God likens His prophets to watchmen on the wall (Jeremiah 6:17; Ezekiel 3:17; 33:2, 6, 7; Isaiah 52:8). Accordingly, it is their duty to see far and carefully detect threats which may prove pernicious to God's people. Ezekiel says, "And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me (3:16-17). Just as the watchmen were strategically stationed on the city-wall watchtower to blow the shōphâr when the sword came upon the land, so God's prophets were strategically placed in Israel to give warning concerning spiritual invaders likely to barbarize the flock >>>
Even so, Isaiah makes an astounding charge against God's prophets, the watchmen. He writes, "His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber" (Isa 56:10; cp. Isa. 52:8; Ezek. 3:17; 33:7). They whom YHWH assigned watchmen of the nation were to look after the welfare of their flock. However, the prophets had so neglected their office, instead of alert watchmen, they became not only fat and sleepy dogs, but were also blind and dumb dogs guarding a shepherd's flock or a farmer's vineyard. Nothing prohibited the wild animals from the desert to pillage the vineyard or scatter the flock. Instead of Job's watchful sheep-dogs (Job 30:1), their bark was absent in warning the people.
And just where are our watchmen, Southern Baptists? Have we no sentries stationed on the wall (2 Sam. 18:24; Song of Sol. 5:7) or in our watchtower (2 Chron. 20:24) to warn of us approaching danger (Ezek. 33:2-6; cp. Ps. 127:1)? Watchmen to guard our spiritual and theological interests? To expose a possible threat to our spiritual safety (2Ki 9:17; Jer 51:12)?
Where are thy watchmen, O Southern Baptists?
We learn almost a year after publication of his book that a top Apologetics scholar in the Southern Baptist Convention apparently is flirting with an unacceptable interpretative approach in dealing with the text of Scripture. Dr. Mike Licona is the Apologetics Coordinator at the North American Mission Board1 and Research Professor of New Testament at Southern Evangelical Seminary. In addition, Dr. Licona presently serves as a featured lecturer for The Institute for Christian Apologetics, a ministry of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Recently, renowned Christian apologist, Dr. Norman Geisler, published two "open letters" to Dr. Licona expressing serious concerns about Licona's interpretation of Matthew 27: 51-53 in his latest book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. The biblical text in question reads:
"And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many" (KJV, emphasis added)
Apparently, Geisler attempted to deal with the interpretative issues he raised with Licona privately. However, according to Geisler, Licona didn't seem interested in discussing the problem. In Geisler's first open letter, he wrote, "I sent a copy of the letter to Mike over a month ago. He has not yet responded to its points but said he is still considering the matter, though he anticipated that it would take him some time." Then, in Geisler's follow-up open letter, he laments that almost two months have passed since he "wrote Mike Licona a private letter expressing my concerns about his published view." So Dr. Licona, our leading apologist coordinator for Southern Baptists, thinks it's acceptable to brush aside concerns raised by another leading apologist?
More significant than Licona's apparent silence toward Geisler's attempts to exchange scholarly concerns over the issue is the content of Geisler's concern. Geisler summarizes it in his first open letter to Licona:
"You speak of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:52-53 after Jesus' resurrection as a "strange little text" (548 cf. 556). Indeed, you call it "poetic" or "legend" (185-186). You appear to include the angels at the tomb (Mk. 16:5-7) in the same category (186). You speak of it as similar to Roman legends that use "phenomenal language used in a symbolic manner" (552). You add, "…it seems to me that an understanding of the language in Matthew 27:52-53 as 'special effects' with eschatological Jewish texts and thought in mind is most plausible" (552). You say that by this legend "Matthew may simply be emphasizing that a great king has died" (552). You add, "If he has one or more of the Jewish texts in mind [that contain similar legends], he may be proclaiming that the day of the Lord has come" (552). You conclude that "It seems best to regard this difficult text in Matthew as a poetic device added to communicate that the Son of God had died and that impending judgment awaited Israel" (553)2
If Geisler has accurately summed up Licona's view (and it seems to me he has), few Southern Baptists would conclude with J.P. Holding that Geisler pulled a false alarm—twice. In fact, they would be more inclined to side with James White3. There are some profound implications concerning the doctrine of inerrancy the way Southern Baptists have argued it if Licona is correct. And, Norm Geisler was right to bring this issue to the public evangelical square.
Even so, I personally have an even more important question to Southern Baptists? Where are our watchmen? Why was it Norman Geisler who blew the lid off this rather than Southern Baptist scholars? If Dr. Licona serves at the North American Mission Board as our apologetics expert, is a frequent speaker in so many Southern Baptist conferences, a featured lecturer at our seminaries, and routinely bumps shoulders with our scholars, why have our scholars not addressed this issue? Did they not know he was flirting with a view unacceptable to classic inerrantists? Like Isaiah's fat, sleepy mongrels, are our watchmen ignoring their responsibilities—their charge—to which we've given them, responsibilities which they accepted?
I have to tell you: the thought is unimaginable to me that no Southern Baptist scholar in Licona's circle—none--knew Licona's view. And, supposing some scholars knew, it is just as inconceivable to me that none of them would have raised some of the same objections Geisler raised.
Every state convention of Southern Baptists should burn the barn down on this one. Dr. Licona possesses an itinerary which stretches far and wide in Southern Baptist life. He lectures on our campuses, in our churches, speaks as a Southern Baptist scholar, and gets paid well with Southern Baptist monies. All Southern Baptist Convention entities should immediately call for Dr. Licona to clarify his position on the Inerrancy of Scripture and answer the concerns raised by Dr. Norman Geisler--and do so both publicly and prior to any further speaking engagements, conference invitations, lectures, or ministry assignments by convention entities are carried out or performed. In short, while we have no say in what individual churches do, we must sound the trumpet concerning what our entities do, entities funded by Cooperative Program dollars.
Moreover, this should be a wake-up call to our trustees to reign our entities in. Dr. Licona should never have gotten away with unanswered questions on his assertions since October, 2010 when his book was first released. The fact is, the watchmen whom we charged to keep an eye open for the good of our city have failed.
And, concerned Southern Baptists need to say so.
With that, I am…
1however, as of last week, Licona may not be connected with NAMB
2all relevant sections of Licona's book detailing Geisler's concerns may be read online
3White had a good article but spoiled it all by taking vindictive stabs at both Dr. Geisler and Ergun Caner in the very last paragraph. It almost seems White cannot just be a scholar and argue ideas. Instead it appears he must deliver personal assaults. Nonetheless, his initial comments on the issue iself are worthy to consider...