Recorded in Southeastern Theological Review 3/1 (Summer 2012) 71–98.
Professor Norman L. Geisler (August 2, 2012)
1. Most comments in support of Licona’s view in this Round Table discussion (e.g., those by Mike Licona, Paul Copan, and Craig Blomberg) have already been addressed in our article on “Methodological Unorthodoxy” in the Journal of the International Society of Christian Apologetics, vol. 5, no. 1 (2012) and in numerous other scholarly articles posted on our web site (www.normangeisler.net/articles). Unfortunately, there has been no response by Licona to these points.
2. Many comments made in the Round Table by Craig Blomberg were personal attacks on critics of Licona’s views and have no place in a scholarly dialogue. As Dr. Akin correctly responded, “I regret Dr. Blomberg’s rhetoric concerning Al Mohler. His singular written response to Dr. Licona’s book was respectful and measured. Nothing he said could fairly be construed as attempting to ruin Mike’s career.
Why Dr. Blomberg believes this, or that Al owes Mike an apology, mystifies me. I strongly disagree with him.…” Indeed, Copan and Blomberg need to apologize for impugning the motives and character of scholars who are critical of Licona’s aberrant views. Name calling like “bullying” adds nothing to civil dialogue but only brings discredit on those who use such charges.
3. Licona made a big issue about the alleged inappropriate use of the internet to critique his views. However, ironically, Licona and his supporters have engaged in an abusive use of the internet to attack their critics. The most outlandish example is Licona’s approval of a cartoon caricature ridiculing a critic of his view which was produced by Licona’s son-in-law and his friend! Licona found this distasteful attack entirely “appropriate.” However, the seminary president where Licona once taught declared: “We believe this video was totally unnecessary and is in extremely poor taste. At SES [Southern Evangelical Seminary] we demand a high standard of conduct in the way we interact with others. Whenever there is a disagreement on any issue, there is a respectful way to handle it. Publically embarrassing anybody is totally unacceptable….” Another person responded, “it was immature, inappropriate and distasteful.” An alumnus of the school wrote, “I …was appalled at it. It was not only in the poorest of taste, it also grieved me to watch it. It was unkind, uncalled for, and so sad to see something like this happen.… [T]he student related to Licona should have been dismissed from the college” (emphasis added). In spite of all this, Licona refuses to apologize for approving of this personal attack on another scholar and brother in Christ!
4. Dr. Kruger of the Round Table is to be commended for defending the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 over against Licona’s view. He wrote, “However, we do have a disagreement when it comes to how to understand the descriptions of Matt. 27:52-53. I take this portion of the text as straightforward historical narrative. There are many reasons I am not persuaded that these verses are non-historical apocalyptic symbolism, but let me just focus on a primary one: all of these events described at the death of Jesus were seen (or could be seen) visually by eyewitnesses.”
5. Dr. Akin, president of Seminary that sponsored the Round Table, is to be commended for his stand on inerrancy when he declared: “Would I extend to Dr. Licona an invitation to join the faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary? The unequivocal answer is no, I would not. There is too much at stake when it comes to “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).” Unfortunately, in too many Seminaries there is a lack of this kind of conviction and courage on the part of its leadership.
6. The attempt by Licona and friends to bifurcate inerrancy and hermeneutics is seriously flawed, as Dr. Akin observed, “I also believe it is more than just a matter of hermeneutics. Though the issues of biblical inspiration and biblical hermeneutics are separate categories, they are clearly related. The tragic fact is one can become so adept at ‘hermeneutical gymnastics’ that they can wittingly or unwittingly compromise a high view of the Bible’s inspiration.” Professor Quarles of the Round Table rightly noted: “Although some argued and continue to argue that the debate was merely over hermeneutics, I strongly disagree. ‘Midrash,’ as it was defined by the midrash critics, was the equivalent of ‘Jewish myth.’ The apostle Paul spoke rather clearly about how the church was to treat works of this genre: So, rebuke them sharply that they may be sound in the faith and may not pay attention to Jewish myths and the commandments of men who reject the truth (Titus 1:13-14).”
7. The fallacy of totally separating inerrancy and hermeneutics led Robert Gundry to make the absurd statement that even the leader of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, should not be eliminated from the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) if she affirmed inerrancy, even though she allegorized the entire Bible away (JETS 1983)! Likewise, after the faculty at Southern Evangelical Seminary (where Licona once taught) examined his views, they considered them (to borrow the words of one faculty member) “unbelievable” since Licona claimed that even a method that denied the resurrection would not be considered contrary to the belief in inerrancy! Upon hearing his views directly, the SES faculty voted not to invite him back as a teacher and to remove his position from the catalog. In view of this it is misleading for Licona to claim that “My leaving the North American Mission Board and Southern Evangelical Seminary were both on very amicable terms.” The truth is that, given his current views, there is probably not a major Southern Baptist seminary that would hire him, to say nothing of most of the rest of conservative seminaries.
8. The parallel between Mike Licona and Robert Gundry is properly brought to focus by the Round Table, but the significance is not fully explicated. Gundry was asked to resign from the ETS because an overwhelming majority of its voting members (70%) believed his view of denying that sections of Matthew were historical. And since Licona is doing basically the same thing, only by appealing to Greek legends rather than Jewish legends, the ETS condemnations stands over Licona’s head as well. The truth is that many of Licona’s supporters oppose Gundry’s expulsion from ETS. For example, Craig Bloomberg proudly proclaims that he supported Gundry. But this is understandable since he has a few theological skeletons in his own closet. For example, he doubts the historicity of some miracle stories in the Bible. He wrote: "Is it possible, even inherently probable, that the NT writers at least in part never intended to have their miracle stories taken as historical or factual and that their original audiences probably recognized this? If this sounds like the identical reasoning that enabled Robert Gundry to adopt his midrashic interpretatoin of Matthew while still affirming inerrancy, that is because it is the same” (Craig Blomberg, “NT Miracles and Higher Criticism,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 27/4 (Dec. 19840, 438). With friends like this, Licona does not need enemies!
9. One important point never came up in the dialogue, namely, this is not a one text issue (namely Matthew 27:52-53). Licona not only (1) casts doubt on the literal resurrection of saints in Matthew 27, but he also (2) casts doubt on the existence of the angels in all four Gospels (The Resurrection of Jesus, 185-185), and (3) the story of the mob falling backward when Jesus claimed “I am he” in John 18:4-6 (ibid, 306), and (4) generally obscures the lines between historicity and legend in the Gospels by his genre determination that it is “Greco-Roman” bios. For he admits that in such literature “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (ibid., 34). Indeed, in a debate at Southern Evangelical Seminary (2009), Licona declared: “I think that John probably altered the day [on which Jesus was crucified] in order for a theological–to make a theological point here. But that does not mean Jesus’ wasn’t crucified.” This flatly denies the inerrancy of the Bible by claiming there is a contradiction on the Gospels as to which day Jesus was crucified! Nowhere has he addressed this issue.
10. Those who believe Licona’s views are consistent with the ICBI statement on inerrancy miss a very important fact, namely, that all living framers of the ICBI inerrancy statement (Sproul, Packer, and myself) have declared that they believe Licona’s views are contrary to the ICBI inerrancy statements. But the ICBI statement was adopted as a guide by ETS (in 2003), the largest group of evangelical scholars in the world, Indeed, the original framer of the ICBI statement, R.C. Sproul, recently declared (May 22, 2012): “As the former and only President of ICBI during its tenure and as the original framer of the Affirmations and Denials of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, I can say categorically that Dr. Michael Licona's views are not even remotely compatible with the unified Statement of ICBI" (emphasis added). To argue that Licona and supporters knew what the ICBI statement mean and the framers did not know is like insisting that Washington, Adams, and Madison did not know what they meant by the US Constitution but that some modern liberal judge does! Such statements reveal the arrogance of those who make them.
One final word comes to mind. Unfortunately, in their sincere attempt to appear balanced, Round Table discussions like this often unwittingly give undue credibility to views of persons whose views on the topic are not really evangelical. In fact, such a forum often gives opportunity for participants to vent their personal attack on those who take seriously the biblical exhortation to defend the Faith (1 Peter 3:15) and to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke whose who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV). This is one of the reasons I often, as in this case, decline to participate in panels of this kind. For whatever reason, Al Mohler declined the invitation as well. However, his critique of Licona’s views (on his web site) is well worth reading. He got to the heart of the matter when he said, “Licona has handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon — the concession that some of the material reported by Matthew in the very chapter in which he reports the resurrection of Christ simply did not happen and should be understood as merely ‘poetic device’ and ‘special effects’…” (emphasis added).