A Review of “Inerrancy and The Gospels”

To follow up his review of the first volume in this series, David Dunham reviews the second volume by Vern Poythress in his Inerrrancy and Worldview series.

ApoythressVern Poythress has written a book like no other I’ve ever read. In many ways his two volumes on inerrancy are apologetic defenses of the evangelical doctrine. But their approach to the subject is incredibly unique. In Inerrancy and the Gospels Poythress argues for the compatibility and veracity of the gospel accounts by challenging many of the underlying assumptions critics make to their harmony. Approaching the text with humility fundamentally alters the way we wrestle with the challenges to harmonization.

The subtitle of the book sets up the tone of the work: A God-Centered Approach To The Challenges Of Harmonization. The key word is “God-centered.” It is very important that readers understand Poythress’ apologetic does not start from a point of neutrality. Even if such a position were possible (and it isn’t) it wouldn’t be desired. For the author, a God-centered approach is the only right one. The way we approach the Scriptures will always affect how we deal with challenges in them. “Our assumptions about the Bible and about God,” Poythress writes, “play a central role in how we understand and study the Bible” (27). The kind of autonomy that many want to use to determine the veracity of Scripture is simply incompatible with the Bible’s own worldview. Poythress writes:

God expects us to trust him because he is worthy of trust, not because we can first of all check things out according to our own standards. We ought not to seek assurance in our own independently positioned intellectual or critical powers before we commit ourselves to God’s care and submit to his voice. A pursuit of security through autonomous criticism presupposes autonomy. It is already intrinsically in rebellion against what we were created to be, children of our heavenly Father. (217-218).

This is quite different from other apologetic works. It is precisely this unique feature of Inerrancy and the Gospels, however, which makes it such a great resource.

Many volumes directly address the historical reliability of the gospels, or address the details of harmonization between the synoptics, and many more address the overarching doctrine of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. But in this single monograph Poythress has combined all those things. He does not address every difficulty in the texts of the gospels, but he gives ample examples to illustrate the principles he lays out for his readers. And that is where the book largely focuses: principles. He tackles such foundational subjects as the relationship between theology, history, and authorial artistry. He challenges the “mental-picture theory” of truth which seeks for a perfect mental picture of the accounts delineated in the gospels. He deals with linguistic issues of variety and flexibility in writing. And he even addresses the ways in which God might use intellectual challenges to humble us and to lead us to trust more in him.

We do not know all the answers to all the detail difficulties in Scripture. We do know enough, and enough clearly and without contest, to know God and to know his Gospel, and to know what he would have us do. But that is not to say that we can provide solutions to every problem in the Gospels, or for that matter in the Scriptures. Poythress states it plainly:

We receive true knowledge from the Gospels. But this true knowledge is also incomplete knowledge. We are so created that we can know some things without knowing everything. (217)

But we lack in knowledge should not lead us to doubt God or cry “error” while reading the Bible. Rather, if we know God it ought to lead us to greater dependence and submission to Him. The author keenly observes:

Any difficulty that does not quickly yield to our investigation testifies to the fact that God is greater than we are and that he understands what we do not. Moreover, when we confront a difficulty, it may test whether we think we are right and God is wrong. We then have an opportunity for reflection. We can take time to remember that our mental abilities and our discernment and our insights belong under the supremacy of God. (107)

There are reasonable explanations for the difficulties we come across in the Scriptures. Poythress goes through some of these and directs us to great resources to wrestle with more possible solutions, but he admits these are all tentative and that even the so-called discrepancies, when viewed in companionship with inerrancy, serve positive purposes. It all begins with how we approach the Scriptures.

This is an absolutely phenomenal book! I was so captured by Poythress’ vision of the Word of God that I had, at times, trouble putting the book down. He gives us not only practical principles for dealing with the difficulties, but he provides us with a big picture look at a Christian worldview. This is a resource all pastors and all students of the Bible should read.

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