Posted by Clark Bates
October 11, 2017
In recent weeks, there has been a great deal of tumult in the apologetics world over some statements made by Dr. Craig Evans and the subsequent supporting remarks made by Dr. Michael Licona. Both men are respected New Testament scholars, published authors, and influential figures in the world of Christian apologetics. Several weeks ago, a video surfaced of a discussion between secular New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman and Dr. Evans in which Dr. Evans is asked whether or not he believes the “I am” sayings contained in the gospel of John to be authentic sayings of Jesus. It’s at this point that Dr. Evans states that he does not believe these sayings to be authentic, but rather a re-imagining of the words of Christ to fit John’s advanced Christology. In essence, Dr. Evans believes that when Jesus is recorded as saying, “I am the way, the truth and the life” it is, in actuality, John saying “he was” the way. . .
Expectedly this, drew the ire of several conservative apologists who took to the internet and social media, castigating the fall of a once-believed “conservative” New Testament scholar. In response to this attack, another apologist/scholar, Dr. Mike Licona, spoke out in support of Dr. Evans. In his blog post, Dr. Licona points to matters such as the “sound” of Jesus in John, being different than in the synoptic gospels and the “fact” that “all” scholars accept that John adapted the story of Jesus to fit his theology. There are a great many details to the claim of Johannine adaptation that I will not cover here, but it is sufficient at this point to say that Johannine adaptation is a broad category that is not uniformly agreed upon. While both Dr. Evans and Dr. Licona seek to distance themselves from secular scholars like Dr. Ehrman, and continue to affirm the historicity of the gospels and a commitment to inerrancy, it is becoming dubious how they can remain consistent in doing so.
The intent of this blog post is not to dissect either man’s position. Many, far more qualified, men and women have already done so. No, this post exists to ask one question. It’s a question all who operate in the apologetics community must ask themselves. A question that, if we aren’t certain on our answer, could potentially spell the ruin for many in the faith. The question is simply this:
“Which table do you want to sit at?”
As I write this, I am working toward my second graduate degree with an eye to a PhD. While I choose to remain active in the apologetics community, my real goal is to teach at the university level. I say this simply to point out that what follows is a question and challenge for my own person, as much as it is, or should be, for others, like Dr. Licona and Dr. Evans. You see, at the heart of Christian apologetics is the desire to present the faith as reasonable and competitive in the realm of worldviews. This necessarily involves presenting the faith as scholastic and deserving of a seat at the academic table. For those of us who seek to operate within the halls of the Academy there is a very real aspiration to be considered an equal; an aspiration to have a seat at that academic table. This desire can develop into an all-encompassing goal; a goal that will create a willingness to jettison various aspects of the Chrisitan message that are deemed “unacceptable” in the realm of academia, so that our writings might be published, or are lectures might reach a wider audience. This isn’t done out of a heretical hostility toward the Word of God or even the Christian faith, far from it. In reality, it is often justified under the guise of what is “essential” and the imagination of what “good” we can do “once we’ve been received into that community.”
But there is a problem. The problem is that before we are apologists, before we are academics, we are Christians. As Christians, we proclaim Christ. The same Christ that the world hated so much they crucified him. He is the cornerstone of all that we believe and all that we teach. As Christians, we already sit at a table, the table of the King, and it is a table that will always preclude us from full membership at any other table.
As I said above, for some in the apologetics community, this desire for academic achievement can result in a willingness to make concessions in the realm of faith. In some extremes, it has led to the denial of doctrinal necessities like the virgin birth, the historical Passover, the bodily resurrection of Christ, or even the rejection of large portions of Scripture, all in the name of academic equality. This isn’t always the case, of course. More often it begins with the acceptance of a secular methodology or a shift toward practical naturalism. This inevitably leads to the rejection of larger portions of the faith, typically with the adherent proclaiming their “conservative” positions and adherence to Christian doctrines right to the bitter end.
However, in no unclear terms, our Lord said that we cannot serve two masters, or else we will hate the one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. But you have to believe that our Lord actually said that. The first epistle of John tells us that we cannot love the world and claim to love Christ. But you have to believe that an apostle wrote those words. You cannot have a seat at the academic table, in full membership of the community, while trying to retain a seat at the table of the King with all that is required of that seat. The Academy will never fully accept the scholarship of orthodox Christianity and certainly not Christian apologetics, because it is, by its very nature, opposed to such things.
Before we are apologists, before we are academics, we are Christians.
While this might feel like a splash of cold water in the face of many with dreams of scholastic notoriety, it is better to realize this early than late. I didn’t set out to write this post to argue against Dr. Evans and Dr. Licona, or to argue in favor of any of their positions. I only want to offer a warning, a warning that I must repeat to myself regularly. If you are an apologist, an aspiring apologist, or merely an outside observer, decide now which table you really want to sit at. Deciding later, when your career depends on it, is potentially catastrophic.
As for me, though I do greatly desire to sit at the academic table, I will not do so if it means giving up my seat at the King’s table. I am a Christian apologist. I am a Christian academic. I am a Christian scholar. But I am first and foremost a Christian. Ask yourself, which do you want to hear at the end of your life, “Well done you critical and reasonable scholar.” or, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”?