When I read Michael Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach it made me proud to be an evangelical. It was a great example of an evangelical doing serious scholarly work. While many will not accept his approach to historiography it seems like most readers respect him for the content of his work. In other words, even critics will not likely ignore him as an overly bias apologist. He earned his merit.
Yet within evangelicalism itself there are those who want total conformity to their views or they begin a heresy hunt. Norm Geisler is one of those people. Licona suggested that Matthew 27.52-53 (where people rise from the dead after Jesus’ resurrection) may not have been a historical event, but rather some sort of apocalyptic poetic symbolism. Geisler wrote an open letter accusing Licona of abandoning inerrancy (read “An Open Letter to Mike Licona on his View of the Resurrected Saints in Matthew 27.52-53”). One thing that seemed like a veiled threat is his mention of Robert Gundry who was run out of ETS for “dehistoricizing” some of the Gospel of Matthew.
Licona took his time to respond to Geisler on Parchment and Pen (see “Press Release: Michael Licona Response to Norm Geisler”) stating that he still affirms inerrancy and the following:
“I always regarded the entirety of Matthew 27 as historical narrative containing apocalyptic allusions. I selected the term “poetic” in order to allude to similar phenomena in the Greco-Roman literature in general and Virgil in particular. However, since Matthew is a Jew writing to Jews, “apocalyptic” may be the most appropriate technical term, while “special effects” communicates the gist on a popular level.”
In his response he gained the support of conservative evangelical scholars like Craig Blomberg, William Lane Craig, Gary R. Habermas, Craig S. Keener, J.P. Moreland, and Daniel B. Wallace, among others. Geisler wrote a response titled, “A Response to Mike Licona’s Open Letter”. Geisler lists several reasons why he is not satisfied with Licona’s response and he ends the letter saying:
“So, it matters not how many scholars one can line up in support of the consistency of their personal view on inerrancy (and many more than this can be lined up on the other side). What matters is whether Licona’s view is consistent with the view of full inerrancy held down though the ages (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church) and as expressed by the ETS and ICBI framers and as expressed and confirmed in the official ICBI commentaries on the matter. For once we begin to neglect the “authorial intent” (to use a phrase from Licona’s “Open Letter”) of the ETS and ICBI statements, and replace it with what we think it should mean, then “inerrancy” is a wax nose that can be formed into almost anything we want it to mean. Sadly, many names on Licona’s list of scholars are members of ETS (some of whom are on the faculties of evangelical seminaries that require their faculty to sign the ICBI view of inerrancy). What is more, their approval of Licona’s view reveals they are not signing the doctrinal statement in good conscience according to intention expressed by the framers. The ETS and ICBI framers have drawn a line in the sand, and Licona has clearly stepped over it. Only a clear recantation will reverse the matter and, unfortunately, Licona has not done this. Let’s pray that he does.”
Geisler doesn’t care who supports Licona. In his estimation Licona doesn’t affirm inerrancy as Geisler understands it. It’s time for a good ol’ heresy hunt! While there are times when people are unjustified in calling conservative responses “heresy hunts” (as if conservatives like Wright and Evans are trying to annihilate liberals from AAR or SBL, c’mon! e.g. Tony Burke’s “Heresy Hunting in the New Millennium”), this qualifies in my opinion. Geisler’s mention of Gundry, and his disapproval of ETS members supporting Licona, indicates that he wants some recanting done or else.
While I know many ETS members whom I respect greatly, and I know there are moderates like those who support Licona, it is this kind of thing that is an embarrassment to ETS (that and the heresy hunt against the evil “open theist”). It is an example of why I decided to forego renewing my ETS student membership this year (that and I found debates over the semantics of “inerrancy” annoying and irrelevant). These things are distractions to good scholars. Licona shouldn’t have to waste time typing a response to Geisler’s fundamentalist sectarianism.