Nick Norelli wrote a post yesterday titled “Good for You Norm Geisler” defending Norm Geisler’s open letters against Michael Licona regarding Licona’s understanding of “inerrancy” (a word I’m coming to dislike). He ends the post with the following:
“So let’s chill out and get back to the merits of the arguments on all sides of the debate. Geisler has as much a right to disagree with Licona as anyone else. He has the right to publish his disagreement in any format he sees fit. He has a right to question the trajectory of Licona’s position. And you, my dear readers, have the right to do the same with Geisler.”
I am glad he wrote it because it will allow me to clarify what I find bothersome about Geisler’s attacks. Does it have to do with Geisler’s view of inerrancy? Nope, I’ve had professors with views like his. Does it have to do with Geisler’s interpretation of Matthew 27.51-54? Nope, I assume Licona is in the minority in how he interprets this passage.
What I find nasty about Geisler’s approach is his allusions to Robert Gundry who was asked to leave ETS in 1983 because his argument for midrash in the First Gospel was found to be outside the confines of the word “inerrancy”. Geisler’s attack is more than an academic scrimmage. In my post “If Michael Licona is a heretic then who’s safe?” Licona’s son-in-law commented saying, “This whole ordeal has been incredibly tough on my wife and I and Geisler’s tone has been the problem along with these kinds of tactics. If my father-in-law changes his mind, it needs to be because a strong case is presented. It does not need to be because he has been bullied into doing it.” Then he commented on Marc Cortez’s guest post “An Opportunity Missed: Why Geisler’s Critique Missed the Mark” that “Had Geisler come out with just wanting a discussion instead of implying my father-in-law is unorthodox, we would have been fine. In fact, he has been uninvited to speak at at least one conference and I’m hoping it won’t be two because of Geisler’s actions. This was not handled in a Christian manner at all.” It appears that Geisler’s impact has been greater than just an open letter of disagreement.
And lest some think Geisler is being a grouchy old man but no one else cares, note that Albert Mohler has jumped into the discussion. In a post titled “The Devil is in the Details: Biblical Inerrancy and the Licona Controversy” he provides much praise for Licona before getting to this point:
“Geisler called upon Michael Licona to change his position on this text and to affirm it as historical fact without reservation. But Geisler, a member of the Evangelical Theological Society [ETS] for many years, made another very important point. He reminded Licona that such arguments had been encountered before within the ETS, and it had led to the expulsion of a member.
“Amazingly enough, the issue in that controversy was also centered in the Gospel of Matthew. New Testament scholar Robert Gundry had written Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art, published in 1982. In that volume, Gundry had argued that Matthew was using the literary form of midrash and that he had thus combined both historical and non-historical material in his Gospel in order to make his own theological points. Gundry had written that readers of Matthew should not operate under the assumption “that narrative style in the Bible always implies the writing of history.” Gundry proposed that Matthew freely changed and added details in his infancy narrative to suit his theological purpose.”
Surprise, surprise, we have another reference to Gundry. Is a message being sent Licona’s way? I think so. Mohler dedicates two more paragraphs to the Gundry Controversy before saying the following:
“The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy explicitly declares that these approaches are incompatible with the affirmation that the Bible is inerrant. There is every reason within the text to believe that Matthew intends to report historical facts. Matthew 27:51-54 is in the very heart of Matthew’s report of the resurrection of Christ as historical fact. Dehistoricizing this text is calamitous and inconsistent with the affirmation of biblical inerrancy.
“Article XVIII of the Chicago Statement makes this point with precision: ‘We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.’ Furthermore, the Chicago Statement requires that ‘history must be treated as history.’ “
Mohler is not satisfied with Licona’s argument that he still affirms inerrancy. Mohler, like Geisler, demands that Licona affirm inerrancy as he understands it and as that misguided Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy defined it. If the CSBI is really, really the standard as the framers intended then I think ETS will shrink quickly because a large portion of ETS members do not understand inerrancy like the CSBI interprets it.
Mohler says this near the end of his article:
“It is not enough to affirm biblical inerrancy in principle. The devil, as they say, is in the details. That is what makes The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy so indispensable and this controversy over Licona’s book so urgent. It is not enough to affirm biblical inerrancy in general terms. The integrity of this affirmation depends upon the affirmation of inerrancy in every detailed sense.
“Michael Licona is a gifted and courageous defender of the Christian faith and a bold apologist of Christian truth. Our shared hope must be that he will offer a full correction on this crucial question of the Bible’s full truthfulness and trustworthiness. I will be praying for him with the full knowledge that I have been one who has been gifted and assisted by needed correction. Leaving his argument where it now stands will not only diminish the influence of Michael Licona — it will present those who affirm the inerrancy of the Bible with yet another test of resolve.” (emphasis mine)
Let’s interpret this: recant or else. It is this mentality that bothers me. It is not a discussion over inerrancy or even a debate. It is the implied threats involved.
These situations are the reason why many younger evangelicals such as myself chose to eventually set aside the word “inerrancy” when it is possible that we may actually mean something like it when we say “infallibility”, but by confessing “infallibility” I will never have a Geisler or a Mohler come after me because I ain’t putting graffiti on their golden calf. I will continue to pray for Michael Licona and his family. Licona is a first rate scholar and apologist. To make him a pinata for fundamentalist is unfair, especially when it gets as personal as it appears it is getting.
Amen, Brian. I try to assume these religious despots actually believe that such bullying tactics are what’s best for evangelical christendom at large. Of course I disagree with that most wholeheartedly, but then I’m not attempting to shepherd thousands of people whose affiliation is only as cohesive as their leaders’ ability to delineate what they’re all supposed to agree with. Now, I do have a serious point.
The bullying doesn’t come from the fact that these guys are mean SOB’s. The bullying comes up – again and again, in each new generation – because people who find themselves in such positions eventually seem to determine that a certain amount of bullying is practically necessary. Or, perhaps in more simple terms…
Don’t hate the playa, baby. Hate the game. 😉
Great post Brian! Well said and well written. I agree 100%
I posted this on the CP webistes version of Mohler’s letter, but thought I’d add it here too. Mohler & Geisler insist that Licona isn’t staying within the bounds of inerrancy as laid out in the Chicago statement of Inerrancy which Licona affirmed when joining the ETS. However, Mohler quotes a part of that statement as saying: “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices…”. Now, I’m no N.T. scholar so please correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t use of apocalyptic imagery a “literary…decive”, just like allegory or hyperbole, frequently used by Jewish writers to get across a point? And isn’t that what Licona concluded was the best description of what the verses in question were intended to be? If so, I don’t see how it can be concluded that Licona is denying the Chicago statement’s definition of inerrancy.
@Bill: True, I guess it is a given that this type of thing will happen.
@Robert: That is why several prominent ETS members signed an attachment to Licona’s letter to Geisler because they felt exactly as you do.
What is so amazing is the stench of fear that Geisler and Mohler are emanating. They seem to be terrified that the slightest admission of rhetorical artistry in the NT will result in their sons turning to cross-dressing. I assume that each of these men have made important contributions to the church in his career but this behavior reveals a real weakness of faith dwelling under the surface.
@Scott: Agreed, it shows they have bought into the “slippery slope” argument.
For those interested, Nick Peters has interacted with Mohler’s article here: http://deeperwaters.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/al-mohler-chimes-in/
Wow Brian. Awfully quick. I was just about to post it here for you!
I saw it on FB! 🙂
I’ve had it with the theological terrorists (Mohler, Piper, Geisler, etc.) in the conservative branch of evangelicalism. No worries… I do believe they will lose the upcoming generation of scholars. We have grown sick and tired of the endless bickering over issues like “inerrancy” and “justification” in Paul. Let them take their ball and go home. They seem pretty determined. It’s time for a new era of scholarship done in the spirit of reconciliation.
What’s crazy, is the slippery slope argument holds no water — the same historic, literary methodology that led Licona to the conclusion that the raising of the saints was intended apocalyptic imagery also led him to the conclusion that the resurrection was historic!
“He has a right to question the trajectory of Licona’s position. And you, my dear readers, have the right to do the same with Geisler.”
“Question the trajectory?” What is that code for? Putting words into someone’s mouth that they didn’t even say!
Another fine article Brian. I am so sick and tired of neo-reformed types running around as the theology police with no thought to how their actions effect their fellow beleivers (Even if they think they are heretics). Their form of dialogues is a disgrace but it seems the most noise comes from the shallow end of the pool.
Why is it so hard to hold our theology more carefully, more Christlike, with more respect for those whom we disagree?
Brian, great post. It’s for this reason I really am feeling like I shouldn’t renew my membership.
@David: It is sad that these types of actions will isolate many of a younger generation. What we younger evangelicals must do is make sure to observe those who are our friends from former generations so we don’t generalize them and lose their helpful guidance.
@Rod: Geisler has done more than observe a trajectory. He has reinterpreted Licona’s words to mean what Licona is saying they don’t mean. I agree, that statement misses a crucial element in this discussion.
@Mark: Usually I would ignore them or laugh at them. I’m done dialoging with them. That being said, I think people need to stand for Licona and show those who seek to bully him that they are in the minority.
@Daniel: It is situations like this that have led me to decide not to renew. I’ve spoken with some mentors about the situation who are involved in ETS so I know that not everyone agrees with Geisler and Mohler, but there have not been enough voices standing for Licona saying this is wrong. I applaud those within ETS who have done so.
@Brian – That is how I felt about Rob Bell and what they did to him.
@Mark: Yes, there are many similarities in the tactics, especially character assassination-like language. What makes this more insane in my eyes is (1) Licona is much closer to their views than Bell; (2) Licona still affirms inerrancy, which is a very conservative doctrine; (3) Licona has one small passage making him into a pinata; (4) Licona has proven over and over again to be orthodox and conservative at that. Whereas Bell was on the “outside” this is an example of them eating one of their own like misguided guppies swallowing their children.
Just to be clear, re: Mark’s comment…this isn’t Reformed OR neo-Reformed attacking Licona. Geisler is a Baptist, as is Mohler. Mohler believes in predestination in a way similar to classically Reformed folks, but the similarities stop there. I hate getting lumped in with those guys by neo-evangelicals!:-)
But that actually gets at what I think is the more interesting question here: boundaries. On the one hand, who cares who qualifies as an “evangelical”? I can tell you what a Baptist, or Lutheran, or Charismatic, or even a “non-denominational Christian believes (and non-denoms seem to have less diversity of belief than Presbyterians!), as well as what practices they “perform,” etc. But an Evangelical is harder to identify. And why is inerrant the sine qua non for being labeled one? Inerrancy is important to the extent that it tells us something about God and His communication with us. But the affirmation of an inerrant text doesn’t mean I have an interpreted text, e.g. I disagree with Baptists about what the Scriptures teach that the Lord’s Supper is and does, but we could both affirm inerrancy. Then what? We can be in ETS together, but not take the Lord’s Supper together?
Licona’s position on the passage in question appears to be quite arbitrary in nature. His basis for why he sees some verses as “apocalyptic” literature and others to be truly historical accounts (and this is even more problematic when the two appear side-by-side in the same narrative) is not well outlined. Geisler and Mohler are more aware of the loophole Licona has created in regards to his own argument than Licona is. Their comments and pleas to him are nothing more than honest efforts to help Licona preserve the integrity of his own work so that its significant argument in favor of the historicity of Christ’s resurrection is not blunted by the pen of its own author.
Sure the “hole” may be small, but that’s all it takes to sink a big ship. It is the same way with a seemingly small mis-step by a laudable author when that mis-step has the potential to invalidate the very argument the author has labored to make.
@PG: True, “neo-Reformed” isn’t an accurate label, but it has come to be a catch-all phrase for the semi-Fundamentalist pendulum swing against the “e/Emergent”, i.e. Driscoll, Piper, Mahaney, Mohler….I guess The Gospel Coalition, save Keller.
You do make an interesting observation that “inerrancy” is one of the staple doctrines of ETS. I’ve wondered why it isn’t the Apostle’s Creed or something more sensible. I guess this just shows the contextual nature of ETS.
@Joe: Licona has been very straightforward about his presuppositions and biases. I think this is his way of trying to be honest while preserving the integrity of the text. Mohler and Geisler are completely unhelpful when they tell someone like Licona (my interpretation), “Suck it up and affirm inerrancy as we see it.” Licona debates people like Bart Ehrman. You know what Ehrman would do to someone with that mentality (think of what Ehrman would do to someone like Mohler in a public debate…it would be ugly).
Licona’s book is based on observing things using historiographical method. He is influenced by this. He realizes that the zombie apocalypse seems very absurd (e.g. why does no other historian mention an event where it seems to be a public display of the walking non-dead?). This doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, just that it is unlikely, and Licona knows that, so he is seeking a way to reconcile what he thinks with his commitment to the text.
I disagree that stepping away from inerrancy sinks the ship. Bauckham, Evans, Hays, Hurtado, Kirk, McGrath, McKnight, Wright, and dozens of other post-evangelicals affirm the authority of Scripture, they are obviously orthodox, and they don’t affirm inerrancy.
Comments are closed.