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...


  1. I like to thnk I am one of those creationist friends you always talk about, having come from and continue to write for, Creation Wiki... hehe. I have also been updating the literary genre of the gospels throughout all of this as I gain new tidbits of understanding from your site JP and academic books like David E. Aune, Greco-Roman Literature and The New Testament: Selected Forms and Genres (Society of Biblical Literature 1988) or Graham Stanton, Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching (Cambridge University Press 1974).

    Also in case you missed it JP, you can get the .mp3 presentation by Licona at EPS @

  2. @KQ Heh, actually I was thinking mainly of people at AiG/CMI, but that's OK too.

  3. That reminds me JP, the Sr. editor of CW does in fact hold a creation conference every year in the North West. And does in fact have guest speakers from Discovery Institute and AiG! CW is really starting to become one of the most substantial wiki's on the Internet for Biblical Christianity.

  4. Do you suppose Geisler's "canonization" of his own interpretation stems from a position of radical perspicuity? I've observed that a lot of Christians of a certain variety tend to believe that any idiot ought to be able to pick up any English Bible translation (or for some, it would be limited to a KJV Bible), open to any passage and the meaning should be 100% crystal clear with no ambiguity, and with no need to make use of any scholarship to help with understanding. They reason that God should possess the power to produce a writing that all people at all time ought to understand (e.g. "fax from heaven"). This is something you've touched on before in other pieces (and have done a good job of pointing out the absurdity of it), and lies behind the apostasy of some ex-Christian fundy atheists. But more to the point here: when a Christian takes this position, they may well reason that because of this, the "plain" meaning that seems clear to them, MUST BE the correct one, and anyone else who interprets differently is just trying to weasel out of something they don't like in Scripture. I am by NO MEANS defending this; only trying to understand what is going on inside their heads. Geisler seems to exhibit symptoms of this syndrome.

    The irony is that when this point of view goes into a head-on collision with reality, it becomes apparent that this way of going about things amounts to the worst kind of subjectivity, the likes of which they tend to rail against when they see it in the Liberal theologians.

  5. @Jared He's not as radical as some I have seen but yes, I'd say he's pretty far down that road.

  6. J. P.:

    I received this note from a friend:

    "One note: the J.P. Holding web essay you posted on Facebook gets Blocher and Packer way wrong. It is clear that Holding has note read Blocher, who argues for a Literary Framework view. Holding is apparently working from Geisler's summary of Blocher, I guess.

    Anyway--if you know this fellow, you might encourage him to edit his essay and avoid unnecessary embarassment."

    I actually don't know you. But I thought you should see this.


  7. Hello Dr. Beckwith!

    Thank you for the note, though I am not sure why they are making such a point. I make it quite clear in the post that I have not read that material; I specifically say I pass on commenting on Packer, and make no comment about Blocher with respect to the framework hypothesis and his work on that subject. So I am not sure how this is related to what I said.

    The only thing that comes to mind is that I saw a similar accusation leveled against Mike.

    Please let me know if they offer any further explanation.