Inerrancy and Worldview

Dr. Vern Poythress, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary, speaks about his book Inerrancy and Worldview: Answering Challenges to the Bible (Crossway). In this important book, Dr. Poythress provides a worldview-based defense of inerrancy by demonstrating the influence various worldviews have on views of the Bible.


Participants: , ,

Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program and learn how to subscribe.

13 Responses

  1. patrick

    I won’t speak for w-v critics like D.G. Hart, but I’ve become rather disillusioned with “worldview” talk as well, for two main reasons which were not really captured by Camden’s summary of complaints about worldview thinking (around 19:00. I don’t understand what Camden thinks the objections are, though).

    The first is empirical. Do people really have worldviews? Or, to what extend do they have them? What’s the evidence for this? Sure, many (all?) people have, at some times, some beliefs or attitudes about basic issues like god’s existence, some applied ethical issues, and the like. But where’s the evidence for thinking the folk even have basic views on matters epistemological (or the like)? Anecdotally, from teaching some large philosophy classes and taking regular surveys etc., most people do not (or do not seem to) have many of the “presuppositions” that worldview writers often suppose they have. Take even the often claimed moral or global relativism of the folk in the US, say. That does seem to be the default view for many people, yet many people do not hold it consistently (then again, we need more empirical work on this issue. Further, some major studies on the beliefs of professional philosophers, such as the philsurvey, suggest that a good proportion do not have views on most parts of the “worldview”).

    The second worry is more substantive. Worldview works often seem like an excuse to never move beyond (sometimes sub-) intro level philosophy. What I mean is, worldview writing often seems to superficially discuss and critique (what they assume are the) folk worldviews, like relativism, and from there infer the truth of Christianity. It is a sort of way of pretending to do philosophy and make an apologetic without ever having to actually address actual philosophers. Granted, this does not characterize all worldview writing.

  2. If I may, for your first concern–the plain lack of empirical evidence for pervasive worldview holding–I think you hit on one of the issues, that worldviews or ultimate, determinative commitments are not held or maintained consistently. So the evidence would be iffy in that case. Poythress said he’s using the term loosely. Perhaps part of what he has in mind is commitments–beliefs or whatever–adopted or held–often unwittingly, uncritically, less than self-consciously–that wield considerable influence in how we think. Maybe that’s all he means (I think it is). He wants to encourage us to be more implicit-commitment-self-conscious, and more implicit-commitment-Bible-conscious. A simple example is the first one Poythress mentioned: personalism v impersonalism. He says that, in his view, many critiques of inerrancy and biblical authority and trustworthiness flow from or arise by virtue of an impersonal view of the universe. That impersonal view is a “worldview” because it is uncritically or unself-consciously held, while it wields considerable influence in how a person thinks: because of it, a person struggles to accept inerrancy and biblical authority. By contrast the Bible takes an ultimately personal account of the created order: no problem for inerrancy, since God governs the universal and the particulars of history. I guess I’d say you have two reasons that empirical evidence would not bear out the worldview approach: (1) worldviews are not held consistently, and (2) empirical evidence wouldn’t yield worldview stuff, but only the stuff from which we can infer the influence of worldview-type commitments.

    As to your second, why should anyone have to “do philosophy” or “address actual philosophers”? One may either address folk worldviews (to a folk audience/readership), or, if you like, you can address “actual [versus virtual, or merely possible–do ‘possible philosophers’ exist necessarily??] philosophers,” but I don’t see any standing requirement to subject one’s self to the often futile minutae of “actual philosophy.” You can say very significant things and influential things–make an apologetic, answer a widely held claim (even one widely held among “actual philosophers”) without being bothered by that stuff. In short, I’m not sure why “actual philosophers” have entered the discussion here. Poythress hasn’t said he’s written a philosophical book on philosophy for philosophers, so no worry in that sense.

  3. patrick

    Thanks for the reply. I agree with your first paragraph. I do not understand your second, though.
    I think it is important to address folk beliefs or culturally popular ideas. I think it is important to do philosophy and work in esoteric/academic level debates. I don’t think by doing the first one has done the second.
    My point, then, was simply that one complaint some (e.g., me) have of some worldview writing is that it often purports to do just that. We can talk about examples if you’d like, but if you are right about Poythress then this doesn’t apply. Fair enough?

    (Further details: One way worldview writers—among others—do this is by invoke binary categories that purport to capture every possible relevant view, where one category (our category) is the true, the other category the false. Then, these writers sort the views they disagree with—materialism, naturalism, scientism, physicalism, reductionism, whatever is relevant—into the latter category, and treat that as an argument against those views. Not that Poythress does this (I haven’t read the book yet), but just sorting criticisms of inerrancy into the “impersonalistic” category is not by itself an argument against those criticisms or views. It is a conclusion of an argument at best.)

  4. I think you do understand the second paragraph, and I think, yes, that’s fair. I am just a little wary of the idea that unless we are doing the most rigorous philosophy we are not really talking about the issues or we are not really dealing with things effectively. Not doing philosophy proper is not the same as doing bad, shoddy, or introductory philosophy. Maybe it just isn’t philosophy and doesn’t have to be.

    If worldviews are made up of broad, uncritical and unchallenged assumptions, they can be dealt with in broad strokes, without philosophical rigor; to expect philosophical rigor is to show up with the wrong tools. My thought is just to pull away from the idea that “without philosophical rigor” means “weak” or “incomplete” or “ineffective” or “naïve” or whatever. It means none of those things; it just means “without philosophical rigor.” Poythress, for example, is a very knowledgeable, seasoned scholar. I believe that as such he is in just the right position to address pervasive but uncritical worldview-like commitments persuasively, effectively, and in a way that challenges but edifies. That is a tall order, no less demanding (maybe more) than most rigorous philosophy out there, in my view. In other words, “that’s not philosophy” is fine with me; “but it should be” goes too far.

    It may be the case that there are worldview guys who call themselves philosophers. Assuming there are more non-worldview guys who call themselves philosophers than the worldview guys who do so, the worldview guys would be the minority, and so less entitled to the sought-after moniker. That seems clear enough; so maybe that would be misleading, but I’m not sure it’s worth worrying about.

  5. This has nothing to do with Dr. Poythress or his new book…

    Is it just me, or is Camden like a hairless Len Casper, WGN-TV announcer for the Chicago Cubs? Similar vocal inflections…kinda looks like him too.

    Sorry to be so severely off topic.

  6. dghart

    And here’s another issue. W-w thinkers never (okay, maybe too broad) seem to account for non-philosophical assumptions. In the world of computing, faster is better. In the world of buying, cheaper is more desirable. In the world of food, we don’t care about who farmed it but that it comes to us cheaply. So w-w is pretty much a classroom discussion. When it does enter the “real” world, it takes the form of Chuck Colson and the Religious Right.

    Lots of need for reigning in the movement, it seems to me.

  7. Hermonta Godwin

    Dr. Hart,
    I am not sure if I have ever seen demonstrated that there are non philosophical assumptions that do not cash out as philosophical assumptions. Or put another way, you seems to be defining philosophical assumptions very narrowly.


  8. dghart

    Hermonta, I think most non-philosophers have all sorts of assumptions that aren’t philosophical. The same applies to philosophers. If you can point me to the proof that all assumptions are philosophical, I’d like to see it.

  9. Hermonta Godwin

    Dr. Hart,
    First off, I did not claim that there were no non-philosophical assumptions. I claimed that I havent seen any non-philosophical assumptions that were not able to be cashed out as philosophical ones. If you have a counter example, I would be happy to see it and properly change my views. Next, are you equating unexamined assumptions with non-philosophical assumptions? Lastly, even though I believe that I can defend my claims, I never stated that I had some sort of mathematical proof against non-philosophical assumptions.


  10. dghart


    I gave examples of assumptions we all make — cheaper is better, faster is better. You may find a philosophical root for these, but I’m not sure why that’s important. Is philosophy the great decoder ring?

  11. Hermonta Godwin

    Dr. Hart,
    If there are philosophical assumptions underlying such, then I am unsure why you are so down on worldview. Worldview/Worldview reasoning then is able to reach and even change such positions. In such a case, you seem to be underplaying the power of worldview analysis. Lastly, would there be a problem if philosophy was the great decoder right?

  12. dghart

    Hemonta, so I’m still asking about the philosophical assumptions for cheaper is better. The decoder ring seems not to be working.

  13. Hermonta Godwin

    Dr. Hart,
    If one held to cheaper being absolutely better, then one would need to assume that whatever reason the price of something is less than it was at some previous time, is morally good or morally neutral. I am unsure how one could make the claim that cheaper is better while also saying the reason for cheapness is morally suspect.

Leave a Reply