God knows I’m not the fan of Norman Geisler that I once was. I’ve detailed my Geislerian odyssey here for those interested. There’s plenty I disagree with Geisler about, and I’ve written reviews of some of his books, pulling no punches in any of them, but I have to respect that he’s a man who sticks to his guns and holds his principles firmly.
I’ve seen quite a few people comment on Norman Geisler’s open letters to Mike Licona and I can’t help but think that some of the commentary is an overreaction (while some of it is quite measured and substantive). Some folks have called Geisler names (as if that addresses any of the issues at hand) and have acted as if Geisler doesn’t have a right to disagree with Licona and openly proclaim it. I find this approach troubling.
Whatever the merits (or lack thereof) of Geisler’s position, he handled things in a responsible manner as far as I can tell. First, he actually read Licona’s book (or so I’d assume). Second, he wrote directly to Licona in order to voice his reservations about Licona’s interpretation of Matthew 27:52-53. After not receiving a response he published his concerns in an open letter on his website. This drew a response from Licona. Well and good.
And it seems that Licona has slightly revised the position he took in his book. I don’t know how much, if anything, Geisler had to do with that but we can see that Licona clearly doesn’t see himself as being above reproach. He’s willing to change as he continues to learn. This is an earmark of responsible scholarship. Geisler isn’t satisfied with Licona’s revision, but that says nothing of Licona’s willingness to revise prior beliefs in light of new evidence or argumentation.
But here’s the point I want to make: Stop acting as if Geisler did anything wrong. He disagreed and he did so publicly, only after attempting to do so privately. He really went the extra mile in my opinion. I certainly didn’t write Geisler privately before I publicly criticized his Chosen But Free in a review. The fact of the matter is that Licona wrote a book and in doing so he invited criticism. Geisler took up the challenge and criticized him. It happens all the time and I don’t see people getting bent out of shape about it.
If it was anyone other than Geisler raising the issue then I wonder if they’d catch as much flack. If Geisler published his comments in a journal or a book rather than in an open letter on his website then I wonder if he’d get the same reaction. There’s generally no consistency in this kind of thing. For example, where was the outcry when Licona summarized Bart Ehrman in §2.5 of his book and then said, “In my opinion, Ehrman is misguided on all five counts.” (174) How is this substantially different from Geisler saying that he finds Licona’s published position “unconvincing” or “problematic”? It isn’t.
So let’s chill out and get back to the merits of the arguments on all sides of the debate. Geisler has as much a right to disagree with Licona as anyone else. He has the right to publish his disagreement in any format he sees fit. He has a right to question the trajectory of Licona’s position. And you, my dear readers, have the right to do the same with Geisler. But let’s not act as if he’s somehow out of bounds while the reaction he drew was somehow appropriate. What’s good for the goose and whatnot…