Sergej Pauli: Prof Vern S. Poythress. You have different degrees. A Ph.D. in mathematics, but also a Th.M. in Apologetics. But you also studied Linguistics. Which of all these subjects do you like most?
VSP: My appointment at Westminster Theological Seminary is in the New Testament Department, and I have a Th.D. in New Testament. That is the area that I like the most. But I do like the other areas that you mention!
You wrote books on very different topics (Starting from Dispensationalism via Logic and mathematics to the Book of Revelation). Is there a common thread (leitmotif) in your books?
VSP: What happened in my life happened gradually. I did not start with an overall plan. From time to time, I felt that the Lord gave me ideas that were useful to write up for the benefit of others. I wrote what the Lord gave me to write.
But when I look back, I think that a common thread to many of the books is hermeneutics, that is, principles for interpretation.
Some of my books directly tackle interpretive difficulties. For example, I have a book called The Returning King that discusses the book of Revelation. I was drawn to the book of Revelation, among all the books of the New Testament, because of its challenges in interpretation.
Some of my other books are about academic subjects, like logic and mathematics. In all these cases, the challenge was to develop a way of interpreting these subject areas from a Christian point of view. So it was still a challenge about the issue of interpretation.
Some of my books are about themes in the Bible: Theophany and The Miracles of Jesus. In these cases I was trying to help people interpret the meaning of the theme.
I have two books on inerrancy, namely Inerrancy and Worldview and Inerrancy and the Gospels. That is because the understanding and defense of the inerrancy of the Bible are connected to how we interpret the Bible—especially how we interpret passages where there may superficially appear to be an error.
Is there any of your books which you wouldn’t write again, or to put it differently: Are there topics where you have changed your mind?
VSP: I have not changed my mind about any of them in a major way. But I may mention three minor changes.
First, the very first book I wrote, Philosophy, Science and the Sovereignty of God, was a light reworking of my Th.M. thesis. It was not very digestible to readers. I would describe it now as not as mature as it might have been. It is largely superseded by Redeeming Science and Redeeming Philosophy.
Second, Understanding Dispensationalists tends to take “grammatical-historical interpretation” as a baseline. I still think that grammatical-historical interpretation needs to be part of a focus in interpreting the Bible, but I have become more sensitive to the fact that different interpreters understand the term in somewhat different ways, and that it needs to be seen as one aspect of a larger whole, which pays concerted attention to divine communication.
Finally, I made some corrections in my book on Logic, to clarify a few things. If there is a second printing, these corrections will be incorporated. The book on Logic also can be challenging to readers, the further into it that they go. But the alternative would be to make it more than one book, and I did not want to do that.
In short: How can Logic, Mathematics, Science… be redeemed?
VSP: In my book The Lordship of Christ I briefly discuss the fact that, strictly speaking, it is people who are redeemed, not academic subjects. Yet I still think that the language of “redemption” is appropriate to indicate that redeemed people need to continue to grow in thinking in redeemed ways, as Rom. 12:1-2 implies: “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” This renewal includes a transformation of how we as Christians look at all subjects of study. I wrote about logic and mathematics because these are among the last areas of study where people are prone to think that a Christian approach is different.
Is there any topic, which is still puzzling for you?
VSP: There are lots of areas that I have not studied deeply. And even within mathematics, there are areas of specialization that I don’t understand.
When was your first breakthrough to Tri-perspectivalism?
VSP: I’m not sure. I wrote a little of the history in my article, “Multiperspectivalism and the Reformed Faith.” Three sources came together for me within about a year (1971-72): Kenneth Pike’s triperspectival approach to linguistics, John Frame’s triperspectival teaching at Westminster Seminary, and Edmund Clowney’s biblical theological themes: Christ as prophet, king, and priest. I did not create any of these, but I saw that they had affinity to one another.
As Professor at WTS, what are your chief topics/points you want to give on the way for a lifelong ministry of your students?
VSP: I consider the number one thing to be growth in knowing God and in sanctification. The intellectual content in courses, and the methods learned, can serve students for a lifetime. But they are of no ultimate benefit apart from the centrality of communion with God.
What is in your eyes the most alarming development in American (and worldwide) Evangelicalism?
VSP: I am dismayed by the degree to which American Evangelicalism lets itself be seduced by mainstream American culture.
In every culture of the world, Bible-believing Christians are under cultural pressures. It may be primarily persecution, or it may be primarily seduction. Neither of these is new, as the book of Revelation reminds us. In a good many places in the world, Christianity is weak and shallow. And yet God builds his church. There is much to be thankful for.
What would be appropriate countermeasures for these developments (especially for young people)
VSP: Continue using the means of grace—reading the Bible, praying, and participating actively in the life of a Bible-believing church. Shortcuts are not adequate. For those who can afford the time, money, and energy, I think a formal theological education at a Bible-believing institution is a tremendous, transforming asset for the rest of one’s life. It brings benefits to the churches in which one participates, and broader benefits to the whole of life—prayer, spiritual life, work, family, politics, arts, every aspect of life. Most people who go to seminary go with the intention of becoming ministers of the Gospel. But seminary has benefits for almost any Christian.
If you could take only three books with you for a stay on a solitary island. Which were these?
VSP: First, the ESV Study Bible. I have to add the RSV (Revised Standard Version) and the NEB (New English Bible) NT, because I have done Bible memorization in these, and I have to review to keep it fresh. (I don’t recommend the NEB, but I memorized from it before I knew better.) If you want me to move beyond Bible versions, the New Bible Dictionary (or other Bible dictionary), and the New Bible Commentary. OK, if you want me to move out beyond the Bible, C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.