Thursday, September 8, 2011

An Ode to Independence

Nick Peters will have more to say on Doug Krueger, but I wanted to break in for something else this week. Over on the Ticker I'd been giving an account of what's happened to Mike Licona as a result of Norman Geisler's misplaced crusade. I won't be writing about that directly here, but it does illustrate the point I do want to make, along with an entry I wrote some months back about a person who had an equally misplaced doctrinal issue with me (concerning the nature of hell).

That incident ended in failure for my accuser, which is how it should have been. My views did not threaten orthodoxy, though they did threaten some people's views of what orthodoxy should be. Unlike Licona, neither pressure nor sanctions were applied to me by anyone. (I was disgusted to have brought to my attention, by Nick, a blog by a pissant North Carolina pastor who was observing, with a self-gratifying smugness, that Licona was no longer listed as a speaker on certain conference lists now; such pastors as this one, who are self-manifestly ignorant dolts, are a sort I have had to deal with before who ought to have their pastorate taken from them, and will end up as toilet scrubbers in New Jerusalem because they have misled their flock. His type will send their youth next door to have their faith shattered by Bart Ehrman, and will scratch their heads not understanding why, or else blaming pride, sin, or some other rationalized excuse for their own miserable failure.)

Why no sanctions on me, though? Obviously, there's a huge difference between the way Mike and I are employed. He is (soon to be was) part of a much larger organization, the North American Mission Board, which in turn is a small part of the Southern Baptist Convention. That means he had a vast network which supported his work financially and in other ways. But in the end, he was also beholden (I do not say agreeably, of necessity) to the strictures placed on him by whoever was in authority -- even if that authority happened to be a pompous jackass who thought apologetics was a useless distraction and what we really needed was more and better praise choruses.

In contrast, Tekton has always lived on the edge in terms of finances and all else a corporate machine like NAMB/SBC provides. On October 20 of this year, Tekton will have been operating as a full time ministry for 10 full years, and for at least 7 of those years, it was open to doubt whether another year could be had of it. The current bad economy likely assures us of another year on the edge ahead.

But then again -- Tekton has also never had to worry about being lorded over by a pompous jackass. I don't have to toe a "party line" of some denominational organization. I can speak freely, being accountable not to some distant board of stuffed shirts who wouldn't know Greco-Roman rhetoric from a roasted pig, but to those who actually find the information Tekton provides and consider it helpful.

In the past 10 years I have asked myself more than a few times which situation I'd rather be in -- and in the end, I have to say that the situation as is, always wins out over what Mike has had to deal with. It is worth far more to be able to be free to say and do what needs to be said and done, rather than be thumbed under by a dense bureaucrat.

As an illustration of this, there was a time (before NAMB cut budgets) when I did some freelance PPTs for NAMB. One of those referenced Hindu practices of meditation, and to illustrate it, I found a picture of a somewhat older gentleman in a yoga position. Some yahoo at NAMB, however, had been given some kind of oversight over the project, and this yahoo wasn't an apologist. They were, however, deeply concerned because the man in the yoga picture was dressed in nothing but what was equal in coverage to men's bicycle shorts.

Stories like that remind me why I never wanted to be part of a larger organization, and still don't. Oversight is an excellent thing in principle, but it doesn't actually work unless the "overseer" has their priorities straight and also has some idea what they're overseeing.



Shortly after I posted this, Mike sent out the following to several people which he said could be posted and distributed as seen fit. So here it is! With that list of signators, if I were Geisler, I'd find a deep place to hide. (9/10/11: Licona has requested a revision, explained below.)


An Open Response to Norman Geisler

Norman Geisler has taken issue with a portion of my recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, in which I proposed that the story of the raised saints in Matthew 27:52-53 should probably be interpreted as apocalyptic imagery rather than literal history. In response, Dr. Geisler has offered strong criticisms in two Open Letters to me on the Internet. Until now I have been unable to comment because I have multiple writing deadlines, two September debates in South Africa for which to prepare, and, consequently, no time to be drawn into what would probably turn into an endless debate. I shared these first two reasons with Dr. Geisler in an email several weeks ago. Yet he insisted that I “give careful and immediate attention” to the matter. I simply could not do this and fulfill the pressing obligations of my ministry, which is my higher priority before the Lord.

Dr. Geisler questions whether I still hold to biblical inerrancy. I want to be clear that I continue to affirm this evangelical distinctive. My conclusion in reference to the raised saints in Matthew 27 was based upon my analysis of the genre of the text. This was not an attempt to wiggle out from under the burden of an inerrant text; it was an attempt to respect the text by seeking to learn what Matthew was trying to communicate. This is responsible hermeneutical practice. Any reasonable doctrine of biblical inerrancy must respect authorial intent rather than predetermine it.

When writing a sizable book, there will always be portions in which one could have articulated a matter more appropriately. And those portions, I suppose, will often be located outside the primary thesis of the book, such as the one on which Dr. Geisler has chosen to focus. When writing my book, I always regarded the entirety of Matthew 27 as historical narrative containing apocalyptic allusions. I selected the term “poetic” in order to allude to similar phenomena in the Greco-Roman literature in general and Virgil in particular. However, since Matthew is a Jew writing to Jews, “apocalyptic” may be the most appropriate technical term, while “special effects” communicates the gist on a popular level.

Further research over the last year in the Greco-Roman literature has led me to reexamine the position I took in my book. Although additional research certainly remains, at present I am just as inclined to understand the narrative of the raised saints in Matthew 27 as a report of a factual (i.e., literal) event as I am to view it as an apocalyptic symbol. It may also be a report of a real event described partially in apocalyptic terms. I will be pleased to revise the relevant section in a future edition of my book.

Michael R. Licona, Ph.D.

August 31, 2011

We the undersigned are aware of the above stated position by Dr. Michael Licona, including his present position pertaining to the report of the raised saints in Matthew 27: He proposes that the report may refer to a literal/historical event, a real event partially described in apocalyptic terms, or an apocalyptic symbol. Though most of us do not hold Licona’s proposal, we are in firm agreement that it is compatible with biblical inerrancy, despite objections to the contrary. We are encouraged to see the confluence of biblical scholars, historians, and philosophers in this question.

It has come to my attention that this matter may become a political/theological hot potato. The scholars on the list have stood with me. It was not my intent to amass a huge list. It was my intent to demonstrate that a significant number of the most highly respected evangelical scholars, all of whom are members of ETS, see no incompatibility between the position I took in my book and the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. The list has served its purpose. I have no desire to be the cause of pressure brought on those who have stood with me or on their academic institutions. Therefore, I have decided to remove the list of names for the present time at least. In no case, did an institution demand that their professors withdraw their names.

A number of scholars have suggested that this discussion is better played out in the theatre of an academic forum. I could not agree more! Southeastern Theological Review (STR) has offered to host a ‘virtual’ roundtable discussion involving several significant scholars commenting on my book. A main subject of this roundtable will be the raising of the dead saints in Matthew 27:52-53. This roundtable discussion(s) will be posted on the STR web site and will precede a full journal devoted to my book in the Summer 2012 edition of STR.


  1. I don't know what's up with Geisler. In regard to inspiration of Scripture, I heard him being interviewed a few years ago where he said the Bible was basically a fax from heaven. If I remember correctly, he has also said that inspiration incorporates a certain amount of human elements. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around inspiration. But it seems Geisler is becoming more rigid over the years.

  2. Good grief. Fax from heaven? That's head in sand for sure.