Thursday, August 14, 2014

Unpacking Packer

Ah. One has to live with the great joy of ministry where the #1 goal apparently is to prove Geisler's version of inerrancy. Seriously. Go to Geisler's page and most of the articles you see recently have been about inerrancy. Well Geisler can go on and on about how we must defend his version of inerrancy. I'll think about that some while I talk to numerous atheists who have deconverted and are now rabid anti-theists because they found the problems with that version on inerrancy. It's not just me saying this. As Daniel Wallace said

In Defining Inerrancy, the authors note that they have known many evangelicals who have abandoned the faith precisely because they started out with such a hardening of the categories. This rings true: I get countless emails from people who have either jettisoned their beliefs (or have friends or family members who have) because their starting presupposition was that it’s inerrancy or nothing. Such people would throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater! And it is this very problem that one of the architects of modern evangelicalism, Carl Henry (who could hardly be condemned as being soft on inerrancy!), addressed in his book, Evangelicals in Search of Identity. It seems that many evangelicals are still not listening. And yet Henry saw, forty years ago, that the evangelical church was making inerrancy the litmus test of orthodoxy to its discredit. Yet again, I digress. Holding and Peters are not in the least denying inerrancy; they are simply rejecting a rigid form of it that they see as dangerous to the health of the evangelical church.

 As I have written here, this passage in Wallace's review has been badly misunderstood. Still, it looks like Geisler is not one to be slowed down by evidence contrary to his position. Now, it is being claimed that Packer is being misrepresented. (Almost as if we're not getting the intent of what Packer said right. Couldn't be that could it?)

Fortunately, we happen to know Geisler has a great track record of getting quotations of his opponents right. After all, we can see the great job done in one case in particular. In his book, Licona brought up Crossan's view that Matthew didn't write Matthew. Despite a clear footnote that this is Crossan's view, Geisler said it was Licona's view. On the plus side, he did rescind that, but the evidence is still available because we said that it would stay that way until a public apology was made rather than trying to brush it under the rug. No public apology has been made.

Of course, it's not just there. Geisler has also used questionable methods in citing the church fathers. Has there been any alteration to that? Nope. It looks like Geisler makes a charge, and it gets responded to, and Geisler still keeps going. It's easy to think of a quote attributed to Churchill (Though it's still true even if he never said it) that "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened."

So now, Geisler is quite sure that Packer in this article has been misunderstood. Geisler has co-authored a response that can be found here. He starts with saying he has no problem accepting the author of the original piece as a classic evangelical, but now some neo-evangelicals are using his material. Neo-evangelicals. It's kind of like a compliment is being paid back for the title of neo-fundamentalists. Imitation is really the sincerest form of flattery after all. As Geisler says on his Facebook page:

Some claim recently blogged J.I. Packer statements support the Neo-Evangelical view of Scripture.

Some claim. Yeah. Anyone wanna guess who that is? It couldn't be that we here shared that article could it? Geisler has a regular tendency to not want people know about the writings here and at Could it be that if people read the other side they might disagree with Geisler? Now I meanwhile have no hesitation to show readers what I am responding to. That way, you can also see the claims that are being made and make sure I am treating them rightly, and so you can know what my opponents are arguing.

Interestingly also, Geisler has said nothing about our Ebook "Defining Inerrancy", which is linked to in the Wallace quote above.

But I digress. Let's get to the piece.

So how do we begin?

On the one hand, evangelical readers should be thankful Taylor brought this timely article by Packer to the forefront of our attention. On the other hand, present-day evangelicals should not draw any false implications from this article that Packer never drew; namely, that because “inerrancy and interpretation must be kept separate,” one can remain a consistent inerrantist while utilizing a hermeneutic that denies the historicity of any part of the biblical narrative. This position can be made in the following points.

Of course, Geisler still does not seem to understand this. If the text is not historical, then denying its historicity is not denying inerrancy. One would think someone who knows logic would know well the idea of begging the question. Geisler's position is more of a presuppositional fideism where the text has to be historical because the text is inerrant. This does not recognize that the Gospels and other writings in Scripture can often speak with rich language and metaphor. Does that mean they are in Matthew 27? That's open for debate, but it does not work to just say "My side is right because I hold to inerrancy." That is indeed confusing inerrancy of Scripture with inerrancy of interpretation.

What's the proper way to handle this debate? It's simple and to his credit Geisler has done this before. You list the reasons why you think the text should be read as historical. The reality is Geisler has been answered in all of these points by myself and others. He has not responded to the charge. Perhaps he is not familiar with how this works, but normally in a debate, if you say something and your opponent replies, before you go on about how your position is the correct one, you need to reply. If you don't, then drop the debate.

This has not been done. Instead, it has been tactics that definitely match the picture of bullying. Instead of a strong argument, we are being shown a strong arm. The reality is inerrancy should never have been brought up in this discussion, but alas it has been.

So what points does Geisler wish us to grasp?

(1) This single article does not capture all that Packer has said on the topic of hermeneutics and inerrancy (namely, it was one section of much larger book, Beyond the Battle for the Bible, which critiques Neo-Evangelical views and his numerous other publications., one being, ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God); and

To which, no one said it did. No one took this and said "Well there you have it! Everything we need to know about Packer's view is right there!" Of course, for someone wanting to make sure we have the whole of the picture, Geisler seems to ignore repeated statements from Licona, myself, Blomberg, my ministry partner J.P. Holding, and others that we do affirm inerrancy. Gotta love that selective quoting. Right?

(2) Neo-Evangelical interpretations fail to note that Packer affirmed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (1982), which by way of theological and historical purview, condemned the prevalent Neo-Evangelical views of Scripture and interpretation (in particular, any hermeneutical method used to dehistoricize the biblical narrative).
And we're back to the earlier argument. Why is it historical? Geisler says so. The case is closed. One would hope that good readers of Scripture would be open to new evidence, but alas some are not. Also, Geisler needs to realize that CSBH and ICBI are actually not Scripture. The way these documents are spoken of, one would think Geisler came down the mountain with two tablets, one having ICBI on it, and the other CSBH, and proclaimed "Thus sayeth the Lord!"

The first implication disproves any notion that Packer favors the interpretive beliefs of present-day Neo-Evangelical views on inerrancy and hermeneutics. This is not to say he does not recognize the debates concerning the distinction between inerrancy and hermeneutics. Take for instance, in Beyond the Battle for the Bible; Packer makes the following points about inerrancy and interpretation. Packer writes:
Of course, we would like to hear from Packer himself. Could Packer come forward himself and answer questions? Could that include a question of "Have you read Mike Licona's book yourself?" You see, all we have is hearsay from Geisler on what Packer believes and we don't have any reason to think that Geisler has accurately reported Licona's views. (Especially considering how wrong he's got those views in the past)

It's interesting that when we hear from Sproul and Packer and anyone else, we tend to hear them secondhand, well aside from the Caner brothers who I'm sure those who didn't trust Geisler before were quite happy to see brought up again. Even on his Facebook page there's been a question of if he will ever respond to his claims about those two and what's been said in response, but it looks like nothing has been said.

As we go on, Packer in the article says

Recently the so-called ‘battle for the Bible’ has switched evangelical interest back to inspiration and the inerrancy which was traditionally held to be bound up with it, though hermeneutics is still the main concern of the rest of the church (9, emphasis added).

Geisler says about this:

The point being, Packer and other classic evangelicals rightly understand there is a separation (or the better term would be distinction) between inerrancy and hermeneutics, however, not a total separation (more on this below). In other words, as classic evangelical and signer of the CSBI statement, Henry Blochersaid to Baptist Press November 9th, 2012, “It is thus possible to talk of Scripture’s supreme authority, perfect trustworthiness, infallibility and inerrancy and to empty such talk of the full and exact meaning it should retain by the way one handles the text.”
It is noteworthy that Geisler never says anything about Blocher's view of Genesis 1-3 which would seem to go against the idea of a "literal" interpretation as most understand it. Now I really have no major problem with Blocher's view. I think it definitely falls into the inerrancy of Scripture, but I also think it would be a problem for someone like Geisler.

I also agree. One can speak of all the proper attributes of Scripture and yet not give it its full and exact meaning by mishandling the text. What is a reality however is that unless anyone of us has a perfect interpretation of Scripture, we all do that. When we mishandle the text however and don't give it its full and exact meaning, it does not mean we're denying inerrancy or authority or anything of that sort.

Second, Neo-evangelical theologian’s who use Packer to justify their hermeneutical practices, overlook the fact that Packer’s answer to the question of whether inerrancy is part of the catholic (universal) heritage is “Yes….”  So, contrary to the claims, Packer has always affirmed that inerrancy is the belief of the historic universal church (See John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church). Neo-Evangelicals also overlook the fact that Packer wrote a critical review of Rogers and McKim’s book, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach in Beyond the Battle for the Bible (146-151). There, Packer, reaffirms that inerrancy is the historic position of the church, not the invention of rationalistic or Enlightenment philosophy and methodology. In many places, Packer notes how Rogers and McKim misrepresent the history of biblical authority and inerrancy. So much so, Packer concludes his assessment with these words:

Yes. The church has historically affirmed inerrancy. It's good that this has been brought out to Neo-Evangelicals. After all, we all know where Mike Licona denied this in....ummmm.....errrr....uhhh....ummmm....

Okay. I've never heard him deny this.

Okay. Well Blomberg surely has such as well.....we're not told where, but he must have!

Myself and Holding? Nope. Never once. I find it bizarre to even think someone would say that this was something invented by rationalistic or Endarkenment philosophy and methodology.

Apparently, Geisler just wants to ignore our repeated affirmations of inerrancy and tell everyone what we really mean. You'd swear that he thinks he knows authorial intent....

Continuing the quotation of Packer we hear:

Now I saw in my dream, that when Rogers and McKim got to heaven they found two shining ones waiting arm in arm, with something to say to them. The name of the one was Calvin, and the name of the other was Warfield. I saw that the new arrivals were freely and heartily forgiven; and I was glad. So I awoke, and behold it was a dream (151).

Geisler says about this (Though it would have been nice to see some context seeing as we're suddenly talking about a dream) that:

What were they forgiven for? Misrepresenting their [numerous Christian theologians throughout history] views because the book was, “. . . unhelpful . . . to dwell on philosophical and methodological differences between men as to cloud the fact that in their view and use of the Bible, and their understanding of the message of the gospel, they were substantially at one” (150-151, emphasis added). Contrary to the Neo-Evangelical belief that inerrancy is a modern phenomena, Packer believes that despite their methodological differences, each orthodox theologian down through the ages affirmed the classic view of inerrancy (despite their methodological differences). Whereas present-day Neo-Evangelicals not only operate according to a different methodology, they also affirm a different view of inerrancy.
It's kind of amusing to hear about misrepresenting theologians in history without a response to my article on "Fathers Know Best" where I respond to Geisler's pointing to the early church fathers.

Now what theologians are we misrepresenting? We're not told. Which one of us is saying inerrancy is a modern-day phenomena. None of us. We are saying ICBI understanding is, but not that inerrancy is. Do we hold to a contextualizing inerrancy? Yep. We believe that our understanding of Scripture should go with the best evidence that is available. Yet in all of this, we still affirm inerrancy. It looks like for Geisler that if you do not affirm ICBI, you do not affirm inerrancy.

The two are not the same.

In fact, those of us in this camp have done much to answer charges of Bible contradictions. We think the question does matter. We do consider it extremely important to uphold Scripture. We just know that inerrancy is not the main issue. The resurrection of Jesus is.
Third, the qualification given that inerrancy and interpretation are to be separated is misinterpreted by Neo-evangelical theologians. While it is true that inerrancy and interpretation can be separated (once again, the better term is distinguished), they cannot be totally separatedMuch like we can distinguish between inspiration and inerrancy, we can distinguish between inerrancy and hermeneutics; however, we can never make a complete or total separation between the two. This was such an important point to the framers of the ICBI, they declared, “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical hermeneutics” (Article XVIII).  Further, Article XVIII also declares that, “We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship” (emphasis added).  Namely, this is another way of affirming with Blocher, “It is thus possible to talk of Scripture’s supreme authority, perfect trustworthiness, infallibility and inerrancy and to empty such talk of the full and exact meaning it should retain by the way one handles the text.”
And once again we have "ICBI has spoken. The case is closed." Geisler doesn't understand that when ICBI is being viewed as problematic, it does not help to keep affirming ICBI. It's almost like dealing with Mormons who are told problems with the BOM and they instead respond by affirming that they believe in the Book of Mormon.

In addition, in Beyond the Battle for the Bible, Packer cites at length the official commentary on Article XVIII (57-58). The implications being: First, since at least 1979 (or 1980 depending whether you cite the article or its presence in the later published book) it has been the practice of framers of the CSBI to cite the official commentary in order to properly interpret the statement. Second, the commentary rightly states, “. . . history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor . . . and so forth.” However, Neo-Evangelicals wrongly treat “. . . history as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor.” Lastly, Packer (along with the CSBI and ICBI framers) rightly notes that the Bible utilizes genres, however, they do not fall prey to genre criticism (unlike present-day Neo-Evangelical theologians).

It would be interesting to know what Geisler means by Genre criticism. Does he mean the genre of a text has no bearing on the interpretation? That would be just silly. Does he want to take the Psalms in a wooden literalistic sense? Note also that Geisler says that neo-evangelicals say history should be treated as poetry, hyperbole, and metaphor. If he means us, we do not. This is more question begging on the part of Geisler. Can we get more than ex cathedra statements from Geisler?

True, Packer also said, “But now it really is important that we inerrantists move on to crystallize an a posteriori hermeneutic which does full justice to the character and content of the infallible written word as communication, life-embracing and divinely authoritative.” However, we must not forget that shortly after the publication of this article, Packer participated in the 1982 conference on Inerrancy and Hermeneutics (Summit II Conference) in which he affirmed emphatically, “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (emphasis added).  In fact, Packer considered the Council on Biblical Hermeneutics (1982) an attempt to “crystallize an a posteriori hermeneutic”!

More of the same. More of the same. Geisler. Please get this straight. We understand that you think the text is historical. We just disagree with your interpretation. Pointing to the authority of ICBI will not change our interpretation. We actually think it's best to go with the evidence of the text itself. Yeah. Funny thought isn't that? Maybe we can learn what the text means by studying the text instead of studying ICBI? As I've said, I once believed Geisler had ICBI at the back of his Bible, but now I disagree. I think it's front and center.

But this is precisely what Neo-evangelical’s do not want to highlight about Packer’s views. Mainly because their views of inerrancy do to biblical texts (namely, denying the historicity), exactly what the ICBI and Packer forewarned.  By way of historical purview, I (Norman Geisler) being one of the ICBI framers with Packer, can testify to the fact that we consciously had Robert Gundry in mind when we penned these words.  For Gundry had just denied that sections of the Gospel of Matthew (like the story of the Wise Men—Mt. 2) were historical. Eventually, Gundry was asked to resign from the Evangelical Theological Society in 1983, by an overwhelming majority of the Society for these declarations. Note again, the Summit II Conference took place in 1982, predating Gundry’s actual resignation in 1983. The point being, the Summit II Conference was to prevent Gundry like approaches, not a reaction to the ETS decision on Gundry like approaches.
It's awfully nice of the Evangelical Pope to tell us what he had in mind. It's also interesting to see that he is still speaking about ETS. I'm still wondering. Is this the Evangelical Theological Society or the Formerly Evangelical Theological Society? You see, as I wrote out here, Geisler is quite selective with ETS. Back when they voted out Gundry, ETS was authoritative. When they did not vote out Pinnock, ETS was not authoritative. Now that he needs to use Gundry again on Licona, ETS is suddenly authoritative.

Oh. What did Geisler say? Glad you asked!

In short, the ETS framers would not affirm any of these and Pinnock has not denied any of them. If he really wants to clear the record, then all he has to do is deny all 21 of these in clear and unequivocal terms. If he does not, then his unrecanted written views are contrary to what the ETS statement really means since the framers would not agree with any of them. And it is an evangelical tragedy of great magnitude that the Executive Committee of ETS and a majority of its members have retained Pinnock in what has now become the formerly Evangelical Theological Society.
Now looking at all of this, I think it's quite simple to figure out. When is ETS authoritative? Why when they agree with Geisler of course. From this, we can gather that ETS doesn't really matter. They can be used or ignored. It depends entirely on their position with Geisler. Therefore, what really matters is if you agree with Geisler or not.

Here again, this citation can easily be misinterpreted by Neo-evangelical theologians, when in fact, Packer actually gave a positive answer, saying, clearly, “YES…”; but adds only that Lindsell would have gained by “re-angling” his work.  Of course, most everything could gain by “re-angling.”  The point is that Packer said, “Yes”; inerrancy is a “touchstone, watershed” issue!  But this is the very thing that the Neo-evangelical theologian’s deny.
With this we are back to Geisler speaking about Packer. The position is wrong again. In reality, all of us defend inerrancy. All of us uphold inerrancy. All of us also deny that inerrancy is an essential. Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection and if we make inerrancy the prerequisite to believing in the resurrection, we have an easy basis for disbelieving it then. Just show an error anywhere in the text and it all crumbles. Make the resurrection central and have inerrancy come from that and it's much simpler.

Packer has made it very clear, contrary to the claims of Neo-Evangelical theologians and their view of inerrancy, that he does not approve of any hermeneutic which denies the historicity of the biblical narrative (the gospels in particular). For example, when he was asked whether Mike Licona’s hermeneutic, which denies the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 by declaring them as legend and factually inaccurate, was in accordance with the classic doctrine of inerrancy, Packer wrote:
As a framer of the ICBI statement on biblical inerrancy who once studied Greco-Roman literature at advanced level, I judge Mike Licona’s view that, because the Gospels are semi-biographical, details of their narratives may be regarded as legendary and factually erroneous, to be both academically and theologically unsound  (Letter, May 8, 2014).

Of course, this ignores what we have from Packer as well. As I showed here someone emailed Packer first and wrote about it on Licona's Facebook.

Dr. Licona, I noticed that Dr. Geisler has written a reply to your recent interview by TheBestSchools. Geisler’s response is at
I noticed in his point 22 that he disagrees with your statement that the framers of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) don’t always agree on how to interpret ICBI. Dr. Geisler says there were only 3 framers of ICBI, R. C. Sproul, J. I. Packer, and himself. He then says “we all agree that Licona’s views are not compatible with the ICBI statements.” I just wanted you to know that I emailed J. I. Packer last fall and asked him what he thought of your view of Matthew’s raised saints. I received this reply from him on 24 February forwarded from David Horn, the Academic Secretary at Regent College:
Hello Johan,
Thank you for your email. I have just today received the following handwritten reply from Dr. Packer.
Dear Johan Erasmus,
I apologise for lateness in responding to your email.
What Dr. Licona offers is an interpretive hypothesis as to Matthew’s meaning. What biblical inerrancy means is that Scripture, rightly interpreted, is true and trustworthy. I don’t think Licona’s guess about Matthew’s meaning is plausible, but it is not an inerrancy question.
Sincerely in Christ,
J.I. Packer

Geisler's reply to this was unconvincing and has been answered here.

And finally, there is a pointing to R.C. Sproul. We need not say nothing about this as more of us are interested in what actual NT scholars have to say.

The article concludes

In summary, the classic doctrine of inerrancy has served as the orthodox position of biblical authority since the advent of the church. Our shared hope with Taylor is that Packer’s writings will continue to influence the views of present-day evangelicals in their approach to theological doctrines. Taylor’s reintroduction of Packer’s article would have benefited present-day evangelicalism more if it presented the entire corpus of Packer’s thoughts, publications, and interactions to prevent any misinterpretations of Packer (even though it never intended to do so); nevertheless, without taking these thoughts into consideration it will continue to provide Neo-Evangelical theologians a platform to falsely claim their position is in agreement with the orthodox theologians of the church and the central figures of evangelicalism. We hope and pray this article will serve as a corrective to the prevalent misrepresentations of Packer, so that evangelicals will both understand properly the doctrine of inerrancy and interpret correctly the writings of J. I. Packer.

We meanwhile hope and pray that Geisler will actually learn our views and not spend so much time going after defenders of Scripture and the resurrection and focus his abilities more on those outside the camp and those who are really attacking Christianity. As I have said before, if anyone is doing anything today to damage inerrancy within Christianity, it would have to be Geisler.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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