About four months ago, I invited PhD candidate in New Testament at Duke University, Laura Robinson, on to my podcast for an interview that I titled, “Laura Robinson: A New Testament Scholar Critiques Apologetics.” I’ve been a fan and listener of the podcast she co-hosts titled “The New Testament Review Podcast” for quite some time.
On her show, she and Ian, the other co-host and PhD candidate, discuss prominent works of New Testament scholarship. As a lay person who flatters himself as interested in keeping up with the Academy, I find the show extremely helpful and informative. I highly recommend subscribing.
I invited Laura on because I had heard her express some misgivings she had about the apologetic endeavor. Mostly, her complaints were about methodology and I found myself in agreement with her. I appreciate a good critique and was very excited to have her on. The interview went well and has been one of my most popular episodes.
From there, Laura began to be invited on to other channels for similar interviews, eventually landing her onto the Capturing Christianity YouTube channel to have a dialogue with Mike Licona on the historicity of the Resurrection.
Overall, I thought the dialogue went well, as both sides explained there positions quite clearly and the contrast between the two positions was easy to ascertain.
But I’m not writing this article to review that discussion. I’m writing this article in response to an article I found posted at “Christian Defenders,” a web-based Christian apologetics resource. You can find the article here.
I couldn’t find an author for the article, but it was written as a review of Laura and Mike’s discussion. However, it reads more like a hit piece against Laura and so-called “liberal Christianity.”
The author writes, “She describes herself as a Christian but it seemed odd to me that she didn’t believe in an actual physical (bodily) resurrection of Jesus amongst other things.”
Now, I try my best to give people the benefit of the doubt as I find that to be a useful tool for good dialogue, but this statement is wildly false. The sad part is that it took three seconds to prove it false. Here are some quotes from Laura in the dialogue with Licona:
“Being in a situation where you’re talking with Mike Licona about the resurrection is always a little odd. I feel like I’m on a very surprising list of people because I actually am a Christian and I do think the resurrection happened.”
“I say the creeds, I affirm that there was a historical resurrection.”
Clearly, Laura believes that the Resurrection of Jesus was a real, historical event. She couldn’t possibly be more clear.
But what about the nature of the Resurrection? Was it a physical, or spiritual event?
Licona presses Laura to answer the question, “After Jesus’ resurrection, was his body still in the tomb where he was buried?” (paraphrase)
Laura says, “It’s definitely physical in some sense…it’s a lot more complicated…it’s not what happened to Lazarus.” Licona agrees with her and expresses why he believes the body that was buried, was the body that was raised.
Laura responds, “Paul doesn’t give us a lot to work with…though it doesn’t take very long before his interpreters say that that had to be the case.”
She also notes, “I don’t know…I think you could probably take the data both ways.”
She goes on to explain that she thinks there is good reason to believe that Paul had a nuance here that didn’t fall into any of our normal categories, but nonetheless it was “physical in some sense.”
How in the world does that amount to “She didn’t believe in an actual physical (bodily) resurrection of Jesus?”
The author of this hit piece clearly doesn’t care for the nuance in Laura’s position and blatantly misrepresents what she said. All it took was listening to her very words to prove the author wrong. Laura could not have been more clear.
The author writes, “If I didn’t know better I would of guessed she was more of an agnostic than a Christian. By the end of the discussion I was confused as to why she was a christian at all.”
Again, this is just nonsense. Laura repeatedly confessed that she was a Christian, she just doesn’t believe the tools of history can get us to the conclusion that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. She believes that Jesus rose from the dead, in some physical sense, but not on the basis of historical investigation.
In the interview that I conducted with Laura she said this, “The object of your faith when you’re a Christian isn’t historical scholarship…The object of a Christian’s faith has to be the revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ resurrected and present and available in the lives of Christians right now.”
What could possibly be more orthodox? This is a very straight forward, orthodox, common belief. In fact, this is the reason that the overwhelming majority of Christians, now and in the past, believe in the Resurrection. Most Christians, now and in the past, have never read Mike Licona or Gary Habermas. They have, however, experienced the presence of Jesus in their lives in the here and now.
Personally, I love Habermas and Licona’s work, but I would never pretend that historical investigation is the linchpin for belief in Jesus’ resurrection. Almost no Christians throughout history have believed in the Resurrection on the basis of a historical investigation.
Therefore, to assert that you can’t imagine why she would be a Christian if she doesn’t find the historical evidence for the Resurrection all that persuasive, is absolutely absurd. What I can’t imagine is a Christian making that remark!
To make things worse, the author decided to guess at Laura’s motivations:
“Then I perused her social media pages and noticed she had grown up in an evangelical home but has since grown to hate evangelical Christianity and conservatives.”
Oh, good Lord. For one thing, I myself am a conservative, evangelical Christian and Laura and I are good friends. Her husband and I have become good friends and we have a group text message together where we commonly chat about theology, history, and every day life. Laura and her husband are lovely people that I have grown very fond of.
Is Laura outspoken and passionate? She would tell you that herself. Her and I have gone back and forth multiple times. Her husband and I have gone back and forth multiple times. But we’re friends. They’re sending me a gift for the arrival of my newborn daughter!
Now, does that sound like someone who hates conservative evangelicals? Of course not. Laura publicly critiques aspects of evangelicalism that she despises, but that does not amount to “hating evangelicals.” If it does then I could just as soon accuse this author of hating “liberal Christians.” In fact, I would have a better case because at least Laura has the decency to get her facts straight before launching a critique.
Pontificating about your opponent’s desires and motivations is never a good look. What you signal by doing so is that you have no idea what you are talking about. You cannot represent your opponent’s position adequately and offer an intelligent critique, therefore you launch into an ad hominem about their character and motivations. You don’t know the former because you don’t know Laura personally, and you couldn’t possibly know the latter because…you aren’t Laura.
The author writes, “It seemed that she wanted to debate Licona because she was so contrarian to everything he said.”
Again, “it seemed that she wanted.” The author has no idea what Laura wants. However, I can offer some insight because I know for a fact that Laura was hesitant to even participate in this dialogue for THIS EXACT REASON. She didn’t want to be blatantly misrepresented. She knows her view is nuanced and unfortunately mostly people cannot handle nuance, so they resort to caricature.
Laura’s approach throughout the dialogue could not have been more cordial. If anything, it was Licona who repeatedly referred to Laura as a theologian instead of the historian that she is.
Perhaps the most infuriating retort was this one: “I feel sad for Laura that she is so confused about the history and cultural references of Christianity and the Bible. Her objections and doubts is nothing new to scholars.”
Laura Robinson is a PhD candidate in one of the most prestigious New Testament programs in the country. The work that she has done in order to get to where she is, is beyond stunning. To assert that she is confused on the subject matter, but presumably you, the blogger, have it all figured out, must be the height of naiveté. This is an utterly asinine remark. I feel sad that the author would make such a statement about someone so intelligent and highly informed in their field of study.
“My main issue with this conversation was that she acts as if we don’t have enough evidence to make a decision on Jesus and the New Testament.”
Well, your “main issue” is demonstrably false. So, good news: you should have no issue. She said abundantly clear that she believes the Resurrection happened and that we can know it, just not through the historical method.
I’m going to quote the final paragraph at length because if I had to read it, so do you:
“Evidence for a bodily resurrection of Jesus is something that a 1st year undergraduate bible student learns as I did. Since she has 2 M.A. degrees I’m concerned with people listening to her and reassessing their faith in Jesus and the bible. It’s also clear she thought she was smarter than Licona who has been a PhD, New Testament Scholar, and Historian for 11 years.”
It should be noted that Laura loved Christian apologetics once upon a time and is more than familiar. She too would have learned about the “evidence” when she was doing the two master degrees that the author referenced.
What’s hilarious is that the author inserts their undergraduate degree to support the idea that their position has the intellectual high ground, just before mentioning Laura’s double masters. Irony is a curious thing.
Notice also that it is wrong of Laura to disagree with Licona because he has had a PhD for longer than her (as if that has any bearing on what is true), but it isn’t wrong of the author (who has an undergraduate degree) to disagree with Laura who has two masters and is soon to have a PhD from Duke University. The mind boggles.
Also notice the language “She thinks she’s smarter.” What a childish remark. Does the author think they’re smarter than Laura? Does any of this foolish talk even matter with respect to what is true or false? Of course not. It is all one giant, disrespectful, red herring.
Articles like this one are exactly why apologetics has a bad reputation amongst many.
At the end of the article the author writes, “My hope is that she will one day sincerely look at the evidence that we do have.”
Oh yes, after lying about her, defaming her character, and questioning her sincerity as a Christian, I’m sure she is just dying to hear about your “evidence.”
This is a text book example of exactly how not to do apologetics. In conclusion, allow me to offer some advice that I have learned from listening to and reading scholars like Laura:
- Read your opponents for comprehension. Understand what they are saying and represent what they are saying in a way that they would agree to. If you can’t do this, then don’t critique, this game isn’t for you.
- Avoid ad hominem. A person’s motivations are irrelevant with respect to the truth or falsity of what they are saying. You’re wasting your breath by guessing at their motivations.
- Avoid the boogie man fallacy. Calling someone a liberal, or insinuating that if the listener/reader agrees with your opponent they may not be a Christian, is a cheap tactic that is void of any substance. All it shows is that you cannot critique their position in an intelligent way.
- Show some charity. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. Blatantly misrepresenting them, insinuating that they aren’t Christians, and attributing ill motives to them ought to be beneath us. We are called to a higher level of dialogue and debate.