inerrancy

This tag is associated with 22 posts

Perspicuity and Inerrancy- a dialogue response

question-week2Recently, a fellow blogger responded to my post on arguments for young earth creationism. This blogger insinuated that I deny inerrancy because I do not hold to young earth creationism. I’ve run into this frequently and apart from the fact I frequently defend inerrancy (simply scroll down to read several posts to this end), I think that Christians should not falsely represent others. For the record, I affirm inerrancy. If you say I do not, you are giving false testimony against a neighbor.

Anyway, once more, this is the link for the post that I’m responding to. Here’s the post he responded to.

The issue this fellow blogger brought up is the issue of perspicuity. At some point I’ll try to dedicate a post specifically to perspicuity and inerrancy, but for now I want to focus on how it is used to try to say every single point in Scripture is just utterly clear. I often run into this in discussions over theological issues. One person claims perspicuity for their reading, and thus says that anyone who disagrees denies the clear meaning of the text. Of course, it is appropriate to point out such clear meaning and offer correction, but one has to argue for that clear meaning rather than simply accuse the other of denying inerrancyAlso, apart from the fact that perspicuity has historically changed in meaning due to controversies during the Reformation, there is also the simple fact that defining perspicuity as the clarity of Scripture in everything simply doesn’t work. We’ll see why I say this below.

I’d like to make public record of my response and get readers’ thoughts as well. Here’s what I commented on his blog, in its entirety. I address “you” to the author of the blog response:

Thanks for taking the time to respond. I have a few thoughts, and I’ll try to be brief.

First, the doctrine of perspicuity changed during the Reformation period. As I [very] briefly point out in my post on sola scriptura in the Reformation (https://jwwartick.com/2012/10/15/who-interprets-sola/), this was because the Reformers realized there was genuine disagreement over certain passages of Scripture.

Second, there are some issues within Scripture which are genuinely unclear. If you want to deny that, I would suggest you basically have to ignore the text of Scripture. There are a number of issues: for example, underdeterminiation. One looks in vain to find the amount of detail we often wish we had on people that are listed in the genealogies, for example. More concrete examples would be the question of the meaning of certain words, lining up some apparent differences in the Gospels, etc. For example, would you say that Matthew 28:1-7 is unclear? Ah, but it says there is one angel there who speaks to the women. But then is Luke 24:1-8 unclear? But it says there are two angels!

I bring up this example not to say there is an actual contradiction (after all, it seems that Matthew just reports the one who talks), but rather to show the appeal to clear verses does not always solve the apparent difficulties. Unless you want to say that either Matthew or Luke are unclear, you have an apparent contradiction which is not solved by a “clearer” text. It is solved by thoughtful reflection and looking more deeply into the backgrounds, the way oral tradition was passed along, and the like. But your post suggests we can simply cast about for a “clearer” text to figure out the unclear. Tell me, which is unclear, Matthew or Luke?

Third, your view of perspicuity seems to mean that we only learn from being spoon fed easy truths, the exact opposite of the difference between milk and meat that Paul suggests. For example, you wrote:

“Probably the clearest example of the perspicuity of Scripture is found in Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 which says, ‘All Scripture (not just the Gospel message) is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ How can a person profit from Scripture so as to be reproved by it, corrected by it, and instructed in righteousness by it, if it was so unclear he had difficulty understanding it?”

Have you never learned anything by being confronted with a difficult problem and striving to understand it? I suspect that you have. I suspect you’ve struggled with specific portions of the text and come out better for it when you came to reconcile the text through other observations, insights, and reflection. If you haven’t I certainly have, and I know many others who have as well.

Regarding this text, I’d also simply point out that the interpretation of it is quite forced. Is the intent of the text teaching us that all of Scripture is inspired and profitable, or is it teaching us we can just expect to understand everything?

Finally, I firmly affirm and defend inerrancy and any suggestion to the otherwise should be withdrawn. Difference of opinion over interpretation should not be taken as denying inerrancy. Rather than misrepresent your Christian brother, you should stand beside me in a defense of inerrancy. We differ on interpretation of certain texts. Unless you take your interpretation to be itself inerrant and the word of God, I ask you to stop slandering me by implying I deny the doctrine.

Peter Enns on Definitions and Inerrancy

5vbi-counterpointNot long ago, I finished reading Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, a book in the Zondervan Counterpoints series which focused on the plausibility and meaning of inerrancy. Peter Enns was by far the most critical of the doctrine of inerrancy, and his essay largely put forward the position that we should not merely modify but simply get rid of the notion of biblical inerrancy. Here, I want to focus upon Enns’ methodology throughout the work.

We’ll look at Enns’ contributions to Five Views… a bit backwards, by focusing first upon his responses to the other authors. What I found was that time and time again, Enns demanded definitions for individual words from the authors he was responding to. Sometimes, these demands were warranted, but overall it seemed Enns would just call on the others to define their terms and say he didn’t know what they meant otherwise. Moreover, even where he did not demand definitions, he often put scare quotes around seemingly random words in his responses. This latter point is more a complaint about writing style than substance, but it was extremely distracting! On p. 61, for example, Enns put quotes around three words–“many,” “history,” and “accurate”–the latter two for seemingly no reason whatsoever.

However, what I want to focus on is Enns emphasis on the importance of definitions. Here are just some examples of Enns’ method in application:

“…’true,’ ‘error,’ ‘erroneously,’ and ‘falsehood’ are all left floating. I am not sure what Bird means by them–at least at this point” (Enns’ response to Bird, p. 182).

“For one thing, we have the perennial problem of what ‘affirm’ actually means, and Vanhoozer’s subsequent thoughts did not clear this up for me. Further, ‘eventually’ raises flags…” (Enns’ response to Vanhoozer, p. 245).

Now, as I noted, surely some of this is fair. It is true that it is important to wonder at the meaning of “truth,” as we know from the oft-quoted words of Pontius Pilate “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Thus, I am not saying that Enns has no point when he called for definitions throughout his critical engagement with his co-authors. Surely, definitions are extremely important. And it is because of the importance of definitions that I wonder why on earth Enns failed to even allow for different definitions of inerrancy in his own contribution to the book.

Think about this for a second: despite spending significant [what is meant by significant?] portions of his responses calling upon definitions from his co-authors, Enns himself titled his contribution: “Inerrancy, However Defined, Does Not Describe What the Bible Does.”

Yes, that’s right, the man who called for definitions of individual words like truth, falsehood, error, affirm, and more himself eschews the hassle of defining inerrancy, the central topic of not just his chapter but the subject of the book! I’m astonished by this. How can someone who has demonstrated such concern for details himself just lump all inerrantists together and say that “well, however they define it, it doesn’t work”? Well, what does Enns mean by “inerrancy”? Enns does interact with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (hereafter CSBI) and apparently takes this for his norm regarding the meaning of inerrancy, but without any explicit definition of inerrancy, readers are left wondering whether Enns really is so concerned with definitions after all.

Enns, of course, brings up a number of interesting points and several challenges to inerrancy with which those who hold to the doctrine must interact. However, without any distinction between inerrantists, Enns is left doing that which he accuses others of: making statements which are hard to understand because he hasn’t defined terms. One obvious difficulty with Enns’ approach comes to the forefront when he assumes that inerrancy is necessarily committed to a literalistic hermeneutic: “The implication [of the CSBI on historical matters] is self-evident: inerrancy means, first of all, that literalism is the default hermeneutic of the CSBI… Taken at face value, this means that any comparison of Genesis with other ancient Near Eastern origins stories… is ruled out of bounds” (88). Enns qualified the last statement by noting that only those comparisons outside of CSBI conclusions are ruled out.

But of course the CSBI itself does allow for the comparison of genre, cultural contexts, and more in regards to interpretation of the text. Moreover, the CSBI allows for not just young earth creationism, but for other approaches to the text as well.

Thus, it seems to me that Enns’ lack of concern for possible nuance to definitions of inerrancy–his rejection of defining terms despite his insistence that others must do so–leads to great difficulties with his own critique. I have not here engaged in the core of Enns’ argument. As I said, many of his points are thoughtful and engaging. However, I think that his method seems a bit disingenuous: he demands that others define terms, but when it comes to the central topic of the entire book, refuses to acknowledge that any distinctions within the doctrine of inerrancy can combat his conclusion that the Bible is not inerrant.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

“Theological Colonialism”? On theological issues which are ‘only popular in America’– Here, I evaluate the claims made by Michael Bird in his essay in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. More particularly, I consider the notion that doctrines which are allegedly only popular in one place of the world are somehow restricted in importance.

Source

Peter Enns, Responses and “Inerrancy, However Defined, Does not Describe What the Bible Does” in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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.

Really Recommended Posts 3/21/14- egalitarian marriage, the Bible and murdering children, inerrancy, and more!

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneWell we got snow again here (about 3 inches). If it’s anything like  last year, we’ll be seeing snow in May. Alas. Given that we’re stuck inside, I am pleased to present a number of excellent posts here for your perusal. The posts address the notion that egalitarian marriage is less satisfactory, apologetic interaction in social media, a recent meme about murdering children in the Bible, and more!

Gender Roles in Marriage (Part 1): Couples in Traditional Roles Have More Sex, Study Finds– I have seen several people sharing the results of a study in which it was found that couples in traditional roles have more sex. Some have trumpeted this as proof that traditional marriage is actually superior to egalitarian marriage. (Here, realize that “traditional marriage” is referring to a complementarian relationship wherein the man is in charge of the household.) However, apart from the problem that the number of instances of sex in a month is perhaps not the best indicator of marital stability and happiness, it seems there are other difficulties with this study and those drawing conclusions about the superiority of complementarianism. Check out this article on the topic.

How to Murder Children: Bible Style – Debunked– There’s a meme rolling around the internet about how the Bible has murdering children in it. It’s constructed without commentary and seems to be slanted towards the view that the Bible is evil. Check out this debunking of the meme (it includes the original). Very good work here, and I really think you should check it out!

What Christians can learn from skeptics– Certainly not an exhaustive list, this is actually more specifically looking at how skeptics are using Wikipedia to slant opinion on religious issues. How might Christians use this as a way to increase confidence in the faith?

Errors of Inerrancy– An interesting post on how to avoid some pitfalls when thinking of the doctrine of inerrancy. The list of errors includes both mistakes made by both critical scholarship and evangelicals regarding the text of Scripture.

One Christian Apologist’s Advice on Using (Anti-)Social Media– Some good advice here on how to become more effective via social media. Though I personally think Facebook is actually a better way to do apologetics than described in this post.

Really Recommended Posts 1/25/14- YA Entertainment, Inerrancy, “Lone Survivor,” Feminism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses

postAnother week, another list of the internet’s finest brought to you, dear reader. These are some extremely diverse topics, and I’m excited to read your own reactions to the posts. I’ve lined up cultural apologetics, inerrancy, feminism, the “Lone Survivor” flick, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Trending Young Adult Entertainment in 2013– Anthony Weber wrote an excellent summary tracing the trends we may see in YA entertainment from 2013. I highly recommend engaging with this post as well as keeping on top of things with YA entertainment, because it shows where our culture is shifting.

What Kind of Evidence Could Nullify Inerrancy?– What does it mean to make the claim that the Bible is inerrant? Does it commit one to an a priori rejection of evidence? It seems to me that this post brings up some of the tension with inerrancy and hermeneutics. I, of course, affirm inerrancy, but I think it is important to distinguish between inerrant text and interpretation. This post brings up some interesting points for discussion with inerrancy.

Lone Survivor and Insufferable Anti-American Self-Righteousness– The film “Lone Survivor” has caused quite a bit of critical discussion. Here, a soldier reflects on the reaction to the film. I share this post with the caveat that I have not seen the film and so I’m sharing it because I thought it was an interesting viewpoint.

Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist– What does it mean to be a feminist for Jesus? Does it actually mean anything? Are the terms contradictory? Check out this look into the book Jesus Feminist.

What Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe?– The title seems self-explanatory, but there is more to this post than a simple exposition of Jehovah’s Witness beliefs. Instead, it engages with the beliefs of Jehovah’s witnesses and provides some ways to engage with others.

Really Recommended Posts 1/17/14- Gospels, Abolish Human Abortion, the Kalam, and more!

postHere we have another round of really recommended posts. This one features a couple posts directed inwards at fellow Christians or people with whom we agree alongside a range of interesting topics. It is important to maintain a high standard, so sometimes it is necessary to give criticism where it is due. Drop a comment, let me know what you thought.

A Fundamental Flaw Behind Abolish Human Abortion– A group which I came out strongly in support of some time ago has really started to take a few turns with which I cannot agree. The group is known as Abolish Human Abortion. I think a lot of what they were doing is quite excellent, but I cannot abide by a few of their primary beliefs. Check out this great analysis of one of the major issues with the group.

The kalam cosmological argument defended in a peer-reviewed science journal–  The title says it all, though the post does have some nice quotes and bits of information. The kalam cosmological argument is an extremely powerful argument for the existence of God. I have a few posts on it myself.

Dear Parents with Young Children– The importance of bringing your children to church is inestimable. Moreover, choosing a church where Law and Gospel are clearly proclaimed, and a basis for belief is preached is essential. Thank you to those parents who bring their children to church! Check out this great post about the topic.

The Case for the Eyewitness Status of the Gospel Authors– Are there any reasons to think those who wrote the Gospels knew what they were talking about? Here, J. Warner Wallace–who, as a homicide detective, has some experience with eyewitness accounts–argues that the Gospels show good evidence for thinking they are eyewitness accounts.

A Review of 5 Views of Biblical Inerrancy– I do not agree with everything Norman Geisler has to say, but I think portions of this review are of critical importance. I haven’t quite finished the whole article, and I’ve only just started reading the book, but I thought this post was worth passing along for others who find the topic of interest.

“Theological Colonialism”? On theological issues which are ‘only popular in America’

5vbi-counterpointI recently picked up the latest in the Zondervan “Counterpoints” series: “Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy.” One of the essays, by Michael F. Bird, is entitled “Inerrancy is Not Necessary for Evangelicalism Outside the USA.” I flipped through it and I thought the author certainly had some good things to say. But, I admit that I find the apparent thrust of Bird’s argument is quite mistaken.

The notion that certain theological issues are essentially uninteresting to folks on the other side of either ocean is one I have read (and heard in person) on more than one occasion related to various Christian doctrines. Bird’s own presentation, regarding inerrancy, argues that the CSBI (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, a document he is critiquing) demonstrates “An Unfortunate Trend toward Theological Colonialism” (the capitalization is due to this being a section heading). This trend might be discerned thus: “there are thousands of churches around the world that are both evangelical and orthodox and get on with their ministry without ever having heard of the CSBI and without ever using the word inerrancy in their statement of faith” (153-154, cited below).

Very well. Suppose we grant Bird this fact. I’m sure it actually is a fact. But so what? What possible relevance does this have for the truth and claims of inerrancy? Bird’s own conclusion is that, basically, we should not expect evangelicals across the world to saddle themselves with a view that is essentially unfamiliar to them. I think this may be a fair point, but it raises a couple concerns: first, the actual truth value of whatever doctrine is in question; second, concern for continuing to grow in knowledge and faith.

Suppose that you believe a doctrine is of great importance to how one might view other doctrines. Now, someone comes along and informs you that there are people in some area of the world who don’t know about that doctrine or that that area of the world is generally unconcerned with it. Should this somehow lead you to think that the doctrine is unimportant because people outside of your own cultural milieu do not view it as such? Certainly not! It may cause you to reflect upon its alleged importance and perhaps even come to a new view, but the notion that a specific doctrine is largely unimportant to certain groups of people does nothing, in itself, to downplay the actual importance of that doctrine. Nor does it impact the truth value of that doctrine in any way.

Now, at risk of being accused of “theological colonialism,” I am going to also suggest that the apparent disinterest in an important doctrine is less reason to think the doctrine is unimportant than it is reason to perhaps try to inform others of the doctrine’s actual importance. Returning to the example above, suppose the disinterest caused you to reflect upon the doctrine and you concluded that yes, it is actually deeply important. Would you not be concerned that others do not share your conviction, such that perhaps you may feel obligated to inform others about the centrality of said doctrine?

I’m not trying to suggest anyone without concern for inerrancy is ignorant or foolish. But I do think there is something to be said for the notion that a doctrine like inerrancy (or eschatology, or a view of creation, etc., etc.) is something worth exploring and learning about. We are called to expand our knowledge, not be content to sit in the knowledge of the faith we already have. I have become aware of entire realms of theological debates which I didn’t even know existed by reading authors–both international and, yes, American. I have found topics I was disinterested in to be deep, engaging, and edifying. I was subsisting on milk, but I have pursued solid food, and continue to do so [Hebrews 5:12ff]. I hope to continue to be enlightened by international theologians. But I would also hope that international theologians would not dismiss a doctrine because it comes from America.

Finally, is not the very notion that ‘if a doctrine is only of concern to American Evangelicals, then it should be moderated or reigned in’ itself a form of theological colonialism?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Michael Bird, “Inerrancy is Not Necessary for Evangelicalism Outside the USA” in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 145-173.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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.

The Bible Is Not One Book

Bibbia_con_rosaI was doing some research recently for a lengthy (book length!) project I am working on and was searching Amazon for some books on Bible prophecy. I came upon a work by John Walvoord called Every Prophecy of the Bible. It looked interesting, so as always, took a look at the high reviews as well as the low reviews. I looked at the one star reviews and came upon one by a user named “gavin.”

I was perplexed by his (a male, judging by the picture) objection to confirming the Bible as true through prophecy. He wrote, “The book basically runs off a list of biblical prophecies that have supposedly been fulfilled. Amazingly pretty much all the evidence for these so called fulfilled prophecies comes from the same book making the prophecies in the first place ie the bible.” He then proceeded to ridicule Christians who do believe this as holding to an “infantile” belief.

The Objection

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have seen an objection like this. Put simply, the objection is that the Bible can’t confirm itself, because that would be a circular argument. In other words, one can’t use material from one part of the Bible to confirm other parts of the Bible because then one is arguing for the truth of the Bible from the Bible.

The Problem

Most people should immediately see what the problem is. Although the Bible as we have it today is a single “book” in the sense that its contents share the same binding, it is really a collection of independent works written across over a thousand years by various authors in different parts of the world. In other words, the Bible is not “one book,” at least in the sense that one needs to maintain for this objection. Thus, if there is a prophecy found in one book which we know to be earlier than a book which is later that records its fulfillment, then there seems to be at least some evidence, prima facie, for the truth of the prophecy. (Of course this would be contingent upon the historical accuracy of the books, etc., etc. but the simple fact of an alleged prophecy’s existing before its fulfillment is an interesting facet to consider.)

A friend, Anthony Weber, made an analogy: think of the Bible as a library of books. Would it not be silly to think you couldn’t pull one book of the shelf and say that it confirmed another book? Suppose each book was about history, and one made a mere mention of a topic, while another featured a more detailed description. Would we not be surprised if someone came along and objected, saying “Well, they’re in the same library, so we can’t trust them!”

Inerrancy?

Christians need to realize that this has implications for doctrine as well. For example, those who maintain inerrancy–and I strongly believe that consistent Christians should do so (see my arguments to this end and defense of the doctrine here)–may be concerned that viewing the Bible in this fashion comes in danger of breaking it up piecemeal and pitting each segment against the others. But this is not what follows at all. Instead, it is simply an acknowledgment that the Bible is a collection of works in different genres written at different times in different places which, when put together, form a coherent whole.

Concluding call for intellectual honesty

In light of what I have explored, I want to first issue a call to the atheists out there: I know that you (atheists) do not all hold to objections like this and would find someone else using this objection a bit alarming. I call you to challenge your fellow atheists to a more honest interaction with positions of faith. If you want to criticize someone else’s position, fine. But do it without completely misrepresenting them. Call out your fellow atheists when they try to put forth this kind of drivel as a serious objection to Christianity. I try to call out fellow Christians when they do the same with other views.

To my fellow Christians: be aware that objections like these are not the backbone of atheism. Frankly, I think people like “gavin” are just grasping at anything to maintain unbelief and ridicule others they choose to look down on as “infantile.” Let’s engage with people who make these objections, but if they persist, dismiss the objection as the ridiculous notion it is. Finally, if you catch yourself treating the Bible like one book without any distinction in genre, time, place, etc., stop yourself. It is important to note the Bible is united in message, but God used different people as they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” It wasn’t delivered all by divine dictation.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) 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.

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.

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.

Guest Post: Rev. Kent Wartick on “The Virgin Birth”

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). Matthew 1:28 ESV.

Familiar words to most Christians, aren’t they? Along with His Death and Resurrection, the virgin birth of Jesus is among the most celebrated and unifying events in all of Christianity. Nativity scenes can be found in front of Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, and all sorts of churches of all denominations. The virgin birth is counted as among the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, and was important enough to be counted as one of the twelve articles of the Apostolic Creed. For centuries, the account that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin woman, Mary of Nazareth, was undisputed, at least as far as any known challenges can be documented.

But, then, along came the Enlightenment. With it came the idea that science and reason were the test of Scripture and all truth, and not the reverse. Therefore, if Scripture says that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that is not logical nor scientifically provable, then it must be rejected. Thus, the Jefferson “Bible” excludes any reference to the virgin birth as well as Jesus’ miracles, Deity, resurrection, etc.  As time went on, through the historical critical method and other destructive methods of using reason not to teach but to judge Scripture, the Enlightenment principle of reason and science over Scripture slowly infiltrated the thinking of many churches. Surveys confirm this infiltration.

1998: A poll of 7,441 Protestant clergy in the U.S. showed a wide variation in belief. The following ministers did not believe in the virgin birth:

  • American Lutherans- 19%
  • American Baptists- 34%
  • Episcopalians- 44%
  • Presbyterians- 49%
  • Methodists- 60%

2007-DEC: The Barna Group sampled 1,005 adults and found that 75% believed that Jesus was born to a virgin. 53% of the unchurched, and 15% of Agnostics and Atheists believe as well. Even among those who describe themselves as mostly liberal on political and social issues, 60% believe in the virgin birth. (Source for surveys.)

It is a great travesty in the Church today that many clergy find themselves looking at their positions only as a job, and will say what they must to preserve their positions. From the source of the polls previously cited comes this quote:

“…one Hampshire vicar was typical: ‘There was nothing special about his birth or his childhood – it was his adult life that was extraordinary….I have a very traditional bishop and this is one of those topics I do not go public on. I need to keep the job I have got.’

Such hypocrisy and blatant deceit is unworthy of anyone, let alone one who claims to proclaim the Word of God and represent Him to the people. yet such is the state of much of the clergy, as indicated by the above polling figures. No wonder the Church is in such disarray, and seems so powerless in the world today!

If Christianity is only a “nice” way of life that is only about love and compassion, then I suppose the virgin birth is not so essential, But if Christianity is an intimate and personal relationship by faith with the Creator of the Universe, then Who that Creator is makes all the difference. And if being born of a virgin is something He says about himself, even once, in His Book, then it might be best if we believe it. After all, wouldn’t you like to know a bit about, say, the pedigree of a dog or horse that you were to buy, or even more so, wouldn’t you like to know all about a future spouse that you profess to love before marriage?  (Please forgive the analogy, which is not meant to cheapen God, spouses, dogs, or horses).

The virgin birth of Christ—and I would say, the historical fact that Jesus was conceived by a miracle like unto creation itself—does not travel alone. It ties intimately into other doctrines-the Holy Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of Scripture, and more. “Scripture cannot be broken”, Jesus said in John 10:35. Even so, the most basic teachings of the Christian faith cannot be broken off and accepted like items on a buffet table. They are all one. Accept all of them-or none of them. That is the challenge that the catechumen, the seeker, the growing disciple of Christ is faced with. Finally, you see, the importance of the virgin birth is found, like all things, bound in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.

As far as the prophecy quoted by Matthew, namely Isaiah 7:14, much ink has been spilled on this by scholars with more degrees than I have. Some modern Bible translations, notably the NRSV, CEB, TEV and others use “young woman” to translate the Hebrew word almah.   Others, such as the NASB, ESV, NKJB, TNIV  (=NIV 2011), use the more traditional “virgin.” The LXX also translates the word “virgin.” While the matter is not as simple as some might make it, certainly I would think that the Septuagint scholars would have known Hebrew and Greek well enough to have chosen a different word besides the Greek word for “virgin” if “young woman” would have been indicated. They had no agenda to support a virgin birth or not. The same cannot be said of some modern translators. The sainted Dr. William Beck  wrote a study on this subject, available at www.wlsessays.net/.

Human reason helps us put all of these things together systematically from Scripture; but human reason cannot accept and believe them itself. That, too, is a special creative work of the Holy Spirit. What a delight to know that God wants everyone to know Him as He reveals Himself in Scripture. It is through the very words of Scripture that God creates faith. Through those Holy Spirit given and empowered words He keeps one in the faith.  As I stand in awe that God chose this supernatural way to join our human race, so I stand in awe that He created faith in my heart, and has kept that faith to this day. All glory and praise to Him forever!

Finally, though, the virgin birth is a matter of faith. For the individual, it is a matter of personal faith whether one accepts what Scripture says about the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus or not. But the virgin birth is also a matter of THE Faith; that is to say, it is an article of Christian doctrine that is beyond dispute. To accept it is to accept a fundamental, essential doctrine of all Christianity. To reject it is to put one outside the bounds of the Christian faith. I pray that this Advent and Christmas season you will join with me, and with all the Christian world, in celebrating the supernatural way that God chose to enter our human race to bear our sin and be our savior.

Rev. Kent Wartick is the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Kent, Ohio. He has been preaching for over 26 years in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. He’s my dad, and an inspiration for the faithful.

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