a forthcoming book on inerrancy in the Gospels and what looks to be a massive book on the study of logic. His latest book, Inerrancy and Worldview, is essentially a synthesis of his former works, as the majority of his footnotes reference his other works for further details and explication, and as Poythress notes in a footnote, all of his works relate in some way to biblical interpretation (p. 15).

In this new work, Poythress sets out to defend the traditional notion of Biblical inerrancy. But what is different about this work is that Poythress does not devote his work as a negative and critical response to recent works attacking inerrancy. Rather, Poythress seeks to develop a positive response by showing that many of the challenges to inerrancy are rooted in a worldview that opposes the Biblical worldview (p. 14, 21).

After the preface and introduction, Poythress begins with two brief chapters on common religious difficulties: exclusivism and morality being a strait jacket. Poythress shows how these difficulties are wrapped up in one's worldview, which Poythress says is the fundamental key for understanding the various challenges and difficulties that people have with the Bible.

After these brief chapters, Poythress discusses a variety of challenges to the Bible, with all the sections beginning with the word, "Challenges..."

Challenges from Science and Materialism
In these chapters Poythress helpfully shows that the challenges from science and materialism are often rooted in an impersonal worldview that excludes God from the very beginning. In fact, Poythress demonstrates that when it comes down to Biblical and non-Biblical worldviews, the essential difference is between a personal and impersonal worldview, which he develops throughout the remainder of the book.

Challenges from History
Continuing with the theme of personalism vs. impersonalism, Poythress briefly sketches the challenges of history, especially the historical-critical school of thought. And Poythress notes that in this tradition, miracles are excluded as something that really happened. But again, Poythress shows that the denial of miracles presupposes an impersonalistic worldview where there is no God or where God does not intervene in the world.

Challenges about Language
In these chapters Poythress discusses language and linguistics. Poythress draws heavily from his previous work on language showing that language is rooted in the Triune God. And many of the challenges about language, such as in postmodern or historicist thought, assume that language is impersonal or that people are trapped within culturally-bound expressions of language.

Challenges from Sociology and Anthropology
In these chapters Poythress talks about attacks made against the Bible by those who say that the Bible is a product of its time, trapped within the confines of its surrounding cultural milieu. But again, this all presupposes that absence of God and an impersonalistic cultural prison.

Challenges from Psychology
In these chapters Poythress discusses human cognition as well as Biblical inspiration. Again, a personal worldview is rooted in the Trinity, while an impersonal worldview assumes the absence of God. Poythress has some great thoughts on how truth is rooted in God and the implications for how we as humans discover truth and discern special revelation by the aid of the Holy Spirit.

Challenges from Examples
This section contains a smattering of examples drawn from technical scientific vs. ordinary language, alleged contradictions in the Bible, and similarities between the Bible and other ancient Near Eastern cultures related to laws and proverbs. Here again, Poythress emphasizes that our God is personal, not impersonal, and so we should not be surprised, for example, to see laws that contain overlap with other cultures because of the common grace that God shows to all.

Challenges from Our Attitudes and Challanges from Corrupt Spirituality
In these final two sections, Poythress goes were many writers are hesitant to go, because Poythress turns the tables and shows that all of these objections to the Bible are not simply "academic" issues devoid of our own personal involvement and commitments, rather our own sin and corruption play a part in various issues and difficulties we have with the Bible. I highly recommend these chapters for the insights Poythress gives about our own gullability, pride, and attraction to counterfeit truths.

Concluding Remarks
In a little over 200+ pages, Poythress paints with a broad stroke of the brush, showing that various areas of challenges and difficulties are rooted in two competing worldviews: personalism and impersonalism. Almost all of the chapters are between 3-10 pages, so they are brief and to the point, essentially providing thumbnail sketches about these various areas and disciplines, and so the reader will need to consult Poythress' other works for more elaboration and detail.

However, I would highly recommend this book for the positive emphasis he places on addressing these challenges from a worldview perspective.

*Review copy provided by Crossway
17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Inadequate as a defense of inerrancy Sept. 22 2012
By A. Omelianchuk - Published on
The central thesis of Vern Poythress's Inerrancy and Worldview is that "modern people" challenge the authority of Scripture by bringing presuppositions from a materialistic worldview to its pages. That is, modern people, or those who think the Bible is errant, read it through the lens of an "impersonalistic" view of natural laws, moral properties, and regularities in thought and speech. Poythress guides the reader through topics such as the natural sciences, sociology, linguistics, historical criticism, and cognitive psychology so as to demonstrate how an impersonalistic worldview affects modern thinking, and hence the handling of Scripture as an errant human text. The antidote to this state of affairs, he says, is to recast these disciplines along the lines of a "personalistic" worldview, which envisages our lawlike world of regularity as one that is upheld by God's sustaining word. In short, given the reality of a personal God, we should expect an inerrant Bible. Along the way, he addresses certain challenges to particular problem passages and admonishes readers to take account of their spiritual pride that might hinder one's reading of Scripture.

If one is looking for a general overview of how materialistic thinking affects various disciplines (assuming he has represented them fairly) and the conclusions drawn from them, one might find Poythress's book helpful. But if one is looking for a defense of inerrancy, one should look elsewhere. In my estimation, this book woefully falls short of a robust defense of inerrancy, because the assumption of a personalist worldview is not sufficient for believing in an inerrant Bible.

Perhaps Poythress only intends to show that a impersonalistic worldview is sufficient to undermine inerrancy, and that a personalistic one is necessary for upholding it. If this is the case, then his argument is rather trivial. Everyone knows that if materialism is true, the Bible errs, and that the Bible is inerrant only if God exists. But I suspect, Poythress is up to something different, namely showing the reader that, despite confessing a personalistic worldview, one might inadvertently imbibe impersonal presuppositions at work in the disciplines that furnish challenges to inerrancy. Even if this is the case, however, he gives is no good reason to believe the Bible is inerrant.

Why think he gives is no good reason to believe the Bible is inerrant? Because one can affirm all that Poythress wants us to affirm-namely that God exists as a personal subject in whom all truth, beauty, and goodness are rooted-and still deny inerrancy. Consider this argument that I will put in the fictional mouth of Bob:

[1] God exists and is morally perfect.
[2] Therefore, God would not command one nation to exterminate all the members of another nation.
[3] The Bible claims that God commanded one nation to exterminate all the members of another nation.
[4] Therefore, what the Bible claims about God is false.
[5] If what the Bible claims about God is false, then the Bible is not inerrant.
[6] Therefore, Bible is not inerrant.

Whether or not one agrees with all the premises of Bob's argument is beside the point; Poythress shows no awareness of the fact that one of the strongest arguments for the errancy of Scripture faced by Christians today is entirely compatible with a personalistic worldview.

To be sure, the response to Bob would be to charge him with putting the judgments of unaided human reason above the judgments of Scripture and that the truthfulness of premise [2] ought to be challenged. This would be no surprise as Poythress, following Van Til, presupposes that the Bible is inerrant; to argue for the authority of Scripture without appealing to it would be to undermine it. Bob might reasonably think this just amounts to begging the question, but the response will be that everyone begs the question at some point, since everyone has to posit some ultimate authority by which truth values are judged. Suppose this is right: what should we make of this? As far as I can see, the dialectic amounts to another instance of one man's modus ponens being another man's modes tollens; thus neither Bob nor Poythress are more rational or irrational than the other. But stalemates do not result in victory. In any case, affirming a personalistic worldview is insufficient for establishing biblical inerrancy.

Here ends my main complaint with the book. Other complaints are relatively minor, but worth noting. Poythress spends four chapters interpreting Psalm 86:8, which obliquely refers to "gods" other than YHWH, as a text that does not affirm the existence of any such "gods." Why does this matter? Apparently, this is some great challenge posed by Peter Enns who thinks that the ancient Israelites were probably polytheistic. Poythress develops a complex line of response that incorporates the broader context of the passage, and themes developed later on in the canon, all of which is fair and reasonable. But as I was reading this section I kept wondering, "So what if the psalter thought there were other gods?' That doesn't mean there are any, because the psalter's theological beliefs do not determine the fact of the matter." If inerrancy is at stake, then why not interpret it conditionally, "If there are other gods, YHWH is greater than all of them and therefore he alone is worthy of worship?" Logically, this comes out true if other "gods" exist or not.

One final complaint is the self-referential character of the book. Poythress references himself and his other works no less than 68 times! Thus the reader is deprived of primary resources that might better establish or represent his claims, particularly with respect to other disciplines. If the reader should be directed to his books on science, sociology and linguistics so often, why not just read those instead? Perhaps Inerrancy and Worldview is intended to be a more accessible introduction to lay people, but I maintain it is too truncated of a work to be helpful to them.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Worldview-Focused Defense of Inerrancy June 22 2012
By Adam Parker - Published on
Inerrancy and Worldview is the latest book from Vern Poythress. It is meant to be part of a new trilogy of books centered around challenges to the inerrancy of the Bible (the next book in the series, Inerrancy and the Gospels, is due out in October).

Poythress' book thoughtfully explores the numerous reasons why many people (Christians included) balk at the idea that the Bible is inerrant. Poythress defines inerrant as meaning "it is completely true in what it says, and makes no claims that are not true." He points out that attacks are multi-faceted: "some of the voices directly attack inerrancy. Others redefine it" (13).

And so the book is aimed at those who would attack inerrancy. Obviously, a book which covered merely objections to inerrancy would be incredibly long, and so Poythress aims at something more modest - and unique. "We will concentrate here on difficulties that have ties with the differences in worldview" (14).

At a basic apologetic level, this work is wholly presuppositional in its approach. Poythress never deigns to pretend the Bible may or may not be the word of God. He acknowledges that it is, and then proceeds to diagnose what is wrong with the skeptic - not 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."

Poythress interacts with a range of challenges from a worldview perspective: challenges from materialism, history, language, sociology, anthropology, psychology, perceived contradictions, challenges from our attitudes, and also from our own corrupt spirituality. Some of the most helpful work is done when Poythress utilizes Van Til's personalism vs. impersonalism distinction to answer the 'problem' of miracles. What Poythress does most skillfully is to demonstrate that each and every argument against inerrancy begins with precommitments which distort one's evaluation of inerrancy. The skeptic, for example, perceives contradictions in the text because he does not believe that God speaks through the Scriptures with a unified voice. He has worldview commitments which preclude possible solutions to perceived contradictions in the text.

Modernists have issues with the exclusivity of the Christian faith, as well as complaining of the Bible being a sort of 'moral straitjacket.' Even liberal 'Christians' have issues with inerrancy related to a host of beliefs which Poythress demonstrates to be unbiblical. There's something here for every branch of unbelief - Christian and non-Christian alike.

The author has no illusions that this book is a one-size-fits-all case for inerrancy. It is not meant to be. It is specifically targeted towards dealing with unbelief at its root, not at its branches. He acknowledges repeatedly that sin is the root of the problems people have with the Bible. In the footnotes he frequently points readers to more substantive books on different subjects where issues can be explored further while plainly refusing to follow rabbit trails (even very attractive ones that would enrich the chapter) - a type of restraint I hope to learn someday.

I admire this book as a specially focused apologetic tool. It is thoroughly presuppositional, uncompromising, and refreshingly plain to read. I would not hesitate to put it in the hands of a believer who is struggling through inerrancy, but I do think there are better books, generally speaking, for unbelievers trying to discern if the Bible is what it claims to be. It wouldn't hurt for those peripherally interested to simply read the chapters related to their own bugaboos. Also, I think the appendix (discussing the human authors of the Bible and their place in an inerrant text) is worth the price of admission alone.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where Apologetics and Hermeneutics meet. June 28 2012
By Mike W - Published on
Having read Poythress' Redeeming Sociology, I came into this book with high expectations. His writing style has a way of challenging me intellectually, while keeping the pace of reading moving right along; a sort of literary attraction of sorts.

I can say honestly that this text does not disappoint.

For me (and remember, I'm entitled to my own opinion, though for some you may feel like I'm over-stretching a bit), this book felt like a cross between Tim Keller's Reason for God and any John Piper book (say, Desiring God, for reference). Poythress tackles apologetic content (from Science to materialism, history to literature, sociology to our innate sin-nature) in a fresh, Bible-saturated approach (very little is said without support of the Bible, which, in a piece on inerrancy, is a refreshing facet).

I leave you with a high recommendation and a brief excerpt which I feel sets the tone for the text:

"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 fundamental difference generates differences in many other areas--differences in people's whole view of the world. Modern world views are at odds with the worldview put forward in the Bible. This difference in world views 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... The challenge of interpreting the Bible has may dimensions and many challenges.. We focus here on issues involving response to our modern situation." (p.14-15)

I pray that if this topic, or Poythress' writing style, inerrancy, christian worldview, apologetics, and/or hermeneutics are in any degree interesting to you, that you will take some time to dive into this text. I feel like you will not be disappointed in the slightest.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by Crossway Publishing. I was not required to post a positive review and the views expressed in this review are my own.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book! June 19 2012
By K. Hartman - Published on
There have been many books published over the past few decades defending the concept of biblical inerrancy. These titles often reflect a biblically robust apologetic for the trustworthiness of Scripture. Yet, these volumes tend to repeat a specific set of arguments over and over. Vern Poythress has published a new book entitled Inerrancy and Worldview that breaks out of the old mold.

Poythress sets out to readjust the debate of inerrancy to fundamental worldview questions. This is an interesting approach. While he discusses some classic points of contention regarding biblical inerrancy, Poythress genuinely breaks new ground in defending the trustworthiness of Scripture. This book is a volume that any and all who seek to understanding objections to inerrancy should read. Vern Poythress masterfully unpacks specific worldview assumptions that underly varying objections to the inspiration, accuracy, and authority of Scripture.

Written in a readable and easy-to-digest manner, Inerrancy and Worldview is a much-needed addition to any and all apologetic libraries. Destined to be a modern classic on the topic, Poythress has produced a volume examining an old debate from a new perspective. Add this to your summer reading list!

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