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:
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.