James White on Mike Licona

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. A friend pointed me recently to a Dividing Line broadcast where James White talked about the whole Geisler/Licona debate going on. I have since listened to the podcast and wish to put up some thoughts on the matter.

To White’s credit, he never once does say that I recall that Licona is denying Inerrancy. Nor do we ever hear that ICBI or ETS is being used as a club. Instead, he wishes to focus on the issue of if the event described is historical or not. If only Geisler and Mohler had taken a similar approach.

Let’s look at some points that he does say.

To begin with, on a recent broadcast of Unbelievable?, Licona appeared on there with Ehrman discussing their different faith journeys and the conversation got to Inerrancy. My wife and I thought it was incredibly ironic how that happened as we were listening but the host, Justin Brierley, was discussing if abandoning Inerrancy meant abandoning Christianity. Many people seem to think that when Ehrman abandoned that doctrine, he ceased to be a Christian.

Licona’s position was that that is not the case. You do not have to be an Inerrantist to be a Christian. Does anyone really disagree with that? (I fear some do) Licona is an Inerrantist. So am I. However, it is not an essential to being a Christian as much as it is important. This does not make him a reluctant Inerrantist. This simply means that he is stating the facts.

The next issue is if it is a waste of time to argue with non-Christian scholarship. White later makes the point that Licona isn’t writing a dissertation here, but then says maybe it was his dissertation. That in fact is the case. Of course, he edited it some, but he mainly took the work he did in his dissertation and put it in book format for the audience. In that case, yes, it was essential to interact with non-Christian scholarship.

And to that I wish to say that we must not run in terror from something just because it comes from a liberal viewpoint. Liberals can be right in seeing an insight into the text. They just don’t believe that that is really a true insight. For instance, they can say something about what it means since Paul believes in a physical resurrection of Christ and how the conservative can see that without embracing that position themselves.

My wife and I disagree on some secondary doctrines of Christianity to which when she asks me about a position that I do not hold to, I honestly try to say “Well a person who does hold to position X would likely say.” I don’t try to make it sound bad or refute it. (Well sometimes, I might offer a counterpoint) I want her to just know what the other side believes. In fact, we plan on having lunch with my pastor sometime soon who does hold to a differing viewpoint on a secondary issue that my wife is asking about some because I do want her to get both sides.

This also gets us to the point of asking if we should filter theological sources as White thinks. Do we only want to get what conservatives say? White does mention going to Fuller and being glad he read what he disagreed with and that someone who wants to be educated should do that. That is an attitude to be commended. White’s concern is that the average layman gets a commentary on Matthew, doesn’t know the names in there, and reads a liberal view thinking it’s conservative.

This is a real concern to have, but the answer to this concern is not to dumb down the commentaries, but to beef up the laity. That the laity does not know the debate is in fact the problem. Of course, I don’t expect the layperson to be as proficient in the debate as the scholar is, but the layman should have at least a basic grasp of the issues and be able to tell who is coming from what position or be able to find out somehow.

White does speak of apocalyptic literature and uses terms of natural phenomena to describe it. He says that sure, there have been times where he’s seen the sun go dark. However, that is the very question at issue. Does a text like Acts 2 mean the sun will literally go dark or that the moon will literally be blood? White does say that the writer did not mean the moon would become a glob of plasma, but does he even mean that it will look like it has? This is the issue.

White does agree that apocalyptic literature is definitely used in the Bible and points to Matthew 24 as an example. The problem with what he’s said about the sun however is that he’s taking the apocalyptic literature literally which is exactly what one does not do with apocalyptic literature. The question is “If the sun going dark and the moon being blood does not refer to something happening literally to those bodies, it still means something. What is that?”

That’s not my issue right now, but it is a point to be raised for readers of the blog to come to their own conclusions with for now.

Also, the question at issue despite what White says is not “Is this imagery being used in Matthew 27?” That is a real question to ask, but that is not the question. The question is “Is Licona violating Inerrancy?” To demonstrate that it is historical will give reason for Licona to switch views, but it will not mean that based on his reading, his earlier reading was in violation of inerrancy.

However, as said, to White’s credit, he is using the text and interacting with it and with Licona’s view. He is not raising the challenge of Inerrancy. Once again, would it not have been well on Geisler’s part if he had taken the same approach? Note I do not say this as a fan of White. I’m just giving credit where credit is due.

White does make an issue that Crossan and Borg are sources, but does this mean that we should automatically throw out liberals as having any insight into a text? If one finds a good insight into a liberal do they have to say “Darn it! I need to find that in a conservative somewhere!” (Of course, there will be a problem if every conservative thinks the same thing.)

White also says that he’s just looking at the text and he doesn’t see what Licona sees. I have a problem with this. Let’s look at how it goes.

Geisler, Mohler, and White look at the text and do not see what Licona sees.

Obviously then, it’s not in there.

Licona looks at the text and sees something different.

Licona is out of line with inerrancy.

Licona however does see something and what’s the proper reply then? It should be “We don’t see it, but perhaps we need to read more of the literature and study it and see if we do see it.” The problem is when there is a problem with using extra-biblical material to deal with a text. Why not study the genre of the time to see how something was written. Is it really a reply to say “Well Licona, I know you believe this, but I just don’t see it.” Is Licona to immediately say then “You don’t?! I guess I have to change my view!”?

Wouldn’t it be great if instead we had all taken this as an opportunity to explore the text deeper. (It seems in the major arena, only Licona is interested in doing that.)

Finally, does Licona do this because this text is an embarrassment? No. Why would Licona who has stood before a public audience in a debate talking about modern-day miracles find this embarrassing and thus, well it has to be something different? Let’s even suppose for the sake of argument that he does. So what? That means his interpretation is automatically false? No. It would mean he holds a right view for bad reasons, which is entirely possible.

In conclusion, I honestly have to commend White for not using the same tactics as Geisler and Mohler and it would have been great if they had done otherwise. I think the approach taken is more along the lines of that which will enrich the evangelical community rather than tear it apart.

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6 Responses to “James White on Mike Licona”

  1. Even more on the zombie apocalypse. | Near Emmaus Says:

    […] James White has blogged his take on the controversy. Nick Peters has written a response to James White. […]

  2. Brooks R. Says:

    This was a great commentary to the discussion. I listened to a dividing line last night that is now up on AOMin, where James White states he same things you’ve quoted him as saying. I have noticed after reading Geisler’s and listening to White’s remarks on the issue, that its just the usual conservative evangelical ( but sounding really like fundamentalist) dialogue: this sounds liberal therefore it should be ignored. White said the same things there, that Christians shouldn’t have to interact with liberal or non-Christian scholarship, and to me that is the wrong answer.

  3. apologianick Says:

    Thank you!

  4. Steve Wilkinson Says:

    “This is a real concern to have, but the answer to this concern is not to dumb down the commentaries, but to beef up the laity.”

    White’s comments on that program confused me a bit too actually… so I’m thinking it wasn’t clear or we misunderstood him. I’ve been listening to him for a couple years now and a number of times he has suggested using the liberal sources, as they often do good research, but just come to the wrong conclusions about what it means. So, he’s certainly not against using liberal sources for research (so long as one is educated and discerning)… which, I admit, it kind of sounded opposite of that in this particular program.

  5. apologianick Says:

    That could be. I’m just going by this episode. I actually don’t care much for White, but he was gracious in this one and far better than Geisler.

    • Steve Wilkinson Says:

      I’ve never really understood this image of Dr. White which I run into a lot. He’s a Calvinist (and a tough one) and some Arminians have issues with that I guess, but I regularly listen to Dr. Michael Brown (an Arminian), as well as folks like WLC… actually quite a few non-Calvinists. Sure, he’s hard on people who don’t do their homework (such as Geisler and WLC on Calvinism… he and Dr. Brown seem to strongly disagree, yet get along fine) or people who lie and in doing so do damage to Christian apologetics (like Caner)… but IMO, that’s just being a good scholar and apologist. I’d keep an eye on his stuff, if for nothing else than he is quickly becoming a prominent apologist on the issue of Islam (and has done excellent work on areas like textual criticism, KJV-onlyism, and Mormonism, etc.). For example, I disagree with WLC on middle-knowledge, and I actually think it will eventually get him into trouble in one of his debates, but I greatly respect his other work and try to learn from him (same with Geisler).

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