Monday, January 28, 2013

Geisler Masters the Non Sequitur

I have a USDA conference this week, so I'm pleased to host Nick Peters' latest report on the latest Geisler shenanigans. The Ticker will return next week otherwise.


Norman Geisler has done it again. He still seems under the impression that since he is commenting on something and he is the evangelical pope, then his word is authoritative, without stopping to realize how that statement will look to people in the field who study it.

An example from the apologetics field we can often see can be found in objections to the Trinity. Jews, Muslims, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have all asked me, “If Jesus is God, was He praying to Himself?” I could understand someone being taught the Trinity for the first time wondering about that, but if someone wants to argue against the idea, such a claim does not show real in-depth study of the topic, but complete ignorance of the topic.

In his latest rant against Mike Licona, who for all we know might have been snoring too loudly at night this time around, Geisler has sought the authority of the early church fathers (ECF). It is a wonder that more authority is needed besides all the (cough) scholars (cough) of the ICBI (International Council on Biblical Inerrancy), but this is Geisler’s main game. A great man has spoken. All be silent!

In Geisler’s rant, one will never come across a discussion of Mike’s arguments. Geisler is banking on the fact that his readers will never bother interacting with them. I recall a discussion with a Geislerite one time where he told me I needed to read Geisler’s Systematic Theologies and Inerrancy that he edited and then get back to me. I told him I had already read them (which is true) and was ready to discuss. I never got a reply. I have no doubt this person never bothered to read Mike’s book and never will.

Geisler will keep going and pointing out all of his arguments without responding to his critics, all the while expecting his critics to respond to him or, if they do, like myself, JPH, Max Andrews, etc., then ignore them and hope that they go away, kind of like what happened with the Ergun Caner debacle. The authoritarian tactics are all we see.

For now, I am going to be dealing with just one part of Geisler’s rant. I can assure the reader that there will be soon (I am having someone fact-checking one) on my blog a fuller response. A link to my blog can be found below and my readers can know that this is a blog that JPH would recommend that you follow. For all interested, one can do a web search for Mike Licona (and in the interest of fairness, for all who don’t know, I will state what could be seen as bias upfront in saying that he is my father-in-law) and read the arguments I have up on my blog, arguments Geisler has never responded to.

What is it that Geisler has said that will be dealt with? The following:

Further, it is highly unlikely that a resurrection story would be influenced by a Greco-Roman genre source (which Licona embraces) since the Greeks did not believe in the resurrection of the body (cf. Acts 17:32).  In fact, bodily resurrection was contrary to their dominant belief that deliverance from the body, not a resurrection in the body, was of the essence of salvation.  Homer said death is final and resurrection does not occur (Iliad 24.549-551).  Hans-Josef Klauck declared, “There is nowhere anything like the idea of Christian resurrection in the Greco-Roman world” (The Religious Context of Early Christianity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000, p. 151)

It is hard to know where to begin with a statement like this. It would certainly be news to scholars like N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham, Richard Burridge, and others. Geisler must think he has discovered something that Licona does not know or any other NT scholars. Are they unaware that the Greeks did not believe in resurrection? (Interesting, since N.T. Wright says the Greeks were quite clear on that point in The Resurrection of the Son of God.)

In Volume 6, Number 1, of the Christian Apologetics Journal, Thomas Howe, who was one of Geisler’s students and is a professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary, wrote a piece called “Does Genre Determine Meaning?” His conclusion is that it does not. Instead, it enhances meaning. We agree with this. Normally, one would think Geisler would, yet this idea seems to go against it. It cannot be a Greco-Roman genre, because it has a resurrection in it.

Geisler is saying it could not be influenced by a Greco-Roman source. Why not? Are we to say the Christians lived in this culture entirely yet none of their writing or thinking was influenced by their surrounding culture? In a sense of course, we are not to think like the culture, but we do often speak the way the culture speaks and write the way the culture writes. If we want to express ourselves to a culture, we need to speak in a way the culture understands. It does no good to go to people who speak only Arabic and give the gospel in English.

Furthermore, Geisler should know that the terminology of the early church was influenced by Greek philosophical ideas. Who would doubt that Justin Martyr was influenced by Plato? Tertullian, the very one who said “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” was influenced by the Latin rhetorical style of his day. Augustine was heavily influenced by Neo-Platonism. Aquinas was heavily influenced by Aristotle. The Jesuits said that the Greek philosophers were gifts to the church and we should take what is true from their thought and use it to spread the gospel.

Yet none of these thinkers were determined by what influenced them. Plato held to a concept of reincarnation as a likely idea in Phaedo yet Augustine certainly did not hold to this. Aristotle said that there was no after-life, yet Aquinas certainly denied this. Instead, Augustine and Aquinas both took a style of thinking and methodology for uncovering truth and used them in the service of the gospel.

In the same way, the gospel writers used a style of writing that was known to their writers and adapted their writing to fit into that. It would be a way that the audience would understand and keep in mind, most likely the audience would not read what they wrote. Instead, most of them would hear what was written and the story would be told by someone skilled in the art who would add the necessary nuances and such to his delivery to make sure the point came across. This would be expected in a high-context society.

What Geisler is doing is saying, “If the genre style is Greco-Roman, all the beliefs must be Greco-Roman.” Genre styles do not have beliefs. Authors do. Authors express themselves through different styles and the genre is not a straitjacket. The style is just that.

It does not matter if the Greeks disbelieved in resurrection. If every Greek believed in a resurrection, that does not mean that the way they wrote or their genres would have changed. That could change the content, but it would not change the means of communication. One can find many places in the ancient world where there is wisdom literature, but that does not mean that Proverbs cannot be wisdom literature since it has a different basis. There are many creation accounts in the ancient world, but that does not mean Genesis is not one since it has different beliefs in it.

Comments like this indicate that Geisler is out of touch with the NT field. In fact, it is news to him that so many scholars believe this about the NT. Unfortunately, his ignorance of the field is also affecting those who follow him and will unfortunately get them in a retreat mode from the scholarship. For the sake of argument, it could be correct that the Gospels are not Greco-Roman biographies. Some people see Luke as different for instance. There could be further evidence to change our minds that comes out in the future. We should always be open to that.

The mistake of Geisler is using a simplistic objection much like the one against the Trinity. It is absurd to think that no NT scholar has realized that Greeks do not believe this and Geisler presents it as if it is a devastating critique. If Geisler wants to argue against the possibility he needs to look at the opposing arguments and not just his own. Does he think Burridge is wrong? Then read Burridge and come back and say why he is wrong. Present a scholarly argument where his positions are stated and his arguments stated and then dealt with. Then, accept JPH’s challenge on the genre of the Gospels. (Link below)

We can expect neither of these will be done. There is no need after all. A great man has spoken. Who cares about the evidence? Let all be silent in submission.

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