bookmark_borderNorman Geisler on Evangelical Scholarship and Following the Evidence Wherever It Leads

(redated post originally published on 9 November 2011)

An Internet search engine quickly led me to Dr. Norman Geisler’s website, where he has posted his side of the story regarding the Michael Licona inerrancy controversy. In one of Geisler’s responses to Licona, he writes:

Tenth, Licona claims that to reject a view like his is to “stifle scholarship.” In response, we do not wish to stifle scholarship but only to reject bad scholarship. Further, as Evangelicals we must beware of desiring a seat at the table of contemporary scholarship, which is riddled with presuppositions that are antagonistic to Evangelical Christianity. Indeed, when necessary, we must place Lordship over scholarship (2 Cor. 10:5). We do not oppose scholarship, but only scholarship whose presuppositions and methodological procedures are opposed to the Faith once for all committed to the saints. (emphasis mine)

This is exactly the sort of comment that has caused me to previously express my concerns about evangelical scholarship. Again, I am not suggesting that Evangelicals are not intelligent, rational, well-educated, members of the Academy, or anything of the sort. What I am saying is that it is troubling to read yet another prominent Christian scholar suggest that if there is a conflict between scholarship and Evangelical belief, Evangelicals have a (moral?) obligation to uphold their Evangelical beliefs in spite of contemporary scholarship. This sounds suspiciously similar to the statement: “We do not oppose the use of logic and evidence, but if logic and evidence are antagonistic to Evangelical Christianity, then we must place Evangelical Christianity over logic and evidence.”
I know that, in the quotation above, Geisler is talking about scholarship “riddled with presuppositions that are antagonistic to Evangelical Christianity.” It’s reasonable to assume that Geisler would say there is no actual conflict between reason (or “true” reason) and faith, only an apparent conflict (because of the anti-Christian presuppositions of contemporary scholarship).” But what would Geisler say about the hypothetical (for him) scenario where there is a real conflict between reason and faith? Would or can Geisler say that Evangelical Christians should place reason over faith and follow the evidence wherever it leads? Would he try to dodge the question by saying the hypothetical scenario is impossible? Or would he join William Lane Craig and say that, in such a hypothetical scenario, an Evangelical should believe in spite of the evidence against Christianity?
It may come as a surprise to some, but I actually want to believe that Evangelical scholarship can be, and is, better than that. Can I justifiably hold such a belief? If any Evangelical Christian scholars are reading this and disagree with Geisler’s and Craig’s approach to epistemology, I would love to hear from you.

bookmark_borderBooks Like This Should be a Warning Signal to Inerrantists

I just saw an announcement of a new book by Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan. Copan and Flannagan are good guys, but some of the positions they have to defend (because of their commitment to Biblical inerrancy) are not.  I’m embarrassed for inerrantists. Just look at the publisher’s description (presumably written by one or both of the authors).

Reconciling a violent Old Testament God with a loving Jesus
Would a good, kind, and loving deity ever command the wholesale slaughter of nations? We often avoid reading difficult Old Testament passages that make us squeamish and quickly jump to the enemy-loving, forgiving Jesus of the New Testament. And yet, the question remains.
In the tradition of his popular Is God a Moral Monster?, Paul Copan teams up with Matthew Flannagan to tackle some of the most confusing and uncomfortable passages of Scripture. Together they help the Christian and nonbeliever alike understand the biblical, theological, philosophical, and ethical implications of Old Testament warfare passages.

So they admit that the relevant passages are among “the most confusing and uncomfortable passages of Scripture,” passages which make even hardened inerrantists like Copan and Flannagan “squeamish.” But, being the faithful believers that they are, Copan and Flannagan will argue that, yes, a “good, kind, and loving deity” would command (and, in fact, has commanded) “the wholesale slaughter of nations.” How will they reconcile God’s goodness, kindness, and love with genocide? The book’s subtitle suggests that they will argue that “justice” is the answer.
The fundamental problem with books like this is that they fly in the face of what seems obvious to everyone else who doesn’t already hold the a priori belief that everything the Bible says must be true, just because the Bible says it. To paraphrase something Nick Trakakis wrote in another context, “Defenses of genocidal behavior by the OT god turn a blind eye to what seem clear and obvious to everyone else — that such behavior makes a mockery out of what any person would consider morally justifiable behavior.”[1]
[1] N.N. Trakakis, “Antitheodicy,” The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil, 364. Trakakis was talking about theodicies in general, not disturbing passages in the OT.

bookmark_borderChristian NT Scholar and Apologist Michael Licona Loses Job After Questioning Matthew 27

As reported by Christianity Today (see here), New Testament scholar Michael Licona has apparently lost both his job as research professor of New Testament at Southern Evangelical Seminary and been ousted as apologetics coordinator for the North America Mission Board (NAMB).

Why? In his 700-page book defending the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, Licona proposed that the story of the resurrection of the saints described in Matthew 27 might be metaphorical rather than literal history. Why is this a problem? As a result of Licona’s questioning of Matthew 27, apparently some evangelical scholars, most notably Norman Geisler, accused Licona of denying the full inerrancy of the Bible. Other evangelical scholars, including Paul Copan and Craig Blomberg, however, rallied to Licona’s defense.

Since this blog is primarily for and about metaphysical naturalism, why am I reporting on this incident here? Several reasons.

1. The incident casts doubt on the role of “history” vs. “inerrancy” in defenses of Jesus’ resurrection. As the co-editor of the leading skeptical anthology on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, I have read several apologetics for the resurrection of Jesus, including (so far) about half of Licona’s massive book. One common theme of such books is that one does not need to presuppose the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy in order to establish the historicity of the resurrection. And here we have a rather public case of one prominent evangelical NT scholar (Licona) losing his job because he allegedly questioned the full inerrancy of the Bible.

I can understand why, from an Evangelical perspective, doctrinal purity or consistency is important, but I have to admit this incident has me scratching my head. Not that any Evangelicals would ever come to me for strategic advice on how to handle an in-house issue like this, but if I had been consulted during this, I would have recommended they find a better way to handle this. For example, where was due process in all of this? Does Licona agree that he stopped affirming the “full inerrancy of the Bible”? Was he offered some finite probationary period to consider arguments by Geisler and others in favor of Matthew 27? If the Christianity Today story is accurate (and I have no reason to doubt it), the entire incident comes across as entirely hasty and reactionary.

2. The incident casts doubt on the ability of Evangelical scholars, qua Evangelicals, to follow the evidence wherever it may lead. To his credit, Licona apparently questioned the literal historicity of Matthew 27, without letting the perceived implications of his commitment to Biblical inerrancy get in the way. At the same time, however, I can’t help but be struck by the fact that apparently many Christian scholars were unwilling to publicly defend Licona, presumably because they were afraid they might lose their jobs, too. It is precisely because of this sort of mentality that I have previously questioned whether evangelical Christians can consistently affirm the ethics of belief required by freethought.