Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sun Stand Still: Conclusion

For today's entry, David Sorrell concludes his look at Steven Furtick's Sun Stand Still.


Chapter 15: Permission to Pray Practically

Not much can be said about this chapter, since it’s three pages long, but a few things could stand to be said.

Remember at the beginning when I said that one of the problems of the book was that Furtick’s prayers were too small? This is what it looks like: he reiterates the list of things earlier in the book as practical things to pray for, and reiterates that God has no problem changing impossible things in our lives, and while this is true, there is a certain short-sightedness to it: the one truly impossible thing for us is that we can’t pay for our own sin. Everything else he mentions is both possible, and in most cases, completely unrelated from divine providence. And this leads to one of the more serious flaws in the book: it offers nothing to those who think they have everything they need, whose lives are storybook perfect, and as a result think that they do not need God. This is why ‘life change’ is not the gospel. Sure, life change is good. God answering big prayer is good. But it’s not the Gospel. Elevation’s motto is “That those far from God will find new life in Christ;” which is otherwise admirable except that they have nothing to offer those who don’t consider themselves far from God or in need of new life in Christ…which is something that a more robust Christian worldview can address.

Chapter 16 is Furtick talking about himself. Again.

Chapter 17 is little more than a commoditization of faith that gets rather close to word-faith territory; Furtick returns to the text of Joshua and finds something else to turn into a principle to live by. Unfortunately, he gets a bit close to legalism as well by way of quoting James 2:17 and saying, “And most of the time, if you don’t move, God won’t move. That’s just the way he designed faith to work.” As usual, there’s a grain of truth: and he does rightly say that prayer can easily turn into wishful thinking.

But was the purpose of the Joshua 10 miracle to teach us a new way to pray? It’s doubtful. Exegetical hoops practice could have prevented this from happening.
Everything else from here on out to the end of the book is pep talk. There’s just not a lot to say about it other than that it suffers from all the flaws pointed out earlier.

Overall review: Not worth it

Recommended reading instead: Honor, Patronage, Kinship, and Purity by David DeSilva

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Geisler Trots Out Another Turkey

Apparently stung by having been grounded by bright stars like Copan and Wallace, Norman Geisler has issued yet another rather sorrowful analysis of the situation; and to get to the main point: No, he still does not get that you can’t dehistoricize a text that wasn’t meant to be taken as historical in the first place. I can’t comment on all that he says – at least half of his commentary is either not relevant to my views, or involves matters of which I have no knowledge, but I’ll touch on what I can.

Geisler starts by listing certain events and complaints, of which we have some commentary:

Licona objected to internet presentations of matters like this and insisted that these discussions should take place in a “scholarly” context. However, this premise is seriously flawed for several reasons. First of all, Licona posted his paper and other discussion on this topic on his web site.

This is frankly one of the most childish and silly objections I have seen in a long time. How is the posting of this paper and discussion on a web site contrary to discussion on the specific issue of inerrancy taking place in a scholarly context? Posting a paper is not a “discussion,” unless Geisler has now become so insensate that he is having “discussions” with his own computer screen. It is also standard today to post scholarly papers online; the Internet encapsulates a broad range of interests, including scholarly ones, so there is nothing remiss in posting the paper there. It seems rather that Geisler is becoming more and more frustrated with his inability to control the discussion (as he does on his Facebook page by deleting responses). As I noted previously, while Geisler may have gotten away with this sort of thing before (except with Caner), he won’t this time – because he will not and can not assert authoritarian control over every aspect of the situation.

Beyond that, Geisler does not specify what “other discussion” he has in mind, so it’s not possible to comment.

Second, he has not restrained his family and friends from carrying on a defense of his view on the internet.

Well isn’t that just too bad for Geisler. Once again, he’s merely frustrated because he can’t control everyone’s views and shut them up (as again, he does on his Facebook page) whenever he wants to. Beyond that, Licona’s family and friends are all adults and it is silly and childish to expect Licona to “restrain” anyone just because Geisler is having a herd of cows over this. Indeed, what this amounts to is that Geisler is objecting that Licona isn’t acting like a bully – the way he does.

Not that it matters. It is absurd in any event to make an issue of this, because Licona’s obvious point was that Geisler’s mode of posting open letters first was where his offense began. Geisler threw the genie out of the bottle, though, and now it is too late; he set the terms, and if he’s now being turned into a pumpkin because he didn’t want to take the steps the right way – in a scholarly context – he shouldn’t complain when he gets a taste of his own ipecac.

Third, Licona preferred an academic context which he knew would contain more persons who shared his view.

Note that this comes from a guy who (again) keeps deleting links from his Facebook page posted by those trying to share that point of view. This is also from a guy who (we are learning) only selectively sent out a petition and did not include on that list some he knew would not share HIS point of view. Beyond that, I’d like to see some statistical substance behind this claim – for it occurs to me that in academia, more people would share Licona’s views; whereas, in such a case, it is non-academics – people with less knowledge to make suitable judgments – who share Geisler’s views. If that is so, then perhaps Geisler needs to think about what that would mean: That in a class of people with the same faith commitment, it is the less informed, more ignorant people share his views.

Fourth, public review is appropriate for any published view such as Licona’s, but he feared this would be more negative.

I can’t comment here because Geisler is presuming to know Licona’s motives, which I am not privy to, but I would observe that in academia as a whole, it’s more usual among credible members to start with a more scholarly context before going public. Those that go public first are usually people with an axe to grind – like Bart Ehrman.

Fifth, the scholarly context of the EPS was not very scholarly in its format since no opposing paper was permitted on this controversial issue.

Oh really? Okay. So: Who submitted an opposing paper, please? And it was turned down, was it? How exactly, and for what stated reasons? It seems odd that Geisler names no names of persons who submitted these papers. If they exist, we’d like to know who they are.

Beyond this Geisler complains rather much about some of Licona’s stronger language in the paper. I’ll just say that Geisler can be grateful it wasn’t me writing the paper – I think he deserved even stronger language, frankly. As before, though, I don’t buy his retort that he professed personal love for Licona – as I said, that’s what all theological bullies do before they punch you in the nose.

In the next section, Geisler denies that punitive measures have been taken against others: Habermas and Copan. As I observed in a comment in the last post, Geisler and Holden are trying to force an artificial distinction because they know they've been exposed as bullies. Habermas was clearly uninvited precisely because he took a stance on inerrancy in reaction to the situation with Licona, and no amount of semantic gerrymandering will excuse or erase that. That it reflects Habermas’ own views is true, but also beside the point: This is a matter of speakers being denied a place because of a shared ideological commitment.

Of course, one might argue that Habermas was excluded on his own merits, but the situation would hardly be different had it been that Habermas was the one who wrote the book Geisler addressed, and then Licona came to his defense. The point rather is that Geisler and Co. are resorting to ideological bullying out of sheer ignorance of the facts (eg, about Greco-Roman bioi, inerrancy, etc) and a refusal to face them honestly and head on.

Next section: Geisler simply denies that he is unconsciously canonizing the interpretations, as the “record” supposedly shows. Sorry, but that record is scratched, and it is Geisler singing the same “dehistoricizing” line over and over again – the one that continues to evade him. He is indeed canonizing his interpretation by declaring the genre factors off limits and refusing to deal directly with them.

Next section: Comments on bullying and scholarship, and the alleged seriousness of the “problem”. It is here that Geisler needs to directly address the pertinent questions about things like genre, Greco-Roman bioi, etc. but as before, he is content to do a high-speed watusi in the opposite direction and resort to the usual canned warnings about “putting scholarship over lordship,” “methodological unorthodoxy,” etc. that he substitutes for honest appraisal of the data. Actually demonstrating that the method is bad – other than by appeal to authoritarian pronouncements – that is apparently beyond Geisler’s meager academic capabilities to perform.

Further sections on the doctrine of inerrancy warrant no comment from us, aside from that Geisler yet again shows that he doesn’t “get it,” when he says things like:

Rather, inerrancy as a doctrine covers the truthfulness of all of Scripture. Such a false claim to inerrancy is vacuous since according to Licona the Gospel affirmations could be completely false—in that they did not correspond to any historic reality—and yet the Bible would still be considered completely true!

Uh, yes…exactly. Thus for example, Proverbs are not absolute; yet they can still be considered completely true. Revelation, an apocalypse, can use wild imagery that isn’t literal, and also still be considered completely true. Geisler is oblivious here to the concept of a semantic contract between reader and writer/speaker which allows for such variations according to genre. Of course, the panic button is just that: There isn’t an actual genre similar to the gospels (bioi) in which the contents are what Geisler would call “completely false”. As we have noted, in bioi, such instances would be isolated. But they did exist, and Geisler’s repeated appeal to ICBI statements about “truthfulness” show that he remains oblivious to this.

Nor, again, would Mary Baker Eddy find any solace here as Geisler implies, because there is no first century genre package that would allow the sort of allegorization she forced onto the text. Rather, Geisler here is more like Eddy in his own methodology, as he tries to force his own modern conceptions – completely without respect for genre and contextual considerations – into the text.

I would note briefly Geisler’s referral to Blocher which shows that he (and Blocher) fail to grasp this point:

Blocher advocates a literal interpretation of the passage because the last words of verse 53 "sound as an emphatic claim of historical, factual, truthfulness with an intention akin to that of 1 Corinthians 15:6."

The problem is that the sort of statements Licona refers to in extrabiblical literature would also sound, to modern ears, like an emphatic claim of historical, factual, truthfulness. Thus this is not a useful criterion for making a decision.

After yet more oblivious and circular appeal to ICBI statements, Geisler accuses Licona of misusing the words of J. I. Packer. Since I do not have the access I would like to material by Packer, I’ll have to pass on commenting, other than to note that it is ironic that Geisler admits that if Licona is right about Packer, “this would only prove that Packer was inconsistent with his view own inerrancy.” Since Geisler himself holds to an old earth view, this is as much an admission that he is inconsistent in his views on inerrancy – and so, then, were many framers of ICBI! It is said that the age of the earth wasn’t part of the test, but my creationist friends would say that it needs to be – and that (using Geisler’s own methodology) such ICBI members as retain an old earth view are compromising because of the demands of science.

A further section discusses evidence of Matthew 27 as historical, and since (again) I do think it was, I need say nothing of that section, other than that I would say some of Geisler’s arguments for the historicity of the text are rather poor.

We return to comment with material on alleged “use of an invalid historical verification principle.” In this though there is little more than the standard head-in-sand approach we have seen time and time again from lesser-educated pastors and authorities like Geisler, Mohler, and Packer who, as we have said, wouldn’t know Agricola from Coca-Cola. It is also rooted in a na├»ve and childlike understanding of “faith” as separate from fact, as exemplified by this comment quoted from Packer:

It is good to test the credentials of Christianity by the most searching scholarship, and to make faith give account of itself at the bar of history. . . . [However], faith is rooted in the realization that the gospel is God’s word; and faith recognizes in its divine origin a full and sufficient guarantee of its veracity. So with Scripture, ‘God’s Word written’: faith rests its confidence in the truth of the biblical narratives, not on the critical acumen of the historian, but on the unfailing trustworthiness of God”

As we have shown, however, this is an invalid understanding of pistis (faith). Indeed it is more akin to the sort of view held by critics like Bultmann, who denied the historicity of the texts. This brand of faith was a resort used to rescue faith from disbelief – and that is what Packer is unwittingly offering here as well. And, I will add, Packer too, in the quote Geisler offers, maintains the same lack of realizations about genre and “dehistoricizing” non-historical texts.

Geisler thereafter retreats to the canned sound bite that Licona’s type of “historiography was conceived by liberal scholars and is suited to their end. “ That is simply nonsense. Liberalism does not make the Gospels into Greco-Roman bioi any more than it turned the Agricola of Tacitus into a bioi. Geisler is simply waving around the “L word” (liberal, not Licona!) to inspire uncritical fear.

So, in the end: Geisler continues to refuse to confront the critical issues of interpretation head on, and prefers to resort to obscurantist, authoritarian bullying. He is hiding behind the wall of his own Facebook page and even his own past reputation as a way of avoiding the core issues which decide the matter.

That’s a turkey so dry that not even a lakeful of gravy will make it palatable.

Added: A longtime reader sent this note which he has given us leave to reproduce:

Just read Geisler's latest response on his website to Licona's EPS paper. He maintains that his and other views on Genesis are not the same thing as Licona's view on Matthew because no matter what, they believe the events of Genesis are historical! It may be conveyed using "symbols", but he still believes in a literal Adam and Eve!

On one level, I am unconcerned with this. No one seriously studying the OT or NT looks to Geisler for information. Only the most faithy of the faithies will listen to him. But it is frustrating how he doesn't get it. His definition of inerrancy removes our ability to understand Scripture lest we claim God grants Christians access to reasoning abilities left unavailable to non-Christians.

Without the social-historical context of scripture first, what can we know? Geisler seems to think (in an almost paranoid way) that this places an insurmountable barrier between him and God. The way I see it, God (unlike the aloof deities of Greece, Rome, and the ANE) chose to interact with people at specific times, places and in specific ways. Doesn't this reveal how close God is willing to be with His creation? Are the 66 books of the Bible fully sufficient to disclose (inter-textually) what God desires/expects of mankind? If so, why then did he take between 2000BCE-95CE to give it to us? Why did he then wait for 300-400 years for these documents to become canonized formally?

One last thing. At several points through his latest posts, Geisler calls (presumably his) the Bible the "fundamental of fundamentals." This strikes me as a very Islamic view of Christian scripture. In a very real way I can see someone building a case that Geisler's view if scripture is so lofty, it almost could be called "second incarnation". Really, logically, it seems like this is the view Geisler would be forced to defend...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Copan and Wallace on Licona and Geisler

This isn't a full entry, but I wanted to share two vids in which Paul Copan and Daniel Wallace weigh in on the Geisler-Licona matter. I think Geisler will need a shovel the size of John Loftus' ego to dig a hole big enough to hide in before too long.

Monday, November 21, 2011

On the Edge of Insanity

Last week for the E-Block I finished reading a book by Jack van Impe titled 2001: On the Edge of Eternity. You can see more on that in the upcoming article, but here I wanted to note something illustrative. Before reading his books, I had no idea how -- well -- insane van Impe was. If scholarship were a place, his home would be Bedlam.

Two examples will suffice, though they are typical of what is found throughout the book.

First, van Impe actually takes seriously reports of alien abductions (though he sees them as demonic).

Second, on 3 pages of his book, van Impe lists various uses of "666" throughout the world -- ranging from on Arab license plates in Jerusalem to shoes in Italy to the catalog number of a certain floor tile -- and takes this as evidence of a massive brainwashing campaign to get the number accepted.

The tragedy that makes it worse: van Impe's book was published by Word -- a reputable press that also puts out scholarly commentaries. Which leads to the question for today: Who is responsible for this insanity?

Van Impe is obliviously and happily promoting an anti-intellectual view that is, in the long run, harmful to the health of the church. He is also using his power as a speaker and evangelist to advance his views, and is declining to use sound scholarship, logic, or reason. We've heard lot of bellowing lately about the need for "oversight" over teachers -- where have these bellowers been while van Impe was peddling all this nonsense?

We need to act, and by this I mean more than just not buying books by these teachers; I also mean publishing strong rebuttals, advertising those rebuttals, buying air time and billboards, and if need be, protesting publicly at their events (though it may not need to go that far, given how much more media can accomplish these days).

My own part in this has been to write articles like these -- though it may expand to other media as well, in the form of video. Thomas Nast took down Boss Tweed with cartoons; the latter was once said to remark as follows (edited for our setting):

"Stop them ****** pictures!" Tweed said to his subordinates. "I don't care so much what the papers say about me. My constituents can't read. But, **** it, they can see pictures!"

Of course, we're literate these days, but we have a similar problem called information overload that makes people less apt to read a detailed critique of someone like van Impe. So by the same token, caricatures of harmful teachers like van Impe will certainly have their own effect. (I can envision van Impe as...well...a shrimp waving his many appendages around hysterically with a smile on his face. But we'll see where that goes. I may have bigger fish -- and crustaceans -- to fry first.)

Because of their views, teachers like van Impe should also never be allowed to publish again with a reputable press. To get their views out, they should be compelled to self-publish, or else do an Acharya S (eg, publish with some press that produces comparable lunacy). Indeed, it is rather a wonder that Norman Geisler makes such a big deal about a single sentence in a 700 page book by a reputable teacher like Licona, but doesn't seem inclined to to any theological bullying to try to stop a lunatic like van Impe (who, unlike Licona, appears on TV and conducts worldwide crusades before hundreds of thousands of people) from teaching that Italian shoemakers are part of a brainwashing campaign to usher in the Antichrist. Maybe Geisler's sense of perspective could use some fine-tuning.

If God rather than the dollar ruled, ignoramuses like van Impe would never find a publisher. I'm not talking about compelling publisher choice by force,naturally; I'm asking editors and publishers to become more responsible stewards of their Kingdom trust. While I'm at it, I may as well ask Beverly Sills to sing country and Western.

Bottom line is...someone has to stop the insanity. The church at large is too busy with praise choruses to do so. The average pastor is too well trained in counseling to have the requisite awareness. They and so many others are part of the problem, which leaves it to a hardy few to do the job.

Once again -- if you ever wonder why I get so adamant about some of these things -- now you know.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mike Licona's EPS Paper on Matthew 27

No full entry today -- I'll be seeing a doctor about a stone (ha ha)...but I wanted to offer the link to Mike Licona's EPS paper:

PDF format

I was more than a little disgusted to see that even Gary Habermas and Paul Copan have had engagements canceled because of Geisler's bullying campaign. On the other hand, got to love the quote from Bird, as well as the exposure of Geisler's hypocritical inconsistency on Genesis 1.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Authoritarian Bully Petition Drive

I’m doing tomorrow’s Ticker entry today for a couple of reasons. One is that Mike Licona is set today to do a presentation today at EPS on the subject of inerrancy. Another is that with various medical appointments the next two days, I may not get the chance to do a post here tomorrow. The third reason – Geisler’s in the process of sticking his foot into his mouth for the public at large again. Or maybe into some other orifice you can guess at.

Through means I won’t reveal, I’ve gotten hold of a “petition” Geisler is circulating on this subject. It consists of three parts:

1) Various quoted sound bites from Licona’s book where Licona uses words like “embellishment” or “legend”. Not all relate to Matthew 27, and at least one (on page 527) is a case of Licona quoting someone else (John Dominic Crossan), but Geisler doesn’t let little matters like accuracy stop him now any more than before.

In these quotes it seems to matter little whether Licona uses the words to reach a conclusion that some item is legendary, or whether he just presents it as a hypothesis to be considered in proper historical examination. Nor does it matter what arguments Licona presents pro and con.

In this, Geisler is imitating some of the worst atheists on the Internet; those who think it is a good argument to quote passages like Malachi 2:3 (“spread dung on your faces”) as though this proves that “Biblegod” is a cruel and disgusting being. In the same way, Geisler’s obvious intention is to merely charge the emotions and cause those who read these pull quotes to think that Licona is doing something horrible.

2) Various quotes from the Chicago Statement and certain related supplemental sources. Not that any of them actually apply. What has continued to elude Geisler before continues to elude him again: You can’t “dehistoricize” at text that wasn’t meant to be taken as historical. You can’t designate as a “distortion” a text that isn’t meant to distort history. You can’t “misrepresent” a text as legendary if the author’s intention was that it be understood as legendary. Things like proverbs do not report events that “actually occurred in the space-time world” and you can’t object to someone saying that some report didn’t happen there if the author’s intention is not to say it happened there either.

Geisler’s mental blocks in this regard are ones he no doubt hopes his petition readers and signers share; he also no doubt expects his readers to not have any clue about such things as purposeful and isolated use of legendary material in Greco-Roman biographies or other otherwise historical works. And of course, it continues to elude Geisler that his own old-earth view would be seen by many as denying that Gen. 1-11 are historical texts.

3) Last, the petition readers are asked to vote Yes or No on whether Licona’s view of inerrancy violates ICBI, and then sign. Yip dee diddle doo.

It’s not clear what Geisler plans to do with this candy bar once he gets done with it – and, we assume, he gets the results he wants. Will we be granted knowledge of who votes what way – and why? As on YouTube with voting there, a Yes or No doesn’t mean much if the person who votes is ignorant of the issues (eg, has no idea what a Greco-Roman bioi is, let alone how the genre functioned), or votes a certain way because voices in their head tell them how to vote, or vote a certain way because Geisler will harass and bully them as he did Licona if they vote the other way.

It also doesn’t mean much if Geisler cherry-picks who he sends this to (which is reflective of his own habits above, re collecting sound bites) to ensure that he gets all the Yes votes he wants. This was the tactic of the atheist Brian Flemming, who did “man on the street” interviews of Christians, asking them about obscure issues like Mithra knowing he’d get a lot of “duh what” answers which he crowed over. But Flemming wisely avoided taking a short walk down the way to Biola University, where he’d find classfuls of students and professors who would laugh off his idiotic questions.

In the same way, I’m not counting on Geisler to release this petition to more than perhaps a token few he knows won’t answer the way he wants – and also would have the requisite scholarship to get the point. In other words, I’m betting he wants ICBI all over again: Top heavy on those who are clueless or less educated in the relevant fields (eg, most pastors, business leaders, etc), the better to get a majority to render an uninformed opinion that coheres with what the results he wants.

If any process needed oversight, it surely is this one Geisler is putting into motion. But since his practice so far indicates he regards himself as above regulation (eg, removing challenges posted on his Facebook page), I have about as much confidence in this petition, procedurally, as I used to have in prison inmates doing their own legal work.

What it does show, at least – as if we had any doubts --is that anything that isn’t simple authoritarian bullying is beyond Geisler’s ability to handle. He has refused to attend a conference discussing these issues. He was refused to answer challenges. He has not engaged a single argument from any source on this point (although, to be fair, that is also because he doesn’t seem to “get” what the argument actually is, per above).

As some are aware, Geisler has a long record of this sort of bullying. Sometimes he gets what he wants (eg, Murray Harris, Robert Gundry). Other times he doesn’t, and he leaves in a huff (eg, Clark Pinnock). Yet other times he gets badly embarrassed (eg, Ergun Caner, and James White, though as is known, I don’t think White did that well either), and yet other times he gets mostly ignored (eg, Hank Hanegraaff on preterism). This round, it’s going to be “badly embarrassed” if Geisler doesn’t come to a grinding halt. Unlike most of these past issues (Caner’s being an exception), the Internet, the blogosphere, and lightning communications will keep Geisler from keeping a handle on all aspects of the situation. It will become clear and widely known when he is refusing challenges and using misleading quotes (as with Crossan above). He will be checked on in detail by numerous parties – and he’s not used to that.

We’ll keep on top of whatever else we hear about this petition.

Add on: Max Andrews (link) notes that Geisler is sending this thing out to ETS members. Given that Geisler himself dropped out of ETS over the Pinnock issue, his motives here become all the more inscrutable.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Perrin and Geisler Potpourri

Not, again, that I think low-rent intellectual atheists deserve the attention, but Nick Peters has been finding more and more of them (and others) making hay of what Norman Geisler has unjustly done to Mike Licona. They’re not being kind to Geisler either – I’ve noted them making points of his inconsistency with regards to an old-earth view; but they’re making especially fluffy hay over this being an exercise by Geisler in suppressing freedom of thought, in a way that is tied to ignorance and power plays – which it is.

They’ve also noted that reactions to Licona by those in Geisler’s corner have gone overboard (eg, canceling his appearance at conferences) – which it has. They’ve noted that Licona has done amazing scholarly work on the Resurrection – which he has – and that Geisler is making an issue over a very, very tiny portion of what Licona has written – which he has.

They refer also to a widespread fear of giving such answers in Evangelicalism. I can understand that some might fear loss of a job, loss of fellowship, loss of opportunity, etc if they tell the truth – which has happened to Licona. And is again all the more reason why Tekton is best left not overseen by authoritarian bullies who don’t understand what it does.

That’s all on that subject today; between family medical needs and my own (that kidney stone may not have left after all! – or maybe only part of it did!) I didn’t have a whole lot of open time today. But we’ll close with a book review from the December 2008 E-Block, of Nicholas Perrin’s Thomas: The Other Gospel.


It took the Jesus Seminar to raise a cloud of dust over the Gospel of Thomas; now that the dust has settled, scholars with a more targeted interest are taking over the field, and one of these, Nicholas Perrin, has produced a quite readable and thoughtful volume that presents a somewhat differing paradigm for understanding GThom.

I will lay out my one reservation. Perrin reminds me too much of James Dunn, in terms of being someone who seems too cautious about reaching conclusions and permitting potential exceptions to hang overhead. But this is a methodological issue which should be overlooked. Thomas: The Other Gospel is of tremendous value for its close, detailed arguments and its interaction with several streams of evidence. Prior to this, I accepted the notion that Thomas was a Gnostic product, but I think Perrin makes a good case for GThom being a product of a somewhat mystical sect of Syrian Christianity that was not technically Gnostic (though we can certainly see why Gnostics would appreciate GThom even so).

• In the Introduction, Perrin lays out the foundational information on GThom, such as its discovery at Nag Hammadi, opinions as to its authenticity in the past, and external evidence concerning its date and authenticity.

• The next three chapters are summary reviews of how three scholars regard GThom. Chapter One has to do with Stephen Patterson, and I was pleased to see that Perrin observed some of the same methodological weaknesses in the way Patterson rated GThom that I found some years back.

• Chapter Two takes on Elaine Pagels, and Chapter Three addresses April DeConick. The works of these two on GThom are currently on my reading list for the future, so I cannot speak to Perrin's treatment of them, aside from noting that Perrin and DeConick have been taking jabs at one another in the blogosphere.

• Starting in Chapter Four, Perrin makes his own case for the origin and purpose of GThom. He makes a detailed case, first, for GThom having been originally composed in the Syriac language (which is not particularly controversial). He then argues that GThom shows dependency not on the Synoptic Gospels, but rather the "gospel harmony" of Tatian, the Diatessaron, produced in the middle of the second century. Of course for apologists, this is a critical finding for those who would date GThom earlier than the canonical Gospels or argue that it represents a more authentic record of Jesus.

• Chapter Five adds to the academic dogpile, as Perrin looks closely at GThom 13, in which Thomas is given props while Matthew and Peter are disrespected. Perrin argues that this looks to be a direct slam at the composed Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Once again, the implication for the apologist is obvious; but beyond that, there is yet more fruitful commentary concerning the identity and beliefs of those who created GThom.

• Chapter 6 sums it up and makes connections between the contents of GThom and Hermetic mysticism.

Perrin's tone is that of a scholar, though like Ben Witherington, he's more than capable of the humorous turn of phrase (e.g., referring to people dedicated to poverty as not being "Donald Trump-wanna-bes"). That makes Perrin all the more readable. Highly recommended for those interested in GThom studies.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Norman's Not Being Normal

In the last week or so, the Licona-Geisler controversy, which we've been on top of from nearly Day 1, has been hitting the fan in the wider world: Articles in the Baptist Press and Christianity Today; various blogosphere observations from non-Christians about Geisler's handling of the matter, and more piling in with support on each side. This may not end any time soon, but for today's entry, I'd like to bring to the fore two points.

The first has to do with Geisler's own inconsistency on this matter, which we have briefly pointed out earlier, with respect to his old-earth views on Genesis. Please note something that Geisler says on page 230 of When Skeptics Ask:

Of course, there are many Creationists who argue for an old earth. Biblically, this position that the word for day is used for more than twenty-four hours even in Genesis 2:4, the events of the sixth day surely took more than twenty-four hours, and Hebrews 4:4-5 implies that God is still in His seventh-day rest. If the seventh day can be long, then the others could too. Scientifically, this view does not require any novel theories to explain the evidence. One of the biggest problems for the young earth view is in astronomy. We can see light from stars that took 15 billion years to get here. To say that God created them with the appearance of age does not satisfy the question of how their light reached us. We have watched star explosions that happened billions of years ago, but if the universe is not billions of years old, then we are seeing light from stars that never existed because they would have died before Creation. Why would God deceive us with the evidence? The old earth view seems to fit the evidence better and causes no problem with the Bible.

But yet, what does Article 12 of the inerrancy statement say?

We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

Here is could be easily said that Geisler is using science to overturn the teaching of Scripture that he implies would be the most consistent. I know my creationist friends would say as much. Thus Geisler is doing the very thing he condemns Licona for doing.

The second point for this entry has to do with why I plan to keep on top of this matter -- apart from my personal connections with Nick Peters (Mike Licona's son in law) and the fact that as an independent voice, I can speak out with more freedom and not be concerned about being bullied by Geisler or his adherents.

At the heart of this rhubarb lies a tension I have always seen in the performance of apologetics, as well as in the use of the Bible in modern Christianity and in preaching.

On the one hand, we have always had bullies like Geisler whose anachronistic views have done more harm than good; who, for whatever reason, refuse to let go of their childish notions of Scripture, and insist on reading into it an inappropriate level of transcendancy which strongly divides it from its defining contexts (while also, oddly, turning into a modern, Western product that would have left first century people with entirely the wrong impression about it).

On the other hand, we have had voices like mine, like Licona's, like that of many Biblical scholars, calling for a recognition that Scripture was written within certain specific contexts within which it is properly understood, and with which we must come to terms if we are to have a faith that is genuine, informed, and protected from fire on all sides.

Though I am displeased by the hardship Geisler has caused my friends with his misplaced authoritarianism, I also welcome the public exposure of the conflict. It is my hope that in its process, it will cause Geisler and others of his mindset to become increasingly marginalized; such that others outside the church will come to see that there are real and intelligent alternatives to that type of view, and a far more cerebral and judicious faith that can be had. In the end, this can only help us get rid of all the dross that Geisler's mindset produces -- which I would say includes everything the free-for-all exegesis used by everyone from the emergent church to 40 Days of Purpose, as well as the notion that scholarship is a dangerous thing that needs to be tightly controlled by (cough) "godly men in authority" like Al Mohler who wouldn't even know how to ask where the restroom was in the Biblical world without offending the natives and getting themselves clapped in a Roman jail.

We need to get leaders like Mohler and Geisler out of their leadership roles when it comes to issues like these. They have their own missions they can do tolerably well (for example, Mohler isn't as bad as all that when it comes to moral leadership issues), and they can stay there just fine; but they need to get themselves out of matters of Biblical exegesis and interpretation that they do not understand. If nothing else, I hope that this controversy will bring an end to, or at least seriously impair, the reign of authoritarian ignorance that leaders like these -- whether they be major leaders like Geisler or Mohler, or pastors who maintain an iron hand on local teachers out of fear of being exposed to new ideas.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Way to Impress Them, There, Norm

Since I'm still not back to 100%, I appreciate Nick Peters bringing to my attention these two links -- one to a Muslim site, one to an atheist site -- showing that Norman Geisler's clumsy handling of the matter with Mike Licona is raising exactly the sort of mockery it was expected to. Of course these folks will always try to roust out problems, especially over any sort of disagreements, but it's not just the disagreement but the way Geisler handled it that's getting the attention.

Friday is a holiday, so the Ticker will return Monday.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Snap: "Encountering the Manuscripts"

After dealing with a kidney stone this weekend, it's nice to have back issue E-Block material to offer when I don't feel like writing. :P This is from November 2008.


This volume by Philip Comfort isn't one of those you'll take to bed. It's a textbook for students, as well as a reference manual, and its coverage is so thorough that I'd like to highly recommend it, to the point that it'll go in my "Apologetics Arsenal" listing. The wealth of manuscript data for the New Testament is well known, but Comfort's focus is on the very earliest manuscripts -- the papyri that come from prior to the fourth century.
The heart of the book is the reference listings naming and describing in detail the attributes and conditions of the papyri: You can learn who discovered them, where the discovery was first published, what the contents are, and the date, with extra comments by Comfort on the reliability of the manuscript. Comfort adds a dimension to his assessments that no doubt goes on behind the scenes, but which I have never seen discussed in popular books: That of the scribes' personal habits which can tell us how conscientious they were in their copying, and therefore, how much stake can be put into their work.

The remainder of the book is quite helpful as well. It repeats some of what may be found in other books I've recommended in the past, but don't take that as a negative:

* Chapter One gives us background information on how ancient books were published, distributed, and copied. This sort of information is like a hidden treasure at times, and can often be used to answer obscure objections that start with the assumption that ancient people could have easily made multiple copies of the NT at any time, or suppose that ancient scribes were woefully incompetent sorts who couldn't get anything right because they lacked the necessary Xerox technology. There's also useful information on things like the typical "lifespan" of a codex, which Comfort uses to roughly factor out how many copies of the NT books we can expect to have existed in the first century.

* Chapter Two is the extended catalog of the significant manuscripts, taking up around 50 pages of this 400 page book. It's not narrative reading, but mostly entry listings with descriptions.

* Chapter Three discusses procedures used for dating manuscripts, such as paleography (essentially, handwriting analysis) and style. This chapter also offers an extensive catalog of information on various manuscripts in terms of the chapter subject, along with numerous illustrations, and takes up about 90 pages.

* Chapter 4 is a special chapter on the use of nomina sacra, that is, abbreviations used for words like "God" and "Jesus". It discussions the origins of and reasons for their use. Of some interest is the fact that words like "cross" or "Jerusalem" were also subject to be abbreviated the same way.

* Chapter 5 is essentially a lesson in the history of textual variations from the first century onward. This contains a valuable discussion of claims that there might have been all sorts of unknown changes to the NT text prior to the dates of the extant manuscripts, a view popularized by Bart Ehrman. There's also a valuable section on the psychological impact of scribal activity and how it affects copying procedures.

* Chapter 6 is on the theories and methods of NT textual criticism and becomes quite technical, delving into the process of dividing manuscripts into textual groups.

* Chapter 7 discusses the "harder" aspects of textual criticism, such as identifying types of scribal error (haplography, dittography, etc) and the reasons for various types of intentional scribal alterations. This is especially useful with reference to arguments (often derived from Ehrman) that scribes were interested in distorting the texts for theological purposes, to the extent that they changed Christian doctrine as well.

The last 50 pages or so of text are "case studies" of problem passages.
Encountering the Manuscripts has tremendous value as a reference source for the serious student. Highly recommended.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sun Stand Still Part 6

David Sorrell continues his series:

Sun Stand Still Chapter 14: Pray Like A Juggernaut (But Not Like Jesus)

When last we left off, Furtick was trying to explain why some prayers don’t get answered. Well this week, he’s going to pick up by complaining about how Christians usually pray.

Disliked Prayer #1 is “Lord, be with me today.” While he rightly recognizes that this is a prayer to be made aware of God’s presence and activity, he dismisses it because it appears to be ‘filler’ and meaningless. And for many Christians, perhaps it is. Except this seems to be a rather strange objection, considering he just got done trying to boil systematic theology down for his readers.

Disliked Prayer #2 is what gets him into the most trouble of anything he says in the book. He actually says:

“[…]How about this one? I used to always prequalify my big prayers with this introduction: ‘God, if it be thy will…’

So, does God need an opt-out clause in the contract before he’s willing to sign on the line and cut a deal with Steven Furtick? Or with you? […]On the whole this idea seems very humble.
[…]Over time, though, I realized I wasn’t buffering my prayers with this condition because I was humble. I was doing it because I was scared. […]it was a cop-out. What I was really saying was, ‘God, I’m asking you to do this, but I’m not really expecting that you will. So, just in case you don’t, let me acknowledge up front that you might not.’”


He really said it. Don’t take my word for it, go read it for yourself.

This is a critical mistake on Furtick’s part for at least three reasons. First: had he been doing his exegetical dunking practice, he would have avoided this blunder. Second, it seriously distorts the Biblical teaching of the will of God, and when the teaching of the Bible about the will of God is examined, the whole SSS model is undermined. Third, as a result of the first two, it introduces a level of hubris into the mindset of the believer that is nowhere authorized in Scripture that sets up a dangerous disillusionment should those audacious prayers not pay off.

So what does Scripture teach about the will of God? In attempting to say that praying that God’s will be accomplished gives God an ‘out’ of sorts from answering your prayer the way you want, Furtick flat-out ignores the numerous, and really-tough-to-brush-aside passages that do talk positively about praying for the Will of God. Praying “Lord, if it be thy will” is not a sign of fear or doubt, it is a sign of trust that Furtick does not show an understanding of from his treatment of Scripture.

Like the Lord’s prayer. (Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven—was Jesus giving his Father a cop-out to not do that? If Furtick wants to be consistent, he will have to say yes.)

Or Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane. (And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”—hey, Furtick, had Jesus prayed a Sun Stand Still prayer, could the crucifixion have been avoided? Did Jesus not pray audaciously enough, and as a result give God a cop-out that resulted in the death of the Son of God?)

Perhaps Furtick is just ignorant about what the will of God actually is. Looking at the whole of Scripture, the composite picture of God’s will is that we be redeemed from our sins by trusting in Jesus’ death on the cross in our place, and that we be conformed to the image of Jesus now and forever. (Romans 12:1-2, Acts 2:22-40, Hebrews 10:1-17, Revelation 4:11, among many others)
Suffice it to say that this understanding of the will of God conflicts drastically with Furtick’s. Furtick has presented an understanding of God’s will that ignores the very vast majority of what Scripture actually says about it, and as a result gives people a false hope that if they pray right, that God will do what they ask.

Which reminds me of something else that needs to be discussed. Jesus himself says repeatedly in the Gospels (John 14:13-14 in this quote) that “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
This is repeated several times through the Gospels and is referenced in the New Testament. It is not a blank check for a PlayStation 3, a fast car, and a billion dollars; as Gary Habermas has pointedly said, “Ask in Jesus’ name, but remember that Jesus suffered, was rejected by men, and died a horrible death on a cross. And he was the Son of God; do you really expect better than what He got?”

Ignore Furtick. If praying expressly for the will of God was good enough for Jesus and the Apostles, it’s good enough for you and me.

But Furtick goes on; he spends a few pages showing some ‘audacious’ prayers that people prayed in the Bible that resulted in miracles. He then twists James 5:17 (“Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.”) and then says, “We are just like Elijah. We are just like Joshua.” The irony is that this follows James 4:13-17, which reads, “ Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

If you’re thinking this is starting to sound like word-faith teaching, you’d be right. Yes, James does say that the prayers of the righteous accomplishes much, and he is right—but not because the righteous man, or Joshua, or Elijah, prays audaciously. It’s that the prayers they pray are in accord with the will of God; in both OT examples, their prayers have a direct effect on the history of Israel that culminated in the birth of the Messiah.

The darker problem with this whole chapter is that there is the very real possibility that God desires to conform us to the image of Jesus through trials and tribulation (hello, Uganda story from the first chapter)…and that there is a very real possibility that success and audacity may not be from God.

There is a certain irony about Furtick’s prayer he recounts in this chapter: “And each time, I spoke these words of faith: ‘Father, I thank you that our church will have worship services in that warehouse and we will reach thousands of people for Jesus Christ, according to your perfect plan, in your perfect timing.”

Is Furtick going to admit that he ended his prayer by giving God a cop-out to not give them the warehouse (which is itself a notable incident in Elevation’s history)? If not, why did he end it by appealing to God’s planning and timing? Those things directly concern the will of God.
In perhaps the biggest flip-flop of the book, he quotes 1 John 5:14-15, which talks about…asking God for things according to His will.

And he gets it right.

He says, “Notice that it doesn’t say ‘if we ask anything we desire’ or ‘if we ask anything audaciously,’ but ‘if we ask anything according to his will.’

So why rant about “if it be Thy will” prayers? He gets most of it right regarding this passage; but he drops the ball at the end and reveals that word-faith strain running through the book: “Every time you kneel before the Father to pray with audacity, you must have his Word in your mind and in your heart. Otherwise, you risk confusing your agenda with his, praying gigantic prayers that bring microscopic returns.”

Microscopic returns are the result of asking God for anything outside of God’s will? If you’re confusing your agenda with God’s, is there any guarantee at all that your prayers will be answered at all? And even if you do pray in God’s will, as Jesus instructed us to do, why do we expect better than what Jesus got?

Furtick is right when he says that Scripture is very clear about the will of God, and that we don’t have to go hunting and pecking to find it. And that’s exactly why we can say that Sun Stand Still ignores the complete will of God, ignores the greater theme of the Bible, and suffers from cultural tunnel vision. It ignores a more sophisticated understanding of Biblical faith and a Biblical understanding of God’s nature and how we relate to him through Jesus (more on that later).
God desires that we conform to Christ in every situation. This is why Paul writes:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13)

That same attitude is available for us today through faith in Christ and faithful study of God’s Word in the fellowship of other believers, no matter our circumstances. True faith, hope, and love shine even if our audacious prayers don’t get answered; our Godly virtue shines in the understanding that God is still in charge.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Norman the Neanderthal

Norman Geisler has still not acknowledged our challenges -- directly -- but he has taken the time to scour Mike Licona's book on the Resurrection rooting around for manufactured problems, after the manner of a pig rooting around for truffles. No doubt stung by a highly positive review of Licona's book in the Christian Research Journal -- one that saw none of the problems Geisler imagined existed there -- Geisler now hits the panic button with a chorus of sledgehammers, proclaiming that Licona is "worse than we originally thought" on inerrancy.

Initially Geisler presents a personal story -- one I cannot confirm or deny myself, but which I am told by closer sources is heavy on spin -- in which Licona allegedly failed to convince a "key Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leader that his view was orthodox." I'll leave specific defense of that to those more personally involved, but even if Geisler's account happened to be true, we may color ourselves unimpressed without further information.

First of all, who was this "key leader"? Those that immediately come to mind as candidates in the SBC aren't exactly what I'd call scholarly powerhouses qualified to assess the matter. I'm thinking here leaders like Charles Stanley, or Al Mohler (whom Geisler refers to beyond this) who frankly wouldn't know a Greco-Roman biography from an antelope's rump, and would think that the Agricola of Tacitus was some kind of Roman-era soft drink. In that light I find neither the judgment of this unnamed "key leader," nor the words of Mohler from the prior entry (from which Geisler once again quotes extensively, and with emphasis on the panic button parts) of much relevance or strength. I also note that while Geisler is eager to quote Mohler, he is hesitant to note that credible and serious scholars like Dan Wallace, Edwin Yamuchi, and J. P. Moreland have stood behind Licona by specifically naming them (other than Gary Habermas).

Next, Geisler makes note of how Licona was dismissed from SES and ISCA after all of this was uncovered. I am also able to neither confirm nor deny specifics on this, but allow me to say again that authoritarian bullying does not constitute an argument. If this is the position ISCA has taken -- and it appears from their website that they have -- then I daresay I am well served to have not renewed my membership there. I will therefore not miss at all not having been able to attend the next conference on Kansas City; all I will have missed is a ceremonial passing out of wooden clubs and sabre-toothed tiger skins, and the ISCA deserves to be ignored by all credible apologists and utterly abandoned as a credible and useful organization.

After this, Geisler mourns the fact that the Evangelical Philosophical Society (and by extension, its parent organization, ETS) is giving Licona place to discuss his views. Given that EPS and ETS are havens for those who take scholarship seriously, I'll take Geisler's dyspepsia over the matter as a reason to celebrate their having moved on from his backwards views to something more contextually informed.

So what else has caused Geisler dyspepsia from the book which he missed before? He has now found suggestions from Licona -- not affirmations -- that the angels at the tomb could be legendary elements, as could be the incident in John's Gospel in which the soldiers fall to the ground. As before, while I don't think these suggestions are valid conclusions, I also do not see that they cause any problem for a serious and contextualized doctrine of inerrancy. Geisler still does not "get" the key point that you can't dehistorcize a text that wasn't meant to be taken as historical in the first place. It is doubtful that he ever will.

I said that Geisler has not acknowledged our challenges. Indeed he has not, but it is clear that he is aware of them and that they sting badly. One of our challenges was to explain, as noted:

Challenge: Are the Gospels in the genre of Greco-Roman biographies (bioi)? If not, why not? If so, then why is this not a case of “by superimposing some external pagan idea on the text in order to determine what the text means”?

Neither option bodes well for Geisler. Identifying the Gospels as bioi has been of some assistance in determining their nature, meaning, and purpose. It has not been particularly relevant to the exegesis of the Gospels, but it remains that identifying them as such was the same process of Licona used in trying to identify Matt. 27 as a poetic device – it was done by comparison to “some external pagan (!) idea” which was then (as Geisler puts it) “superimposed on the text.”

On the other hand, if he chooses to deny that the Gospels are bioi, he will be hard-pressed to explain why the credible scholarship of Burridge, Talbert, and others ought to be rejected.

Geisler addresses this point, but does so by having dug out places where Licona affirms the nature of the Gospels as bioi. It takes Geisler a few lines of name-calling ("bad methodology") before he finally gets to an actual answer, which reaches stratospheric heights of obscurantism unimagined even by the most fundamental of Bob Jones disciples:

In brief, two main errors in Licona’s methodology stand out. First, his genre decisions are made “up-front” based on extra-biblical data. On the contrary, one should approach every text with the historical-grammatical method to determine within the text, its context, and by other Scriptures what it means. Then, and then alone, is he in a position to know its genre.


How can one know the "genre" of a text apart from multiple examples of that genre? Why does not the historical-grammatical method include defining extra-Biblical data? (It certainly does so when interpreting the Greek and Hebrew of the Bible!) What within the text itself tells us what genre the Gospels are? (The answer of course, is that nothing does.) And are we simply to ignore the vast parallels established by credible study and scholars (like Burridge and Talbert) to works like Tacitus' Agricola and say with Geisler, "yes, it looks like a duck, it quacks like a duck, it walks like a duck, it has feathers like a duck, but it's really a mongoose"? Geisler's answer is simply intellectual gibberish and the worst sort of obscurantism.

His second point is no better:

Second, even then, categories of genre made up from extra-biblical sources (like Greco-Roman history) are not the way to determine the genre of a unique piece of literature like the Gospels. For it may be—as indeed we believe it is—that the Gospels are a unique genre of their own, namely, Gospel genre where redemptive history is still real history.

This is nothing more than patent circular reasoning. The Gospels are simply assumed to be unique in their genre in order to argue that they are unique in their genre. Such an obscurantist, neanderthalish assertion will do nothing to erase, answer, or obscure the comprehensive and detailed parallels enumerated by scholars like Burridge, and Geisler's attempt to put the Gospels into "unique genre" is nothing more than ignorant special pleading of the sort that has enabled hyenas like Bart Ehrman to cull the ranks of the church for those who recognize this sort of contrived anti-intellectualism for what it really is.

Geisler goes on:

What is certain is that whatever aid extra-biblical material may have in our understanding of the text, no extra-biblical data is hermeneutically determinative in interpreting any text of Scripture. It may help in understanding the meaning of words and customs, but it cannot be used to determine whether a text is historical or not historical.

However, with that last statement, Geisler has offered his own self-refutation. Logically, he cannot draw a line around "words and customs" and say, "no, it stops here and we can't use such externals to determine historicity of a text." That is simply an arbitrariness and a convenience designed to suit his own predetermined purposes -- and it is again exactly that kind of dictatorial arbitrariness that enables Skeptics to thin Christian ranks.

Geisler thereafter once again appeals to ICBI, but as we have noted before, not even ICBI is saying that it is wrong to "dehistoricize" a text that wasn't meant to be taken as historical in the first place; Geisler's confusion on this matter continues unabated, and is not likely to be cured any time soon.