Friday, January 6, 2012

The Amazing Saga of Norman Torquemada, Part 3

In light of all we have seen -- should it really surprise us that Geisler has over the course of his career again and again donned Torquemada's mantle, and even flourished it as a form of threat? Against Licona, he offered his victory over Robert Gundry at ETS as an example to motivate Licona to recant -- the same tactic he used, unsuccessfully, with Clark Pinnock at ETS (which is rather ironic, since in the vale of doctrinal truth, Pinnock's open theism is much more able to be reckoned a danger than Gundry's comparatively obscure and difficult to understand theories of midrash -- one wonders if Geisler "wore out his welcome" with ETS by spending too much of his reputational credit on the Gundry issue).

Then there’s the special case of Geisler’s seemingly abortive address to Hank Hanegraaff for his espousal of a preterist eschatology. This was an undeveloped rhubarb, one that never reached the heights of Geisler v White or Geisler v Licona or Geisler v. Gundry or even Geisler v. Pinnock, for reasons that don’t seem immediately apparent. Perhaps one or both didn’t consider it a worthy expenditure of more energy. Perhaps Geisler quickly realized that with Hanegraaff having so many media outlets at his disposal, it wasn’t a fight he was going to win even if he was right (and of course, I side with Hanegraaff on that issue). Or perhaps – and this is the one that offhand seems likely – Geisler was privately called down by his fellow ICBI framer R. C. Sproul, who himself adheres to a preterist eschatololgy. Whatever the reason, a dispute with Hanegraaff had the potential to become the windstorm that the dispute with Licona became; but it didn’t.

Although somewhat obscure by comparison, Geisler's handling of his debate with Murray J. Harris over the resurrection is another example of the kinds of actions that have resulted in him Geisler being called a bully, and references being made to him assuming the position of "The Evangelical Pope". How secure is Geisler's Torquemadan legacy? More than one reader passed me a little entry from the Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism, which indicates that Geisler's treatment of others is a well-known facet of his academic career -- one that was going to follow him as a legacy even without this latest confab. The entry closes by saying of Geiser, “His relations with colleagues have often turned sour because he accuses fellow evangelicals of heresy for departing from his understanding of orthodoxy on some point of doctrine.” And so, Geisler v. Licona is just another instance of Geisler doing what he does under normal circumstances: 1) asserting his views as the standard for Evangelical doctrine; 2) following up with attacks against any Evangelicals who disagree with him. Work yourself and others into a lather; rinse, repeat.

But as I have also noted, this time things are a lot different than with the others -- save the Ergun Caner case, which was a defense, rather than an attack. This time, Geisler attacked via the Internet to start -- as opposed to via some professional publication (book/journal article) or organization (ETS). And this, time, unlike with Hanegraaff, the controversy grew to include many more. In the earlier examples (save again Caner), as my video noted in its own way, Geisler had a much greater ability to control and manage the flow of information; and as well, dissenting or neutral sources, though they existed, were either relatively obscure (e.g., journals like JETS) or could give at best summary versions of events (e.g., Christianity Today). But the Internet makes it possible for Geisler to be called out in many more public forums, especially from a generation of Christians who lack the inertial respect that Geisler enjoyed in previous years -- or even worse for Geisler, have no idea who he is to begin with!

It is a curious thing, indeed, that Geisler learned so little from the Caner case about how the Internet changed the playing field. For all my disagreements with him, I have to say that James White has a certain amount of Internet savvy: He took his case regarding Caner to the field (as Licona did, with his brilliant interviews with Copan and Wallace, and by other means as well) and made for an effective spearhead demonstrating Geisler's mistake in supporting Caner. Yet from this, Geisler apparently learned nothing, and is finding himself surrounded at every turn by those who know how to get the message out far more effectively than he can.

The truth is that if orthodoxy is to be preserved, then (a) there must be a standard, and (b) it must be possible to determine someone has fallen short of it, and (c) there must be consequences for falling short of it, and (d) these consequences should be feared (respected) by those desiring to be considered orthodox. To call this “bullying” is destroying the very basis for preserving orthodoxy. (

In light of the open market of ideas; in light of Geisler's manifest failure to engage the arguments presented by Licona and many of his supporters (including myself, Nick Peters, Max Andrews, and others) showing his failures; in light of the designation of a mere six comments from anonymous witnesses who are too lacking in courage to risk possible "annoyance" -- what is this but the last desperate plea of an Inquisitor whose robes are in tatters?

In the end, whether or not Geisler is correct in the Licona debate (or any other) is not at issue here. Licona may very well be in conflict with the ICBI's understanding of inerrancy (though I do not think he is), and the ICBI is certainly in authority over its own views - even if its statements do not make its position clear enough to resolve this debate. The issue is -- apart from the truth of the matter in fact -- what Licona thinks. Licona is not saying that the Bible is in error (which is the definition of the word "inerrancy" even if it is considered insufficient for inerrancy as defined by the ICBI). Licona is also not calling the grammatical-historical hermeneutic (which the ICBI asserts is necessary for expositing inerrancy) into question. And even if Licona didn't provide evidence that similar situations obtain among members of ICBI itself, and marshal an impressive amount of support from the community of New Testament scholars (as he did in his EPS paper), shouldn't Licona get to be a legitimate extra-biblical authority all on his own?

Geisler's attacks might be legitimate outside the Evangelical community where some extra-biblical authority (that is, in the form of a person) is affirmed. But this is not that sort of situation. For a movement that claims to eschew such forms of extra-biblical authority, it seems odd that so much credence is being given to Geisler's authoritarian attacks based on his rendering of the ICBI's understanding of inerrancy. If it is true that "one has the prerogative to hold whatever view of inerrancy one chooses," then why does agreement with Geisler or the ICBI matter?

Even if it does matter, and it is not an issue of interpretation as many on Geisler's side think, then why is interpretation being used as the litmus test, and not Licona's stated agreement? What is to stop Geisler (or anyone else) from using any interpretation with which they disagree as evidence of denying inerrancy?

The theological implications are huge -- and that is all the more reason why the long term stakes in this debate are so high.

But even if the theological challenges are somehow overcome, a serious practical issue remains. The reports of a fearful atmosphere created by this "Evangelical Inquisition" are disturbing. We have seen already that some scholars will find themselves subject to a spirit of timidity, and sacrifice academic freedom, for fear of being "called out" by Geisler or his Inquisition Board. (Remember what I have said in a prior post about the high stakes here.) Little has made me value my independence as an apologist more than this controversy. (For the record: To any scholars reading this -- "J. P. Holding, Animated Moviemaker/Hired Gun for Rent". Nuff said.)

And there's a rather ironic turn to this as well. It seems that by seeking to avoid personal extra-biblical authorities, by forming autonomous churches, schools, and other ministries, Evangelicalism has perhaps created even more extra-biblical "authorities" who decide the fate of its members through popular vote. Geisler is a writ-large version of deacons, elders, pastors, and other "godly men in authority" I have met and tangled with more than once over the years -- including a couple of bloggers (Tim Rogers, Ed Dingess) whose vocation in life seems to be to act as personal testimonies for the Dunning Effect, rather than for Christianity. Ironically, thanks to Evangelicalism's wish to remain independent of extra-biblical authority, we have a plague of miniature "evangelical popes" in our churches, schools, and other ministries -- men (and even a few women) with the power and authority to remove someone less powerful from their jobs or ministries over any issue. All it takes is one (extra-biblical) authority to convince other (extra-biblical) authorities that another (extra-biblical) authority's position violates an (extra-biblically) authoritative understanding of a doctrine.

That sounds a lot like an extra-biblical authoritative position to me!

Howe's point is well taken: The argument is not whether ICBI is the standard of orthodoxy but whether ICBI is the standard for the doctrine of inerrancy. One can certainly understand Evangelicals wishing to maintain Christian orthodoxy - that is not the issue here. Any group has the right to define its own boundaries and set membership requirements. But let's not mince words, and just call it what it is!

Licona, in giving his considered, scholarly opinion on what the Bible teaches (God help him - he can do no other!), is not violating inerrancy as he interprets it. But Licona's view is inconsistent with inerrancy as others interpret it. And that's fine, too: This is indeed an area that "require[s] (and deserve[s]) a very careful, thoughtful, and thorough treatment," and not simply emotional one-liners or authoritarian pronouncements and threats. We need a lot deeper study of what a concept of inerrancy would look like to the Biblical authors -- and that means we need academic freedom, not miniature popes using their reputations to establish bully pulpits. Then we need to "translate" our findings for the average Christian in the pew. (If there's a cartoon video in there, I'll find it.)

It's long past time for the reign of Torquemada to end. Next week we'll do a bit more to tear those robes by having a look at some of the incompetencies we have found in his latest manifesto, Defending Inerrancy.


  1. So to get your perspective on the issue straight are you suggesting that evangelicals leave doctrinal matters to the realm of academic debate for the most part.

  2. More like, they need to let it start there and give academics a lot more respect. Right now that's at roughly zero in many churches.

  3. "a generation of Christians who... have no idea who he is to begin with"

    Pleased to do my part.

    Well written, JP. I'll be interested to see what becomes of this situation in the coming months. You, Nick, and Max have made very strong cases against Geisler's abysmal arguments.... In MY mind, the issue is very clearly settled.... so how do we now "settle" the issue on a larger scale?

    What do you think? do we simply need the average church lay-person in favour of Licona to voice their support? Or will this issue only be settled when "the big guns" voice their support? I have to agree that Licona's videos of Copan and Wallace were well planned and did significant damage. I'd love to see William Lane Craig or Greg Koukl speak out strongly in defense of Licona.

  4. I agree. I remember a Sunday School class on interpreting the Bible. The authoritative way to interpret the Bible, everyone believed, was (if I remember correctly), the deductive approach, which sounds a lot like calling the garbage man someone whose occupation is 'waste management', lol. All you do is let Scripture interpret Scripture and ask the Holy Spirit to help you out. Well, won't a bunch of contradictory interpretations arise? Doh! I guess people don't want to go to scholars because that would mean knowledge had only by the few, a gnosticism, or elitism. Oh, give me break. A lot of the people are just lazy. And, honestly, they probably wanna be mini-popes (to use your wording) for their own version of Christianity, the path of least resistance, or something. I mean, when you get down to it, a scholar is just someone who is very smart who has spent lots of time on an issue, the time the average guy is using to be a electrician, or a lawyer, or what have you; so you go to these scholars as short cuts, you get the results of all their hard work. And when they contradict each other, we dialogue rationally about the pros and cons. I'm sorry, but I'm giving NT Wright a teency weency more weight than my very Godly grandmother on whether an interpretation is right, lol!

  5. @Dan - I'd say all of the above. Sadly, many pastors are so without awareness that they have no idea who any of these people are, so voicing support won't do much good either way -- and such people are also of the Geisler mindset to begin with (even if they have no idea who Geisler is, either).

    Bottom line is a lot of voices need raising -- period.