Norman Geisler: Context, Application and Defense

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Upon discovering Dr. Norman Geisler’s first defense of Dr. Ergun Caner I wondered how he would address the evidence. Some responded that Geisler did not answer well and ignored the context of some of Dr. Caner’s statements.

Geisler then responded with a follow-up article – In Further Defense of Ergun Caner. He attempted to seemingly explain away some of the context of Caner’s statements. Given the notable contributions of Dr. Geisler to Christian apologetics over the years I wondered if he might evaluate pseudo-Christian cult claims in the same manner. Below are two examples from a book by Norman Geisler and Peter Bocchino that evaluate the theological claims of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Note the carefulness in which these claims are evaluated. (Bold emphasis mine.)

Some people believe that Jesus was an angel. The following quote gives the basis for why the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, insist that Jesus was actually Michael, the archangel:

At 1 Thessalonians 4:16 the command of Jesus Christ for the resurrection to begin is described as “the archangel’s call,” and Jude 9 says that the archangel is Michael. Would it be appropriate to liken Jesus’ commanding call to that of someone lesser in authority? Reasonably, then, the archangel Michael is Jesus Christ. [Reasoning From the Scriptures (New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1985), 218 (emphasis added)]

First, the entire text of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 is not quoted. The complete verse reads, “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God.” To be consistent with their interpretive method, they should also conclude that Jesus is a trumpet, for we are told that Jesus the lord will be coming “with” the archangel Michael and “with” the trumpet call of God. If the Watchtower is correct and Jesus is coming “as” (and not “with”) the archangel, then He must also be coming “as” (and not “with”) the trumpet. – Norman Geisler and Peter Bocchino, Unshakable Foundations: Contemporary Answers to Crucial Questions about the Christian Faith (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 2000), 291.

Note the words in bold. The authors are careful to read the entire context and complete verse. They are also very particular in pointing out the words “with” and “as” and their meaning in relation to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ claims. Not only is completeness and context in focus, but the smallest words are scrutinized as they contribute to the actual meaning the claims.

Referring back to Hebrews 1:6-8, even though the text clearly states that Jesus is to be worshiped by “all God’s angels,” including Michael, the Watchtower teaches that when Michael was brought into the world as a man, the “rest” of the angels worshiped him. This qualification is not in the text. If this view were correct, the contrast given in verse eight, “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God’…” would seem to indicate that Michael is being called God. Yet this is not what the Watchtower teaches. So in order to explain this dilemma, they tell us that this verse should be translated, “God is your throne” and not “Your throne, O God.” Now, it is possible to translate this verse in that manner, depending on the context of the passage. But the context is clearly against it, since it attributes deity to Christ (Hebrews 1:2-3, 8). – Ibid, 294.

Again, note the carefulness of the authors to seek out the meaning of words within their context. Even in the admission of a possible alternate translation of “Your throne, O God” the appeal is to the context for a correct translation. Comparing the above approach from Unshakable Foundations seems inconsistent with Dr. Geisler’s recent article In Further Defense of Ergun Caner. For example, in the first three points of this article the inconsistency in method may be seen within the answers themselves.

1. Ergun Caner claimed to have been born in Istanbul when he was actually born in Sweden.
Response: All of Caner’s books (see Unveiling Islam, 17) and nearly all of his interviews and sermons state that he was born in Sweden. Since both Ergun and his father were Turkish citizens, he strongly identified with that ancestry. Thus, an occasional misspoken word about his birthplace is understandable. Nonetheless, Ergun publically apologized for this and other mistakes on February 25, 2010 (see “Sixth” below).

2. Caner claimed to have once lived in Ankara (Turkey) and along the Iraqi border which he did not.
Response: Ergun traveled with his father to Turkey several times. Later, he was along the Iraqi border as he said he was. It should not be deemed strange that Ergun has spent time in Turkey. After all, he has a Turkish father and was a Turkish citizen who came to America on a Turkish passport. This allegation against him is a mere assumption without evidence which illustrates the desire to defame Ergun by his critics.

3. He claimed to have watched Dukes of Hazard and longed to marry Daisy Duke while growing up in Turkey before the show was even on TV in 1979.
Response: This statement was intended as humor and was taken as such by the audience. Indeed, Ergun has made this joke for more than a decade and never once was it taken as a matter of fact. He was illustrating the misconceptions between Americans and Muslims.

Briefly. On point 1, no actual context is given to support the claims of misspeaking. In what context was the claim of being born in Turkey made? One would need the complete context just as the “complete verse” is read above.

On point 2, the final claim is assumption without evidence yet Geisler’s defense offers no evidence. Note the different words “lived” and “traveled” and their actual meaning. The full context of Caner’s statements are needed to explain if there is any sense in which “lived” and “traveled” may be interchanged. Or, if one were really intended over the other. This is similar to the “with” and “as” example above.

On point 3, how would one know without the context if this statement was intended as humor? Further, with all of the audio and video of Caner going around it would seem that this alleged joke would show up more than a few times.

The intention here is not to give a point-by-point rebuttal of Dr. Geisler’s points. That has been done here – Rebutting Norman Geisler regarding Dr. Ergun Caner. The intention is to compare some of the evaluation methods used in Unshakable Foundations to the methods Dr. Geisler used in his recent defense of Dr. Caner. Had Geisler’s recent method of defense for Caner been applied to the Jehovah’s Witnesses example above the end result would have been a failure. If Jehovah’s Witnesses, or any other pseudo-Christian religion, get to define words apart from their context or even remove part of the context then how can their be any real defense, dialogue or disagreement in talking about Christianity?

A better question to consider may be – Who should be held to the higher standard? Should Christians be more relaxed in their approach with other Christians compared to groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses? Christians have a common worldview through the cross and Scripture. High biblical standards and consistency seems a given in the Christian worldview, especially, among leaders. If Christian’s can’t hold themselves to such standards how can they expect the outside world to listen and take their eternal warnings seriously? It is only by and because of the grace of God that Christians can be held to such standards.

P.s. Phil Johnson weighs in with Evangelical Bunko Artists: How I Learned the Hard Way that Pious Gullibility Is No Virtue. He writes -

When I read Dr. Geisler’s articles on the Caner scandal, it brought to mind a meeting I had with Dr. Geisler during the big Council on Biblical Inerrancy convention in San Diego in 1982. I was still working for Moody Press at the time, and Dr. Geisler was one of our authors. I needed to meet with him to discuss the cover design for Moody’s re-release of A General Introduction to the Bible. That question was settled fairly quickly, and then we had a long discussion over dinner about the state of evangelicalism. The Crying Wind scandal came up in our conversation that evening, and Dr. Geisler expressed his dismay over the pious gullibility of evangelicals.

He was exactly right about that. [Read the whole thing...]

Tags: , ; Categories: apologetics,Church Issues,theology
The above article was posted on July 8, 2010 by Mark Lamprecht.
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Commenter July 8, 2010 at 10:02 pm

I loved this answer to Geisler’s defense. I am one of the biggest followers of Geisler and formerly Caner, so it pains me to read his statements. But I think you respectfully examined it, and presented Geisler’s past work as support. And the parting comments sum up the crux of this whole debacle. We are not trying to crucify Caner or Geisler, but we have to PROTECT the integrity of the gospel and those who proclaim it as to not cause anyone to stumble. We must hold each other to as high a standard as we do those who oopose our faith.

2 Mark July 9, 2010 at 9:48 am

Thanks, Commenter.

I think your sentence summed it up well – We are not trying to crucify Caner or Geisler, but we have to PROTECT the integrity of the gospel and those who proclaim it as to not cause anyone to stumble.

3 gary dilworth July 10, 2010 at 6:25 pm

When I went to Dallas Theological Seminary for a year, I took a Trinitarian theology class. For one of my class papers I examined the way John spoke of Jesus as being the one and only Son of God (or sometimes translated as the ‘only begotten’ Son of God. He used the word monogenais (spelling?). John used the word 5 times in his gospel and letters. I argued in each case the context of the word usage controlled the meaning of the word. John was invariably talking about the eternal Word made flesh in each case. Unbeknownst to my Professor, in my paper I was actually answering a charge from Jehovah’s Witnesses that the word John used means ‘to have a beginning’. In my paper I demonstrated that the eternally existing 2cnd Person of the Trinity did not eternally have a human nature, but that there was a point in time when he took on a human nature and *began* from that point forward to have both natures.
I got an A on the paper with the note that “context controls meaning” written on there.
The problem for Caner’s defenders is the context of Caner’s statements. It kills their defense. When we go back and listen to the audio or watch the video or read the transcripts or the Caner’s books and see and hear the context for each of the particular issues Geisler tries to explain away, their defense vaporizes.

4 gary dilworth July 10, 2010 at 6:30 pm

I should have stated that the word John used does not actually mean ‘to have a beginning’ anyway.

5 Mark July 10, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Gary, thanks for the comment. I agree about the context and meaning of words. It seems that any apologist or seminary professor should agree too. Sometimes the context may be explained if a mistake were made. However, to ignore context and assert innocence just doesn’t fly.

6 Mark July 18, 2010 at 9:49 pm

If we following Dr. Geisler’s example and are careful with the context it should be relatively easy to show Dr. Caner simply misspoke. If seems that if we replace the alleged misstatements with Dr. Geisler’s “corrections” we lose the whole sense and meaning of Caner’s words. For example, take the three paragraphs below and correct the “misstatements” and see what you come up with.

“Until I came to this country, I saw thru television. It was whatever the Turkish government allowed into the country that passed through the censors, and secondly it was what was basically free, or didn’t have to be translated. And so we got a lot of sports. And we got a lot of shows that, would uh, would, would be self explanatory. And that, that actually became this big window into, uh, uh, America for me. Uh, for instance, ‘Andy Griffith’ was, was, um, a show that we would get. I didn’t understand it, but I thought all of America was sort of like Mayberry, and, um, it’s true, I thought all of America was like Mayberry. It was in black and white and they sent it for free, and, and so I thought, and I, uh, moved to New York. And its not a real good comparison there, um.

“The second thing is was, was, American baseball. And, the, Cubs, WGN, would send Cubs games. And I learned American baseball by watching, you didn’t have to translate it, you just you, you watch the game. You would hear, uh, apparently it turned out to be Harry Carey in the background, um, and that’s how I thought American’s talked, um, but that was, that was, you didn’t have to translate it.

“The, the, third thing that I got, uh, which is a little embarrassing, but it’s true. Was, uh, out of Atlanta, Georgia – and in Instanbul it played every two weeks for two hours, we would get a tape, of – uh, I guess it was a tape, they’d put it on, uh, Turkish television, there on Haberity, which was the station. Georgia, championship ‘wrastling’. And nobody ever told me that it was fake, you understand. So you will hear me constantly throw out references to things that, that, from my youth, because, I thought Americans were the toughest people on the planet. Um, you got hit in the head with shoes, boots, and uh, chains, and I thought Rick Flair was the governor, and, and, and Dusty Rhoads was the uh, was the mayor and so that was my upbringing, um.”

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