Monday, September 19, 2011

Geisler Makes a Mountain Out of a Mohler-hill

Yes, another wait for our next entry on martyrs. Norman Geisler has continued to ignore my challenge, but he has taken the time to horn in on Licona's response to Mohler, and naturally we have a few things to say, once again mostly about inerrancy as opposed to Matthew 27.

The main issue to discuss is that Geisler insists that the intention of ICBI's framers was to exclude exactly the sort of process Licona used on Matthew 27. My response would be if that was the case, then they did an exceptionally poor job of expressing this via ICBI, since 1) the actual text of the Chicago Statement doesn't reflect that alleged intention, and indeed expresses in plain language an opposing intention; 2) so many credentialed scholars disagree that such intention is reflected in the Statement, including 3) Moreland and Yamauchi who were in on the process. If Geisler and certain of his associates were that poor at expressing their intentions, they should resign immediately as public communicators and allow more qualified writers to handle the job.

It boils down again to the failure of Geisler and others to understand a very simple point we have noted here repeatedly: You cannot "dehistoricize" a text that wasn't meant to be taken as history in the first place. You also cannot object that one is "dehistoricizing" a text that "presents itself" as factual when the point being made is that the evidence suggests that the text is actually presenting itself as non-factual (in a historical sense). Geisler clearly fails to understand this, and so continues to run in the same circle. (And by the way, Licona does not call the text a "legend" as Geisler says, but rather a "poetic device," understood in terms of apocalyptic imagery.)

A second issue is that Geisler continues to obfuscate when it comes to use of externals to help interpret the Biblical texts, and fails to see that "grammatico-historical exegesis" by nature is contrary to his profession that follows that:

"..Scripture is to interpret Scripture,” not extra-biblical texts used to determine the meaning of the biblical text.

The absurdity of that of course is that one must initially use the extra-Biblical facts about the Greek language to even begin to interpret Scripture. This is not an "either-or" proposition as Geisler makes it out to be, and Scripture is not a thoroughly closed, self-interpretable entity. The doctrine is sola, not solo, Scriptura. So again, it would also be understandable why Geisler would want to avoid my challenge concerning Greco-Roman biographies and rhetoric in the NT. Following his lead, we would be left with the outlandish proposition that God inspired texts that just happened to resemble first-century Greco-Roman artifacts, but really were not. (Alternatively, he may offer the inconsistent view that it would be OK to accept those "pagan" tools, since they do not disturb his view of Scripture.)

Third, Geisler again does not solve the historicity question of Matt. 27 by pointing out that Matthew and Luke elsewhere say they will present history in their texts and otherwise report historical data all around Matthew 27. This was his argument in Round 1, and as before, Geisler fails to grasp that methods of historical reportage were inclusive of forms of presentation that amounted to what we would call non-factual artifices, and this right smack dab in the middle of what was otherwise "straight history". This was a fairly isolated phenomenon, but it nevertheless did occur. Readers of Matthew and Luke would be aware of such artifices and interpret them accordingly. It is thus Geisler, not Licona, who begs the question by asking:

All the main events of Matthew are taken to be historical, even by Licona, including the birth, life, works, words, death and resurrection of Jesus. Why then should not the rest of the book be considered historical as well.

Why then? Because Geisler's "all or nothing" approach is fundamentally without recognizance of how ancient writers sometimes did their work.

The one part Geisler does get right is that yes, the burden of proof is on anyone who thinks some element is non-historical reportage. It was not such a commonplace phenomenon that it can be found just anywhere (which was MacDonald's error in his Homeric epics thesis). And of course, I did not think Licona had satisfied that burden re Matthew 27. That said, Geisler's claim that use of external sources to interpret Scripture is a completely misdirected way of interpreting Scripture" is, as noted, marginalizing nonsense that he refutes himself any time he picks up a lexicon. His qualification that Licona is misusing ICBI because it only allows exegetes to "clarify" meaning is merely an equivocation, and at worst, further indication that he and some of his ICBI cohorts did an exceptionally poor job of communication (or else understanding what others were saying). Licona's effort was indeed one done to attempt to "clarify" the text -- it was hardly done to muddy it. And again, when he says:

As Dr. Mohler correctly noted, they cannot be used to “invalidate” the teaching of a biblical text.

How many times must the lesson be repeated? The very question at issue is what in particular is being taught by the text. If Licona were right, then he is not invalidating the teaching of a text but clarifying it. This simple point eludes Geisler time and time again.

Further on, I find somewhat amusing Geisler's warning to not place much weight on the proposed round table discussion "because some of those involved have already placed approval on his view in a recent Open Letter released by Licona. So, it may be a case of the fox guarding the hen house." Aside from the rather tendentious nature of Geisler's warning as (dare I say) one of the "chickens" involved, this is yet again Geisler resorting to ad hominem in place of argument. We are also assured that "[t]here are far bigger and better scholarly circles than this, such as, the nearly 300 international scholars who formed the ICBI statement on inerrancy and its statements which declare that views like Licona’s were incompatible with the view of full inerrancy which declared that the Bible is wholly and completely without error and denied all dehistoricizing of the Gospel record." As noted, if some of these 300 people did such a poor job of communicating their wishes, then we hardly need them.

As it is, Geisler's list of 300 "scholars" manifestly includes many people who are not scholars (eg, pastors, such as W. A. Criswell and D. James Kennedy, and er…Hal Lindsey and Josh McDowell!!) or who are scholars in fields not relevant to Licona’s variety of NT study (such as Gleason Archer and Roger Nicole); it also includes at least two (Moreland and Yamauchi) who contradict Geisler, and others I believe would likewise contradict him based on the works of their I have read (Blocher, Carson). Many names I do not recognize, and some are certainly deceased (like Greg Bahnsen, and Archer). Perhaps a survey of these names is in order once we get done with the martyr series, in order to decide just how many did have the knowledge and authority to make pronouncements about what inerrancy would have meant to Biblical readers.

Nevertheless, with a few exceptions (people who Geisler knows well, like Nix), what license does Geisler have to speak for the them and why are they more scholarly in the literature? Why should this discussion be avoided just because the people there disagree with Geisler? Are we to say we only pay attention to people who agree with Geisler? He says he wishes to stop "bad scholarship" but that is very hard to accept as his intention when he won't answer a simple challenge like mine, and makes such obscurantist statements about use of externals to interpret Scripture. Geisler had best not cherish the numbers before he gets his arguments straight; and he's conspicuously gotten Licona's arguments wrong again and again.

Geisler denies that he is a "dectractor" of any sort; I don't prefer that term myself -- for Geisler right now, I prefer terms like obscurantist, bully, and perhaps even controlling dictator might fit as well. I might be persuaded to rethink application of those terms if he took the time to answer my challenge, but it becomes readily apparent that he does not wish to expose himself to this kind of scrutiny.

In close, a few miscellaneous notes.

First, I have been informed that the Liconas were on a European vacation during some portion of the time when Geisler presents himself as waiting for a response.

Second, Geisler's appeal to Gundry's case as an analogy is without merit. The cases are not identical. Douglas Moo, as we noted in a prior entry here, interacted with Gundry in the original discussion, has said that Licona is not in violation of inerrancy. What does Geisler know that Moo, a scholar, does not?

Third, it deserves reiteration that there are those who would regard Geisler's view of the days of Genesis as a compromise on the same order as his treatments of Licona and Gundry. I know of many creationists who would say that Geisler is compromising on the biblical evidence because of scientific evidence that wasn’t available to the people of the time. The point is not to vouch for either side of the debate, since that is not my topical expertise; the point is that Geisler can be regarded as a compromiser and non-inerrantist by the same reasoning he applies to Licona -- and would be replied to for his defense the same way he has replied to Licona, particularly with respect to his use of extra-Biblical information.

Fourth, Geisler’s appeal to the authority of ETS is puzzling since he resigned from ETS some time ago over their refusal to disavow Clark Pinnock over open theism. The language he used in resigning as quite strong: He wrote for example of ETS having lost its “doctrinal integrity.” So by what logic does he now suppose to subject Licona and others to the authority of ETS?

The challenge remains open, but I won't hold my breath.

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