Friday, December 2, 2011

The High Stakes of the Licona-Geisler Debate

Just in the last two days, a major posting on the Licona-Geisler issue has been made by Steve Lemke of New Orleans Baptist Seminary (link below). Both my ministry associate and I are listed by Lemke as Licona’s defenders, along with many others (and those defending Geisler as well).

It is worth a read, as are many of the comments, including those from Max Andrews, who is evaluating a “petition” that has been posted asking for views on whether Licona is in the right or not. (Ah yes – truth decided the Wikipedia way.)

Today though I want to make a point about what is at stake here in the larger picture. This is more than a tension between two major names in apologetics. This is also about what will happen later, depending on which side takes the day in the ideological war (and in essence, that is what it is). Of course, I have no Turtledove Time Machine, and so do not consider these “predictions” inerrant (or even to me a poetic device – HA!). Some new controversy could arise and change everything. But let’s just make some hazards, shall we? What happens if Geisler wins?

If Geisler wins, then authoritarian bullying will have won the day over reasoned discourse. Evangelical scholars will fear to produce new ideas lest they lose their jobs or suffer other sanctions. Less and less credible scholarly and apologetics material will be produced. There will be fewer resources for future apologists, and in turn, fewer tools to use to evangelize in an effective way. (And by that, I am purposely excluding the methods of evangelism I find inadequate, ranging from the emergent “Jesus is your bud” method to the commonplace “personal testimony” method which turns Jesus into little more than Dr. Phil with holes in his wrists – both of which takes us far from the Biblical model of preaching the facts.)

The world at large will see that we don’t conduct ourselves according to rational guidelines when discussing doctrine. Who wants to join that bunch when they think bullying is the way to solve problems? Not that we don’t have enough problems already in that respect; but one more on the fire? Not needed.


And what else? Our own problem-solving (heh!) will follow this model, set by commenter Ron Hale, on Lemke’s article:


Dr. Lemke,


As I have read your great article and the work of Tim Rogers, Peter Lumpkins, plus the Christianity Today article by Bobby Ross, Jr …. I am reminded of a verse of scripture on humility; that of a younger Christian man submitting to the wisdom of an older man.


“Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5).


When this matter was “first” brought to Dr. Licona’s attention by the distinguished professors Dr. Geisler and later by Dr. Mohler, he could have chosen to be humbly submissive; yet that didn’t seem to be the case, therefore, all this avoided.

To this, a reader, Randy, replied:

I’m not intending to be contentious, but are you implying that this verse teaches Licona should have abandoned his interpretation out of sheer deference to Geisler? What if an older, respected person in your church disagreed with you about a particular passage and asked you to change your mind. Are you saying you would be biblically obligated to do it? Something doesn’t seem quite right about that.

And Hale qualified:

I have mentioned two scholars … yet … you only refer to Dr. Geisler. If one … then two wise men in my congregation sought to correct me on a passage of Scripture, I would be obligated to clothe myself in humility and respect what they had to say. Changing my mind (repenting) is a different matter.

Since I feel that Licona was incorrect in his interpretation of these verses, yes … I wish that he had listened in respect and changed his mind. Thanks.

(I’m glad Hale qualified that, because if he hadn’t, as my local ministry partner Carey pointed out, we’d all have to defer to Harold Camping, as he’s older than all of us!)

My own reply lays out the final problem I want to highlight, if Geisler and his group take the day:

Good grief. That’s the kind of thoughtless devotion to authoritarianism that got us into this mess to begin with.

Geisler and Mohler are not “scholars”. They may have some serious education in unrelated areas, but they are popularists more than anything else. They also do not have any expertise in the field of NT studies, and in the narrow topical interest area, which directly concerns Licona’s thesis. They are not fit to judge whether he was correct or not.

In the non-specialized world of the New Testament era, the advice to heed (supposedly) older, wiser men was a lot easier to deal with. In today’s world, with its many narrow fields of specialization and burgeoning fields of knowledge, it takes a lot more for an older man to be “wiser”on a subject than in the first century.

And so, yet one more reason why we need to get better education in our churches — so that we don’t blindly follow some interpretation we assign to the text ourselves based on a bare surface reading, as opposed to the generating contexts.

Hale’s commentary exemplifies a serious problem with the authoritarian way. His use of 1 Peter 5:5 is entirely inappropriate, as I explained. But it’s also rather typical of the blindsided way that the authoritarians use Scripture: Without respect for contexts… unless it happens to serve their purposes, of course. And sadly, if you correct them on this sort of thing, they’ll just bring up 5 other passages they think support their views, and in the process make the same or similar interpretive errors each of the five times. And if you think that's bad, imagine Hale trying to counsel people using the Bible. I'd rather have my poodle do it than someone like Hale who is contextually clueless.

For that reason, it’s little wonder so many of our pastors teach such insipid sermons; and little wonder, in turn, that their congregations as a whole do so little to serve the Kingdom. America has incredible resources, and if even a tenth of that could be turned to serve and implement the Kingdom in the world – well, you can connect the dots.

What is at stake here is far more than Geisler vs. Licona – it’s also the future of Christianity in America. The good news is that Licona’s side of the debate has an excellent chance of taking the day – in good measure because Licona has a much better idea how to get the word out. I consider Licona’s interviews of Wallace and Copan, for example, to have been sheer tactical brilliance, and hope he will do more like them.

Stay tuned. It’s not over, and I’ll be on the front lines as usual…especially seeing as how I bought the bulletproof vest.


Link

17 comments:

  1. You know I think I kinda owe you an apology JP. You're right it's either now or never with this issue.

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  2. Well, to be fair, after as much time as I've spent dealing with opponents of the faith, I suppose I've seen the pattern before on a smaller scale so many times...it just seems obvious.

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  3. Thanks sent. :) You're doing great work too.

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  4. I guess the question now is this: how do you "win" this debate? In my mind, it's already over. Quite frankly, I'd not even heard of Geisler before this whole controversy arose. All the notable apologists I HAD heard of..... Moreland, Craig, Bloomberg, Habermas, (and of course, Holding :D)... have made a FAR stronger case for Licona's alignment with Inerrancy. Geisler is acting demonstrably hypocritical by affirming an old-earth view of creation, and the whole thing seems like a bit of a joke at this point.

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  5. @Dan Basically the "win" can be had if Licona is still allowed a free voice overall -- which, in the Internet age, is more likely to happen than it used to be when Geisler was hassling people like Harris and Gundry, who didn't have many places to express themselves.

    ROFL...well, I guess you're not that old then, not to have heard of Geisler. In my 20s he was "the man" -- what Licona is now -- in apologetics.

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  6. Geisler keeps trying to be relevant... So relevant that he is attracting non-Christians. He does so by providing framework from which to construct arguments against any type of scholarship coming from conservative circles.

    http://knownquantity.wordpress.com/
    http://creationwiki.org/User:Tsommer

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  7. ah... that explains it.... I'm only in my 20s now!

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  8. J.P.,

    C. Michael Patton over at Parchment & Pen has a blog post up doing what he can to drum up further support for Licona. Here's the link: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/12/mike-licona-norman-geisler-albert-mohler-and-the-evangelical-circus/

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  9. @Greg Yes, that's excellent. And I may have a special surprise soon too...

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  10. I read your comment over at SBC Today initially, thought about replying, and then refrained. Now, having read your further thoughts on the matter, I do have a question that I'd like to ask.

    In this article you portray this as a fight against authoritarian elites, against the concentration of power in the hands of an angry few, so to speak.

    And yet, the core of your argument in your initial comment is that two men with PhDs in fields closely related to New Testament studies, who have spent their lives studying the New Testament, who provide academic leadership in large and influential institutions devoted primarily (or in the case of Mohler, exclusively) to the interpretation and application of the Bible—these men are insufficiently educated, insufficiently intelligent, and generally unfit to address a pretty important question over the interpretation of the New Testament.

    And so, I'm wondering, if Mohler and Geisler are beneath this question, who has earned the right to have a voice here. Although I have a PhD myself, if these men are not qualified to engage the question, then I know that I am not. Indeed, I know that I have never attended church with anybody who rises to the level that you have set for people to be able to have a seat at this table.

    The world in which Mohler and Geisler aren't scholars enough to merit a voice in this debate is clearly a world in which a tiny, tiny, tiny handful of people get to say what the New Testament means, and the vast preponderance of Christians are obliged to sit still and receive whatever these great minds tell us to receive.

    Pardon me, but that seems to me to be a far more authoritarian state of affairs than anything that Mohler or Geisler have ever suggested. I'm sure it was unintended, but yours is the most elistist, authoritarian comment I've ever read in Christian blogging…and I've read a lot of comments.

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  11. @Bart

    >>>In this article you portray this as a fight against authoritarian elites,

    It's a little more complex than that. It's an authoritarian elite that is also incompetent in terms of what it makes pronouncements about.

    >>>And yet, the core of your argument in your initial comment is that two men with PhDs in fields closely related to New Testament studies,

    Actually, no. Geisler's credentials are not in any field closely related to NT studies, and he is not competent as an exegete. The post I made today, on his Ch 11 of Defending Inerrancy, is an example that shows that he has a rather glaring lack in that regard.

    >>>And so, I'm wondering, if Mohler and Geisler are beneath this question, who has earned the right to have a voice here.

    Licona has. Darrell Bock (today's entry) has. I could name more. But further:

    >>> rises to the level that you have set for people to be able to have a seat at this table.

    The issue is not that they have a seat at the table but that incompetents like Geisler and Mohler presume to take the head seat and tell everyone else (including those more competent) to take lesser seats, based on nothing more than the power they hold.

    >>>is clearly a world in which a tiny, tiny, tiny handful of people get to say what the New Testament means, and the vast preponderance of Christians are obliged to sit still and receive whatever these great minds tell us to receive.

    And what exactly is wrong with that? It is so in the medical field. It is so in the electrical engineering field. Why is depth study of the Bible in some way different? Of course, it is not as though all those Christians could not learn just as much. They don't have to sit still. Knowledge is there and free for the taking. So if they don't like it, they can stop singing praise choruses and watching TV and become "great minds" like Licona or Bock in just a few years.

    >>>Pardon me, but that seems to me to be a far more authoritarian state of affairs than

    You miss the point. I wish for a state of affairs where qualification grants authority, not power and influence and politics. That is how authority is supposed to be granted -- by being EARNED.

    >>>I'm sure it was unintended, but yours is the most elistist, authoritarian comment I've ever read in Christian blogging...and I've read a lot of comments.

    Well, isn't that a shame. Now explain to all of us why Biblical studies is somehow special and pew-sitters have just as much authority to interpret the text as someone like Licona who has spent years slaving away for a doctoral degree?

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  12. Sure thing. Glad to explain.

    1. Because I have a Ph.D., know a LOT of people who have Ph.D.s, and have discovered that you really don't have to be ANY smarter to earn a Ph.D.—you only have to be willing to pay tuition longer, take more tests, write more, and spend more time in the library. If a Ph.D. were the golden key to knowledge, all of the Ph.D.s would AGREE with one another, but instead, they're all over the map, disagreeing with one another along the same lines as all of hoi polloi.

    2. Because, although I am greatly indebted to many godly Ph.D.s, more evil has been wrought in the history of the Christian faith since AD 1800 by Ph.D.s in something-or-other than by any other single class of people in the churches. I say this as a Ph.D. in Church History; therefore, ironically, you have no standing to dispute my evaluation of Church History in this regard (unless you have a Ph.D. in my field).

    3. Because, by your prescription, none of the AUTHORS of the New Testament would have been qualified to know what they, themselves, were writing.

    4. Because, although I am a big fan of diligence and study, I recognize (having read the New Testament) that the operation of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers by grace is a very prominent factor in the discovery of truth. Therefore, although nothing in the New Testament suggests that a person who obtains a Ph.D. is incapable of coming to the truth, at several places in the Bible the fact is celebrated that common people QUITE OFTEN perceive truth in advanced of and beyond those who belong to the philosophical elite class.


    IN CONCLUSION
    You state that you "wish for a state of affairs where qualification grants authority." Yes, but you wish for such a state in which you get to set the rules of whose qualifications count. That's the point of my critique.

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  13. @Bart

    ><>>1. Because I have a Ph.D., know a LOT of people who have Ph.D.s, and have discovered that you really don't have to be ANY smarter to earn a Ph.D.

    You're confusing knowledge and intelligence. They're not the same thing. You DO have to have more knowledge to have a Ph. D. -- unless you get one from an unaccredited school like Bob Jones U. -- but not necessarily more intelligence. On the other hand, maybe you did get your Ph. D. from a diploma mill, and that's why you think this?

    <<<>3. Because, by your prescription, none of the AUTHORS of the New Testament would have been qualified to know what they, themselves, were writing.

    Uh, wrong. What the NT authors knew by life experience is what Ph. D.s learn today: Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic; social concepts like honor and shame; Greco-Roman rhetoric; etc. All you're telling me with this is that you're as badly qualified as Mohler and Geisler on these topics.

    >>>4. Because, although I am a big fan of diligence and study, I recognize (having read the New Testament) that the operation of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers by grace is a very prominent factor in the discovery of truth.

    Yeah sure it is. :D Joseph Smith thought so too. Tell you what -- we'll send you through a doctoral program in NT studies, and you can't use any textbooks; all you get to use is "the Spirit." If you get an A, you win. How's that?

    >>>celebrated that common people QUITE OFTEN perceive truth in advanced of and beyond those who belong to the philosophical elite class.

    And I'm sure you have tallied detailed statistics on this, and keep them in the same place you keep your Bigfoot toenails and your Loch Ness Monster scales. Funny thing too, QUITE OFTEN those common people end up being proved full of malarkey when serious students look into the matter. But don't ask a scholar -- ask Joyce Meyer. God gives her truth in advanced of and beyond those who belong to the philosophical elite class all the time.

    >>> you wish for such a state in which you get to set the rules of whose qualifications count. That's the point of my critique.

    In which case, your critique is a crock. The rules of qualification are set easily in every field -- medical field, engineering, etc. -- not set by me but by the same recognition of how expertise and authority is gained and earned in any field. Your fantasy of consultations with the Spirit has as much veracity as anything published by Neale Donald Walsch...and if not, feel free to ask the Spirit (chuckle) to show you where the critique I posted today of Geisler is in error. Remember, no textbooks.

    It's really easy -- you can prove me wrong by making a devastating critique of that entry. Surely the Spirit can help you with THAT and save Geisler from embarrassment.

    Sorry, no -- people like you, Geisler, and Mohler are cut from the same cloth of ignorance and obscurantism, and that is exactly why the church died in Europe and is dying in America.

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  14. You allow no role for the Holy Spirit in the discovery of Truth? You mock the Holy Spirit as one who leads Christians to truth? My apologies. I thought that you were a Christian. That's why I employed the line of argumentation that I did.

    Ignorance and obscurantism is why the church died in Europe? Are you qualified to say so? Do you have a PhD in Church History? In Missiology? Because it seems to me that the aspect of American Christianity MOST indebted to European Christianity is American Christian academia. Don't most of the (dying) established churches in Europe have rather comparatively rigorous academic requirements for their clergy, when juxtaposed against the state of Christianity in…oh…almost anywhere else in the world.

    Since YOU have brought forth church vitality as the measure for us to consider here, let's look at places in the world where Christianity is not dying at all. Let's look at China. Let's look at Africa. Are these vital areas of Christianity the refuges from ignorance and obscurantism that you would have us emulate? Is this where we will find a landscape of intelligentsia, diplomas strewn across their ego walls, safeguarding the vitality of those churches?

    That's laughable, of course (having been to Cuba, having taught in Kenya). The theory you've propounded here to diagnose the malaise of Christianity in Europe is offered entirely without foundation, outside of your field, and in contradiction to scholarly consensus.

    What I had to say, I have said. I have been blogging long enough to know an unproductive conversation when I see one. My initial comment here, particularly in the last paragraph, was probably overly confrontational. For that I apologize. The tone of our conversation might have gone differently if I had exercised more restraint at that point.

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  15. Gee, no answer to my post? Spirit on vacation?

    >>>You allow no role for the Holy Spirit in the discovery of Truth?

    No, I demand that those who claim the Spirit gave them some truth prove it -- you know, like that test in Deuteronomy...and that bit that says to test the spirits to see if they are from God...I wonder how aggressive you'd be claiming something was "from the Spirit" if being proved wrong meant you got stoned.

    >>You mock the Holy Spirit as one who leads Christians to truth?

    No, I mock deluded people who THINK the Spirit is leading them, then dodge when asked to be tested. I mock Christian wackos who say the Spirit tells them to smile in the shower or open their eyes during sex (Joyce Meyer), make chicken soup (Charles Stanley), abandon a church program the same Spirit told them to build for 12 months prior (John Bevere) or tell them scholarship is false or misguided (you).

    >>>That's why I employed the line of argumentation that I did.

    Because you couldn't do any better, and it's too hard to argur with facts and reason? I understand. The Spirit can be a fine shortcut for those not up to the challenge of life.

    >>>Ignorance and obscurantism is why the church died in Europe? Are you qualified to say so?

    Um, yes. I did the homework, and also consulted the experts, like Philip Jenkins. There are other reasons, but broadly speaking, ignorance and obscurantism -- which resulted in greater emphasis on personal experience (a la Spurgeon, that tragic buffoon) -- lies at the heart of what happened.

    >>>Don't most of the (dying) established churches in Europe have rather comparatively rigorous academic requirements

    Um yeah. In the wrong subject matter. Once again you make the mistake of treating all academic subjects as though they were the same; if European church people got doctoral degrees in plumbing, you'd ignore that fact and act like "academic requirements" were the source of the problem -- and it's done to comfort yourself with the delusion that if we all stay dumb, "the Spirit" will help us. Does the Spirit tell YOU to open your eyes during sex?

    All you have to do is read some of the crap put out by European Biblical scholars (like Luedemann) to know that the real problem is not academic credentials or knowledge, but having fallen into the trap of personal experience as a guide (a la Spurgeon). They lack knowledge as well, but the reason they do is because they're only looking to confirm what they want to be true -- having believed that they were supposed to have some sort of Magic Happy Fun Spirit Experience, which never materialized.

    >>> Are these vital areas of Christianity the refuges from ignorance and obscurantism that you would have us emulate?

    Poor analogy -- they're also far enough away from the attacks of critics like your fellow Bart (Ehrman) and the New Atheists that they're not being tested the way Westerners are. On the other hand, apologetics is also highly desired in such places once they know about it. Et tu, Bart. They don't need the safeguards of intelligentsia because they're not under attack. No one in China or Kenya or Cuba is reading John Loftus' blog or books. What's really laughable is your narrow understanding of what's actually going on.

    >>>without foundation, outside of your field, and in contradiction to scholarly consensus.

    No it's not. You're just blind to realities is all -- stuck in an ivory tower listening to the Spirit mumble in your ear.

    ><>>>I have been blogging long enough to know an unproductive conversation when I see one.

    Eg, when you're in over your head and can't defend your views. Good excuse to not get the Spirit's help answering that post about Geisler, though.

    >>>The tone of our conversation might have gone differently

    Doubtful. But it doesn't bother me one bit.

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  16. As I will also say, Geisler has openly supported a liar and a fraud and perpetrated a coverup. He should be allowed no place in any Christian debate until he repents.

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