Mike Licona says: “I want it to be true”
In a discussion between Licona, Gary Habermas and Robert Price, Licona makes a fascinating autobiographical revelation – really a confession.The discussion is available on YouTube and has been sliced rather sloppily into four sections. Those who are interested in the debate over what if anything is historically reliable in the New Testament might enjoy listening to this discussion, so here are the links to the different installments:
Licona’s damning admission comes in the final segment, Part 4, near the end of the discussion when he was responding to a question about his schoolwork at the time. Here is my transcription of Licona’s statement (7:36 – 8:29):
”…to be honest with you, I know I’m the only one could really verify this. But I’ve tried my best to realize that I have a very real bias. Having been brought up in a Christian family, gone to a Christian university, involved in Christian ministry, that I have a bias, I want it to be true. Is that even possible to overcome? I don’t think so. But how do you minimize it? Everybody has biases, it doesn’t matter what you believe. Everybody has their bias, everybody is plagued by that or hindered by it? How do you in a sense transcend that to the point that you can some sort of, although not complete, at least you can have some sort of workable objectivity to come and look at these kinds of texts, to look at the data? That’s been hard for me to do, it’s been something I’ve really really wrestled with…”
The next thing you hear at this point is the host of the show agreeing with Licona, saying “that’s a tough question.” But if it’s such a tough question, as Licona’s own statement indicates, it seems that Christians should first wonder what guidance the bible gives on it. But it seems one would search in vain for guidance on such matters as this – guarding oneself against one’s own wants and desires, protecting one’s views from his own biases – in the pages in the bible. Then again, if the biblical message to believers is that they should “die to self,” as Paul Washer tells us, then Mike Licona, in the interest of obeying the Christian god’s commandments, should renounce his wants – such as his wanting that the bible be true – and work to apply the objective approach that he’s had such a hard time obtaining.
Of course, if he did that, he would certainly discover that Christianity is false. Then upon returning to life from the Christian undead, his wants would be restored, and perhaps one of them would be the want that Christianity is true. And back into the unending cycle he goes. Poor guy! I almost feel sorry for him.
I’m sure glad this is not my problem!
But seriously, it’s good that Licona confesses that he “want[s] it to be true.” And here he indicates some of the motivation behind wanting such an outcome to all his efforts (there’s more coming below): his whole life has been invested in the premise that Christianity is true, quite likely since he was a toddler (“Having been brought up in a Christian family”). I would suppose that the more effort and energy that an individual invests in his hope (cf. Heb. 11:1) that the Christian faith is true, the harder it will be for him to allow himself to acknowledge that in fact it is not true. The choice to continue feeding the hope that the Christian faith is true, will naturally foster an attitude conducive to evasion and suspension of belief when confronted with challenges to that faith. Thus we can reasonably expect such an individual to ignore facts which conflict with his religious beliefs, reaffirm the storybook elements of the faith in an insistent manner, suppress psychological friction caused by attempting to affirm both horns of a contradiction, maintain an exterior that suggests all is well and good with one’s faith while beneath the fears, doubts, anxieties, etc. Such anxieties can only fester like a never-closing wound.
Now, I know of no reason to suppose that Licona is unique amongst apologists in this regard. Some might hasten to point out that Licona is not a presuppositionalist as an attempt to put some distance between themselves and Licona. But the major brunt of what he confesses has everything to do with motivation and zeal for defending his faith and really nothing to do with the methods one chooses to inform that defense. I do not think this is easy to explain away. In fact, now that Mike Licona – a regular on the professional debate circuit – has made such an admission (this is probably several years old now), it needs to be out there, it needs to broadcast, and Christians of all stripes need to own up to their own bias, which Licona says everyone has (as though he knows this, and as though this is sufficient excuse – it’s not!).
But there’s more to this. In the moments after Licona makes this confession, Price suggests that Licona’s internal struggles with his bias – that he wants the gospel accounts to be true – is a more interesting topic for his research. Licona agrees (9:00 – 9:12):
I agree with you, Bob. It’s tough. I mean, one thing I look at, well, what if I came to the conclusion in the studies that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Then I lose my good job. [chuckles] It’s tough!
The host then piped in, saying (9:12 – 9:20):
Wouldn’t it just be that you were losing the ability to claim on historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead while you would still obviously be able to believe in it by faith?
At most it would seem that you would lose the ability to claim on historic grounds that Jesus rose from the dead, but you would still maintain the ability to believe so by faith.
Anyway, I found it quite noteworthy and wondered Christians – and anyone else for that matter – might think in reaction to it.
by Dawson Bethrick