Inerrancy and Worldview: Modern Challenges to Inerrancy (Part 5)

inerrancyHow you view history will determine at the outset whether or not you accept the events of the Bible as historically accurate. We discussed last week that the Bible speaks of history as God’s unfolding plan for the salvation of His people. But an impersonalist worldview cannot accept such a view of history, and therefore it cannot accept much in Scripture as historically accurate. An impersonalist conception of history is incompatible with the Bible.

Vern Poythress directs us to consider a modern approach to history that is still highly influential today: the historical-critical tradition. The historical-critical tradition is an “approach to the historical investigation of the Bible and of other literature from the past” (Inerrancy and Worldview, 45-46). It is guided by three basic principles of historical scholarship: criticism, analogy, and correlation. The principle of criticism says that we must be skeptical about what we can know from the past, concluding that we can only make “probable judgments about the past” (47). The principle of analogy says that the past “must be treated as analogous to the patterns of events and interpretations that we see in our immediate environment.” And the principle of correlation states that there are causal relationships governing historical events. All events are “correlated to what came before and what comes after” them. These are the principles that govern our present day historical methodology. Ernst Troeltsch assured us in the 1900s that “We are no longer able to think without this method or contrary to it. All our investigations regarding the nature and goals of the human spirit must be based on it” (“Historical and Dogmatic Method in Theology”). Christians must wrestle, then, with what this method does to the text of Scripture.

Of course there is, at one level, much within these three principles to applaud. Vern Poythress notes that at their foundation they are grounded on concepts Christians can agree with. After all, humans are fallible, the past is unintelligible without some analogy, and cause and effect are real things. Poythress even goes so far as to say that these three principles “have their foundations in God” (48). But these principles are used in the modern historical method to oppose God. Poythress writes:

We now confront a paradox. The principles of historical criticism depend on God. At the same time, they are used to oppose the God of the Bible. They do so by eliminating the supernatural. For example, according to historical criticism the Ten Commandments are not the supernatural product of God’s speaking from Mount Sinai, but a merely natural product stemming from the evolution of human thinking and morality. (49)

The three principles do not allow for any supernatural working, and by design rule it an impossibility.

So each of the principles individually opposes the God of the Bible. Criticism says you can never trust a document fully as the written Word of God. You must always be skeptical. The principle of analogy denies the possibility of a miracle, since, after all, a miracle would be “unlike anything that we can observe happening today” (49). And the principle of correlation denies the possibility of a miracle by denying the cause of that miracle. “We must be able to ‘correlate’ between the events immediately preceding a miracle on Mount Sinai and the miracle itself, and this we cannot do if the miracle breaks the natural train of cause and effect.” The principle of cause and effect in an impersonalist conception of history can functionally remove God, as Poythress says: If the principles of cause and effect operate consistently within the world, we can eliminate God as a cause. Only causes within the world count (49).

These are the principles of historical method. That is to say they are in place before one even begins to do historical research, they are assumed to be true before one does the work of investigation. At their core they presuppose an impersonalist worldview. And such a view of history will never be compatible with the way God has designed and interacted with the timeline of our world. Next week we will look at a response to historical criticism.

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