Sunday, 27 August 2017

Inerrancy and Worldview, by Vern Poythress

Vern S. Poythress, Inerrancy and Worldview: Answering Modern Challenges to the Bible, 2012 Crossway

In this book, Reformed theologian Vern Poythress addresses a number of modern challenges to the authority of Scripture, such as challenges from language, science, culture and historical studies. The author offers helpful answers to the problems raised by these intellectual challenges. The final section of the book is more pastoral, dealing with the attitude Christians need to take toward Scripture.

Poythress spends a lot of time talking about the use of the word 'gods' in the Old Testament. He deals with the argument that this proves that the authors of the Old Testament were polytheists and thus undermining monotheist Christian theology. While acknowledging that the word gods can be applied to actual demonic entities in Scripture, he sees the word being used primarily as polemical rhetoric, referring to gods believed in, rather than gods that exist. This topic is dealt with at length in Michael Heiser's Unseen Realm. Poythress oddly makes no reference to the application of the word 'gods' to angels in Psalm 97:7 (angels in Hebrews 1:6). I would suggest that the word 'gods' in the Old Testament is used more broadly than we would use it, being applied to spiritual beings that we would not necessarily call gods today. Thus, whether the authors of the Old Testament were polytheists is a question of semantics not theology.

Regarding the tension between the Genesis account and scientific claims, our author acknowledges that there are a number of ways of harmonizing this tension however, the only view he expounds is the Mature Creation Young Earth view, that is that God created in six days, a universe that appears more ancient. He does not acknowledge any of the significant problems with this view.

Poythress deals with some quite complex intellectual issues, such as language theory in this book. He does his best to make these accessible to the average Christian reader, but I think many Christians would find this book rather too deep. On the other hand, I think many more educated readers might find it simplifies some of these academic questions too much. It thus finds itself occupying an uncomfortable middle ground.

Given that this book deals with the subject of Biblical Inerrancy, it is disappointing that it fails to address the key problems of Inerrancy today. JP Holding in his book, Defining Inerrancy, demonstrates just how contested the definition of Inerrancy has become. Some hold that Inerrancy has become too elastic among Evangelical scholars, allowing individuals to hold that some portions of Scripture might be fictional, which they argue is a liberalizing trend, while others hold that the term is redundant and useless if such flexibility is allowed. Poythress sidesteps such crucial questions altogether.

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