Vern Poythress and Level 3b

by Nov 25, 2013Theology6 comments

bju press logo BLACK copyThe BJU Press Bible Integration team, in which I am thankful to be an insignificant cog, uses a rubric of sorts to gauge whether or not we’re really doing Bible integration. I’ve written about it before. We call it, informally, “the levels.” The three levels of Bible Integration. If it sounds hokey, ad hoc, or insufficient, I urge you to come up with something better. I’ve never seen anyone (except its original author) make the attempt, though I admit to something less than exhaustive knowledge.

The levels move from level 0, in which there is no connection between the Bible and the academic matter at hand, to level 3, which evaluates whole academic disciplines and cultural domains according to Scripture and then seeks to rebuild them on scriptural principles.

Vern Poythress just provided a perfect, brief example of level 3a, “evaluating the discipline”:

The contemporary Western world thinks that, since language is wholly human, it cannot possibly be a reasonable vehicle for talking about God. If we do employ human language to talk about God, it is only by virtue of stretching and twisting it for new, strange purposes, and we can hardly know what it is that we are saying. But this kind of inference rests on anti-Christian assumptions about language.

And here’s another:

The contemporary atmosphere about history, based on a closed series of causes, also involves the assumption that, at the most fundamental level, history consists in bare facts. Theological meanings and artistic coloring in a historical account are human additions after the fact.

And then he provides a great 3b, in which he (briefly, again) offers suggestions on how the academic discipline of history, in this case, might be rebuilt according to Christian presuppositions:

By contrast, I maintain that history, as a working out of the plan of God, has innate meaning from the beginning, according to God’s design. So theological interpretation and literary rendering through plots, which we find in the Gospels, are not human inventions, but explications of divine significance that really belongs to the events.

This post doesn’t necessarily reflect the position of my employer, BJU Press. If you’d like to read more about BJU Press Bible Integration principles, check out this official white paper.

And one more HT: to Aholiab.

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  1. Jeremy Patterson

    In regard to the first quotation from Poynthress, I understand where he is coming from (and, I think, where is going) but he far overstates his case when he says, “The contemporary Western world thinks that, since language is wholly human, it cannot possibly be a reasonable vehicle for talking about God.”

  2. Jeremy Patterson

    Oops. Two corrections to my previous comment: “Poynthress” should be “Poythress,” and “far overstates” should be “egregiously overstates.” =)

  3. Mark L Ward Jr

    Fair enough. =) I think the whole piece is meant to be a general sketch of his overall impression, not a carefully footnoted, detailed argument. Not sure if that saves him from overstatement.

    So where do you think he’s coming from, and where do you think he’s going?

  4. Jeremy Patterson

    I think he’s coming from reading people in the “contemporary Western world” who question the foundations of language and writing, particularly determinate meaning, and who therefore can at times seem to be arguing for a nihilistic worldview.

    I think he is going towards an understanding of language based on the Trinity and thus as a vehicle eminently suitable to “talking about God,” marred though it is in human experience. (I have not yet finished the free PDF of his book on the subject, though, so maybe that isn’t exactly where he’s going).

  5. Mark L Ward Jr

    But hey, I like where he’s coming from, and I like where he’s going!

    I recognize that few of the thinkers I’ve read (which isn’t necessarily saying much) reach the nihilistically postmodern, an absolute relativity, but I sense overall that the squeamishness educated Westerners have about theological and moral truth claims stems in part from their view that language doesn’t have a purchase on the real world. Here—with where he’s coming from—I think I could be wrong.

    But at least with where he’s going I’m fully in accord, aren’t you?


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