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Inerrancy and Worldview

This tag is associated with 2 posts

Inerrancy and Presuppositional Apologetics: A different approach to defending the Bible

question-week2Scripture is inerrant because the personal word of God cannot be anything other than true. -John Frame (The Doctrine of the Word of God, 176 cited below)

One of the most difficult issues facing evangelical Christian apologists is the doctrine of inerrancy. I’m not trying to suggest the doctrine is itself problematic. Indeed, I have defended the doctrine in writing on more than one occasion. Instead, I am saying that defending this doctrine in an apologetics-related discussion is difficult. Here, I will explore one way that I think should be used more frequently when discussing the doctrine.

What is the problem?

There are any number of attacks on inerrancy and Biblical authority, generally speaking. Very often, when I discuss the Bible with others in a discussion over worldviews, I find that the challenge which is most frequently leveled against the notion of inerrancy is a series of alleged contradictions. The second most common objection is some sort of textual criticism which allegedly shows that the Bible could not be without error in its autographs. A third common argument against inerrancy is to quote specific verses and express utter incredulity at their contents.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the definition of inerrancy is often misunderstood. For simplicity’s sake, I will here operate under the definition that “The Bible, in all it teaches, is without error.” I have already written on some misconceptions about the definition of inerrancy, and readers looking for more clarification may wish to read that post.

How do we address the problem?

Most frequently, the way I have seen apologists engage with these challenges is through a series of arguments. First, they’ll argue for the general reliability of the Bible by pointing out the numerous places in which it lines up with archaeological or historical information we have. Second, they’ll argue that these historical reports given in the Bible cannot be divorced from the miraculous content contained therein. Given the accuracy with which these writers reported historical events, what basis is there to deny the miraculous events they also report?

Other apologists may establish inerrancy by rebutting arguments which are leveled against the doctrine. That is, if one puts forth an argument against inerrancy by pointing out alleged contradictions, these apologists seek to rebut those contradictions. Thus, once every single alleged error has been addressed, this approach concludes the Bible is inerrant.

Now, I’m not suggesting that either of these methods are wrong. Instead, I’m saying there is another way to approach the defense of the Bible.

A Presuppositional Defense of Inerrancy

Suppose God exists. Suppose further that this God which exists is indeed the God of classical Christian theism. Now, supposing that this is the case, what basis is there for arguing that the Bible is full of errors? For, given that the God of Christianity exists, it seems to be fairly obvious that such a God is not only capable of but would have the motivation to preserve His Word as reported in the Bible.

Or, consider the first step-by-step argument for inerrancy given in the section above, where one would present archaeological, philosophical, historical, etc. evidence point-by-point to make a case for miracles. Could it not be the case that the only reason for rejecting the miraculous reports as wholly inaccurate fictions while simultaneously acknowledging the careful historical accuracy of the authors is simply due to a worldview which cannot allow for the miraculous at the outset?

What’s the Point?

At this point one might be thinking, So what? Who cares? 

Well, to answer this head on: my point is that one’s overall worldview is almost certainly going to determine how one views inerrancy. The point may seem obvious, but I think it is worth making very explicit. If we already hold to a Christian worldview broadly, then alleged contradictions in the Bible seem to be much less likely–after all, God, who cannot lie (Numbers 23:19), has given us this text as His Word. Here it is worth affirming again what John Frame said above: the Bible is inerrant because it is of God, who is true.

Thus, if one is to get just one takeaway from this entire post, my hope would be that it is this: ultimately the issue of Biblical inerrancy does not stand or fall on whether can rebut or explain individual alleged errors in the Bible–it stands or falls on one’s worldview. 

One final objection may be noted: Some Christians do not believe in inerrancy, so it seems to go beyond an issue of worldview after all. Well yes, that is true. I’m not saying a defense of inerrancy is utterly reducible down to whether or not one is a Christian or not–as I said, I think evidential arguments are very powerful in their own right. I am saying that inerrancy is impossible given the prior probabilities assigned by non-Christian worldviews and altogether plausible (not certain) given Christian worldview assumptions. 

A Positive Case for Inerrancy

Too often, defense of inerrancy take the via negativa–it proceeds simply by refuting objections to the doctrine. Here, my goal is to present, in brief, a positive argument for inerrancy. The argument I am proposing here looks something like this (and I admit readily that I have left out a number of steps):

1) Granting that a personal God exists, it seems likely that such a deity would want to interact with sentient beings
2) such a deity would be capable of communicating with creation
3) such a deity would be capable of preserving that communication without error

Therefore, given the desire and capability of giving a communication to people without error, it becomes vastly more plausible, if not altogether certain, that the Bible is inerrant. Of course, if God does not exist–if we deny that there is a person deity–then it seems altogether impossible that an inerrant text could be produced on anything, let alone a faith system.

I  consider this a positive argument because it proceeds from principles which can be established (or denied) as opposed to a simple assertion. It is not a matter of just presupposing inerrancy and challenging anyone who would take it on; instead it is a matter of arguing that God exists, desires communication with His people, and has brought about this communication without error.  Although each premise needs to be expanded and defended on its on right, I ultimately think that each is true or at least more plausible than its denial. Christians who deny inerrancy must, I think, interact with an argument similar to this one. Their denial of inerrancy seems to entail a denial of one of these premises. I would contend that such a denial would be inconsistent within the Christian worldview.

Note that this argument turns on the issue of whether or not God exists. That is, for this argument to be carried, one must first turn to the question of whether God exists. I would note this is intentional: I do think that inerrancy is ultimately an issue which will be dependent upon and perhaps even derivative of one’s view of God.

Other Books

One counter-argument which inevitably comes up in conversations about an argument like this is that of “other books.” That is, could not the Mormon and the Muslim (among others) also make a similar case.

The short answer: Yes, they could.

Here is where I would turn to the evidence for each individual book. Granting a common ground that these claimed revelations–the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Qu’ran, etc.–are each purported to be inerrant and that their inerrancy is more probable on a theistic view, which best matches reality? In other words, I would turn here to investigate the claims found within each book in order to see if they match with what we can discern from the world.

The argument I am making here is not intended to be a one step argument for Christian theism. Instead, it is an argument about the possibility of an inerrant work.

iw-poythressAppendix 1: Poythress and Inerrancy

Vern Poythress provides an example of how this approach works. In his work, Inerrancy and Worldview (my review of this work can be found here), he continually focuses on how worldviews color one’s approach to challenges presented against inerrancy such as historical criticism, certain sociological theories, and philosophy of language. One example can be found in his discussion of historical criticism:

The difference between the two interpretations of the principle [of criticism] goes back to a difference in worldview. Does God govern the universe, including its history, or do impersonal laws govern it? If we assume the latter, it should not be surprising that the resulting principle undermines the Bible… It undermines the Bible because it assumes at the beginning that the God of the Bible does not exist. (Poythress,  Inerrancy and Worldview , 53, cited below)

Yet it is important to see that my approach here is different from that of Poythress. His approach seems to be largely negative. That is, he utilizes presuppositionalism in order to counter various challenges to the Bible. When a challenge is brought up to inerrancy, he argues that it of course stems from an issue of worldview. Although this is similar to my approach, Poythress never makes a positive argument for inerrancy, which I consider to be a vital part of the overall defense of the doctrine.

Appendix 2: Standard Presuppositionalism and Inerrancy

I would like to note that I am not attempting to claim that my defense of inerrancy here is the standard presuppositional approach. The standard presuppositional approach is much simpler: the apologist simply assumes the absolute truth and authority of God’s word as the starting point for all knowledge.

It should not surprise readers that, given this approach, most (if not all) presuppositionalists embrace the via negativa for defense of inerrancy. That is, the standard presuppositional defense of the Bible usually is reducible to merely pointing out how the attacks on Scripture stem largely from one’s worldview, not from the facts.

Thus, one of the foremost presuppositional apologists to have lived, Greg Bahnsen, writes:

[I]f the believer and unbeliever have different starting points [that is, different presuppositions from which all authority comes for the realm of knowledge] how can apologetic debate ever be resolved? [In answer to this,] the Christian carries his argument beyond “the facts…” to the level of self-evidencing presuppositions–the ultimate assumptions which select and interpret the facts. (Bahnsen, Always Ready, 72 cited below).

It should be clear that this standard presuppositional defense is therefore very different from what I have offered here. The standard presuppositional defense simply reduces the debate to “starting points” and attempts to show contradictions in other “starting points” in method, exposition, or the like. My defense has noted the vast importance of worldviews in a denial of inerrancy, but has also offered a positive defense of inerrancy. Yes, this defense turns on whether God exists, but that can hardly be seen as a defect or circularity in the argument.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.” I often ask questions for readers and give links related to interests on this site.

The Presuppositional Apologetic of Cornelius Van Til– I explore the presuppositional method of apologetics through a case study of the man who may fairly be called its founder, Cornelius Van Til.

Debate Review: Greg Bahnsen vs. Gordon Stein– I review a debate between a prominent presuppositional apologist, the late Greg Bahnsen, and a leading atheist, Gordon Stein. It is worth reading/listening to because the debate really brings out the distinctiveness of the presuppositional apologetic.

Sources

Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 1996).

John Frame The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010).

Vern Sheridan Poythress, Inerrancy and Worldview (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Book Review: “Inerrancy and Worldview” by Vern Sheridan Poythress

iw-poythressVern Sheridan Poythress approaches the defense of the truth of the Bible in a unique way in his recently-released duo of books, Inerrancy and Worldview and Inerrancy and the Gospels. In these works, he has applied the presuppositional approach to apologetics to the doctrine of inerrancy. Here, we’ll explore the former and analyze Poythress’ approach to the defense of Biblical authority.

Overview

Poythress has set Inerrancy and Worldview out not so much as a treatise presenting a broad-based presuppositional approach to defending inerrancy, but rather the book is laid out in stages with sections focusing on various challenges which are raised against the Bible. Each stage ends with a focus on worldview and how one’s worldview shapes one’s perception of the challenge to the Bible.

That is the central thesis of the book: our preconceived notions shape how we will view the Bible. Poythress writes:

Part of the challenge in searching for the truth is that we all do so against the background of assumptions about truth. (21)

Thus, it is critical to recognize that one’s presuppositions will in some ways guide how they view the Bible.

Poythress then introduces the materialistic worldview as the primary presupposition for the Western world which sets itself up against a Biblical worldview. The essential point here is that the world is a very different place if primary causes are personal or impersonal.

From here, Poythress dives into the various challenges which are set up against the Bible. First, he looks at modern science. The major challenges here are the Genesis account of creation, which he argues is explained by God making a “mature creation” where the world appears aged (41) and other alleged scientific discrepancies, which he argues are due to God’s condescending to use human expressions to explain the concepts in the Bible (38-39).

What of historical criticism? Again, worldview is at the center. If God exists, then history inevitably leads where God wills it. If, however, one assumes the Bible is merely human, then it is unsurprising to see the conclusions which historical critics allege about the text.

Challenges from religious language are dealt with in the same fashion. On a theistic worldview, God is present “everywhere” including in “the structures of language that he gives us.” Thus, we should expect language to refer to God in meaningful ways (101). Only if one assumes this is false at the outset does one come to the conclusion that language cannot possibly refer to God (ibid).

Sociology, psychology, and ordinary life receive similar treatments. The point which continues to be pressed is that ideologies which reject God at the outset will, of course, reject God in the conclusions.

Analysis

Inerrancy and Worldview was a mixed read for me. Poythress at times does an excellent job explaining points of presuppositional apologetics, but at others he seems to be floundering in the vastness of the topics he has chosen to discuss.

There are many good points Poythress makes. Most importantly is his focus on the concept of one’s worldview as the primary challenge to Biblical authority. It seems to me that this is the most important thing to consider in any discussion of inerrancy. If theism is true, inerrancy is at least broadly possible. If theism is false, then inerrancy seems to be prima facie impossible.

The continued focus upon the fact that worldview largely determines what one thinks about various challenges to the Bible is notable and important. In particular, Poythress’ conclusion about challenges from religious language is poignant. The notion that we can’t speak meaningfully about God is ludicrous if the God of Christianity exists.

While there are numerous good points found in the book, but they all seem to be buried in a series of seemingly random examples, objections, and response to those objections. For example, an inordinate amount of space is dedicated to the OT discussing “gods” (including sections on p. 63-65; 66-70; 71-78; 79-81; 111-112; 116-117). His discussion of the Genesis creation account also left much to be desired. The “appearance of age” argument is, I believe, the weakest way to defend a Biblical view of creation.

Poythress’ discussion of feminism is also problematic. The reason is not so much because his critique of feminist theology is off-base, but rather because his definition is far too broad for the view he is critiquing. He writes, “feminism may be used quite broadly as a label for any kind of thinking that is sympathetic with gender equality. For simplicity we concentrate on the more popular, militant, secular forms” (121). But from the text it seems clear that Poythress is focused upon feminist theology more broadly speaking then secular feminism specifically. Where he does seem to express secular feminism, he still mentions the Bible in context (124). Not only that, but his definition of feminism seems to express a view which should be entirely unproblematic (“sympathy with gender equality”) yet he then spends the rest of the section as though there is some huge negative connotation with gender equality. One must wonder: is Poythress suggesting we should advocate for “gender inequality”? And what does he mean by “equality” to begin with? Sure, this section is a minor part of the book, but there are major problems here.

Furthermore, one is almost forced to wonder how this work is a defense of inerrancy. For example, the lengthy discussion of gods referenced above has little if anything to do with inerrancy. Instead, Poythress spends the bulk of this space attempting to show how the gods referenced are really idols which people worship instead of God. Well, of course! But what relevance does this have for inerrancy specifically? Perhaps it helps solve some issues of alleged errors, but solving individual errors does little to defend the specific doctrine of inerrancy.

And that, I think, is one of the major issues with the book. Poythress seems to equate rebutting specific errors with a defense of inerrancy. While this obviously has relevance for inerrancy–if there were errors, the Bible is not inerrant–it does little to provide a positive case for inerrancy.

Perhaps more frustratingly, Poythress never spends the time to develop or explain a robust doctrine of inerrancy. It seems to me that this is part of the reason the defense seems so imbalanced. Rather than clearly defining the doctrine and then defending it, he spends all his time defending the Bible against numerous and varied errors. This is important; but it does not establish inerrancy specifically. There are plenty of Christians who are not inerrantists who would nevertheless defend against particular alleged errors in the Bible.

Conclusion

Inerrancy and Worldview was largely disappointing for me. That isn’t because it is poorly written, but because I think Poythress could have done so much more. He never makes the connection between the actual doctrine of inerrancy and worldview. Instead, the connection is between specific errors and worldview. It seems to me presuppositional apologetics has perhaps the most resources available to defend the doctrine of inerrancy. Unfortunately, Poythress did not seem to utilize all of these resources to their fullest in the book. Interested readers: keep an eye out for my own post on a presuppositional defense of inerrancy.

Addendum

I must make it clear that I am an inerrantist. The reason I do this is because I have seen other critical reviews of this work where comments are left that the author of the review must not believe inerrancy. Such an accusation is disingenuous. It is perfectly acceptable to say that a specific defense of inerrancy is insufficient while still believing the doctrine itself.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”.

Inerrancy, Scripture, and the “Easy Way Out”– I analyze inerrancy and why so many Christians reject it. I believe this is largely due to a misunderstanding of the doctrine.

The Presuppositional Apologetic of Cornelius Van Til– I analyze the apologetic approach of Cornelius Van Til, largely recognized as the founder of the presuppositional school of apologetics.

The Unbeliever Knows God: Presuppositional Apologetics and Atheism– I discuss how presuppositional apologetics has explained and interacted with atheism.

Source

Vern Sheridan Poythress, Inerrancy and Worldview (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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