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Mike Licona, Norman Geisler, Albert Mohler, and the Evangelical Circus

There are moments when I am proud to be an Evangelical. This is not one of them.

I was listening to a discussion between two gentleman at the Credo House this afternoon. The conversation started as one man introduced another man to a guest scholar we have invited to the Credo House for our “Coffee and Scholars” in two weeks: Mike Licona. He will be here speaking about the historicity of the resurrection of Christ. His recent work The Resurrection of Jesus hit the stands last year and I was glad to get this resource in my hands and glad to have Licona get it into the public stream of scholarship. Proud. Maybe that is not a good word for someone like me to use of someone like Mike Licona. But ever since I was introduced to Mike a few years back, he has made me proud. Proud to be an evangelical. Proud to be a Christian. But most of all, today, proud to have such a resource that defends the resurrection of my savior with such persuasiveness.

My ears perked up to the conversation between the two gentlemen at the Credo House. Hoping against hope that I would not hear what I thought I might hear, longing for the conversation to dignify truth, justice, and the evangelical way, I tuned in to see how this invite to hear Mike tell his testimony might play out. From behind the bar, this peaceful coffee barista’s countenance turned red-nosed in anger as I heard how Licona was introduced. “You know Mike Licona,” the one man told the other, “the guy who Norman Geisler called on to repent because of his view of the dead saints that rose in Matthew. He believes . . .” I told the guy to stop. I took over and told about the Mike Licona who just produced what might be the best historic defense of the resurrection that an evangelical has ever had his thumb print on. I told about the Mike Licona who is traveling all over the world in the power of the Spirit persuading people that the Christ is alive right now. I told about the Mike Licona who is out on the front lines debating atheists with grace, kindness, and resolve. I told about the Mike Licona who reaches out to those who are doubting their faith with mercy, gently giving hope back to them one gentle spoonful at a time. The Mike Licona that Norman Geisler has created should be nothing more than a parenthetical afterthought.

(Warning: Anger laden satire forthcoming with multiple mixed metaphors. Cover your ears and allow me to vent.)

Unfortunately, the Mike Licona that Norm Geisler has created is in the spotlight. With gloves on and mouthpiece in, Mike’s image and priorities have been changed. He is on the defense as his own blood relatives with Jesus DNA and tiger’s blood are tag-teaming with one purpose: to bring Mike to repentance. “In this corner,” the announcer screams, “‘Team Inerrancy': Norman Geisler and Alber Mohler.” The stands behind them, filled with life-long followers, scream and cheer. “In the other corner, ‘Team Resurrection': Mike Licona.” The stands behind him have just a few brave souls. The empty seats have personal letters to Mike expressing their support and sorrow that they could not attend to give public support. Mike came to this ring expecting discussion, dialogue, or maybe (God forbid) a pat on the back and invitation to join the team. But as he arrived he found only a tribunal. His new book was laid on the table. The men point to the book and say, “Did you write this?” Mike says, “That’s my name on the cov . . .” They responded before he was finished, “Are you ready to recant!” Taken aback, Mike said “Of what am I to recant? My belief in resurrection of Jesus?” “No,” they responded, “Of your denial of inerrancy.” “But I don’t deny inerrancy,” Mike said. “Yes, you do,” Geisler’s voice become distinct, “I wrote the book on inerrancy. I say who denies it and who does not. And you, sir, deny inerrancy due to your faulty interpretation of Matthew 27:52-53.” “No, I don’t. I just said that it might be apocalyptic, the same as many others evangelicals have said.” “Well, I don’t accept your interpretation as being a valid option. If you will turn to the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, page 4, you will see . . .”

“Let’s just hold him until he recants.”

“Wait, wait . . . the prisoner wishes to say a word . . .”

“Freeeeeeeedooooooooommmmm”

(Satire over…I hope)

For those of you who don’t know, Christian apologist and New Testament scholar, Mike Licona, has been publicly called to repentance by theologian and author Norman Geisler and the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Albert Mohler. The accusation is that he has denied inerrancy (the doctrine that the Bible contains no errors, historic or scientific) because he suggested in his book The Resurrection of Jesus that the account of the dead saints rising in Matthew 27:52-53 might be apocalyptic. One statement in this 718 page book that Craig Keener says is “the most thorough treatment on the resurrection and historiography to date [building] a coherent case showing that the best explanation for our evidence involves Jesus’ historical resurrection” has caused Geisler to issue a personal call to repentance followed by three open letters and five public reprimands for Licona’s interpretation. So prominent is this issue that Norman Geisler’s website has a section on the front page devoted to this issue called the “Licona Letters” (source). Albert Mohler followed Geisler’s call to repentance with one of his own making a shocking statement that “Licona has handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon” (source).

First, let me say this: I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Geisler and Mohler. Geisler’s A General Introduction to the Bible was instrumental for me early in my studies. I have just about everything he has ever written and have loved and benefited greatly from most of it. Mohler deserves no less a commendation as he has contributed greatly to the cause of Christ. Both will forever be heroes of mine. However, I can’t think of anything else in the last ten years that has disturbed me as much as this controversy. A few months ago, I avoided interaction at all costs. While Licona’s first response to Norm Geisler was placed on our blog, I did so reluctantly for two reasons: 1) I did not and do not want Credo House Ministries to be involved in controversial issues involving specific personalities if at all possible. 2) I did not like to give “air time” to an issue creating dirty laundry where none really exists. After all, I thought (hoped), Norm Geisler’s open letters are not very accessible as his website gets very little traffic. And he is only one person involved and most “insiders” already call him “Stormin’ Norman” due to his slight theological temper. I just thought (hoped) that it would die.

However, I think I have stood by and watched my friend Mike Licona take enough shots. Not that there is anything personally I can do or that my voice is that loud or deep. And it is not as if I am the only one coming to his defense. But when Albert Mohler joined the tribunal, I knew that this controversy would go viral and have terrible effects on many levels. Now that this controversy makes up the first point of contact on Mike’s Wikipedia legacy (sigh . . . can someone please edit that out?) and Google’s search engine produces the suggested query “Mike Licona Norm Geisler” when “Mike Licona” is all I am searching for, it is time to realize that the cat is out of the bag and making a spectacle of evangelical theology. But most importantly, as I reluctantly caught up on all that has been written about last Saturday, I came to morn greatly when I found out that Mike’s recent job transitions out of the North American Mission Board and Southern Evangelical Seminary were not coincidental. This great apologist’s life and family is being deeply affected by the unrelenting crusade of very few, but powerful, evangelical brothers. It is a spectacle and a travesty.

Three points of concern:

1. I don’t agree with Mike Licona about the possibility that Matthew 27:52-53 is apocalyptic imagery rather than describing historical events. Let me make that clear. I have read his defense and dug into it just enough to say that I think that the raising of the dead saints, while odd, is meant to be understood as historical. However, this is an issue of interpretation, not inerrancy. I believe in inerrancy, but I also believe that we have to separate inerrancy from particular interpretations. Just about anything could be tied to inerrancy when disagreement about interpretation is at issue. I have seen people say that those who deny that Revelation 20 is speaking of a literal thousand year future millennium are denying inerrancy. While I believe it is a literal thousand years, I don’t say that inerrancy says you can’t interpret it any other way than literal. There is symbolism in the Scripture, even in historic narrative. However, even if one completely thinks someone else has lost their interpretive marbles when they spiritualize some passage through appeals to apocalyptic, symbolic, or, even, allegorical interpretation, the issue is one of hermeneutics, not inerrancy. In other words, you cannot tie inerrancy to a particular interpretation.

As well, Geisler believes in an old earth. In other words, he does not take the narrative of Genesis 1 and 2 literally. Even though it is embedded in a historical genre, he gives himself liberty to see symbolism in the creation account (probably due to the testimony of modern science). Why does his view of inerrancy allow him this freedom, but when Licona suggests something similar, he is called to public reprimand and repentance? When someone professes inerrancy, our interpretation and hermeneutic cannot be the judge as to whether they really believe in it or not. There has to be academic freedom, even in tighter circles of Protestant theology such as evangelicalism, especially when the discovery of truth is the issue.

2. Norm Geisler and Albert Mohler both call on Mike to reaffirm biblical inerrancy by changing his interpretive position. Their banner flag is inerrancy and they fly it high. But it is not just inerrancy that is written on their banner, it is inerrancy as defined by the International Council for Biblical Inerrancy codified in the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) of 1978. In fact, as I read through both of their critiques of Licona, I believe they quote from the CSBI more than any other source, even Scripture. The issue, for them, seems to be not whether Mike’s interpretation was valid or even the need to counter his interpretation with their own, but whether or not Licona had violated this 1978 creedal statement. How did the CSBI become the premier standard to orthodoxy? Don’t get me wrong, the last time I read it, I agreed with it all (except for one statement). But as much as I respect the history and personalities behind the CSBI, it is neither infallible nor the norma normans sed non normata norm (Lat. “norm which norms which is not normed”—a statement of faith about the supreme authority of Scripture, not about “Norm” Geisler!). In the end, Geisler and Mohler are not calling on Licona to repent and return to the orthodoxy of this historic Christian faith, but to repent and return to their interpretation of the CSBI.

Now, last time I checked, the doctrine of sola Scriptura is much more a distinctive of Protestant orthodoxy than is inerrancy. Sola Scriptura is one of the two primary battle cries of the Great Reformation (the other is sola fide “justification by faith alone”). As a matter of fact, a few years ago, after the Francis Beckwith issue I suggested an amendment to change the defining characteristic of Evangelical Theological Society from inerrancy to sola Scriptura. The doctrine of sola Scriptura says that the Scripture is our final and only infallible source of revelation. The Scripture, not any council (much less a 1978 Evangelical council), is the norm that norms which is not normed. I think that Geisler (and possibly Mohler) are in more danger of violating the more central doctrine of sola Scriptura than Licona is of violating inerrancy.

3. But there is something that looms much larger than both of these concerns in my opinion. It is the blatant violation of evangelical theological propriety that this issue has raised. Grace is absent. Mike Licona has just written what both men recognize is a (if not the) premiere defense of the central doctrine of the Christian faith: the resurrection of the God-man, Jesus Christ. Licona is not only an evangelical in every sense of the word, he is a rising apologetic leader whose central focus of his life is the risen Jesus. His work on the subject is surpassed by none, even the great N.T. Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God. It is fine that these two men had concerns with Licona’s interpretation of Matthew 27. It might even be fine that they felt that these concerns could have some significant “slippery slope” repercussions. But their concerns should have been drowned out by the commendation that they gave Licona for his monumental work. Geisler, an apologist of the “old school,” should have written twenty open letters of commendation and praise before he ever even thought of writing his first open letter of criticism which eventually left Mike out of a job. Though I have talked to Mike briefly about this over the phone and he did not seem too discouraged, what a deflation of purpose, drive, and ambition this must be for him. To contribute so significantly to the defense of the core of Christianity only to find his greatest battle coming not from unbelievers, but from his very own kin whose commendations serve only as a prelude to calls to repentance, recantation, and reform must be more than difficult.

Geisler and Mohler should have thrown Mike Licona a parade but instead they have paraded a spectacle of shame and dishonor, elevating a non-essential issue of interpretation to the very test of orthodoxy. Mohler said that “Licona has handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon.” I am beginning to think that just the opposite is true. Mohler and Geisler (and anyone else who has defined Licona  accordingly) are presently giving the enemies of Christ a powerful weapon. Illegitimate weapon, yes. But powerful nonetheless. (Not to mention embarrassing.)

“We have met the enemy and it is us.” This comic strip phrase captures the essence of how evangelicals often eat their young. I have met the enemy and it is not Mike Licona.

Mike, for what it is worth, I stand behind you even understanding that my ministry could suffer indirectly due to my support. I commend you as I did on your Facebook page right after I got your book on the resurrection. I commend you as I did after I handed out your Evidences for God book on the airplane to a grateful gentleman. I commend you as you, four years ago, patiently came on our “Converse with Scholars” program and settled people’s fears about the Talpiot tomb. I commend you as you are open and brave to express your understanding, doubts, and struggles yet glorify God in defending the faith. I pray that the stands are full in your corner during this battle. There are so many of us who appreciate what you are doing and are praying for you.

I think that Max Andrews said it best when he brought Wormwood into the mix:

“My Dearest Wormwood,

Whenever you find an expert defense of the enemy’s resurrection marshall the forces of the fundamentalists to marginalize it by ceaseless debates over ‘inerrancy’ in minor, inconsequential details.”

There are moments when I am proud to be an Evangelical. This is not one of them.

Mike’s site: http://risenjesus.com/, Support him.

180 Responses to “Mike Licona, Norman Geisler, Albert Mohler, and the Evangelical Circus”

  1. I, too, hate when controversy happens amongst Christians, especially over the smallest of things. I, too, hate calling out specific people by name. This is a very sad situation that gives an extremely bad testimony for us as followers of Christ. I desire to see us more focused on what Christ has called us to do rather than looking constantly to defend against what might be error (and, of course, if Licona’s interpretation is wrong, it is so very minor). Truth exposition rather than heresy hunting.

    Alas, some will get their excitement from this. But I see something bigger and better within Christ and His kingdom rule.

  2. I am so disappointed of the late Norman Geisler, that I just wanted to give up his books altogether. This would not be good also though! His book “Chosen but Free” was an exegetical disaster, his “Evangelical” coverup of the lying so called former Muslim-turned-Christian Ergun Canner, and NOW the purposeful unjust discreditation of someone like Mike Licona does not make sense. Has Geisler lost his mind? Is this what power and influence turns a good man into??? I allow you conclude!!! What is wrong with Norman Geisler? Is the old age taking a toll just as in the case of the great evangelist Billy Graham???

  3. It’s amazing how we are capable of latching onto something so small and blowing it into a huge deal. I’ve heard Chuck Missler say “In the church, we organize our firing squads in a circle”.

    I know little about Geisler. I greatly respect Albert Mohler, and it’s disappointing to see this.

  4. That Wormwood quote is so on point. Yes, the whole thing has been quite disappointing and a black stain on the integrity of Christian scholarship. Mike has been such a Christian gentleman throughout all this that is also worth noting.

  5. You said, “As well, Geisler believes in an old earth. In other words, he does not take the narrative of Genesis 1 and 2 literally. Even though it is embedded in a historical genre, he gives himself liberty to see symbolism in the creation account”

    Let me state that I agree with the majority of this post and it’s main point, but I have to disagree with this one statement. I’m agnostic on the age of the earth, because the Hebrew text doesn’t specify the time when the sky and land were “created” (ברא). It’s simply not a concern with the text and taking a very literalistic, conservative reading of the Hebrew leads me to this conclusion.

    There is a long tradition that sees בראשית as an “indefinite period of time” at the start of a specified period. See for instance the usage in regards to land in 10:10 “the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad and Calneh.” It’s not a specific point of land, but a section. The same goes with time. It’s not a point, but a period, such as in Jer 28:1 where the “fifth month of the fourth year” is considered “in the beginning” (בְּרֵאשִׁית) of Zedekiah’s reign, which was only 11 years long. So “in the beginning” includes near the halfway point of his reign.

    The other way that the rabbis read the phrase was as a personified wisdom. In the typical view though, the seven days of shaping (or forming, i.e. עשׂה) the land are the specific period of time, but the time when they were all created was unspecified.

    Furthermore, the only way I can think of defending your second sentence quoted above would be if you were reading Gen 1:1 as a title (which is a foreign convention to ancient literature…this would be the only instance in the ANE that I’m aware of). If it’s not a title (which I see no reason to think it is from outside or inside the text), then 1:1 refers to the creation of all things visible “in the beginning,” i.e before the seven days.

    Since “sky and land” is a merism inclusive of everything visible, then there is no set point of time when they were “created” (ברא) only when they were “formed” (עשׂה), i.e. in seven days. The capstone of this latter period being the “creation” (ברא) of man. There is no way in the Hebrew to get around seeing man’s creation as different from the rest of the things formed in the seven days. Humans are ברא’d just like everything else was in verse 1.

    Of course, scholars like Walton go as far as saying that even the verb ברא refers not to “creating” but “forming.” I’m unconvinced by his argument, even from personal conversations on the topic, but if he’s correct it even goes further to suggest that the בראing of the sky and the land was functional and says nothing of the age of the earth.

    All of that is to say that it’s possible to be agnostic on the age of the earth and hold to an extremely literal reading of the Hebrew (as I do). Blessings.

  6. CMP –

    Post this article at Theologica.

  7. This is an interesting discussion, especially since Dr. Geisler, who is a dispensationalist, is involved. If it’s one thing dispensationalists don’t do is interpret the Bible literally. They don’t take the time texts (near, shortly, and quickly) literally or the way Jesus uses “this generation.” I’ve read a lot of dispensational works on Ezekiel 38 and 39, and few understand horses, shields, chariots, bows and arrows in a literal way. Bows and arrows are missile launchers and missiles, and horses are “horse power.” Then there is Ezekiel 37. Does Dr. Geisler see this resurrection as literal or symbolic of a national resurrection? This would be a good test case. Like you, I believe the resurrections in Matt. 27 are real — and eschatological — the first fruits of what happens to Israel at Pentecost and beyond.

  8. Great stuff, Mike! Thanks for your support for Dr. Licona.

  9. I made the same point about Geisler and Mohler handing the enemies of Christ a powerful weapon in my summation of this issue:

    http://deeperwaters.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/the-future-of-inerrancy-2/

    Note also with Geisler, he has said the reason he believes in an old-earth is modern science. I have no problem with that per se. I do have a problem that Geisler can use 20th century information to interpret an ancient text, but Licona cannot use 1st century information to interpret it.

    As for dispensationalism, I am not a dispensationalist and I have thought at times that this is also a way of protecting Geisler’s eschatology. Could it be one reason to not be as certain of the ICBI statement is because Geisler is a framer and the deck could have been stacked not in favor of Inerrancy but in favor of his interpretation?

    Why not make Inerrancy simple? “The Bible is without error in all that it teaches.” What does it teach? Inerrancy cannot tell you that. Only hard study can.

  10. CMP:

    A very great-hearted article written with a well-thought-out mind!!! I respect the way you have defended Mike Licona.

    I know, as we all know, that God could take this controversy, and use this to have many people read Mike’s book. We wouldn’t not be surprised if many come to trust Jesus as a result, and many strengthened that already believe but struggle with doubts!

  11. I hope Drs. Geisler and Mohler do not take this too literally, but I think they are straining at a gnat, while swallowing a camel. I can’t remember who first said that, but I’m sure it was probably meant literally. (Sarcasm over)

  12. There’s an interesting question percolating beneath this controversy: what if Mike Licona cannot change his mind because he remains unconvinced by his critics’ arguments? Our beliefs are not formed like we form arguments, the latter of which are deliberate with a certain end in mind. People, of course, do change their beliefs, but they rarely if ever change them because of one or two arguments. Why? Because beliefs come in clusters, and those clusters are part of a complex mosaic of interlocking and mutually dependent other beliefs.

    So, when Geisler et al demand that Licona recant, they are literally asking him to publicly violate his own conscience (if in fact they have not provided him sufficient reason to abandon his belief). The only way that Geisler et al can trump Licona’s conscience is if they have authority; that is, unless Geisler et al constitute am ecclesial magisterium that Mike is obligated to obey, their call for recantation is unwarranted. It is interesting, however, that Geisler et al seem to know this. For this is why they continually appeal to faux magisteria, e.g., ICBI, the ETS Founders, and so forth. They know that the arguments alone are inadequate to move Mike’s conscience. Of course, even if they are wrong about the teachings of the faux magisteria (and there are good reasons to believe that they are), why should anyone believe that the theological beliefs of a small group of mid-20th century Anglo-American Evangelicals constitute the “settled truth” on such matters forever, unless they are a real magisterim?

  13. Dr. Licona has no need to repent of denying inerrancy. But this is because that is an inaccurate description of what is wrong with his take on those few verses.

    However, the interpretation is problematic on other grounds. And if that one little bit is distracting from his superb apologetic work, the solution is simple.

    There comes a time when a person has to say “I should have known better.” This is such a time for Dr. Licona. The interpretation, which if I understand correctly, he essentially holds out only as a possibility is so extremely shaky, so problematic, that it sticks out like a sore thumb in his book.

    He ought to say, “I’m not repenting of denying inerrancy because I never have, but I’m withdrawing this suggestion, because it just isn’t my best work on exegesis.” And then remove it from future editions.

    Focusing on Drs. Geisler and Mohler, who detect something amiss (correctly) but label it (IMHO) incorrectly in this sort of circle-the-wagons thing is UNhelpful. There needs to be an acknowledgement that there is a problem, even if that is not the problem.

    If nothing of the sort happens, and this continues to be a distraction from what is possibly Dr. Licona’s great masterpiece, then Dr. Licona will mainly have himself to blame.

    If the thing in itself is not all that significant next to the supreme importance of the Resurrection, as is the case, then dump the thing.

    And do it quickly.

  14. Marv,

    You’re completely wrong. There’s no excuse for Geisler and Mohler trying to destroy Licona’s career as an apologist simply because they disagree with his interpretation of Mt 27:52-53. In fact, the whole situation is so absurd that I can’t help but feel that this crusade against Licona is motivated more by feelings of personal jealousy on Geisler’s part than it is by a sincere concern for Licona’s faithfulness to CSBI.

  15. This is one of those days that I am thankful I am an Anglican Brit, but a conservative one, though in the US right now. This is a very sad affair for American Evangelicalism, at least for Messrs. Geisler and Mohler. Shame! And for Geisler the parallel with the interpretative of the Old Earth, yet not literal fully is a hammer blow, hermeneutically, to Matt. 27. Licona’s view, is a very righteous exegesis! And I myself, stand with this interpretation, again well done Mike, this will continue to open, and become the more eschatological in the apocalyptical interpretative view!

    “I do have a problem that Geisler can use 20th century information to interpret an ancient text, but Licona cannot use 1st century information to interpret it.” Here, here to this statement!

  16. I loved the Wormwood quote as well. At a time when we are in a Postmodern world and struggling to defend our faith, WHY would learned people devour their own kind? I don’t have the credentials that these men have, but I DO know that when I talk to a non-Christian, I want to tell them about the love of Christ. Sacrificing the message of that over interpretation of one word (which doesn’t affect my salvation either way) is a waste of time. Jesus was born, Jesus died, Jesus rose again. I’m saved. That’s the milk we offer to non-Christians and new believers. The food gets chewier as we grow in our faith. Jawbreakers like Geisler’s gripe is an intellectual debate on such a high level, that it should best be left as spirited debate between the PhDs and such. Geisler’s demand of recanting etc. reminds me of what I’ve just been teaching my elementary kids during our homeschool lessons. The church’s attack on learned men is a common thread through history.

  17. Michael, thank you for having the courage to post this article (even if it may bring some negative results to your ministry at Credo House). Now THAT’S integrity!

  18. As I have said to Paul Copan, perhaps it is time to consider the possibility that Geisler is exhibiting the early stages of dementia. I saw similar behavior in my dad, who was a doctor, before he was diagnosed at age 74. He was still working at a doctor at the time. It’s dangerous for one who has a large public platform to develop mental insufficiencies due to physiological change…or even long-time brain chemistry issues. Perhaps his employer should require a psych eval, with brain scan. It’s amazing what shows up on those (old head injuries which impact behavior for a lifetime etc.). I don’t say this to be derogatory toward Geisler (and Mohler is another matter), but if there is something physiological going on wouldn’t that change the entire picture here?

  19. @Amen there Steve!

    @And Amen there Susan, I saw my father.. who was an old school Irish Brit, WW2 RAF pilot, scientist and physicist, lose it all, as dementia came late at 85, died at 88. RIP!

    So somebody help Geisler! ;) And Mohler, I am older than you, so there is no excuse!

  20. I come from a faith heritage (Churches of Christ) which began as a unity mivement and, sadly, has probably become known for disunity more than anything else … due to episodes like this one.

    When they occur, I always want to ask: Did those who disagreed with a statement / interpretation GO TO the one who made it? Was there an attempt made, face-to-face or at least by private letter, to iron out the differences before the open letters appeared in print and on the ‘net for everyone to see — believer and non-believer alike?

    If not, then I think a violation of the instruction (by Jesus) in Matthew 18:15-20 has taken place, which hints at a disrespect for that brother or sister, and a betrayal of most of the sermon on the mount. We owe it to each other as fellow believers to do as Aquila and Priscilla did (Acts 18:18fff) so that we do not embarrass ourselves, a brother who may or may not be in error, and the entire body of Christ.

    And we ignore the instruction and example at our own peril.

  21. No, NW and others. Geisler and Mohler have a right and responsibility in the Christian community to stand up for the doctrine of inerrancy. It is regularly assailed and has been for a long time. In this case I think they are hitting a false positive, and they also ought to come to recognize this. I don’t deny that they too ought to back off on the inerrancy thing.

    But the exegetical thing Licona does with those verses is wide the mark. Even if you don’t think it is wide the mark, and even if Licona doesn’t think so, he still has the responsibility to toss it in the recycling bin at this point, rather than let it distract from his work–unless he thinks it is a supremely important point. Which I doubt he does.

    This is no time or issue for a Luther like Here I Stand. He doesn’t need to say I was wrong just I’ll agree to rethink the thing. But delete it from the book. He can do that if he wants. If he chooses not to, might as well stop complaining about the others.

  22. You’ve hit it out of the park with this one. Your comments are spot on and your statements toward Drs. Geisler and Mohler, while necessarily pointed, are neither hateful nor bitter.

    It is sad that those who have been committed to building up people in the true faith can so tear down one who is committed to the same. Their tunnel vision with regard to this issue prevents them from seeing this. I pray the Lord open their eyes to the reality of this situation. Sadly, unless the Lord opens their eyes, the pride that lurks in each of our hearts will prevent them from seeing the horrible injustice they are committing against Dr. Licona and his family.

    Do I understand correctly that Dr. Geisler has been contacting seminaries and schools in an attempt to prevent Dr. Licona from speaking or seeking employment or something of that nature? What he has already done is shameful enough, that would simply add insult to the present injury.

    Thank you for taking a stand in this situation.

  23. So tell us Marv, how this “apocalyptic” interpretation is so wide of the mark? It does not deny the history of the atonement or the resurrection of Christ, but it is a certain “genre” to express the truth of this reality!

  24. Great post. Your points are right on.

  25. “Apocalyptic” as a genre is questionable in the first place. But second, how is resurrection of saints an apocalyptic thing? Third, where do we see apocalyptic in narrative stream, aorist tense, mixed in with otherwise straighforward historical references. It is a facile suggestion, providing a handy highlighter to delete embarrassing lines. Why not the temple veil? Or the darkness at the crucifixion. If anything smacks of apocalyptic that does. Where is the indication to the reader: stop understanding this as historical at this point? Now we return you to your regularly scheduled gospel.

    And parallels to classical Lives, were these embellishments meant to be understood by readers as non-historical in those cases? Why should we think the authors expected the readers to categorize them as “special effects.” If they were just padding the bio with cool but not-really-real details, and that was okay cuz of the genre, are we saying Matthew did the same…. Sure, folks will believe this happened but I have my apostolic fingers crossed?

    How was Matthew expecting his readers to understand at that point that he was veering into not-quite-historical? And where is any evidence that anyone ever did understand it that way?

    This thing is shaky in the extreme. Analysis of genre is an important and valuable tool, but it needs to be used with care. He is not using it with care, as far as I can see.

  26. Marv,

    Why should anyone care as to whether Geisler, Mohler, or yourself happen to disagree with Licona’s interpretation of Mt 27:52-53? What’s the big deal?!

  27. If I think Revelation is “Apocalyptic” does that mean I have denied inerrancy?

  28. NW,

    The issue isn’t agreement with an interpretation. It is an example of a significantly flawed methodology. There is a problem. A problem that needs to be discussed. The problem isn’t about “inerrancy.” But there is a problem.

    Why should anyone care about what Norman Geisler has to say about an interpretation? Or Al Mohler? I don’t know, why do you bother reading theological opinon blogs. Or commenting?

  29. @Marv: Sorry, but that’s the real issue here, “seeing” with the Jewish-Hellenistic mind-set! And not the modern or European, etc. It is most obvious in the 1st century mind that the “Apocalyptic” is not an assault on the historical at all! Note, we need to study the Apocalyptic genre and history here itself, something that does not appear to be happening, sadly! So before ya tear into the Text/Texts, this needs to be done. And note again these two “texts” (Matt. 27: 52-53) are seen only here in Matthew’s Gospel! The theological point here, is that Jesus death conquers death itself – which the Church also professes in its belief in Christ’s descent into hell or hades, and His resurrection! Again, this is theological & spiritual truth. Or in Jewish ideas, this is a midrashic, a cosmic portent, again we simply must note the OT Apocalyptic background! For space I will say no more, but lets do our homework shall we, I hope so?

  30. @Marv, I think Licona may have already done more or less what you suggested. In his August 31st statement he said:

    “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.”

    His comments regarding the genre may also be interesting. The entire statement is posted here at Parchment and Pen at http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/09/press-release-michael-licona-response-to-norm-geisler/

  31. Marv,

    “It is an example of a significantly flawed methodology.”

    According to whom?! The whole point of sola scriptura is that there is no evangelical magisterium that determines such things. If you find yourself yearning for such an authority to invoke in these matters then perhaps you should swim the Tiber and join Mr. Beckwith.

  32. CMP,

    How should of Geisler and Mohler dealt with this issue?

    It is obvious they strongly disagree…….but is part of the issue that men of these ranks (Geisler and Mohler) have used there authority in the wrong way?

    Should they have personally gone to mike and talked? Should there be a certain protocal among the heavy weights (Mike, geisler and mohler,ect)….

    Just trying to understand the dimensions going on.

  33. Marv. What is Licona’s methodology that is so unorthodox?

  34. Wow, that’s humility, but I fear too he, Licona feels the pressure of his Evangelical peers. I know this old Anglican, though conservative does not give him much, when I stand with him. I have taken my lumps with my own communion, but I would not change a thing said theologically! But, I am sad and just ashamed for the whole Church in our time & generation, especially the so-called Evangelical. It is at times like this, that I personally have looked and considered the EO, or Orthodoxy. As too going back to Rome (raised RC)? Again, this brings to head, where the authority is in the Church! The Reformers said both Church & Holy Scripture, but one must wonder just where is that Church at such times? And I am wondering now! Of course this includes much more than this issue, at hand.

    But again, I stand with Mike’s book: The Resurrection of Jesus, A New Historiographical Approach, (IVP). If you have not got a copy, get one, especially you pastors and theolog’s, and read it!

  35. Perhaps one of the major reasons for this fiasco is that too many protestants would rather see their own individual hermeneutical boundaries enforced (e.g. Geisler, Mohler) than be faithful to the principle of sola scriptura. The whole point of sola scriptura is that the conscience of the individual is bound to what he understands to be the meaning of Scripture and cannot be bound by what any external human authority identifies as such.

  36. @NW, No where does the sola Scripture mean that the Church is somehow sitting in the back seat, as we can see too with the unio mystica, or unio spiritualis. In fact the Holy Church stands under Holy Scripture, but also with authoritas Scripture and principia theologiae. The Church itself is “the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3: 15) Perhaps the better idea here is ‘Tota Scriptura’, within the hands of the church itself. No infallibility, but certainly pilgrim authority in the Total and Full Scripture, in “spirit & truth”! Indeed the Reformers thought of the Church as One, Holy, Catholic, & Apostolic reality!

  37. Also NW, I have seen the argument of conscience pressed for the whole gay agenda! So it is Scripture, but also Scripture that is properly taught and understood. Indeed the Visible Church is just very important!

  38. What I recommend people to do is follow Fr. Robert’s advice. Buy Mike’s book. That also shows your support for him by your wallet. Go to conferences where Mike is speaking and encourage conferences to have him. Support his ministry at RisenJesus.com.

    And then if you don’t support what Geisler is doing, then show that by doing the opposite actions.

  39. CMP,
    Like you, I disagree with Licona’s interpretation of Matthew 27:53-54 and believe those verses refer to an actual, historical event. As you stated, inerrancy should not be the issue but, rather, it should be a civil discussion about interpretation.

    Although I did enjoy your ‘vent,’ the situation is far too serious and potentially damaging for venting to help. This is an all-too-evident example of the type of evangelical narrowness and stinted spirit of brotherhood that characterizes certain segments of evangelicalism.

    Some comments above have referred to the history of certain parties in this dispute. This is a very helpful way to put some of the complaints in context. When we read these sort of things, we should ask if any of the parties have such a history of rancor and sloppiness. It is easy to misrepresent someone’s ideas and then attack that misrepresentation as if it was the fact. Sadly, this is often a tactic used by Christian brothers who should know better. May the Lord deliver us all from such things!

    If you would allow me to niggle (real word) a bit, some ‘old earth’ interpretations are not caused by non-literal readings of Genesis 1 & 2 but by a very literal reading of it. In saying this, I acknowledge that I cannot speak to Norm Geisler’s reasons for being an ‘old earth’ advocate.

  40. Yes, I have Licona’s RisenJesus.com on my own blogroll.

    Btw, for me the ‘Old Earth’ is a position best seen in some aspect of ‘Framework’. The first three chapters of Genesis are foundational for the whole Salvation History of God! (Gen. 3:15) Here is Creation, Fall & Redemption! Note St. Paul’s verse in 2 Cor. 4: 6..”Let light shine out of darkness, who has has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

  41. What on earth IS it with people, that they can’t just say, “Sorry, blew it, I overreacted”?

  42. Do you all remember when Jesus laughed or smiled? If you don’t remember, read the Gospel accounts carefully ;-)
    Yes, Jesus wept. I can see He weeps over His bride.

    I have thought the churches have a lot of problem. Recently, I feel that the Church is the problem. They, at least those who are to defend the faith fervently (not like liberals, prosperity-cult, purpose-driven cults, GLT as pastors and bishops) – those ‘conservative’ have lost love. What good comes out from the church when there is no love thriving?

    We cannot say ‘inerrancy’ except of the Word of God. Is the Bible or even the Scripture inerrant? So then? What does it mean?

    Are we forced to worship a Bible (e.g. KJV-onlyism), even a Scripture in the original language? Tell me then, what manuscripts to choose.

  43. It definitely seems like there’s a serious case of “plank and speck syndrome” going around…

    How disappointing that someone defending the most central element of our faith has been decried and forced out of a job because of a position on one bit of scripture, that he is clearly not that attached to.

    He’s obviously an honest academic, who will clearly keep looking at the evidence. So if that’s the case, and he is wrong, he will eventually work it out himself. No need to badger. Loving discourse is all that is needed.

  44. Michael, I just wanted to drop a quick line to express how proud I am of you for taking the time and temerity to speak out on this issue. I fear that American evangelicalism is headed toward a great divide, and the reaction of Geisler and Mohler puts it in bold relief: when evangelicals see their own interpretation to be every bit as inerrant as the scriptures they unwittingly erode biblical authority and elevate tradition. Not a good path to go down.

  45. What really bothers me about all of this (aside from what Mike Licona wrongfully suffered as a result of it, as at the end of the day, that is the most disturbing thing about it) is Geisler stating this issue is to do with inerrancy when it is actually an issue of hermeneutics.

    Is he truly not aware that the statement “saints rising from the grave as dipicted in Matthew 27 could possibly be apocolyptic language” is a statement that is ultimately to do with hermeneutics? If he doesn’t understand that (very simple) concept, then it would seem he doesn’t properly understand what inerrancy actually entails. Thus, he should remain silent on the issue.

    If Mike were guilty of denying the inerrancy of Scripture, he would have to be questioning the authenticity of the passage itself, suggesting that it was a scribal addition … wait, no, even then, it wouldn’t be a question of inerrancy. If Mike said “Matthew got it wrong. He was wrong in writing what he wrote. Such a thing did not happen. Such a thing will not happen” now see, bold statements such as those would make me raise my fundy eyebrow (its the one on the right) and wonder “Hmmm, what’s Licona up to”

    But Mike did not say anything of that nature!

    He merely said it could be apocolyptic! He didn’t even say it WAS apocolyptic and by cracky there are enough apologists out there that ARE saying that and even then they are not denying the inerrancy of Scripture!

    These accusations are just mad. Mad I say!

  46. Dan said “when evangelicals see their own interpretation to be every bit as inerrant as the scriptures they unwittingly erode biblical authority and elevate tradition”

    Yep. They in turn assume the characteristic of infalability themselves. They put themselves on par with the very authors (and Author) of Scripture.

    Bad stuff and very un-Evangelical.

  47. A fantastic defense and post.

  48. CMP,

    This particular blog post is precisely why I continue to read your work. Thanks for the contribution!

  49. A great example of why I continue to read this blog. I differ with some of your perspectives, but we do not differ on how to engage people with whom we differ. Thank you! You model and represent Christ well. I’m glad to be a reader.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Mike Licona, Norman Geisler, Albert Mohler, and the Evangelical Circus « Ratio Christi-Ohio State University - December 2, 2011

    […] To read more, see here: GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); GA_googleAddAttr("theme_bg", "ffffff"); GA_googleAddAttr("theme_border", "666666"); GA_googleAddAttr("theme_text", "333333"); GA_googleAddAttr("theme_link", "105CB6"); GA_googleAddAttr("theme_url", "8DAB3B"); GA_googleAddAttr("LangId", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Autotag", "religion"); GA_googleFillSlot("wpcom_sharethrough"); Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  2. More on the Michael Licona and Resurrection Dust Up « Euangelion - December 2, 2011

    […] within the evangelical churches and entirely apart from the structures of church discipline.Over at Parchment & Pen, C. Michael Patton has some reflections (some sarcastic I must warn you) about the debate. […]

  3. Geisler and Mohler, Upset Again… « huiothesian: adopted as sons - December 4, 2011

    […] Credo House: For those of you who don’t know, Christian apologist and New Testament scholar, Mike Licona, has been publicly called to repentance by theologian and author Norman Geisler and the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Albert Mohler. The accusation is that he has denied inerrancy (the doctrine that the Bible contains no errors, historic or scientific) because he suggested in his book The Resurrection of Jesus that the account of the dead saints rising in Matthew 27:52-53might be apocalyptic. One statement in this 718 page book that Craig Keener says is “the most thorough treatment on the resurrection and historiography to date [building] a coherent case showing that the best explanation for our evidence involves Jesus’ historical resurrection” has caused Geisler to issue a personal call to repentance followed by three open letters and five public reprimands for Licona’s interpretation. So prominent is this issue that Norman Geisler’s website has a section on the front page devoted to this issue called the “Licona Letters” (source). Albert Mohler followed Geisler’s call to repentance with one of his own making a shocking statement that “Licona has handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon” (source). […]

  4. The Trials of Mike Licona | Participatory Bible Study Blog - December 4, 2011

    […] language rather than intending to portray a historical event. I’m very pleased to see that Michael Patton has been defending Licona and calling for a great deal more generosity concerning this […]

  5. Geisler-Licona Dustup over Inerrancy - December 4, 2011

    […] Dustup over Inerrancy Got this in an email this evening: Mike Licona, Norman Geisler, Albert Mohler, and the Evangelical Circus | Parchment and Pen Was unaware of the dustup between Licona and Gesiler. After reading Geisler's open letters at his […]

  6. Why are so many evangelicals scared of myth and some other literary genre being applied to the bible? | Creative Love Theism: Reflections of a Contemplative Neo-Anabaptist Quaker - December 6, 2011

    […] the he denies the inerrancy of the bible. For a discussion of this ugly dispute, see http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/12/mike-licona-norman-geisler-albert-mohler-and-the-evang… and the references to the articles by Geisler and Mohler contained on Michael Patton’s […]

  7. Jesus Creed » Anointed 7 … What Makes a Leader? (RJS) - December 6, 2011

    […] […]

  8. The Fundamentalist Assumption of “Innerancy Equals Interprative Agreement” | Think Theology - December 19, 2011

    […] my strength I want to push back against your recent shenanigans against Michael Licona. I believe Michael Patton already pointed out how much of a circus this “controversy” has become. There is nothing I can say that hasn’t been said better by Patton. Yet I continue to read […]

  9. Daniel Wallace on the Norman Geisler-Mike Licona Controversy | Pastor Michael R. Jones - January 6, 2012

    […] some background and commentary that hits the nail on the head, read Michael Patton’s excellent post here. Advertisement GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

  10. There is absolutely no convincing evidence of the Theory of Christianity - Page 27 - November 22, 2012

    […] us are not inerrant, anonymously and not independently written, which is good enough for me. And Even other evangelicals find Norman a bit much sometimes. I mean, he's a smart guy but some of his reasoning is priceless. […]

  11. Evangelicalism, intellectual honesty and academic freedom | lotharlorraine - October 7, 2013

    […] more baffling is the fact that Mike Licona got fired, tough he is himself a conservative Evangelical. He wrote in one of his books about the […]