A few months back I blogged in defense of one of evangelical Christianity’s leading apologists and academics, Michael Licona. Why? The poor chap actually had the temerity to raise probing, intellectually honest questions about the historicity of Matthew 27:51-54. Once the hounds of inerrancy caught poor Mike’s scent they started braying and the chase was on. For weeks they hounded him through the woods followed by a gaggle of Southern Baptist hillbillies. Sadly, according to Christianity Today it looks like the hounds finally caught up with Mike. According to “Interpretation Sparks a Grave Theology Debate” Mike resigned from his position at Southern Evangelical Seminary on October 4 as a direct result of the campaign carried out by cranks like Norman Geisler and Al Mohler.
The image of a witch hunt has been bandied about by many commentators. One could just as well speak of an academic lynching. But regardless of the chosen metaphor, it is difficult to calculate the egregious impact this kind of fierce attack on honest scholarship will have on the intellectual freedom and credibility of the evangelical community. I have already read about it on several atheist and skeptic websites as a prime example of the lack of free thought in many evangelical institutions. Sadly, they’re right.
Incidentally, where the gloating skeptics go critically wrong is in thinking that this opposition to free thought is tied to religion in particular. On the contrary it is tied to ignorance, fear, and power politics. And the same problems can be found in the secular university or the back benches of most political parties. You just have to find the right issue to feel the sting of public censure from the powers that be.
For many Southern Baptists and other conservative evangelicals one of the issues that is guaranteed to bring down the sting of public censure is inerrancy, the kind of inerrancy that gladdens the heart of constituencies unschooled in academic theology while striking fear into the heart of the intellectually honest biblical scholar. Interestingly, while the Catholic institution of the Inquisition still exists under the title “Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”, it would appear that the Southern Baptists like Mohler and Geisler are its true heirs in the modern age. Pope Benedict looks like a danged liberal by comparison.
But make no mistake. The campaign against Dr. Licona was wicked. The only thing worse than the direct attack of the fundamentalistic inerrantists was the public silence of so many other scholars.
I’m going to end with my own adaptation of the famous poem “First they came” by Martin Niemöller. I do so not as some boring attempt to compare inerrantists to Nazis. That’s stupid. Rather, I do so to remind those scholars who refused to speak out when Licona was attacked that they may be next. You may think you’re safe, but don’t be so sure: today’s adiaphora is tomorrow’s watershed issue. Just you wait…
First they came for the universalists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a universalist;
Then they came for the neo-Darwinist, and I did not speak out – because I was not a neo-Darwinist;
Then they came for the inclusivist, and I did not speak out – because I was not an inclusivist;
Then they came for the biblical errantist, and I did not speak out – because I was not a biblical errantist;
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.