Nick Norelli wrote a post yesterday titled “Good for You Norm Geisler” defending Norm Geisler’s open letters against Michael Licona regarding Licona’s understanding of “inerrancy” (a word I’m coming to dislike). He ends the post with the following:
“So let’s chill out and get back to the merits of the arguments on all sides of the debate. Geisler has as much a right to disagree with Licona as anyone else. He has the right to publish his disagreement in any format he sees fit. He has a right to question the trajectory of Licona’s position. And you, my dear readers, have the right to do the same with Geisler.”
I am glad he wrote it because it will allow me to clarify what I find bothersome about Geisler’s attacks. Does it have to do with Geisler’s view of inerrancy? Nope, I’ve had professors with views like his. Does it have to do with Geisler’s interpretation of Matthew 27.51-54? Nope, I assume Licona is in the minority in how he interprets this passage.
What I find nasty about Geisler’s approach is his allusions to Robert Gundry who was asked to leave ETS in 1983 because his argument for midrash in the First Gospel was found to be outside the confines of the word “inerrancy”. Geisler’s attack is more than an academic scrimmage. In my post “If Michael Licona is a heretic then who’s safe?” Licona’s son-in-law commented saying, “This whole ordeal has been incredibly tough on my wife and I and Geisler’s tone has been the problem along with these kinds of tactics. If my father-in-law changes his mind, it needs to be because a strong case is presented. It does not need to be because he has been bullied into doing it.” Then he commented on Marc Cortez’s guest post “An Opportunity Missed: Why Geisler’s Critique Missed the Mark” that “Had Geisler come out with just wanting a discussion instead of implying my father-in-law is unorthodox, we would have been fine. In fact, he has been uninvited to speak at at least one conference and I’m hoping it won’t be two because of Geisler’s actions. This was not handled in a Christian manner at all.” It appears that Geisler’s impact has been greater than just an open letter of disagreement.
And lest some think Geisler is being a grouchy old man but no one else cares, note that Albert Mohler has jumped into the discussion. In a post titled “The Devil is in the Details: Biblical Inerrancy and the Licona Controversy” he provides much praise for Licona before getting to this point:
“Geisler called upon Michael Licona to change his position on this text and to affirm it as historical fact without reservation. But Geisler, a member of the Evangelical Theological Society [ETS] for many years, made another very important point. He reminded Licona that such arguments had been encountered before within the ETS, and it had led to the expulsion of a member.
“Amazingly enough, the issue in that controversy was also centered in the Gospel of Matthew. New Testament scholar Robert Gundry had written Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art, published in 1982. In that volume, Gundry had argued that Matthew was using the literary form of midrash and that he had thus combined both historical and non-historical material in his Gospel in order to make his own theological points. Gundry had written that readers of Matthew should not operate under the assumption “that narrative style in the Bible always implies the writing of history.” Gundry proposed that Matthew freely changed and added details in his infancy narrative to suit his theological purpose.”
Surprise, surprise, we have another reference to Gundry. Is a message being sent Licona’s way? I think so. Mohler dedicates two more paragraphs to the Gundry Controversy before saying the following:
“The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy explicitly declares that these approaches are incompatible with the affirmation that the Bible is inerrant. There is every reason within the text to believe that Matthew intends to report historical facts. Matthew 27:51-54 is in the very heart of Matthew’s report of the resurrection of Christ as historical fact. Dehistoricizing this text is calamitous and inconsistent with the affirmation of biblical inerrancy.
“Article XVIII of the Chicago Statement makes this point with precision: ‘We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.’ Furthermore, the Chicago Statement requires that ‘history must be treated as history.’ “
Mohler is not satisfied with Licona’s argument that he still affirms inerrancy. Mohler, like Geisler, demands that Licona affirm inerrancy as he understands it and as that misguided Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy defined it. If the CSBI is really, really the standard as the framers intended then I think ETS will shrink quickly because a large portion of ETS members do not understand inerrancy like the CSBI interprets it.
Mohler says this near the end of his article:
“It is not enough to affirm biblical inerrancy in principle. The devil, as they say, is in the details. That is what makes The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy so indispensable and this controversy over Licona’s book so urgent. It is not enough to affirm biblical inerrancy in general terms. The integrity of this affirmation depends upon the affirmation of inerrancy in every detailed sense.
“Michael Licona is a gifted and courageous defender of the Christian faith and a bold apologist of Christian truth. Our shared hope must be that he will offer a full correction on this crucial question of the Bible’s full truthfulness and trustworthiness. I will be praying for him with the full knowledge that I have been one who has been gifted and assisted by needed correction. Leaving his argument where it now stands will not only diminish the influence of Michael Licona — it will present those who affirm the inerrancy of the Bible with yet another test of resolve.” (emphasis mine)
Let’s interpret this: recant or else. It is this mentality that bothers me. It is not a discussion over inerrancy or even a debate. It is the implied threats involved.
These situations are the reason why many younger evangelicals such as myself chose to eventually set aside the word “inerrancy” when it is possible that we may actually mean something like it when we say “infallibility”, but by confessing “infallibility” I will never have a Geisler or a Mohler come after me because I ain’t putting graffiti on their golden calf. I will continue to pray for Michael Licona and his family. Licona is a first rate scholar and apologist. To make him a pinata for fundamentalist is unfair, especially when it gets as personal as it appears it is getting.