Imagine a defense attorney that is trying to defend his client’s innocence against the charge of murder. To his initial delight the defense attorney comes across an eyewitness who is emphatic that the attorney’s client did not commit the murder. The reason? The eyewitness says he saw another man commit the crime. Do you think the attorney would be delighted at this discovery? Do you think he would welcome the testimony? Of course. Any minimally capable defense attorney would do precisely that.
But then imagine if the defense attorney expressed reservations about the value of the eyewitness. The reason? “My client says the murderer was wearing a red shirt but the eyewitness says he was wearing a blue shirt.” Yeah, so? I mean are you kidding? Mr. Attorney, how about some perspective here? The main point you want to defend is not that your client provided an accurate description of the attire of the murderer. Those are mere details. The real point is to establish that your client was not guilty.
The attorney responds: “But what if people learn that the eyewitness disagrees with my client on the color of the shirt? That could call my client’s entire testimony into question. I mean, if he got the detail of the shirt color wrong, what else did he get wrong?”
Can you imagine a defense attorney that inept?
Enter Al Mohler. In his blog Mohler offers a review of Michael Licona’s magisterial new book on the resurrection. The review is ominously titled “The Devil is in the details: Biblical inerrancy and the Licona controversy.” (Thanks to Brad Haggard for drawing the review to my attention.)
The review acknowledges Licona is among the world’s authorities on the historicity of the resurrection while rightly lauding his new 700 page book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010) as a monumental accomplishment of history and apologetics. And yet Mohler’s positive comments are overshadowed by his reaction to Licona’s treatment of Matthew 27:51-54 (the reference to saints being resurrected in Jerusalem). Licona suggests that this passage could be interpreted non-historically as “‘special effects’ with eschatological Jewish texts.”
And with this all Licona’s magisterial treatment of the historical resurrection recedes into the background as Mohler waxes on about inerrancy and how Licona has made an intolerable compromise.
But note two things. First, this isn’t really about inerrancy any more than the seventeenth century debates over Copernicus and Psalm 93:1 were about inerrancy. Rather, the issue concerns how a text is best interpreted. And however you interpret the text you can always ascribe inerrancy to the divine agent behind the book’s formation relative to his purposes.
Second, note that Mohler has just marginalized a 700 page book defending the historical resurrection by waxing on like an existentially estranged first century Bible college student about the necessity of historicity in every minor jot and tittle. Screwtape must surely have a letter devoted to this somewhere:
My Dearest Wormwood,
Whenever you find an expert defense of the enemy’s resurrection marshall the forces of the fundamentalists to marginalize it by ceaseless debates over ‘inerrancy’ in minor, inconsequential details.
Al Mohler titled his review “The Devil is in the details.” Ironically enough, it appears that he may have been right after all.