I was quite encouraged when someone forwarded an email to me containing this blog post by Pastor Tim Rogers. I’ve recently been defending Mike Licona along with several other scholars, i.e. Paul Copan, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, et al. from unwarranted accusations from Norman Geisler. (You can see my posts listed at the end of this response). The reason why I was encouraged was because it seemed that the Geisler camp wasn’t really listening or paying attention to our responses and arguments (contra Geisler’s refusal to read footnotes). To much disappointment, my enthusiasm was quickly squandered when I read the response offered by Pastor Rogers. You can view his response on his website pastortimrogers.com.
Enter the Evangelical Philosophical Society along with the recent gathering of the Evangelical Theological Society and Dr. Mike Licona. It seems that Dr. Licona presented his paper, concerning his latest denial of the historical accuracy of the risen saints in Matthew 27, at the past annual gathering of the ETS. You can see his paper here. The truly amazing issue, for me, seems to be that Dr. Licona made this presentation specifically targeting Dr. Geisler, but Dr. Geisler was not given an opportunity to respond by ETS. How scholarly is that? Is this the reason everyone wants this debate to be diverted to the “world of academia?” However, after reading Dr. Licona’s paper one will notice nothing has changed concerning his approach to the text. Dr. Geisler really does not need to respond. Why? Because Dr. Licona is approaching the text as if there are errors which has to be reconciled instead of approaching the text as if it is inerrant and he does not have to reconcile the text with the “scholarly” world of academia.
His first error is a misrepresentation and category error when he states what Licona’s paper was about–“his latest denial of the historical accuracy of the risen saints in Matthew 27.” I’ll return more to this later on when I discuss inerrancy but I’m going to make a brief note. Licona isn’t denying the historical accuracy because the genre of the passage in question is not describing a literal historical event. He believes it is either poetic or apocalyptic and would thus require a different hermeneutic voiding it from any historical spacetime event. Rogers’ depiction of the paper begs the question of his own understanding of the text (as a historical spacetime event) and then projects that into Licona’s paper, antecedently, and uses Licona’s poetic/apocalyptic understanding as the consequent. This is clearly illicit for if Rogers had kept Licona’s antecedent (poetic or apocalyptic) then his conclusion would not have been “a denial of the historical accuracy of the risen saints in Matthew 27.”
Rogers’ second qualm is his claim that Licona or the ETS (or both) are unscholarly for not allowing Geisler to respond. I’m not quite sure, but I doubt that Rogers is aware that Geisler is not a member of the ETS, which would then explain his absence from the venue. The reason why this debate should be handled in the academic community is because we need to allow the scholars to handle this. We should let this be researched for verification or falsification for the next few years. That’s the academic process. Geisler is certainly invited to participate but that’s only due to Geisler’s choice. Additionally, where does he get the notion that Licona is approaching the text as if there are errors? That is quite baseless and certainly goes contrary to what Licona has been saying this whole time. This condescension of scholarship is astounding and I would want to know what he would prefer as an alternative. Certainly peer-review and sufficient research is a good thing, right? (At least research when footnotes can be read and considered).
Licona’s approach is being embraced by other leading geek apologists. A leading Apologist blog has now taken up the cause and circled the wagons around Dr. Licona. The question that begs answering now is a huge one. These apologists, that many of us lowly ignorant pastors have followed and even embraced many of their arguments, are now in a complicated position. They should answer, for the world, the following question. Do they truly embrace inerrancy or are they merely mouthing the words because of the political coverage and name recognition it has given them? Make no mistake about it, these apologists have made a huge income off of the evangelical world and much of that income has come out of the Southern Baptist Convention. The books, speaking conferences, and other events that move these names among us funds these apologists in their world-wide travels. Just follow any of the apologists listed on the above linked blog on Facebook or Twitter and one will see world locations through their camera lens.
First, I’m quite honored that Rogers believes I am a leading apologist. I would disagree, there are many more prominent and credentialed apologists than I am, but I will certainly take his compliment. Okay, now I must answer the question I bolded above. I will speak for myself but I’m sure Licona, Habermas, Craig, Copan, et al. would certainly agree with me here. I affirm the doctrine of inerrancy and don’t have any issues of contention with the ICBI statement. Political coverage? Name recognition? First of all, I’m not quite sure what this political coverage means in this context–keep in mind that I’m not a voting member of the EPS; I’m only a student member. Additionally, I don’t have much of a name recognition at all. Rogers is also quite emphatic about his claim that we make a huge income off of these things. Okay, there are two problems here (at least in my context). I don’t make any money. I have not published any books nor have I received any endorsements are financial compensation for any of my academic work. I have a job in academia but surely he cannot be referring to that. I do have one published review in the Midwestern Journal of Theology but I didn’t receive any compensation for that either. (Plus, have you ever heard of the MJT? Probably not, so it’s not the biggest player in the contextual sphere here). Rogers’ second error is that I’m not a member of the Souther Baptist Convention–I currently attend a church an Evangelical Free church. Again, I have not published a book nor have I presented at a conference (though, I have been given the opportunity). Is Rogers aware that many of whom support Licona amidst this controversy have actually lost speaking engagements and… their job? Also, you’re certainly allowed to follow my Twitter and Facebook, but what does he even mean by these “world locations through their camera lens” even mean? Craig, Habermas, Licona, Copan, et al. certainly travel the world lecturing and presenting their material but… what’s wrong with this? Should we not defend the faith abroad? Should we not spread the gospel in the academic arena? I think it’s clear that Rogers is clearly wrong on these assertions and that his source of information is inaccurate (“make no mistake about it…”).
Here is the concluding issue. If one reads the links above one will observe scholarly arrogance at is finest. The amazing statement for me comes at the end of the blog post. The blog post author says, concerning the proof of whether the Matthew 27 text is historical or not, “I take the agnostic position.” Are you serious? We now have leading evangelical apologists advocating a philosophical position of none other than Thomas Henry Huxley (also known as Darwin’s Bulldog). Huxley defines “agnosticism” as follows:
“Agnosticism is not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the vigorous application of a single principle… Positively the principle may be expressed as in matters of intellect, do not pretend conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable”
Here is the issue in a nutshell. The “method” these leading evangelical apologists take is a method of “demonstrable proof” from a text that calls us to faith. Wonder what would have happened if Jesus would have taken this position when the pharisees approached him? He would have never referenced Jonah.
I never thought I’d ever have to defend my ignorance. It’s certainly reasonable to take an agnostic position (Gr. literally, a negation of knowledge or without knowledge). Such an epistemology that dismisses the possibility of reasonable agnosticism is quite flawed. (No one is using this as a creed, I’m clearly using it as an epistemic methodology). This smacks in the face of probability theory as well. Consider the following modest and broad definition of an evidential means of justification.
S is justified in believing p = S possesses sufficient evidence for p to be true.
Let’s examine this question of sufficiency and agnosticism via probability. If my belief p is sufficient then it must be 0 < p ≤ 1 where p is > .5. Expressing the value of p is difficult and may certainly have values that may be measured and compared but there are also instances where p must be assigned an arbitrary value that must be determined intuitively or against the aggregate whole of one’s current knowledge [if p is novel]. Additionally, if p is not equivalent to 1 then all future tensed propositions may only be expressed probabilistically.
Why these criteria for determining the value of p? There may be instances when p may be assigned a definitive value. Suppose that I am colorblind, to an extent, and red and purple are indistinguishable for me and that they are the same shade. Suppose I have three marbles in my pocket that are similar in weight and texture (or otherwise may only be distinguished by color) and I have been told by a reliable source that there is one red marble and two purple marbles. The probability of me pulling out the red marble is .333. I pull out a marble and it is red. Let p be the belief that I pulled a purple marble from my pocket. With the background knowledge, k, that I have the inability to differentiate red from purple; I am justified in assigning a value of .333 to p even though I actually pulled out a red marble. Would I then be justified? –No, because p is not > .5. Suppose that I actually pulled out a purple marble, would p then be justified? –No, because I cannot simply ignore k. I would then need more evidence of p based on testimony from a reliable source (there is a doxastic element to this approach and the criteria for reliability would require the same criteria for sufficient evidence for it to be reliable). My reliable source informs me that the marble is purple. This new information, E2, must then be considered as evidence for [or against] p with my previous evidence, E1 (the probability, .333). I now have a value for p’s sufficiency that looks like 0 < p ≤ 1 where p is (E1 + E2 | k) > .5. E2 must have a minimum value of .168 for it to be greater than .5. If this is the case and p has such a value then I have sufficient evidence for p that can be determined by set values (Bayesian probability would be sufficient as well).
Suppose that after all the evidence that is available is possessed and I have come to a value of precisely .5 for p. If I reject p as being true then I have just as much of a chance of being wrong about that as I do as being right. When p has a value of .5, all things considered, then I believe it would be acceptable to believe p, ~p, or to be agnostic since there is no other evidence to say otherwise until more evidence is possessed. Again, I haven’t addressed this issue from a conditional Bayesian approach or a Bayesian theorem of belief change but we could certainly do that if need be.
I think it’s quite clear that agnosticism is a completely reasonable position to take until sufficient evidence has been presented and considered. Additionally, applying this epistemic method [of denying agnosticism–Rogers’ position] in a hermeneutic has quite a few bold entailments. There are many passages of Scripture that I have no idea how to interpret or what it means. I’m agnostic about two-thirds of the book of Revelation! To have an epistemology or a hermeneutic that requires you to be able to know what each passage of Scripture means (when presented) is unnecessary and nearly impossible. I’m going to have to disagree with Rogers on his flawed epistemology and hermeneutic. It’s simply untenable.
The methodology being protected by leading apologists associated with the Evangelical Philosophical Society (Wm. Lane Craig Gary Habermas, Max Andrews, Paul Copan) is a methodology that subjugates the historical text of Holy Writ to secular Greco-Roman literature. That, friends is not inerrancy. Anyone that accepts Licona’s methodology is advocating a text full of errors and only those with a proper understanding can spot those errors. Thus, the evangelical world in general and the SBC in specific finds herself in a precarious position. The SBC, in particular, finds herself again in the same position we were in the 1980′s when we were in the midst of the Conservative Resurgence. We are battling the philosophical position of “dalmatian theology”–The text is inspired in spots and only the “scholarly” are inspired to spot the spots. It seems these scholars are now advocating we have a “canon within a canon”.
I’m beginning to question Rogers’ hermeneutical method. What does he do with genre, NT and OT background information, historical referents, etc.? Does he disregard these? Background information and genre play crucial roles in exegesis. I’m simply flabbergasted at Rogers’ dismissal and rejection of such necessary and helpful information. No one is treating these extra-biblical texts and information as inerrant. This information merely serves to help understand contexts and categories when performing exegesis. Without such background information I imagine Rogers would have quite a difficult time understanding some of biblical passages. To see more on my response on the issues of inerrancy see my below posts on the issue.