A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by M. Blayne Powell
It’s hard to imagine that such density could fit into a work of this size. Density, however, should not dissuade readers from considering the truths presented in Vern Poythress’s Truth, Theology, and Perspective. Rather, while its size may be deceiving, readers should be prepared to pause frequently to consider the depths of truth presented in this work, and to consider truth as perspective.
This book was different from those I am accustomed to reading. Rather than simply presenting theological truths, Poythress encourages readers to consider biblical doctrine from the perspective of truth. In not so many words, readers are encouraged to understand truth by means of its source, or rather, from the perspective of its source—namely, the God of the Bible. In doing so, the book presents truth not as the object of inquiry, but as the perspective from which various doctrines are evaluated and believed.
One of the greatest strengths of this book is its gospel-centric orientation. While its level of complexity may make it difficult for young Christians and those less theologically nuanced to recognize, this work will certainly aid those more well-versed in doctrine to understand the gospel from the perspective of truth.
The table of contents clearly reflects the book’s gospel focus:
- Part 1: The Doctrine of God
- Part 2: The Doctrine of Man
- Part 3: Redemption
- Part 4: Application of Redemption.
Thus, in careful consideration, Poythress employs the simple gospel summary God, man, Christ, response. While the sections of the book are straightforward, readers should not be fooled by either the table of contents or the size of each chapter. Truth, Theology, and Perspective is a work of philosophical theology—delving somewhat into the realm of apologetics— that will push students of Scripture beyond a surface-level understanding of biblical doctrine.
As a systematician, Poythress remains true to his field in this volume. While focusing on truth as perspective and maintaining a gospel-centric orientation, the author in less than 150 pages addresses many, if not most, of the key themes in systematic theology. In brief and distilled chapters, many concepts are considered—from the perspective of truth—including: the existence and attributes of God, the Trinity, God’s plan of redemption, creation, providence and miracles, revelation, the origin and nature of mankind, covenant theology, the fall, free agency, the person and work of Christ, inaugurated eschatology, justification and sanctification, the church, and several other themes. In some ways, the book almost felt like a devotional preface to a much more complex volume on systematic theology. In fact—perhaps a critique of the book, more likely the very notion of the author—each chapter served as a helpful yet necessarily limited treatment of each topic. While the book only begins to bring to the surface the implications of truth as perspective, I imagine that each chapter could have been the size of the book itself if further expounded upon.
Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the book, while being intensely philosophical and theological, it oozes Bible. According to my count, there are over 350 Scripture references in this volume. Poythress relies heavily on the biblical testimony in utilizing truth as perspective. He does not rely upon his own perspective but holds fast to the purpose of the book to see and understand doctrine through the perspective of truth—truth as revealed in Scripture.
In terms of the topic itself, one key theme of the book that shines forth throughout is the possibility and existence of truth. In an age where the very notion of truth is often despised, Poythress argues for the necessity and absolute nature of truth. Furthermore, he explains that the nature of truth (i.e., omnipresence, everlastingness, unchangeability, etc.) reflects the nature of the one true God, in whom it is contingent. In other words, rather than truth being an object that exists in and of itself, it is a reality contingent upon the existence of God. Thus, for truth to exist, it is necessary for God to exist—for truth is contingent upon the God who is.
Along with the existence and nature of truth being a key theme, Poythress focuses upon truth as it is revealed in Scripture. The Bible, for Poythress, does not create truth. Rather, it reveals the truth that is already so in the Creator God. He writes, “[W]e can say that revelation reflects God who is the truth, and God’s revelation reveals truth. It expresses truth already existing eternally in God” (66). This is a crucial concept for believers to comprehend. While evangelicals are proud to claim and defend the doctrine of inerrancy, such a concept cannot be separated from the God who is truth. Scripture is inerrant precisely because God is inerrant. Thus, that which God chooses to reveal to humanity is true—and can be trusted—because God is true.
Poythress, furthermore, recognizes the skepticism of the culture towards the very idea of divine revelation. He writes,
The modern cultural atmosphere is hostile to the idea that God could speak actual verbal discourses to finite human beings. But we must recognize this hostility for what it is. It is hostility in principle. The hostility is there among many people in the West even if they have not read a single verse of the Bible. They are already influenced by a culture mood that rejects the idea of a divine voice. So it is not really the Bible that is their problem; it is the God of the Bible (69, Emphasis belongs to the author).
Perhaps this statement identifies the need for this work more than any other. The rejection of truth by the culture is more an act of rebellion against God than an honest refutation of objective moral absolutes. Since God is truth, and since mankind is in rebellion against God, it is natural to expect that propositional truth would be rebelled against as well. Poythress expresses these concepts in a way that is unarguable and yet so often blanketly dismissed by the larger culture. Pastors and thoughtful Christians are, thus, in desperate need of perspectives of truth such as that which is offered here.
That being said, a few considerations are worthwhile in critique of the book. First, as to the appropriate audience, I would expect that most average Christians would find this work a bit overwhelming. Size can be deceiving. While I found myself agreeing with almost everything I read, it was not without deep consideration and thought. This is not a bad thing at all. In fact, in many cases, Christendom is in desperate need of books that would challenge our thinking and push us beyond our perceived cognitive limits. This book fits that need and would serve as a healthy prescription, especially for pastors, elders, and aspiring theologians. It may be brief in terms of length; however, the thoughtful introspection that this book occasions makes for a much slower read than one might ordinarily expect of a book of this size.
Furthermore, as a pastor, I have an earnest desire that my congregation would be able to glean and understand the insight contained within these pages; however, I anticipate if I were to give them Truth, Theology, and Perspective, they would become bewildered by the journey. Many I suppose would fail to make it through the short yet dense chapters. I, rather, see an alternative purpose for this volume. Pastors, elders, and theologians within the church would do well to read and discuss this book together, considering the content in such a way that it may be pastorally applied, and then thoughtfully reduced in more intimate settings for the laity. Rather than being directed toward ordinary church members, Truth, Theology, and Perspective is a much more heavy and thoughtful work, for those most engaged in cultural engagement and teaching ministries. This volume would most serve pastors as they think through truth as perspective. I imagine that those who are committed to the work of pastoral ministry in a postmodern era have an abiding need for such a thought exercise—which Poythress is sure to promote through this book.
M. Blayne Powell
Buy the books
TRUTH, THEOLOGY, AND PERSPECTIVE: AN APPROACH TO UNDERSTANDING BIBLICAL DOCTRINE, by Vern S. Poythress