First they came for Michael Licona

Posted on 11/10/11 54 Comments

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.


  • pete

    I was minimally aware of the neo-cons attack on Licona, but didn’t know it was enough to push him out.

    As an about face for my ignorance, I’ll say that more souls will be saved through the work of Dr. Licona and others who show the real proof and credibility of my faith:

    The Resurrection (I just bought his book two weeks ago)

    On behalf of theologically conservative, yet sinfully liberal Christians, we aren’t all intolerant muppets.

    Will proof of the resurrection take second fiddle to a historical exegesis of Matt. 27:51-54?

    Are we saving souls based on Matt. 27:51-54?

    (not that I think it wasn’t historical in some sense – literal, allegorical, moral, or anagogical)

    • Jouras

      Randall, they won’t come for you. No need to.

      But you will be helping them come for others.

      And you know it.

  • Jouras

    Randall, I see you are commenting on your Pal Loftus’ site.

    You are aware that Loftus was one of the first up on Amazon with a review of Licons’s book, trashing it, aren’t you?

    And now Loftus is acting all rigtheous about it.

    Loftus, ever the opportunist.

  • Jouras

    Randall, for your info, the Loftus review is currently voted the “most helpful” critical review…he asks people to vote for his review…and is titled, “Delusional on a Grand Scale”.

    Delusional? Thats pure libel.


    • Jouras

      And so the answer is NO.

      As I expected. Just wanted it out in the open.

  • Steven Carr

    But evangelicals do speak out for academic freedom.

    They live and breathe the motto ‘Teach the controversy’.

    Their whole raison d’etre is to examine controversy, bring it into the open and teach that there is a controversy.

  • The Atheist Missionary

    I am currently reading Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (IVP Academic, 2011), a weighty tome by Douglas Groothuis. The Scripture Index refers to over 150 different sections of Matthew but 27:51-54 is not mentioned. Licona is mentioned only once, for co-authoring The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus with Gary Habermas Kregel, 2004) cited for: “a very thorough refutation of all the naturalistic theories to explan away the resurrection”.

    Licona’s experience is precisely why I am so dubious of relying on the opinion of Biblical scholars whose tenure is tied to adhering to the tenets of any particular religion.

    • Walter

      Licona’s experience is precisely why I am so dubious of relying on the opinion of Biblical scholars whose tenure is tied to adhering to the tenets of any particular religion.


      This is why I am underwhelmed by appeals to scholarly consensus on such issues as the historicity of the “empty tomb.”

  • John W. Loftus

    …and next they came for Randal Rauser.

    I just saw a new book, titled, “The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture,” by Christian Smith.

    I’ll bet you’d like it.

    • randal

      Yes, it is on my to-read list. Very much in the Sparks-Enns trajectory.

    • Jouras

      They won’t come for Randall, John.

      He will be helping you come for the others.

  • Brad Haggard

    I still think someone needs to ask Mohler if he’s even read the book for himself.

  • Jim Moore


    As you are well aware what happened to Dr. Licona is fairly common in American evangelicalism. I can think of several faculty members at my own alma mater, Westminster Theological Seminary, who went through varying degrees of the same kind of laundering in the 30 some-odd years since I became affiliated with it.

    I agree with you 100% that the same type of behavior can be found in other social groups. Yes, fear, ignorance, and power politics all play key roles. But I think there are also key differences between orthodox Christian churches and most other social groups that exacerbate this behavior:

    1. Christians are supposed to be counter-cultural. This sets up continual conflict between isolationists and accommodationists.
    2. The consequences of failure are eternal.
    3. Orthodox Christianity requires belief in more demonstrable falsehoods than most other social groups with an actively-defended orthodoxy.

    • randal

      “1. Christians are supposed to be counter-cultural. This sets up continual conflict between isolationists and accommodationists.”

      That’s only one model of church/state relations, and it is not the one I gravitate to.

      “2. The consequences of failure are eternal.”

      That’s a claim in need of defense. It is simply wrong to think that getting doctrines wrong is what damns people.

      “3. Orthodox Christianity requires belief in more demonstrable falsehoods than most other social groups with an actively-defended orthodoxy.”

      It depends how one is defining “orthodox Christianity.”

      • Jim Moore

        “That’s only one model of church/state relations, and it is not the one I gravitate to.”

        With you 100%. If only more conservative Christians agreed with us!

        “That’s a claim in need of defense. It is simply wrong to think that getting doctrines wrong is what damns people.”

        Agreed again. Take my comment as short-hand for the real problems of which persistence in doctrinal error is a symptom: hatred of God, unbelief, idolatrous lust, and pride. At least those are the motives an orthodox believer is likely to ascribe to a heretic. It is possible but unlikely that the heretic is in sincere pursuit of the truth and actually found some that the church has gotten wrong. Being human, the “heretic” is likely to provide the orthodox with plenty of evidence in support of their negative assessment. What evidence is lacking they can manufacture by deduction from Biblical descriptions of false teachers like that in Jude. When an orthodox church calls a “heretic” to repentance and he/she continually refuses, what does that say about him/her? Apostate, and therefore likely hell spawn. I’ve been treated to this myself. They told me that it would be far crueller for them to keep silent and let me perish in my sins.

        • randal

          Your sorry persecutors should read the chapter on liberal Christians in my book You’re not as Crazy as I Think. The road to hell is paved with dizzyingly precise theological catechisms and creeds that declared everyone anathema while ignoring the poor and disenfranchised.

  • Jag Levak

    “One could just as well speak of an academic lynching.”

    Or, one could speak of someone getting bounced out of a private club, which has entirely voluntary membership, merely for refusing to go along with the membership requirements.

    “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.”

    I couldn’t tell whether that was supposed to be “a religion in particular” or “religion in general”. If the former, then it isn’t clear at all how that is incompatible with it being opposition to free thought tied to ignorance, fear, and power politics.

  • Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Hi Randall — I’ve blogged about this here and here. The second link specifically responds to your post.


    Jeffery Jay Lowder

    • randal

      Thanks for the links. I appreciate your commends and find your assessment very fair minded and balanced.

  • Ray Ingles

    Incidentally, where the gloating skeptics go critically wrong is in thinking that this opposition to free thought is tied to religion in particular.

    I don’t know of anyone who claims that religion is the sole risk factor for such things. Most ‘skeptics’ just see religion as a major risk factor (and sometimes a symptom).

  • Mark

    I’d be interested in hearing your take on Mike Licona’s argument for the resurrection. Not that you don’t already have a million other things to do :p

  • Jouras

    First they came for…etc.

    But they won’t come for Randall.

    Randall will be helping them come for the others.

    • Jag Levak

      “Randall will be helping them come for the others.”

      If you are referring to Randal, I’ve seen him engage many people he disagrees with, and I’ve seen him decline to engage on certain points, but I haven’t seen anywhere that he has actively sought to stifle the expression of ideas he disagreed with–not even in the comments section of his own blog. Have you?

    • pete


      Haven’t you already said that one?

      Do you mind proffering an original opinion with a novel nuance?

      Are you the intellectual Gestappo?

      • Jouras

        1. Yes.

        2. Not at all.

        3. Nope, that’s your job.

    • Walter

      First they came for…etc.

      But they won’t come for Randall.

      Depends on who “they” are. Randal would have certainly faced expulsion for heresy if he were a member of the Christian denomination of my youth. His vague inclusivism and his belief in an errant bible would suffice to earn him a seat on heresy row.

      Randall(sic) will be helping them come for the others.

      A mature faith should face criticism head on. I do not believe that people should be shielded from opposing viewpoints. Let Loftus and Randal duke it out in a public venue; let the arguments speak for themselves.

    • randal

      Just for you Jouras.

  • Robert

    Dr. Norman Geisler said

    “… we do not wish to stifle scholarship but only to reject bad scholarship. Further, as Evangelicals we must beware of desiring a seat at the table of contemporary scholarship, which is riddled with presuppositions that are antagonistic to Evangelical Christianity. Indeed, when necessary, we must place Lordship over scholarship” (emphasis mine)

    If the presuppositions that [many?] contemporary scholars hold are in error, then anyone who wants to spread truth will already be motivated to identify those presuppositions and explain why they are wrong.** There is no need to be concerned about things “antagonistic to Evangelical Christianity” specifically. If Evangelical Christian interpretations are true, and if human beings have good reasons to think they are true, then Dr. Geisler can simply argue for those reasons because “antagonistic to Evangelical Christianity” would equal “antagonistic to what is true”!

    Instead, Dr. Geisler goes one (unnecessary) step further by saying “we must place Lordship over scholarship”. This sounds suspiciously like a get-out-of-jail-free card.

    If Lordship – whatever that actually means – includes a dedication to whatever is true, then Lordship is not in conflict what I (and I think most people) label “scholarship”. It is only in conflict with (as he says) “bad scholarship”.

    So on the one hand, Dr. Geisler is against bad scholarship. I commend him for that. I’m against it too. So is my neighbor Larry and the guy who makes my sandwiches at Subway.

    One the other hand, Dr. Geisler feels it’s necessary to bring up a supposed dichotomy between “Lordship” and “scholarship”. Wait … I thought he was against bad scholarship? Now all the sudden he is against any scholarship at all that is not under what he labels “Lordship”.

    If Evangelical scholars are concerned about “Lordship”, and “Lordship” is true, then they can simply defend whatever is most likely true and they would also be defending whatever is most likely “Lordship”. If “Lordship” brings people to accept good scholarship, then they can just defend good scholarship. However, if “Lordship” does *not* bring people to believe whatever is most likely true, then why the heck would Dr. Geisler defend it?

    One reason would be that “Lordship” is a nice trump card: Someone can always just say “X is not under (what I label) Lordship and so Mike Licona (or Randal Rauser or the lady in that other pew) should reject X.” Fine. But this just begs the question: Why exactly should anyone accept Dr. Geisler’s definition of “Lordship”?

    ** As a good example, Eddy and Boyd argue against many presuppositions denying the resurrection in The Jesus Legend.

  • Steven Carr

    Licona knew the rules of the club he joined. If he did not want to abide by those rules, he should have done the honourable thing and resigned.

    • randal

      “Licona knew the rules of the club he joined.”

      Bullocks. The rules of the SBC have continued to be redrawn over the last thirty years. Mike has every right to provide reasonable grounds for redrawing them once again. Anyway, his comment on Matthew was about hermeneutics, not inerrancy. The people who drove him out are loud-mouthed bullies.

  • Jag Levak

    [edit: this was supposed to be in answer to a comment by Jouras above, but it wound up in the wrong spot.”

    “And so the answer is NO.”

    I think Randal doesn’t have a leg to stand on here. But however misguided, I believe what he is opposing is not criticism of Licona’s ideas, but the punitive actions taken against him, personally, which Randal seems to view as making an example of Licona, to send a chilling and stifling message of doctrinal discipline contrary to the principles of academic reason and free inquiry–which Randal absurdly thinks has anything to do with the inerrantist Biblical “studies” of the Southern Baptist Convention.

    But it is not at all inconsistent for Randal to fight for Licona’s inclusion in a club where he clearly does not belong, while also leaving Licona to champion his own ideas and address his own critics in the free marketplace of ideas. Arguing for someone’s free expression does not incur any burden to defend everything they have to say.

  • Jouras

    Notice that Norman Geisler trashed Licona’s book in his Amazon review as well.

    Ironically, Geisler did NOT review the book WIBA by John Loftus, but did praise it and give it a back cover blurb.

    Like Randall Rauser, he bends over to not offend Lofus.

    Why are you all so AFRAID of the ADMITTED LIAR whose OWN FAMILY did not trust him?

  • David Marshall

    Randall: I have to say, I think some of your post is a little overwrought.

    I’m not an inerracist. I don’t like the position. It will probably keep me from being given some jobs. I think it’s a stupid and unhelpful position to take: it distracts attention from the real issues, and puts Christians in a defensive attitude, where atheists ought to be, since they are denying a much larger slice of reality.

    But Christian schools are not state schools. Nor is the purpose of schools to provide work for teachers. Christian schools are founded to educate students in a manner of which those who found the schools think good for the students and for society, in agreement with their own beliefs. Parents expect that, no doubt. If a school is founded with inerrancy as one of its guiding principles, then people who disagree with that principle (like me) should work somewhere else. Playing semantic games, as Licona appears to have done, really is not the solution.

    This does promote a ghetto mentality, and is unfortunate. But comparisons to the Holocaust are, as I said, overwrought, and unfair to the complexity of the situation, IMO.

    • randal

      “But comparisons to the Holocaust are, as I said, overwrought….”

      I explicitly said I wasn’t comparing the situation to the Nazis or the Holocaust. Indeed, I said to try and make that comparison would be stupid. I stand behind the point as it is stated and carefully qualified: over the last thirty years the SBC has become more and more conservative and less and less tolerant of dissenting positions on that newly defined conservatism. And this was a reminder that we all have an obligation to stand against the growing intolerance and fundamentalist insularity in some sectors. The fact that a scholar as balanced, moderate and downright intelligent as Dr. Licona has been swept away in the tides is a sign of a wider troubling trend.

  • This stuff has been going on with Protestants since DAY ONE


    This stuff has been going on with Christians, including Protestants, since DAY ONE. Have none of you guys read the harsh words Luther had for fellow Reformers whose views he disagreed with, or read Calvin’s words addressed to fellow Reformers whose views he disagreed with? Or Luther’s and Melanchthon’s words concerning Catholics, the Pope, the Jews, Anabaptists, heretics, blasphemers, witches?

    This kind of stuff is still going on in Evangelical circles. Why is the Licona case different from other Christian profs who had to leave their jobs at Christian colleges because they came to realize that Genesis 1 might not be “historical?” Several have had to do so this past decade, some theologians, some scientsits. One was put on “heresy” trial for his theistic evolution view, which I suppose is better than just “firing him,” because it gives him time to “recant,” and return to creationism.

    Gundry was ousted from the Evangelical Theological society in the 1980s for arguing that the nativity stories were not “historical.” More recently Pinnock was forced to change a footnote in one of his books that suggested Paul in 1 Thes. might have made a false prediction. A prof. at Wheaton converted to Catholicism and had to leave that college. The president of the Evangelical Theological Society also converted to Catholicism and stepped down from his post in the ETS.

    That reminds me. The film “EXPELLED” focused on a small group of IDist and creationist supporters who claimed to have been discriminated against in the workplace (though it was shown that their work was sub-par). But the truth is that such discrimination is far more prevalent in Christian institutions of higher learning. In some of those, to take an extreme case like BJU, you can’t even attend a church that features “contemporary Christian music,” or you will be fired.

    And then there’s the Christian Reform Schools that believe in duct taping kids mouths and tossing them in a closet, and making them pee or hold it on command, and paddle their bottoms blue.

    A shocking and revealing documentary ought to be made about Christian intolerance of their fellow Christians. Let’s title it “EXCOMMUNICATED!”

    • randal

      Ed, as I pointed out in my follow-up article, every community censors / bars / excludes certain opinions as being off-limits in some way for people who want to participate fully within the community. Institutions of higher education all have these limitations as well. Some of them are ideological, others are personal, others are driven by externa concern for funding or public image. But they’re all present. So while I share your negative opinion of a number of the cases you cite, this is not a unique mark of Christian schools or Christians generally. In other words “This stuff has been going on with [human institutions] since DAY ONE.” And it ain’t all bad either. Many opinions do need to be excluded for the institution in question. You can’t tolerate holocaust denial in a legitimate history department. It isn’t even considered a valid question of enquiry for all sorts of reasons.

      • Ed Babinski

        Randal, A far more convincing and damning film can be made out of Christians expelling other Christians from their midst, than secular institutions expelling others from their midst.

        Just look at the history of Christianity leading to 45,000 different denominations, missionary organizations, sects, including separatist churches.

        In fact colleges in the U.S. used to all be sectarian, the students having to belong to one particular Christian denomination. All the colleges in the U.S. were once connected with a particular Christian denomination. Secularism changed that about 150 years ago when the first non-denominational college (I think it might have been Cornell) was founded.

        And look at the history of all those colleges in the U.S. founded by one denomination or another. If one college became a bit too “liberal” like Harvard did, then someone founded Yale in protest, due to Harvard’s “theological excesses.” When Princeton accepted “modernist” professors then the “fundamentalists” quit in protest to found Westminster Seminary, etc. (And now look at Westminister by the way, and the trouble Enns got into there with his book questioning inerrancy.) What it looks like is that conservative Christian universities cannot maintain the intellectual barricades forever, especially not after they open up to the far wider world of scholarship in general. And so after 200 or so years of attracting bright profs and students who read widely, even the most conservative Christians (Harvard was founded by PURITANS) start to ask more questions than before, and a wider spectrum of opinion starts to blossom (today’s Protestant Christians have the “viewpoints” series published by three different Evangelical publishing houses). But there’s always folks for whom such a widening spectrum of Christian opinion is “anathema” as Paul might say, who go out and found tinier more inbred conservative Christian colleges in reaction to the questions posed by more open scholarly inquiries.

  • David Marshall

    Randall: The problem with analogies, however limitted, to the Holocaust, is that it sucks all the oxygen out of the air and directs attention there. This is reflected in both my response to your post, and yours to mine. I can understand why the analogy is tempting, in this limitted form.

    But my main points are that (a) Schools are for students, not for teachers; (b) Christian schools are NOT like public schools, and comparisons (such as made by the last poster — Ed Babinski?) are irrelevant — we all pay for public schools, and therefore have every right to expect fairness; (c) Schools founded in accordance to some doctrine have the right, even obligation, to hold teachers to that doctrine; (d) finding the right balance between too much control and tool little will always be difficult, and there are bad consequences to errors on both sides; (e) I happen to agree that the doctrine of inerrancy is a bad idea. (f) Your larger claim, that this incident marks a trend in evangelical schools, may be true, for all I know, and if so, I admit I also find it annoying.

    How do you feel about Azusa Pacific? I was just talking with a representative about this issue yesterday. He described it as a balancing act. Keeping one’s balance, as Chesterton recognized, it always hard to do: there are no easy solutions, IMO.

    • randal

      I recognize the inherent problems with anything that has a Nazi resonance. I did weigh the value of ending with the famous quote attributed to Edmund Burke about evil triumphing when good men do nothing. But that’s so overdone. And I liked the way the adapted “First they came” poem captures the progression of conservative retrenchment over the last tihrty years, especially in the SBC. I have a friend who did a DMin at Southwestern Seminary several years ago, and during his time there the school moved to limit women from various teaching positions, women who had been marvelous teachers and scholars to that point. The SBC 2000 Statement of faith embodies this new sexism with its affrontive reference to “men” at the expense of gender inclusivity.

      Anyway, I’m rambling. I take your point. When you choose a potentially inflammatory illustration you shoulder a real risk, and perhaps in this case it was ultimately counterproductive. But I still like my “First they came” poem.

      By the way, my wife can’t be a member of our church because it’s Baptist and she was pedo-baptized. Meh. I can’t blame a Baptist church for being a Baptist church, now can I?

      • Walter

        By the way, my wife can’t be a member of our church because it’s Baptist and she was pedo-baptized. Meh. I can’t blame a Baptist church for being a Baptist church, now can I?

        Can’t she just get re-baptized as an adult? Will the second baptism not work right because the first one was performed improperly?

        • randal

          My wife and I share the conviction that people who have been legitimately baptized should not be rebaptized.

          • Walter

            Oh I see. I asked because I came from a Baptist Church and we had some former Catholics rebaptized as adults since they no longer believed in pedo-baptism. I know the term “anabaptist” from the 16th century literally means “to baptize over again.”

            I was just curious.

          • Walter

            Funny thing was that I was never able to officially join the Baptist Church of my youth because I never performed the Baptism ritual while attending. I suffer from an intense anxiety when it comes to public speaking and baptisms were performed as a public ceremony in front of the church. I did not get baptized until I joined with a Stone-Campbell Church of Christ. The CoC believe that baptism is a sacramental requirement for salvation and their preachers will baptize you immediately, without waiting to do it ceremonially on the next Sunday.

            • randal

              Interesting. I know the whole public declaration thing is a hangup for many people.

              My view is that believers baptism should be the normative rite but is not the necessary form. Pedobaptism coupled with confirmation would, in my view, be sufficient as a baptism.

              This brings me to one of the great implausibiities with traditional baptistic (believers only baptized) theology. It entails that the vast majority of Christians throughout history (people who were pedobaptized) never received the entry rite to the Christian church. That strikes me as absurd.

              • Ed Babinski

                Randal, A mountain of words have been expended on the debate of when to baptize, how to baptize, and what baptism means, and you just shrug your shoulders. I bet you don’t even care if they squirt some holy water into the woman’s uterus and “baptize” in utero (as Catholics were doing prior to Vatican 2 in cases where the woman was likely to loose her baby). It’s all the same to Randal. To think that Christians in the fourth century, the Donatists, baptized adults and were condemned by the Catholics for doing so, and for insisting that their church, the Donatist church, was “truer and holier” than the Catholic church since the later accepted priests and bishops who had spat on the cross of Christ to avoid persecution. While Donatist priests and bishops remained purer and holier. The whole Donatist story is worth reading sometime. Their were many Donatist martyrs and also Donatists who rioted against Catholic control of their churches. Some of St. Augustine’s relatives were Donatists. (Augustine’s view of baptism was that infants were in the clutches of Satan until they were baptized. So it was an essential rite and had to be performed on infants.)

                And then there’s the Anabaptists during the Reformation who started practicing adult baptism. They were hated and persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants, and executed in the thousands by both.

                THE ANABAPTISTS
                Although Catholic and Protestants were mortal enemies during most of the Reformation, they united to kill certain Christians [named derogatorily, “Anabaptists”] for the crime of double baptism. “A larger proportion of Anabaptists were martyred for their faith than any other Christian group in history–including even the early Christians on whom they modeled themselves,” British scholar Bamber Gascoigne wrote. [p.109]

                SOURCE: James A. Haught, Holy Horrors: An Illustrated History of Religious Murder and Madness (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1990)

                It is a fact recognized by many recent historians that the persecution of the Anabaptists surpassed in severity the persecution of the early Christians by pagan Rome. Persecution began in [Protestant] Zurich soon after the [Anabaptist] Brethren had organized a congregation. Imprisonment of varying severity, sometimes in dark dungeons, was followed by executions. Felix Manz was the first martyr to die in Zurich, but at least two Brethren had been martyred earlier in other cantons of Switzerland by Roman Catholic governments. Within a short period the leaders of the Brethren lost their lives in the persecution…

                Anabaptism was made a capital crime. Prices were set on the heads of Anabaptists. To give them food and shelter was a made a crime. In Roman Catholic states even those who recanted were often executed. Generally, however, those who abjured their faith were pardoned except in Bavaria and, for a time, in Austria and also in the Netherlands. The duke of Bavaria, in 1527, gave orders that the imprisoned Anabaptists should be burned at the stake, unless they recanted, in which case they should be beheaded. King Ferdinand I of Austria issued a number of severe decrees against them, the first general mandate being dated August 28, 1527. In Catholic countries the Anabaptists, as a rule, were executed by burning at the stake, in Lutheran and Zwinglian states generally by beheading or drowning. [p.299-302]

                SOURCE: “Persecution,” a chapter in Mennonites in Europe (Rod & Staff Publishers) Also available online at

                • randal

                  “A mountain of words have been expended on the debate of when to baptize, how to baptize, and what baptism means, and you just shrug your shoulders.”

                  I don’t just “shrug my shoulders”. I carefully laid out my position in my 2006 article (in Canadian Evangelical Review/) called “Ecumenism, Eucharist, and an Antirealism we can Live With.” While that article applies the framework I develop to eucharist it could also readily be applied to baptism.

                  • Ed Babinski

                    Randal, If you want to become a Spiritual Cultural Relativisit, or even a Unitarian, fine. Make every Eucharistic celebration equally relevant and holy, or make all symbolic. But if you think you can get all Christians to become Randal-tarians good luck. Try going to a conservative Catholic church (one that annually features a display showing the miracles of the Eucharist in their lobby) and try receiving communion there for weeks on end, and see how the priest reacts once they find out you’re not Catholic but merely demonstrating the truth of an article you wrote about the Eucharist. In a similar fashion there’s denominations that believe you are baptized into their denomination.

                    You know Luther drove a knife into a table while debating the Eucharist with fellow Protestants, and said, “The Gospels says this IS my blood.” The Catholics have trans-substantiation. The Lutherans have a holy Eucharist as well. The Calvinists in Calvin’s day had a Eucharist that was not totally devoid of a special holy property either in a communal salvific sense, since excommunication in Calvin’s day involved forbidding people to partake of the Eucharist (but I think that did not forbid them from attending church, which was still mandatory).

                    At any rate, let me know how many folks you are able to convert to Randal-tarianism concerning the essential holy rites of Christianity. And not just intellectual converts who nod a few times at your paper, but churches filled with people of all Christian denominations who have come to practice Randal-tarian Eucharistic rites.

                    I suspect that Secularism is your real friend. It is a secularistic society that allows you to write as openly as you do without fear of persecution or cries of blasphemy and heresy.

                    • randal

                      Ed, I really don’t know what you’re talking about here. My proposal is a critical appropriation of some postliberal themes in a way that is consistent with doctrinal realism and evangelical conviction.

                      “I suspect that Secularism is your real friend. It is a secularistic society that allows you to write as openly as you do without fear of persecution or cries of blasphemy and heresy.”

                      I’m not sure how you’re defining “secularism” here. But I trace my spiritual lineage to people like Thomas Helwys who pleaded to King James I for religious freedom and to prophetic ecumenists like George Calixtus and Philip Melanchthon and to pacifists like Menno Simons and ultimately back to Lactantius who, to my knowledge, made the first plea for religious (and irreliegious) toleration in western thought.

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  • Ed Babinski

    Randal, You wrote, “I trace my heritage back to…” — in other words, any “heritage” that gives one more “freedom of conscience,” and “leeway/freedom of theological interpretation.”

    To which I say, “heritage-shmeritage.” Anyone can play that game if all you’re doing is picking and choosing one’s “heritage” like food in a buffet line. If I were to play it I could “trace my heritage” as far back as some pre-Socratics. So you have no “heritage.” All you are have are people you “like,” whose views you agree with, not a “heritage.”

    Why not admit you are your own church choosing your own heritage? All of which sounds like a pretty secular notion to me, and as irrefutible as inerrancy, or as infallible as the Catholic Magisterium. But what authority does any of your bland shoulder shrugging have?

    Do you even know much about Melanchthon? How he drafted a paper demanding the death penalty for Anabaptists and anyone else who didn’t affirm every article of the Apostle’s Creed and Luther signed it as well as many Protestant ministers, and the paper was presented to the ruler of Saxony?

    Or how Melanchthon afterwards became the chief inquisitor of that region? Melanchthon cursed Anabaptists to high heaven in one of his works. And he held his own little inquisition in Saxony.

    Back then the ruler’s religion and the people’s religion was the same. If they did not agree with the ruler’s religion it was considered heresy and treason. That’s why children in Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist lands were baptized at birth into that region’s religion.

    It was the Anabaptists who started reading the Bible for themselves in the vernacular languages into which it was being translated, and forming their own opinions. And we all know were reading the Bible for yourself eventually lead. It lead after the Thirty Years War to the Enlightenment, and to modern open biblical criticism. And to the continuing splintering of “Christianity” into “Christianities,” i.e., into denominations and sects galore.

    Back to the Anabaptists. They were viewed as a threat by all except other Anabaptists. Because in the Catholic and Protestant kingdoms each state church had its creedal list of beliefs and had its own catechism classes teaching the truth of either the Catholic, or the Lutheran, or the Calvinist belief and sacramental system.

    It took a Thirty Years War followed by The Enlightenment Period to loosen things up. In fact Calvinism wasn’t even admitted by Catholics and Lutherans to be a valid form of the Christian religion until AFTER THE THIRTY YEARS WAR. Before then even Lutherans and Calvinists sometimes rioted against one another.

    Melanchthon accepted the chairmanship of the secular inquisition that suppressed Anabaptist preachers in Germany with imprisonment or death. ‘Why should we pity such men more than God does?’ he asked, for he was convinced that God had destined all Anabaptists to hell. A regular inquisition was set up in Saxony, with Melanchthon on the bench, and under it many persons were punished, some with death, some with life imprisonment, and some with exile.
    “Even though the Anabaptists do not advocate anything seditious or openly blasphemous” it was, in his opinion, “the duty of the authorities to put them [unrepentent Anabaptist preachers who dared to preach in Saxony] to death.”

    At the end of 1530, Melanchthon drafted a memorandum in which he defended a regular system of coercion by the sword (i.e., death for Anabaptists, and anybody who didn’t agree with the articles of the Apostle’s Creed). Luther signed it with the words, “It pleases me,” and added: Though it may appear cruel to punish them by the sword, yet it is even more cruel of them . . . not to teach any certain doctrine — to persecute the true doctrine.”

    Protestant theologian Hunzinger concludes that Melanchthon was wont to lose no time in having recourse to fire and sword. This forms a dark blot on his life. Many a man fell victim to his memorandum.

    In 1530 Melanchthon recommended death for rejection of the Real Presence
    of Christ in the Eucharist, but changed his mind on this very doctrine later in his life!

    As to the myth that torture was a tactic solely of Catholics, Janssen quotes a Protestant eyewitness to the contrary: The Protestant theologian Meyfart . . . described the tortures which he had personally witnessed . . . ‘The subtle Spaniard and the wily Italian have a horror of these bestialities and brutalities, and at Rome it is not customary to subject a murderer . . . an incestuous person, or an adulterer to torture for the space of more than an hour'; but in Germany. . torture is kept up for a whole day, for a day and a night, for two days . . . even also for four days . . . after which it begins again . . ‘There are stories extant so horrible and revolting that no true man can hear of them without a shudder.’
    He gives also another typical instance of the treatment of Anabaptists: At Augsburg, in the first half of the year 1528, about 170 Anabaptists of both sexes were either imprisoned or expelled by order of the new-religionist Town Council. Some were . . . burnt through the cheeks with hot irons; many were beheaded; some had their tongues cut out.

    • randal

      “Anyone can play that game if all you’re doing is picking and choosing one’s “heritage” like food in a buffet line.”

      Ed, I’m a Baptist. My tradition is founded on the separation of church and state, religious freedom, free assembly and conscientious objection. To the extent where other Christians have emulated aspects of that tradition I count them spiritual participants in the best aspects of my Baptist heritage.

      As for Melanchthon, he was a creature of his times as we all are, and he dealt with the political realities of the German princes and the Holy Roman Emperor. But there is no doubting that he had a much more ecumenical spirit than many of his Reformation compatriots. He often warned against the danger of dogmatism over excessively precise theological formulation.

      Finally, I am on the side of oppressed and marginalized peoples throughout history, including the beleaguered Anabaptists of the sixteenth century. (There were more Anabpatists martyred by sixteenth century Catholics and Protestants than were Christians martyred by the “pagan” Roman empire.) And I’m in that noble tradition of siding with the oppressed classes not least because Jesus would be as well.

  • David Marshall

    Ed: You’re starting to sound a bit fanatical. No one denies that many Christians, in the past, have been way too hard-assed in pushing the ritual minutia of their chosen sect. A lot of us feel that the whole “Church and State” thing took a wrong turn in the 4th Century, as Confucianism took a wrong turn under the early Han emperors, and that secularization has therefore been in some senses a return to the milder NT norm where preaching is persuasion, not force. We defend that position both theologically and sociologically.

    Anyway, EVERY belief system under Heaven is subject to the same corruption, AS JESUS PREDICTS. Some have done a lot worse than the Christian norm. So why don’t you back off a bit on all the heavy breathing?

  • Brad Haggard

    Well, it looks like Licona can take care of himself:

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