Mike Licona Answers Regarding Lydia McGrew

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Mike Licona has asked me to post this in response to my article last week urging him to answer Lydia McGrew’s objections to his work on Why Are There Differences in the Gospels. I’ll add a short, final response of my own. There is a link to Lydia’s response at the end of Mike’s message.

This is the one and final time I expect to pass along a message on this topic, but I did think it was fair to allow Mike a space to answer the question I’d posed him. My own response below, and my role in this, are strictly about making observations from a strategic perspective.

Mike’s Message

I want to thank Tom Gilson for his blog post in which he encourages me to engage with Lydia McGrew. It was well written and his desire is understandable. Allow me to explain why I have declined to engage her.

My schedule is filled to the brim. So far this year, I’ve had three debates for which to prepare and do. As soon as the third was over, I had one week to prepare for lecturing in Indonesia, creating about a dozen PowerPoint presentations. And then I was there for two weeks. I’ve had several other responsibilities this spring and I am presently in the midst of completing a 10-day road trip. While doing all of this, I’ve been teaching two graduate level courses online at HBU. Thus, my schedule is extremely unforgiving. (This is not to imply anything about Lydia’s schedule. I’m simply noting that I have to guard my time by being selective in those things I choose to do.) So, I hope you can appreciate that I have very little bandwidth to spare.

I have received many comments on my more recent books. Some people agree. Some people do not. Of course, no one expects me to respond to everyone who offers criticisms or has a question (on social media, blogs, or in academic literature). If I did, that would consume my entire day, every day. Since I want to redeem my time, I must exercise restraint and carefully choose with whom I will engage and how long I will engage with them. That is why I keep my interactions on Facebook at a minimum. And when I do interact there, I usually severely limit the extent of my dialogues. The issue then for me is whether Lydia’s criticisms of my recent book justify my engagement. I do not think that they do. And here is why.

Engaging with Lydia would require a significant amount of time. Since her blogs on my book are very long, I would begin by reading them, which would take a few hours. Replying to them cannot be completed in a mere 45 minutes but would require much more time. I’d probably be looking at a solid week of work. Then, if Lydia’s past actions are indicative of what would happen next, she would write very long replies to my responses. And those now desiring me to reply would also want for me to reply to her reply. To do that would require another week’s work. So far, I would be looking at a solid two weeks that could be spent otherwise in research or writing.

I’m virtually certain things would not end there, since Lydia would feel compelled to reply to my second reply. And the process goes on, requiring even more hours. (Even a back and forth for Philosophia Christi would require a chunk of time.) Seven years ago when another person was writing a dozen or so open letters to me on the Internet that criticized my book on Jesus’s resurrection, several highly respected evangelical scholars counseled me to ignore him, since engaging would end up sucking up an inordinate amount of my time and would not result in good fruit for the kingdom. I’m very glad I followed their advice, since my refusing to be sidetracked has allowed my ministry to expand nationally and internationally.

Understandably, Tom and some others may answer that, while a significant amount of time would be required of me, I should spend the required time considering Lydia’s criticisms carefully and either revising my position or clarifying and defending it. I do not share their sense of necessity. When I observe several theologians and New Testament scholars, such as J. I. Packer, Robert Stein, Darrell Bock, Mark Strauss, Craig Evans, Craig Keener, Craig Blomberg, and Scot McKnight (all of whom are evangelical and have expertise in the Gospels, having spent decades studying them with passion and reverence) and Christopher Pelling, the foremost scholar on Plutarch, all having read my book and expressed varying degrees of approval while none have expressed anywhere close to the degree of alarm we are seeing from Lydia, I do not feel a necessity to spend the sort of time and emotional capital required to engage Lydia, especially when her critiques are seasoned with a tone that I consider less than charitable, to put it mildly. Therefore, I will leave to others the task of engaging with her.

And there is one who is both qualified and willing to do just that. My friend Kurt Jaros has already engaged with Lydia in the CAA Facebook group. He is presently working toward a PhD in Theology at the University of Aberdeen. Accordingly, this discussion falls within his discipline. Kurt has invited Lydia to engage with him on my book in the sort of public discussion she desires. However, this time it is Lydia who has declined. Nevertheless, those interested will be able to read Kurt’s thoughts this summer, since he has told me that he intends to write several blog posts engaging Lydia’s critiques.

Finally, I’ll venture to guess that most of those who desire for me to engage with Lydia have read her multiple blog posts criticizing my book. And I’ll also guess that either they have not read my book at all or have read only a small portion of it. Some may have read a blog post I have written and/or viewed one of my lectures on the topic. But that’s not enough to get a thorough understanding of what I’ve presented. So, rather than expecting me to spend weeks engaged with Lydia, they can benefit from doing some work: Read my book. Read all of it. Read it with an open mind and assess for themselves whether it’s a plausible, even probable, approach.

Lydia McGrew Responds

Here.

My Response

I appreciate Mike’s taking the time to answer, and I certainly appreciate some of the problems he’s identified in making a response. I have read his book, of course. Yet speaking as a mission and ministry strategist — which is a large part of my training and background, along with apologetics — I still feel a need to respond. (I am limiting my comments in all of this to strategic issues.)

I cannot know all that he is dealing with in his schedule, and it would be wrong to speak as if I did. So  I’ll start with “I wonder if…” and then explain what I’m wondering and why:

I wonder if Mike is making a strategic mistake here, even missing an important and God-given ministry opportunity: a blessing in disguise, actually. (Even if it seems very well disguised.)

Biblical research shouldn’t be just about the findings; it’s has to be about the ministry that flows from it, too. Mike knows that. He knows, too, that if his is a better, more accurate way to understand and interpret the gospels, then the Church really ought to know and adopt it.

But conservative Christianity is strongly biased toward taking the Scriptures at face value, and for certain passages, Mike’s findings do not support a face-value hermeneutic. That means someone will have to invest considerable time in persuading the Church it’s both accurate and trustworthy. I trust Mike has recognized that challenge realistically for what it is.

Kurt Jaros could conceivably do that work, and Mike could stay completely uninvolved with Lydia’s critique. But strategically he needs to take these factors into account:

  1. Local pastors and teachers need very different information and explanations than scholars.
  2. Lydia’s critique allows a golden opportunity to do that work, for it gives a well-defined locus upon which to focus his explanations.
  3. Let’s suppose Kurt can do that work for some audiences, possibly even better than Mike. Different people have different skills, after all, and Kurt might be better at persuasively translating Mike’s findings to a church-based audience. I still have to believe that some conservative leaders — seminary professors, theologically more-sophisticated pastors, etc. — would want to hear Mike’s own response to Lydia.
  4. Some local pastors and teachers realistically won’t read Mike’s book, but will accept or resist his findings based on whether he himself (not Kurt) answers Lydia. Their numbers are unknowable at this time, but may be quite significant.

In sum, if this is ministry and not just scholarship, then Mike will have a hard time staying completely out of the work of explaining it to Christians, overcoming their face-value Scripture bias, and showing them the true value of his hermeneutic. It will take time, yes; but that’s ministry, as he knows without needing me to explain it to him!

And yet I can’t see how he can do that effectively for all major audience groups without engaging with Lydia in the process. It could be that Kurt could do a lot of that work, but I strongly suspect Mike will need to do some, too.

Otherwise, no matter how great his scholarship is, it could very likely remain just scholarship.

With that I’ve said my peace, and I expect this will be all I have to say on this matter. It is for Mike and Lydia to decide where to go from here. And it is up to them to carry the communication forward, if any. I’ve done my part in that, so I will bow out of it from this point forward, unless events demand my participation, which I do not expect.