Auctoritas–A Response to the Geisler Controversy

by Max Andrews

I have been reviewing, critiquing, and commenting on the controversy between Norman Geisler and Mike Licona for a few months now and I haven’t commented on it for a while hoping that all of this would soon pass.  With much dismay I was terribly wrong and it appears to have gotten much worse.  There are several happenings I would like to reveal and discuss some new critiques of the situation.  For my previous posts please see:

My Support and Endorsement of Mike Licona

The Disputatio–A Response to Norman Geisler in Defense of Mike Licona

In Promptu Ponere–A Response to Norm Geisler’s Petition Against Mike Licona

A Response to Tim Rogers and the Geisler Camp

Caveo Cavi Cautum–A Second Look at Geisler’s Petition Against Licona

Tekton’s Geisler Carol Cartoon

Tekton Ticker recently released a satirical version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol depicting Licona as Bob Crachit and Geisler as Scrooge adopting a plot driven towards this controversy over inerrancy rather than Scrooge’s distain for Christmas.  I’m not going to offer much critique on this simply because this shouldn’t have warranted the response from an SES alumnus as it did. You can see Tekton’s response here.  However, I cannot ignore its absurd response completely but here are the six reasons why Tekton should/would be brought before the school for review:

1.  They used the classical Christmas Carol story in a very distasteful way.  Seriously?  The number one reason for review is because he made a satire version of A Christmas Carol?  I really hope this isn’t in any order of meaning or importance.  I would hate to hear what he would have to say to the Muppets version.

2.  Like Dr. Geisler or not, he deserves respect. Furthermore, Dr. Geisler is far more accomplished than the youngens who made the video.  So now it’s based on credentials?  Wait a second… Mike Licona wrote tome on the resurrection of Jesus and he has gotten nothing but disrespect from Geisler.  It seems that Geisler can disrespect Licona [and several others] but he can’t handle the criticism of a cartoon?

3.  The video was sarcastic and put words into Dr. Geisler’s mouth. This shows not only immaturity, but further strengthens Dr. Geisler’s position.  Which words were put into his mouth?  I don’t think the metaphor is being fully grasped.  It’s the concept and situation that is being the subject of satire.  I hardly believe Tekton was portraying that Geisler actually said those things.  Wait a second… Is this a claim of authorial intent?  I’m not quite sure how this strengthens Geisler’s position but sure, let’s let him run with it.

4. He makes the point repetitively that those who support Dr. Geisler’s view are clones of Dr. Geisler, eluding that all who hold to the position that Dr. Geisler does are non-thinkers.  I believe the point was that no one is addressing the Licona camp’s arguments.  Everyone keeps parroting what Geisler says.  I’m sure if Tekton depicted these supporters as parrots the response would be, “They’re not parrots; they’re humans!”  Here I go again about authorial intent…

5.   This video seems to mock inerrancy despite the fact that it tries to skirt that it is the main issue.  This cartoon is a satire and not intended to rebut or address each core issue.

6.  Lastly, while he illustrates physical attacks on Dr. Geisler in humor, it is still depicting physical attacks. It also explicitly is threatening to take action against Dr. Geisler…. This is stooping to verbal threats and scare tactics.  Seriously?  I hardly believe that this is meant to be a scare tactic nor did I see any signs of threat to Geisler.  I find it quite ironic that Tekton is being accused of scare tactics when Geisler is responsible for Licona’s state of employment.  I believe it’s reasonable to say that the petition against Licona was a bit of an academic threat by correlating it with the actions taken against Gundry.  It seems that not only is Geisler the intimidator but also the one who follows through on his threats.

Finally, the author of this statement said that he/she reported Tekton to YouTube for “cyberbulling/cyberharrasment.”  I wish we could report Geisler for academic bulling but I don’t believe Geisler is willing to submit himself to any authority…

The following is a point by point response to Geisler in his recent statement on December 22, 2011 titled “Licona’s Denial of Inerrancy:  The List Grows.”

Licona’s Denial of the Historicity of New Testament Texts

We’ve been through these issues listed so many times but I need to point out a huge problem.  Geisler quotes Licona in his debate with Bart Erhman when he says, “I think that John probably altered the day in order for a theological—to make a theological point there.  But that does not mean that Jesus wasn’t crucified.”  In bold letters Geisler asserts that this is a flat denial of inerrancy.  I’m beginning to think that Geisler actually has a really warped or esoteric definition of inerrancy.  If John intended the text to portray a theological concept instead of an actual historical event then how is affirming what the author intended to communicate a denial of inerrancy?  Also, if the gospels are Greco-Roman biographies and John/Matthew intended to convey what Licona asserts and if the audience would have understood that then there is no denial of inerrancy.

A Response by Licona

Geisler accuses Licona of not responding to most of Geisler’s arguments.  I don’t know if this is true but I’m fairly confident that Geisler has not responded to most of our arguments.  I have good reason to believe Geisler is confused about Licona’s arguments because in the first few of “The Licona Letters” Geisler completely misquotes Licona.  For instance, Geisler has yet to respond to our claims that he either intentionally misled his readers when he attributed statements made by Crossan to Licona when Licona was quoting Crossan on an issue.  Either that or he was sloppy in his scholarship.  I’m sorry, the sword cuts both ways and perhaps deeper on Geisler’s side.

Geisler is also upset that we have addressed these issues online.  Wait a second; didn’t he start these open letters and arguments online?  Isn’t Geisler the one who condemned participation in a scholarly debate on the issue?  Licona wants to handle this in the academic sphere instead of gathering the evangelical populous and making these arguments without peer-review.  Then Geisler has the nerve to accuse Licona of being unscholarly when he presented his paper on this issue at the Evangelical Philosophical Society this past November.  Geisler is the last person to be accusing Licona of being unscholarly in light of all this nonsense.

Licona’s View is Inconsistent with the ICBI Statements on Inerrancy

I have already offered a lengthy response to Geisler on his appeal to the ICBI statement (Geisler hasn’t responded to these…).  Geisler’s use of the ICBI is dishonest and misleading.  Additionally, Geisler is drafting a revised version of the ICBI statement.  Now wait… If Licona is already in violation of the original ICBI why must he revise it?  I would like to know why a revised version is needed.  (Is it an authority issue?)

It is not Just a Matter of Hermeneutics

Geisler offers six arguments and examples for why inerrancy and interpretation must be conflated.  This is quite an interesting position—a position that seems to have Geisler shooting himself in the foot. (That’s not literal of course—it’s a metaphor.  That’s just in case the context and authorial intent wasn’t clear.)

In Geisler’s 1971 book, Ethics: Alternatives and Issues, Geisler argued that abortion was justifiable for four circumstantial reasons: 1) Abortion of Therapeutic Reasons, 2) Abortion of Eugenic Reasons, 3) Abortion in Conception Without Consent, and 4) Abortion in Conception by Incest.[1]  Geisler goes on to argue that certain abortions are not as serious as murder and not necessarily murder because an unborn baby is nor fully human and is a potential human.  Geisler gives biblical arguments from Scriptures as to why abortion may be justifiable in certain circumstances.  He goes on to state that such matters are subject to the rule of Scripture.

Also, it has been brought to my attention that in a later edition of this book Geisler uses essentially the same texts to argue for anti-abortion as he did for the pro-abortion aspect.[2]  In other words, he uses texts A, B, and C to support abortion in the original and the same texts to support anti-abortion in the revised edition.  If anything, it seems that Geisler has retracted this view in his “Conservative Agenda.” When speaking of abortion he argues that the anti-abortion is wrong and the right to life is a “God-given moral absolute” and that “there should be absolutely no doubt about the wrongness of giving capital punishment to innocent babies by abortion!”.[3]

There are two important questions that Geisler must answer:

1.  Did you believe in inerrancy when you wrote the first edition of Ethics: Alternatives and Issues?

2. Since you have changed your mind regarding the interpretation of the biblical texts, were you unconsciously denying inerrancy when you wrote the first edition? (Since you used the same biblical texts to condone abortion in one and condemn it in another).

If interpretation and inerrancy are one in the same then it seems Geisler was unconsciously denying inerrancy in 1971.  Also, if Geisler was unconsciously denying inerrancy then he was denying inerrancy when he framed and signed the ICBI!  In fact, he may be denying inerrancy now because he had a certain authorial intent when writing ICBI and that intent condoned abortion.  You can’t change authorial intent when your opinions change.[4]  Remember, Geisler can’t say his interpretation changed because interpretation and inerrancy cannot be separated.  (Please note, this is simply using the Geislerian view of inerrancy, which is largely incapable of make a line of demarcation between inerrancy and hermeneutics.)

Counting Heads on the Inerrancy Issue

Geisler speaks of how Licona is “parading” before cameras with a handful of scholars who approve of his view and “challenged” other scholars to disagree.  I don’t think Geisler has actually paid any attention to these videos because Dan Wallace believes Licona does not violate inerrancy but may actually disagree with him.  (You can also see one of Paul Copan’s responses here.) My guess is that there are many scholars who disagree with Licona but still affirm that he is within inerrancy.[5]  Geisler then goes on to discuss that the number of scholars who support Licona are irrelevant.  Then he lists five seminary presidents on his side and 70% of those who signed the petition agree with him.  If scholars don’t matter then why mention the five seminary presidents?[6]  Also, why do the opinions of 70% of non-scholars matter?  I would like for Geisler to release the results of the petition (and I’ve already commented on how flawed this petition is).  Please share names and credentials because some actually take credentials seriously.  (Interestingly the SES alumnus appeals to Geisler’s credentials but then Geisler appeals to a poll where credentials don’t matter?  This is absurd.)

Geisler continuously appeals to the 1983 vote against Robert Gundry.  What Geisler doesn’t reveal is that there were more than 1,600 present and just under 10% of them voted.  The final tally was 116 to 41.  How is this a majority of the ETS?  Either the remaining 90% of the society weren’t interested or didn’t understand the issue.  In light of this there seems to be a history of distorting figures so we have all the more reason for a full disclosure of this non-scholarly petition.

Geisler then discusses how his organization, the ISCA, the International Society of Christian Apologetics, went on record condemning Licona’s views.  What Geisler doesn’t tell you is that Chad Meister, a member of the ISCA executive committee of seven and editor of the ISCA journal, resigned from the executive committee as editor and his ISCA membership over this whole issue.  Why did Geisler not include this important and relevant information when priding his organization’s opposition to Licona?

As I’ve mentioned before, Geisler refuses to make any public statement about others who hold to Licona’s position.  Is Geisler going to condemn William Lane Craig’s position, similar if not identical to Licona’s, which was introduced over a decade ago?[7]  Is Geisler going to publicly condemn the scholars I’ve listed?  (I have good reason to believe he may have stated that these [or some of these] scholars actually do deny inerrancy in a private setting.  Let’s just wait for the public statement on this).

Why Some Scholars Endorse Licona’s View

Most of my comments in the above section would be applicable in this section as well.  I simply ask Geisler to call out these scholars by name and condemn them just as he has with Licona merely for the sake of consistency.  The next question is whether or not we will see “The Craig Letters,” “The Wallace Writ,” “The Blomberg Bombs,” “The Moreland Mishap,” “The Moo Mistake,” “The Copan Crackpot,” “The Habermas Files,” or “The Beck Wreck?”

An Alleged Lack of Criticism of Other Evangelical Scholars

Our claim that Licona is being treated unfairly still stands because many of the scholars I’ve listed before and just now have not been condemned.  Nor has Geisler made petitions against these scholars and neither has he had an influence on any of them losing their jobs because of their positions.  The charge still stands:  Licona is being treated quite unfairly.

Attacking the Person vs. Critiquing the Position

In this section Geisler claims to be taking the high road and the Licona camp are the mudslingers.  What’s interesting is that Geisler has clearly not just “critiqued the position” of Licona but has attacked his job and reputation!  Geisler is the one refusing academic discussion.  He refused to have a scholarly debate with Licona and I’ve seen no effort for Geisler to put his arguments and position before peer review (unlike Licona’s attempt to have a debate and when he presented his paper on the issue at the ETS/EPS conference this past November.)

Geisler also claims that Licona is refusing to meet with him one on one.  I contacted Licona and concerning this issue and claim by Geisler Licona sent me an email response.  Below is a relevant portion of the email sent from Licona to Geisler on Thursday December 22, 2011 at 4:02 PM.

In terms of meeting you in Greenville, I will be happy to do so. However, any such meeting should have a clearly defined objective and realistic expectations. Pertaining to an objective, I don’t think our objective should be to present our cases to the other. You and I are both aware of where the other stands and why. And we have failed to convince the other. Thus, the objective of the proposed meeting should be the proper course of action going forward for two brothers who disagree. Hopefully, we can arrive at an agreement acceptable to both.

I will also require that at least one witness and probably two be present at such a meeting. The reason for this is because you have grossly misrepresented my views in the petition you’re circulating. In his blog, Max Andrews has done a good job articulating just a few of the errors. I don’t know whether these are purposeful falsehoods on your part or hasty work. I hope it’s the latter. Either way, given this history, I’m uncomfortable meeting you privately for fear you will distort the content of our conversation. Accordingly, having one or two witnesses at a meeting between us is non-negotiable for me.

I would like nothing more than for this to be over so that we can go back to focusing all of our energies on fruitful ministry for the kingdom. Please let me know when you’re prepared to agree to the above conditions for a meeting (i.e., a clearly defined objective and the presence of witnesses). Until that occurs, I don’t think it would be productive for you to engage with me in further discussion. Please direct all future communications to me through [deleted to protect the person’s identity]. Please also know that my email account at NAMB will very soon be disabled.

Where Does the Issue Go From Here?

Geisler discusses how Licona needs to retract his view—basically a summary of everything that has happened.  However, here are my hopes on where this issue will go from here.  As another scholar has stated, Geisler should be brought before an authority/reputable organization and have them examine multiple testimonies and ask Geisler to address these.[8]  If he refuses the organization should offer a public statement censuring him.  This way, in a sense, Geisler will be subjected to church discipline.  This isn’t the Geisler-Licona controversy anymore.  In light of Geisler’s recent behavior this should be better understood as the Geisler controversy.


[1] Norm Geisler, Ethics: Alternatives and Issues (Grad Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1971), 220-23.

[2] I have not been able to verify the use of Scriptures in the second edition yet but I will add an amended note with a date here when I have verification.  Geisler uses Ex. 21.22 (p. 218) to argue that unborn babies are not fully human.

[3] Geisler, http://normangeisler.net/ConservativeAgenda.html (accessed December 23, 2011).

[4] This whole point was brought to my attention from another scholar.

[5] The following is a list of scholars who have publicly supported Licona.  This statement says, “We the undersigned are aware of the above stated position by Dr. Michael Licona, including his present position pertaining to the report of the raised saints in Matthew 27: He proposes that the report may refer to a literal/historical event, a real event partially described in apocalyptic terms, or an apocalyptic symbol. Though most of us do not hold Licona’s proposal, we are in firm agreement that it is compatible with biblical inerrancy, despite objections to the contrary. We are encouraged to see the confluence of biblical scholars, historians, and philosophers in this question.”  Signed by W. David Beck, Ph.D., Craig Blomberg, Ph.D., James Chancellor, Ph.D., William Lane Craig, D.Theol., Ph.D., Jeremy A. Evans, Ph.D., Gary R. Habermas, Ph.D., Craig S. Keener, Ph.D., Douglas J. Moo, Ph.D., J. P. Moreland, Ph.D., Heath A. Thomas, Ph.D., Daniel B. Wallace, Ph.D., William Warren, Ph.D., and Edwin M. Yamauchi, Ph.D

[6] I have no verification of who these five presidents are but let’s guess Paige Patterson, Chuck Kelly, Al Mohler, Phil Roberts, and Joe Holden. (If these are not correct the I hope Geisler states who they are).

[7] See William Lane Craig and Paul Copan, Will The Real Jesus Please Stand Up? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 164-65.  Additionally, on September 2 someone posted a video of Craig’s position on Geisler’s Facebook page (accessed December 23, 2011). You may view the YouTube video here.  (Edit: 12/26/11 21:29) This video is Craig’s debate with Hector Avalos.  He also agrees with Licona’s position regarding the saints of Matthew 27 (“I don’t know”) in his debates with Hitchens and James Crossley.

[8] The primary charges would be for his bullying tactic.  There is an overwhelming amount of evidence supporting this (emails, [legal] audio recordings, etc.). This would not only include Licona but other individuals whose stories and information have yet to be made public.

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8 Responses to “Auctoritas–A Response to the Geisler Controversy”

  1. The more and more I find out about Geisler, the more upset I get over all of this. Thank you for standing up also Max.

  2. Hey Max in all seriousness, given the expanding nature of the Geisler inquisition is there any scenario where you may become effected by this?

  3. This is a storm in a teacup. Much ado about nothing. Why be the grass on which elephants fight?

  4. Yes he is. I’m hitting back on my own blog as well. (Wait everyone. Saying hitting back is a metaphor. It does not mean physical violence.)

    This kind of thing has happened for too long. If the bullying against Mike is not stopped, well someone else will be the target eventually.

  5. I just want to say the Muppets version of A Christmas Carol is not in bad taste! All kidding aside, this has gone too far. I can’t see supporting Geisler. I will stay with the ISCA for now, but who knows how long they’ll let me.

    • The ISCA at southeastern was my first, and im guessing my last. Seeing Geisler was the low point of the entire trip. His attitude and rude nature was a major disappointment. It took me weeks to admit it to myself. Heartbreaking, really. Im hoping his influence diminishes soon (since an apology seems unlikely). I heard or read somewhere that Meister resigned. I think hanging around to influence it is very noble, but if geisler is at the center of it, it seems like a hopeless cause. Its hard to see a fruitful future for it with Geisler around. God help us.

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