An Interview with Dr. Vern Poythress

This interview broadly traces Dr. Poythress’s development firstly as a Christian, and secondly as a thinker. Listen in to hear Poythress explain how the providence of God in all wisdom guided and directed him in such a way that he was well-equipped for the calling God placed on his life. In this interview, Poythress also discusses his Redeeming series, particularly Redeeming Science, a popular feature in the series that engages the creation account in the book of Genesis. Another book discussed is Poythress’s popular work The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, where he situates the law in its context in redemptive history. Poythress also briefly discusses the importance of biblical languages, Critical Race Theory, dispensationalism, and the relationship between systematics and biblical interpretation.

David Owen Filson: Dr. Poythress, it is so good to see you and have a little time here to connect and get to know you and hear some of your thoughts on theology and hermeneutics. I know that our readers are going to be thrilled at the prospect of hearing some of your thoughts as you share your heart. Now, this is not the most technical question in the world, but would you tell our readers about your love for the Bible in your walk with the Lord and how you came to sense God’s call to a lifetime of devotion to studying and teaching and writing in the word?

Vern S. Poythress: Well, I made a commitment to Christ at a church summer camp when I was nine years old. And that was real. I can remember getting interested in reading the Bible and getting, as a youngster would, somewhat serious about following the Lord and finding out what that meant. And when I got in college, I read all the InterVarsity books I could get my hands on. It was possible to do it and it wouldn’t be now. My love for the Lord grew and my love for scripture grew, by the time I was in grad school. I loved mathematics, but that began early on.

By the time I was in graduate school studying mathematics, I saw a real shift in my heart gradually–nothing spectacular–in which I learned that my first love was no longer mathematics but the Lord. Of course, it should have been the first love all along, right? Mathematics was really a beautiful area in my experience. So, at that time I really had to reassess what the Lord was saying to me, by considering the desires of my own heart, as well as my interaction with people in the church and that kind of thing. So, I decided, I think I should not simply go to seminary, but I’ll spend my life in things related to the Bible, namely theology and helping God’s people.

And when I went to seminary at Westminster Seminary, where I [now] teach, I told the Lord, “You can make anything out of me that you want.” Right?–that goes without saying for somebody as a Christian if you really understand the Lord. But I said, “If you want me to be a pastor, you really are going to have to help me, because I’m not a people person, I am a book person.” I hoped I would have developed a little bit of a skill and then came under care in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia Presbytery. And I can still remember that because they asked the questions, which should be asked, like, “What’s your motive for seeking to become a minister.” I said, “It’s because I fear that I may be judged if I don’t use the gifts that God has given me; and I’m coming because I’m not certain of my call. I want you to help me to sift through the issues that are there.” And they were very kind, I think, because you always have people here saying that I’m really wanting to be a pastor and so on. I was much more deferential about it. And it really was uncertain. What does the Lord want to do with my life? But what happened is that my seminary professors told me privately (more than one of them), you should think about grad school. So, I did. And of course, the long story short is, I now teach at Westminster, which is my favorite thing in the world.

“ Westminster seminary, where I teach, I told the Lord, “you can make anything out of me that you want.””

David Owen Filson: You know, it’s interesting you say that you didn’t think you were going to be a pastor, and that you weren’t a people person. That leads to my next question. Because I have heard from more than one alumnus and even current students when I asked them, what was the class at Westminster that had more of an impact on you than anything, they’ll often say it was your hermeneutics course, and more than one of them will say they were brought to tears at some point in the course. Clearly, you’ve developed some pastoral skill if people are weeping in a hermeneutics course, you know? So, I’m curious what were some of your early influences, hermeneutically that, that sort of lit a fire in you for your interest in hermeneutics at a technical level?

Vern S. Poythress: Right. I’m really not sure. I mean, I’m grateful for what you described about my course. It must be the Lord, because I feel my own inadequacy–right? I can’t change anybody’s heart. And I just praise the Lord if people have been affected by that course. To stand back and ask “why,” I find that I can’t trace the influences. I know when I was first hired at Westminster, Dr. Gaffin was actually the chairman of the New Testament department. He asked, what do you want to teach? I mentioned hermeneutics, and I can’t remember even why I was interested in it. It was, again, one of the elements in the Lord’s providence. It’s a long story, but I ended up studying at the Summer Institute of Linguistics in the summer of 1971. And then again in ‘72 and ‘74. And I think maybe one or two times after that, because I was wondering whether God was calling me to be a Bible translator. That’s a long story too, but at the end of the first summer even, I knew that he wasn’t. I admire the Bible translators. They’re a wonderful group, as far as I’m concerned. I rubbed shoulders with veterans–you know, full of stories. And it was a wonderful experience. But at the end of the summer, I realized Bible translators spend about 90% of their time with the target language. I wanted to spend 90% of my time with the source.

David Owen Filson: Right.

Vern S. Poythress: It was the Bible that really drew me. And I thought I would be frustrated [to be a career translator]–that it wouldn’t work. But I also saw by the end of the summer, that what I was learning about the nature of language was relevant for understanding the Bible. That’s why I went back. It was for my sake and not for the sake of people there. And when I first started teaching hermeneutics, I immediately brought tools from linguistics and from the theory of language into that course, and it may have been one of the first courses anywhere in the world to do that in a concerted way. Now it’s become fairly commonplace. So there was that. But in addition, I think there just is something about the gifts that God has given me that I’ve gravitated to that kind of interest. And I didn’t even realize it at first, but it was there.

David Owen Filson: Yeah. You know, years ago, I ordered a cassette tape album of you teaching what was a Sunday school class on the book of Revelation somewhere. I’m sure nearby at a local church. And I remember listening to that in a class. And of course our readers will be familiar with your books, The Returning King and the study notes version of that, which was in the original New Geneva Study Bible and the Reformation Study Bible and so forth. I’m curious, what drew you to be interested in Johannine material and Revelation in particular?

Vern S. Poythress: Well, that goes back to the same point in time where Dr. Gaffin asked me what I wanted to teach. And I listed Revelation even though I had not really done any technical work in it. But I was interested in the book and I thought, this is hermeneutically–in terms of interpretive principles–the most challenging book in the New Testament. So I had an interest. And so, after one year of teaching, Dr. Gaffin said, “Why don’t you teach the [Revelation] half of Hebrews through Revelation?” So he invited me pretty early to do that. And, and so over the summer (which I can still remember–I was at the summer Institute of Linguistics), I had a concordance that I checked out of the library and my Greek New Testament. And that was it. This is an ideal time to just go to the primary source. Well, right, I thought. I’m going to work through it myself without a lot of aids, and then we’ll see what happens. Obviously, eventually you have to interact with other sources, but it was actually, I think, a very good thing for me to do.

David Owen Filson: Amazing. And then there was no Accordance Bible software or Logos Bible software. It’s old school!

Vern S. Poythress: That was, that was pre-IBM compatible. Not only did laptops not exist, but personal computers did not exist.

David Owen Filson: Sure. Well, over the years I have greatly benefited from your articles, often in WTJ, and your work on Genesis. Similar to the question on Johannine material, what drew you to do so much detailed and meticulous work in Genesis?

Vern S. Poythress: Yeah. Well, that’s a very different story. [It was] because of my background in science. I was a math major at Caltech. And so, the issue of the Bible and science was front and center. I was already a Christian believer, but with the secular students with which I interacted at Caltech, creation was one of the questions you could expect to get again and again. So I read up on it and what was available at the time. And there were some really decent things, and there were some things that were not so helpful. But I found enough decent things that I felt,” I don’t really need to write about this.” Then when I became a seminary professor, I was a professor of new Testament, and not of systematic theology or apologetics–although I was really interested in apologetics.

So, I went 30 years into my teaching career with this kind of thing on the back burner, just occasionally reading things because it was sort of a hobby and I love science. There’s so much in the technical aspect of things, so I love that area. I love to read about scientific developments. And so, I would do a little of that and a little with the Bible and science, you know, focusing on the new things coming out. God, I believe, had given me some key ideas, not with respect to the details so much as with respect to the overall framework, which I think is in the end even more important. It’s the orientation, it’s the “Van Til” I had gotten into my system. And so, at the end of 30 years, I had about three different key ideas that were related to biblical theology. And that supplemented and deepened what had for a long time been taking place, you know, because in the church this is not new.

One of the messages to convey to the average believer, I think, is that these issues and these questions did not start yesterday. Some of them have intensified and some of the details in science have changed, but the issues have been there, in some respect, ever since the scientific revolution, you know, of Copernicus and Galileo. So, I had these ideas and I decided–I woke up to it, you know–and I decided God wanted me to write it up. So I wrote Redeeming Science. And then I thought, “Now I’m done with it. I can go back to my Bible and my interests in other areas.” But that was not to be. Because I started getting invitations to go and speak at conferences. This hit a raw nerve in the Christian community. And I could spend the rest of my life going to conferences.

My wife has been very helpful to me in assessing where the strategic things are that I could do, that are most important in the Lord’s eyes. And both of us have decided that in my case, with my mix of gifts, that I should mostly turn down invitations to conferences. And not because it’s not a good thing, but because you have to make some decisions if you were to do what God has really called [you] to do. So, I did.

I did some other things that were what I call “the Kuyperian project,” because Abraham Kuyper, through Van Til, had a real impact on Westminster Seminary and the thinking about Christ as Lord of all of life. If there was anything that was central to what Abraham Kuyper was doing, it was that conviction. Van Til took it over. He developed it, I think, in some more fruitful ways, even. Anybody like Kuyper who starts out–they’re going to make some mistakes. It’s okay. We’ve all got feet of clay. But Van Til was able to further develop it; Van Til wrote a book on theistic evidences that interacted with science. But I saw more that could be done. And so, I ended up doing a whole series on redeeming acts. But then I also kept my watch on the issues of the days of creation and biological evolution, which are the hot-button things. I think there are books that are specialized books on either of those two areas and they’ve done a lot more than I did. I didn’t try to do everything, but I tried to give a general framework that would essentially be a framework deeply influenced by reformed theology, which I think is the theology of the Bible.

So, I tried to do the framework approach and then I kept watch on the days of creation and biological evolution, and after another 10 years or so, I guess maybe more, 15 years, I began to see that the hermeneutics of Genesis as a whole and the hermeneutics of Genesis 1–3 were absolutely crucial. If you will pardon the expression [fishy stuff] or even ungodly stuff–if we call a spade a spade, fishy stuff was being done with hermeneutics, which people will use to excuse what I thought were irresponsible interpretations of Genesis. They tried to take Genesis off the hook, I felt, in terms of possible conflict with modern science. Well, you know, there were some good people out there, too, so I don’t want to paint too bleak a picture; but I thought this is an area of immense turmoil. So, I decided to write a book specifically focused on the hermeneutical issues of Genesis 1–3. And now maybe I’m done. I don’t want to, you know, spend all my time on there. And really, after you’ve said a bit on these things, in part it’s a matter of diminishing returns–right? You can write and write, but if people have heard what the basic things are, and they’re not convinced, then they probably won’t be convinced by, you know, five more articles.‍

David Owen Filson: Right. You know, I think as I think back to what you’ve written and how I’ve grown from just trying to absorb everything, thinking about getting my hands on your very first book that I ever read, believe it or not was the Shadow of Christ and the Law of Moses way back when it first came out; I had not even gone to seminary yet. And so, this is back in the early nineties and I got a hold of that big thick book, and just the meticulous nature of that book, I think, set me on a trajectory of the importance of thinking very, very carefully about biblical interpretation. And I’m curious what was behind the development of that book, where you wrote on case laws and so forth in the Shadow of Christ and the Law of Moses.

Vern S. Poythress: Right. Well, there’s two things. One is the influence of biblical theology through Edmund Clowney, subordinately Richard Gaffin, and Meredith Kline. Westminster Seminary has men really strong on that. Vos, of course, deeper back in the past. And so that gave me a real appreciation for the presence of Christ and the pointing forward to Christ in the Old Testament.

But particularly in the law of Moses, you have a little narrative about when I was about 17 years old. I was at a conference and they happened to give rewards to people who had read the whole Bible through in one year. Well, I had. I had no idea that there was going to be a reward, but I had done it. And so I stood up and went forward. And then afterwards, an older woman caught me and said, how did you get through the book of Leviticus? And that’s stuck with me. I never forgot that question. In responding, I kind of fumbled around; I didn’t know. I just sort of plowed through–right? Because at that age I didn’t know very much either. But that question stuck with me because I knew what she meant. And I knew that Leviticus [was difficult]–and, you know, surrounding material, there’s an immense amount of material about the tabernacle. Numbers is hard. Deuteronomy has all these laws. The Pentateuch, Genesis, these have stories, right? First part of Exodus has stories. People can get through that. But then they are brought down and they–you know–have these good intentions to read the whole Bible through and they’re in the wilderness themselves. I remember that. And I thought, “I want to write a book about, as it were, the hard parts of the Bible, to help people see the glory of Jesus Christ; they can see how much Christ is proclaimed in those books. It’ll get them through more than getting them through. It will warm their hearts. It will empower them.”

So that was one thing. The other thing was that theonomy had become a controversy about that time, particularly in reformed churches. I don’t like controversies. I wish we could just have peace. But the reality is, you know, in the fallen world, there’s going to be such things from time to time. And the people who were representatives of theonomy by and large were deeply influenced by Van Til, and Van Til had influenced me. And their message was that the Bible itself is our ultimate standard for justice and for ethics and for law, even in the area of the civil state. And one of the responses to the theonomists was that you’re taking this all too far.

And I thought, “That will never do.” If anything, the problem is that they’re not taking it far enough in terms of seeing the Christocentric character of the Old, if you haven’t seen every one of those laws in all their massive detail as fulfilled in Christ. First, before we talk about the modern state or excommunication (let’s say as a church-centered application of some of the severe laws in the Old Testament), if we haven’t taken it all through Christ, then we haven’t done our job yet. That was Clowney in me. I want to credit the fact that God influenced me through people who came before me. So, I wanted to write a book about Old Testament law, but to set that law in the context of the entire redemptive history of the Mosaic period. Because if you don’t do that, then the law tends to be atomized. It’s just all these statutes. And then you try your best figure out, “How does this apply to our own time?” But you haven’t really understood the centrality of Christ in any of it. So I wanted to do that. And at the same time to begin to develop what was primarily a positive response, rather than sort of biting at the heels of what I thought was wrong with some of the theonomists. And my wife helped me too, because she says, “Don’t write a critique of theonomy; write a positive book about the law of God.” Because theonomy will eventually be gone. These controversies come and go; the Bible remains forever. So I think that advice was really helpful to me. And the result is that the details about the controversy with theonomy ended up in the appendices.‍

David Owen Filson: Yeah. I think that’s, you know, part of why the book to me seems as relevant as it did when I first read it back in the early nineties, namely because of what Diane had told you. Theonomy is a hot-potato issue, and probably would have dated the book. But yours is a positive thesis. I don’t know if it’s a sentimental thing for me. As I think about all your books, it’s like, what’s not my favorite? There’s several like Knowing and the Trinity. I think because of my own work in Van Til, and epistemology, I love Knowing in the Trinity, but it could be a sentimental thing. I just always have a soft spot in my heart for the Shadow of Christ, because of what it taught me about just meticulous care in reading the Bible. But the Christocentricity of it–uh, it was one of the first books that I was just like, “Good grief!” It’s just so full of Christ from beginning to end. And of course, that’s just the whole, you know, Vosian thing, but I loved it. Now. Here’s a–here’s a serious question for you by my count. Westminster WTS books (Westminster Bookstore; WTS carry some 30 books by you, maybe a little more. You’ve written countless substantial articles and reviews. And so, at what point did you clone yourself? How many Verns are walking about in Philadelphia? I mean, seriously, I think our readers and listeners want to know how you have been, so staggeringly productive with the amount of material that you produced over the years.

Vern S. Poythress: That’s hard to say. If I may just go back to our previous question [about The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses] for a little bit. Now, the hot-button topic is social justice. And lo and behold, the work that I did [Shadow of Christ] came out in what, something like 1995? [1991] I was working through the issues of justice, and justice is fulfilled in Christ. So, I’m thinking, we need to go back to the Bible again, we honestly do. But that’s on the side because I appreciate the question asked.

It’s hard to answer [the question about producing books] because it’s hard to look at your own life and be objective about it. I think the main thing I can say is that it’s the Lord. He gives me ideas. And one of the things that has happened to me, because of who I am (the mix of gifts), is that I like to read and think about the Bible, the Bible, the Bible, the Bible. When people ask, “What are all the things I should read?” I say, “Read the Bible.” And it’s easy to get distracted by the sheer volume of academic stuff that’s coming out, including about individual books, technical things. And I perceived fairly early on that the best things that I could do were not at the extremely technical level–although I’ve done a few things just as exhibitions of the kind of thing, and they’re also lessons in hermeneutics. But even though they’re very deep, for the most part I’m called to the big picture. And I found that because biblical theology has opened up to us reading the Bible, mining its riches in some different and new ways, what happens is that God gives me ideas out of that. And then I write them up and it’s as if I don’t have to reread anything else.

So, number one, it isn’t quite true. That’s an exaggeration. But I wrote a book essentially on redeeming language. It’s called In the Beginning was the Word. That was against the background of my studies in linguistics, which I kind of stumbled into. You know, again, it was the Lord. But I knew I’d been trained in linguistics, but more than I’d have been trained in a Christian approach to language by Kenneth Pike. He had a distinctively, Christian, and trinitarian approach. It’s remarkable every time I think about it, I think that that’s just unheard of. But then I did one [book] on sociology and there’s a long story behind why I did that. I thought I knew something about the theory of language; I knew nothing about sociology, almost. I decided to do it because I thought it was very threatening. In fact, there’s a lot of ideas that are coming out of sociology and sociology of knowledge which are actually behind critical race theory and critical theory.

A lot of the stuff that you’re seeing is postmodernism and sociology of knowledge. So, I know a little bit, and I thought we’ve got to address this in a Christian way. What did I do? I read the Bible. So, my book Redeeming Sociology is an illustration of the fact that I’m mostly working with the Bible. I had to read some sociology to make sure where people were, but the whole framework is derived out of the Bible. And part of the trouble with reading too much or being a specialist in sociology is that you get so immersed that you’re like a fish in water. You can’t, you can’t stand back adequately, to see how things look from a biblical point of view in a biblical [way].‍

David Owen Filson: Right. Well, that helps answer a question I had years ago. WTS books had faculty recommendations of books, you know, different books that faculty were saying to seminarians, books that have to be on your shelf. And obviously there was a good number of faculty members listing Murray, Vos, Turretin, Gaffin, and Bavinck, of course. But I distinctly remember under your list of recommendations, there was a Greek New Testament and a BDAG lexicon. And I never forgot that. So, talk to us a little bit about just how crucial the languages are for the task of hermeneutics.

Vern S. Poythress: Well, if there’s anything more crucial, it’s simply general knowledge of the Bible. And one of the things that you begin to learn as a student, if you study Hebrew and Greek and you get to a certain level of competence, is that the English translations say what is there in the original. And it can be very disappointing. And I think it’s disappointing, partly because there are people who have a little knowledge (being a dangerous thing), they think they can claim to get detailed insights by appeal to the original language, but they don’t really know what they’re doing. So of course, I attempted to rein that kind of thing in, as well as to give people respect for those works [Greek text; lexicons] that can enable them to sift the ideas of commentaries.

If you have no access to the original language, or if your access is only a little developed, then you’re at the mercy of the commentaries. Now, that’s putting it negatively. I mean, there’s a lot of good commentaries. But what do you when two different commentaries from people whose names you respect have opposite views? Right? They come up on opposite sides of interpreting a hard passage. And what many people end up doing, if they admit it, is to go for the one that sounds the most orthodox or sounds the most reasonable. But you really can’t check it out. And so, I think we need people, not everybody, [with expertise]. I want the ministers to respect the knowledge of laymen and laywomen who have read and read the Bible–not to go off half-cocked, just because you have a seminary education, because there’s an element of spiritual growth and spiritual power that is there in the word of God.

And these people, many of these older people, especially, have really digested the word of God through the power of the Holy spirit, into their lives over the decades. So, I want to respect that, but also to say, we need some people, particularly among our ministers, who are well trained. Not simply, “I know the Greek alphabet and I can look things up in a lexicon,” but are well-trained in the original languages. Partly so you can “head off” the things that are irresponsible. And the Jehovah’s Witnesses will come to the door of people in your parish and say, “Now what John 1:1 really says is that “In the beginning was the word. And the word was with God. And the word was a god.” Right?–by their [JW’s] own supposed “experts.” And so, the appeal to the original languages can be done by the heretics. And that means that there have to be people, not everybody, [who have expertise]. So, we respect the diversity of gifts in the body of Christ. And I believe that there’s room for some ministers, whom the Lord gifts as shepherds of the people, but who just don’t have any gifts where the original languages are concerned. So, they muddled through seminary and do the best they can. I believe there’s room for those people, but those people have to know their own limitations, too. They have to realize that if I have a detailed question I’ll phone up my fellow minister, right? Or, really more likely, they’ll email me (at least). I get emails from pastors sometimes. “But what about this passage?” Well, I don’t want to encourage a whole flood of that, but I think in part it’s people who realize, “I’m at the limit of my own resource.”

David Owen Filson: You know, you mentioned a little bit earlier, critical theory and so forth, that I think about our grads, many of whom end up ministering on college campuses; RUF and that sort of thing, but also our alumni who are counselors, pastors, ministry workers, sisters and brothers, literally all over the globe. And I think about the impact of critical theory today and I’m curious. What do you think of the state of and the importance of hermeneutics and systematics in light of the fact that we are awash in critical theory today?

Vern S. Poythress: One of the things that’s happening this year is that I’m teaching the Doctrine of God. I’ve only done it three or four times in my whole career, but it seems to me particularly relevant now because it’s the ultimate anchor. Not the teaching, but the Bible itself and who God is. It’s the ultimate anchor in times of trouble and in times of disruption. And you’ve got to feel like the culture is in a maelstrom and that you’ve got to address this and that. And partly, I want to say to pastors, “I understand, you want to meet your people where they are,” and many of them are hanging on the news and that kind of thing. But you also want to tell them who God is. You want to remind them of the greatness of our Savior. Who is God–right? And then who is Christ? And from what did he save us? There’s the hermeneutics, because hermeneutics is being radically disrupted by postmodern theories of language and culture. And that is coming in. And there are people out there who will reply to “the Bible says” by saying, “That’s just your interpretation.” I know where that’s coming from, but it means that our hermeneutics has to be more solid than it’s ever been in terms of rooted in–not that we explain it first to the unbeliever, but ourselves–that we understand that God has given us the gift of language. That’s the starting point. And this stuff that comes out of postmodernism, it’s fluff that comes out on the top end, but the original stuff was preoccupied with language and with culture, with language and society and with analysis of those two things that were going to disrupt everything else; because language and society are no longer rooted in the eternal reality of God ruling the world.

David Owen Filson: You're so right. Yeah.

Vern S. Poythress: So that’s where apologetics comes in, because I think Van Til, when you look at the configuration of things, was way before his time. Yes, he was anticipating, in many respects, the forces of postmodernism before the word postmodernism ever existed.

David Owen Filson: It's so true. It's so true.

Vern S. Poythress: And he had a solution that was rooted in who God is and the infallible, clear revelation of God in Scripture. So, I think it is an essential element of seminary education more than ever, because I think if you look at classical apologetics and evidential apologetics, there were good pieces–right? We believe that there’s evidence for the resurrection of Christ, but that evidence has to be interpreted against the background of understanding that God has orchestrated the whole of history. So, there are pieces that were useful, but those two streams [classical apologetics and evidential apologetics], I think, have been left almost helpless by the kind of irrationalism that has cropped up. But Van Til knew all about irrationalism.

David Owen Filson:I know. So now you’ve gone to preaching, and I love it. That’s so true. You’re just spot on. Well, sometimes I feel like I read Calvin and he’s always relevant. I read Van Til, and he’s just always relevant and for the exact reasons you’re noting.

So, two more questions now. This might be an impossible question for you to answer. If you wished to share with someone who is a thoughtful lay person, but not seminary trained, such as many of our readers, one of your titles and say, “Read this”; and someone who has been to seminary, they’ve been in the ministry for a while and are theologically engaged and well-read, which book or volume of yours would you recommend?‍

Vern S. Poythress: Yeah, that's hard.

David Owen Filson: I knew it was going to be hard.

Vern S. Poythress: You warned me, but it’s hard because I want to be person oriented. And I think that the interests and the needs of different people, even, you know, the way you define them, there’s going to be differences. I can most easily deal with the lay person who’s asking, because there’s a few of my books that are more oriented towards that kind of person. One of them is the Returning King.

David Owen Filson: Yeah.

Vern S. Poythress: And that’s one of the more accessible ones. And then there’s one, Miracles of Jesus, that I hope is accessible. And then Symphonic Theology is a bit of a climb, but it shows, I think, some things that, if lay people could get on board, it wouldn’t be that hard for them to get on board. Also, there is Reading the Word of God in the Presence of God. That one, it’s deliberately structured so that you can read the first part, if you’re just a beginning Christian. You get a simple way of breaking down your Bible reading so that you study more deeply. And then after a while you’ve been a Christian, then you read the next set of a few sections; after a while you read the next sections. But people will find–I admit that the water gets deeper and deeper as you go through–not to be embarrassed by the feeling. “Okay, I’ve read far enough.” I think that that book could profit seminary professors as well. I mean, it’s aimed all the way up to the top, as well as being written simply enough, I hope, that ordinary people can, you know, read their way through it.

David Owen Filson: Yeah. You know, another one that comes to mind for me, since you talked about being person specific, I think if someone has questions in this area, Understanding Dispensationalism is an accessible book. And it does more than just deal with dispensationalism. It’s kind of a hermeneutical primer in its own way. And that would be one that I have given to thoughtful lay people wanting to read on that subject. I think that’s a book that a number of people have passed on and shared.

Vern S. Poythress: Yeah, I get email comments from time to time about thanking me, you know, saying, “This helped me work out of my own background.”

David Owen Filson: Yeah. And I, like I say, you just have so many great titles like Knowing and the Trinity. That is one that is for someone who’s been down the road a little bit with reading and studying these things; but that’s a great one. So, Vern, one more question, if I may. How could our readers, who are alum and friends of the seminary, and a host of others, how could we pray one for Westminster Theological Seminary and for your ministry and family?

Vern S. Poythress: Oh, that’s so kind of you to ask. Taking the seminary first, pray that the seminary will be what it’s supposed to be. My wife and I took a trip to Korea some years ago, and we joined hands with quite a few Korean brothers and sisters, and we asked them, “What can we pray for you, for the larger situation?” We were trying to understand the challenges there, which are somewhat different from our own. And then we were saying, “What can we do besides pray? What can we do? And what can Westminster Seminary do that would most help you?” And over and over again, they said, “Be what you are.” They love Westminster. They depend on us to set directions and give them guidance continually as they’re dealing with their own social and cultural situation.

So, it was amazing to me. And I think for Westminster, it’s very easy to fall short of what I think Westminster aspires to be. As we aspire to be orthodox thoroughly, we aspire to submit ourselves across the board, maximally, to God’s written word; we aspire to do that. And we aspire to be intellectually engaged. And those two, it seems to me, are like a razor’s edge. You can easily fall off. I really would rather have you fall off in the direction of orthodoxy. I get the cultural engagement, but then [if you cease with cultural engagement] you become sort of ghettoized. And you cease to appear to have answers to people who are coming from outside of your circles. I think the answers are there, you know, the basic answer is who is God, and how do we get redemption? They’re the same answers that we’ve always given centuries and centuries. But people don’t perceive them. They perceive the whole thing as outdated. Well, God can overcome that. Ultimately it has to be the work of the Holy Spirit. But people growing up in a church like that can also get disillusioned and say, “You’re just totally unaware of what’s going on.” And you’re saying, “Don’t listen to the world.” They’re frustrated. So, it tends to cause a reaction in the next generation–an overreaction.

And likewise, if you’re intellectually engaged, then you’re likely to swallow things that are absolute poison. And so in the next generation, the seminary becomes liberal. So, pray for us because I don’t think it’s easy. It’s impossible, in the end, apart from the grace of God.‍

David Owen Filson: Sure, sure.

Vern S. Poythress: Now for me and my family, it’s obvious things. My wife and I have the pleasure of having two married sons now who are following the Lord. That’s the grace of God. We are just so grateful. And we know the agonies, you know, we’ve seen it. And we went through some agonies when we weren’t so sure about what our sons were going through at an earlier point. But we’re grateful for that. And yet, so I think we’d pray with thanksgiving certainly, but also that, as the Lord wills, as all our days being written in his book, he would give us continuing physical and spiritual health. Neither of us have the mentality to retire.

David Owen Filson:That doesn't surprise anyone!

Vern S. Poythress: If any of the people listening, and they ask about it, I’m intending to teach at Westminster as many years as the Lord gives me strength. And, at a certain point that is probably going to fail. Or, he’ll take me suddenly. You get to my age, then you have to be serious about human mortality. Well, everybody should be serious, but you’re more aware of those kinds of things. But if the Lord would keep us faithful, then in our remaining years [that he would] allow us to be active as we have strength, because we see the needs out there, and we are excited about the gospel of Christ–the only hope for people who are in darkness and under the wrath of God. So, we believe that we should exert our energies as the Lord gives us strength.

David Owen Filson: That’s helpful. As far as mortality, you know, it was just four weeks ago that the Academy where I teach here in Nashville required that I serve as a pallbearer. I did the funeral for one of my apologetic students who died in a car wreck. He was a senior. And that was the fourth year in a row at the start of the school year here at the Academy that I had to do a funeral for one of our kids in the Academy. So yeah, thinking about our mortality, you’re exactly right. And we’ll pray for you; this has been great. Vern, thank you so much. This has been delightful. Alrighty, Lord, bless.

Rev. Dr. Vern Poythress (PhD, Harvard; DTh, Stellenbosch) is distinguished professor of New Testament, biblical interpretation, and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, where he has taught for 44 years.

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