Wednesday, February 21, 2018

J. P. Moreland endorses my critique of Michael Licona

I'm grateful to renowned evangelical scholar J. P. Moreland for his endorsement of my recent work on Mike Licona as well as for his endorsement of Hidden in Plain View. This post went up on his official blog today. See his post for all relevant links.

I have just read Lydia McGrew's stunning, refreshing, rigorous, and powerful 2017 book, Hidden in Plain View. Lydia, a deeply committed Christian and known for her work in analytic philosophy, resurrects and further develops an argument for the historicity of the Gospels and Acts that has long been neglected.  It is must reading.
However, just as or, perhaps, more importantly is her work in providing a first-rate, rigorous, thorough and amiable presentation and critique of an approach to NT historicity--especially in the Gospels and Acts--that sees various literary devices in the text that, whether intentionally or not, tends to undermine the historicity of the Gospels and Acts and eschews sophisticated harmonization attempts based on certain historical and legal forms of reasoning.
McGrew is the only first-rate scholar who has argued these points, quite successfully in my view, and I happily endorse her presentation, "Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars (and how to avoid them)," for the Apologetics Academy's YouTube Channel and at her blog where she critiques Mike Licona's arguments. I urge you to read and view her arguments and pass all of this along to as many people as you can, including on social media.

A tweet linking to this blog post by Moreland also appears on his Twitter account as and can be retweeted. Or one could Tweet

J. P. Moreland endorses Lydia McGrew's critique of Mike Licona.

putting the endorsement of the critique front and center.

I think this is quite important. My strong sense is that too many evangelicals endorsed Mike's work without having read it in detail and that this is part of why it is not getting the scrutiny it should. Also, too many people still say, "Oh, that was all about the Matthew 27 raising of the saints passage, right?" Someone said to me recently, "That was the only passage I ever heard about." But we're way, way beyond that now, with many more passages, invisible fictionalizations galore, and even the invention of entire incidents. See here for a portal summarizing all the posts in my 2017 series on Licona's work. So I think it will be good if various people (Licona included) take note of the extensive problems with this approach. I'm hopeful that Moreland's endorsement will open up such a discussion.


Paul Lucas said...

Again, thanks for your hard and sustained work on these issues.

It's an approach that does not say "you don't have credentials, so take note of the consensus." It's an attractive invitation to "take up your intellect and think with me."

The interesting thing about your work is that it's not a defense of inerrancy. The critics have to come up with some other reason for why you take issue with fictionalization theory.

I would like to hear your voice in the gospel debate with Ehrman sometime.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thank you!

Yes, I was reading yesterday the transcript of the round table on Licona's book from the ETS meeting in November, 2016. I was very struck by the fact that everybody seemed tacitly to agree that the only really "root and branch" objections to Licona's views would come from an a priori view of inerrancy. There was literally not one single person there who said to Licona, "I think you're wrong because what you're doing is poor history, overcomplex, and because you are giving too much weight to silly theories."

Craig Blomberg came the closest concerning the ludicrous idea that Matthew may have invented a second blind man at Jericho to compensate for not having told about a different blind man, but even he couldn't quite bring himself to play hardball to that extent. Licona literally asked Blomberg something like, "Why do you see it as a negative that I bring up multiple possibilities?" and Blomberg didn't say, what he should have said outright, which was, "Because some of these are incredibly stupid possibilities, and you're treating them on a par with a far more reasonable theory. You shouldn't do that." This "just bringing up possibilities" thing is absurd. Nobody considers literally all logical possibilities. "Gee, maybe the Gospels were written by aliens. What? Why do you consider it a negative that I'm bringing up multiple possibilities?" Licona does this again and again, where he will consider *very seriously* some crazy idea that someone might have made something up out of whole cloth, and then because he threw in the word "may" or because he doesn't decide between that and something else, because he just presents it as this smorgasbord, he'll try to take the historical high ground, as though he's just being very "scholarly" in bringing up all these nonsensical, hyper-complex theories. Which someone just has to call him on. Epistemically, he's clearly giving far too much weight to these bare invention theories, treating them as *plausible*.

At several points in the round table someone--sometimes Licona but sometimes another person--would refer to people as made "uncomfortable" by various views *because of* inerrancy theories. It was always assumed that we needed to more or less psychoanalyze anybody who really thought this was all far out, because such a person was clearly just bringing a theological bias to bear. As opposed to considering the ideas simply unjustified. In the Q & A, Kurt Jaros (he's named in the transcript) even stood up and said something rather humorous to the effect that the round table was too nice, because everybody was more or less agreeing that Mike's views were okay. But even then he used the word "rigid" and asked why the conversation didn't include people who take a more "rigid" view. Well, gee, that question kind of answers itself, doesn't it? Why would we want to include them? They're "rigid"!

Lydia McGrew said...

Concerning Ehrman: I would not debate Ehrman. For one thing, I don't have experience in debate proper, and Ehrman is an extremely experienced and seasoned debater. For another thing, I generally don't advise people to debate Ehrman, if for no other reason than that Ehrman does not fight fair. The one person I know of who is really up to debating Ehrman and does not back down nor concede to him is my husband, Tim. But when Tim debated Ehrman on Justin Brierley's show, the number of falsehoods coming out of Ehrman's mouth was so great, and came at such a rate, that it was literally impossible to stop things and sort them all out on the spot. Which is no discredit to Tim; he stood right up to Ehrman and clearly had him flailing, because Ehrman was lazy and didn't do his homework about undesigned coincidences. But when someone twists the facts at every other word, it really does take a postmortem to point out all the places where he does so.

Mike Licona is a particularly bad choice to debate Ehrman, because his own theories are over-concessive. He gives Ehrman a lot of what he wants voluntarily. This is obviously a really bad recipe.

Ehrman does try to saddle his opponents with ridiculous positions to defend. E.g. That the Gospels can't be reliable if they contain even a single, tiny, trivial error. Or that the words of Jesus must be recounted as with a tape recorder.

But nowadays the trend in evangelical circles is to go so far in the opposite direction, with extreme and implausible uses of terms like "ipsissima vox" and so forth and with the idea that the Gospels make all kinds of stuff up and are irreconcilably contradictory, that Bart doesn't even have to go there. He can just sit back and let people hand him the victory.

Paul Lucas said...

Yes, he'll often use the language of "possibility" to refer to theses of favorable regard, but there's a peer respect afforded to them too on the basis that they reflect serious scholarly work.

In his radio debate with Ehrman, Tim referred to Ehrman's theory as to the increasing anti-Semitism between Mark and John as conjecture. It's the same kind of conjecture that permeates the fictionalization theories. The one above about the compensatory blind man addition is a case in point.

What's refreshing is a critique to this whole approach on historical grounds and a willingness to openly question the revered guild on certain celebrated methods.

Lydia McGrew said...

In order to carry out that critique, I've been willing to go all the way back to the Plutarch examples. What I find a little astonishing is that no one else except Tim and me seems willing to do so. Others act as though this is so *incredibly* esoteric that they are obligated to take someone else's word for it, and since Licona says that "classicists" or even "the whole field" agrees that Plutarch has these "compositional devices" and that they are "part and parcel" of "Greco-Roman bioi," it's believed that no one else can examine this statement on its merits unless they have a degree in classics.

But the Plutarch passages are out there to be read (in English, even), nothing turns on magical, esoteric points, and I'm here to tell people: There's no there there. The emperor has no clothes. If *those* are fancy "literary devices" then everything is. There is nothing esoteric about them. They just look like the perfectly *ordinary* harmonizable differences or (occasionally) apparent discrepancies that are *normal* to human history for reasons that have nothing to do with special, ancient-y "literary devices."

What I find a bit discouraging is the difficulty in getting people even to think with me on things like the Plutarch examples. I mean, I know they are boring. I find them so myself. Dusty and rather dull. But once one pushes through that, then they just look like normal history with normal variants. And nobody should be committed to the inerrancy of Plutarch!

Please do all that you can within your sphere to get people to know about the flowchart, the burden of proof, the proper prioritizing of simple, known, human sources of variety, and the fact that Licona and whatever classicists are pushing this fad have not overcome those points. If Christians are going to accept this kind of nonsense about the Bible on the basis of credentialism, they are going to be acting like sheep. We must think for ourselves.

steve said...

As I said on Facebook:

i) If a number of scholars or thinkers are saying basically the same thing, it's more efficient to single out one of them as a spokesman, and focus on his writings as a representative sample. It would be repetitious to go after multiple scholars/thinkers in the same detail if they're all reciting the same basic script.

ii) An "evangelical" like Licona has a kind of opening and influence that an outright liberal does not. There's a niche or constituency for his work within a sector of evangelicalism that someone like Craig Evans doesn't have.

Lydia McGrew said...

Yep, pretty straightforward. Plus I'm encouraging people to read his book. You'd think it would drive up sales. :-) (I think that's how *my* publisher views any negative publicity that might come from my critique of Licona's work! All publicity is good publicity, or something like that.)

It's astonishing to me that supporters would play the victim card like this and whine about my critiquing him on the grounds that "other people have said the same thing." I can't imagine that any scholar would appreciate such a lame "defense." And I was positively outraged when one person several months ago insinuated that the reason was over-deference because of Dr. Craig's fame. I can't win. If I tackle all the famous and influential people in the field (as I do, pretty much), I'm overbold, "striding" into fields where I'm not qualified. If I say "too much" about Licona, then I'm picking on one poor, little, lone scholar because I'm afraid to tackle the big boys or because I have an obsession with him. Or something unspecified. Seriously? This shows that these are just blind partisans. It kind of sickens me that they sit around talking this way and consider it to be a pointed criticism.