Monday, August 22, 2011

Geisler's False Alarm

Recently Norman Geisler issued an "open letter" directed to Mike Licona concerning his arguments related to the raising of the saints in Matthew as a non-historical report. There's not a whole lot new for me to say about this in terms of the actual issue, for between my prior review of Licona's book (link below) and my series on Geisler and inerrancy (link also below), there's nothing else I need to say about the issue per se. What I do want to note is Geisler's designation of Licona's view as an "alarming deviation" from inerrancy.

Obviously, I don't think it is that at all, but what bothers me is Geisler's heavy-handed and alarmist response to what Licona is saying, and the implied threat his warning indicates. To illustrate the problem, let me draw an analogy to my own past employments.

After my work in the Department of Corrections, I spent one year in a public library before turning to full time ministry. This was a sea change in more ways than one. In the DC library, I had over a dozen inmates working directly for me, and hundreds more as "customers". And they had to do everything I told them to. I was also free to tell them when they were wrong -- quite firmly, and with language that brooked no compromise.

The public library was entirely the opposite, of course. There the customers were in charge, and no matter how absurd their demands were, I was expected to meet them; no matter how foolish a thing they said, I was expected to nod in agreement. If I didn’t – I risked complaints or even job loss.

In practice, though, I frequently didn't just nod in agreement because I couldn't stand not being able to tell the truth. And that gets to the heart of what I have to say today about Geisler's open letter, which is exemplary of a much larger problem we have today, concerning the freedom we need as teachers to tell the truth -- or at the very least (since I do ultimately disagree with why Licona thinks the story is not "straight" history) the freedom to explore options like these.

When someone like Geisler issues an "open letter" like this one, it is, in spite of the seemingly cordial language, too obviously an implied threat: Get with the program and reaffirm inerrancy as "we" understand it. Never mind that the very question that needs to be settled first is whether inerrancy as Geisler understands it is even the correct view in the first place; as far as he's concerned, that issue is not open to discussion. And worse, as Geisler puts it, Licona's approach could (gasp) "undermine orthodoxy".

Oh really? If it did indeed undermine orthodoxy, and it had been shown to after discussion or debate, yes, that would be a problem. But it does not undermine orthodoxy, and there are arguments to be had as to why it does not – arguments that had already been had when the issue came up with Gundry. Geisler produced thoroughly unsatisfactory responses to Gundry on these points, though of course, I am sure he does not think so. But he is wrong. Geisler emerged from that debate looking like someone quite far in over his head, unable to do more than press a panic button repeatedly. It amounts to a politician using scare tactics like, “This proposal will eliminate Medicaid and Medicare!” in order to frighten needy or elderly voters into turning against some proposed policy change, without thinking rationally about it.

The real issue remains the same: Whose views offer the most accurate representation of how to interpret Scripture? In that regard, Geisler cannot, and should not, take the day. We need, rather, to get away from the modernist and Western approach to Scripture he employs, to rescue the text from foreign decontextualizations, and provide a faith that, if not bulletproof, will at least require much more cognitive dissonance and irrationality to abandon than to keep.

The time for Geisler's method of treating Scripture has passed. Though in fact, it should never have come to pass in the first place.

Inerrancy series (note parts 3-5)

Review of Licona's book (relevant section)


  1. Geisler has lost all credibility he spent a lifetime building with his refusal to hold Ergun Caner to account for his lying.

  2. Caryn, you are absolutely right about that. J.P. thanks for your article, I wrote about this just yesterday at as well.