American Theologians “To Help Save Church in SA” With Debates (Rapport, 23 May 2010)

(original article in Afrikaans by Johannes de Villiers)



23 May 2010

In the opinion of two theologians from the USA, the South African church is in danger, and they want to come and help set things straight.

Proff. William Craig and Mike Licona, two theologians [associated] with the Southern Evangelical Seminary in North Carolina, have done an unusual missions tour in the past few weeks in South Africa by taking part in debates with prominent local theologians whom they suspect of liberal heresy.

Each time they have drawn hundreds of people in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria who came to see how they took on theologians like proff. Sakkie Spangenberg, Pieter Craffert (both of UNISA) and Hansie Wolmarans (University of Johannesburg), specifically over Jesus’ resurrection from the grave.

In other places they gave lectures against atheism and at one event had a debate with a Muslim scholar, Yusuf Ismail.

According to Craig and Licona there are dangerous theological tendencies in South Africa that question the literal resurrection.

“We came to assist the local church,” said Licona. “We heard the New Reformation has a lot of influence.”

Their visit was organised by a local ministry, AntWoord.

Last Wednesday, for example, these two charismatic orators lured more than 800 people (an enormous number for a theological discussion) to a debate with Spangenberg and Wolmarans at the University of Pretoria. Some of the audience members came from Potchefstroom and Johannesburg.

The previous evening in Johannesburg (for a debate between Licona and Craffert) there was an audience of about 500.

At the Pretoria event they argued that the reports of Bible writers about the resurrection met the requirements for reliable historiography.

“When Jews of the first century wrote about the resurrection, they always meant a physical resurrection,” Craig said. “They didn’t know another type of resurrection.”

Spangenberg and Wolmarans, however, argued that many of the elements of the gospels, are mythological and later additions, and although a few members of the audience supported them, they didn’t manage nearly as much applause as the Americans did.

In Johannesburg Craffert argued that from the New Testament it seems that the first century belief that Jesus rose from the dead, was based on visionary experiences which were part of cultural convictions of that time. It was apparent that here also the audience took the side of the American and afterwards some declared how their belief in the literal resurrection was bolstered.

The two Americans were delighted with the support they received everywhere.

“We came to demonstrate that the arguments of the New Reformation are weak when scrutinised,” Licona said confidently shortly before flying home. “Hopefully we will return again.”

Over the weekend Wolmarans reacted by saying that he didn’t think that the presentations of Craig and Licona deserved to be called academic debates, but that they tried to exploit doubting people by creating the appearance that they wanted to return to traditional religious values. “It is a type of rhetorical violence, an aggressive form of Christianity.”

Drs. Craig and Licona respond to the article in Rapport:

Dr. Craig:
It’s really a shame the reporter spun the story as Americans arriving “to save the day.”  I wish he had said we were invited to come and that Mike had studied at Pretoria.  But I think he wanted to paint us as self-appointed saviors.

Dr. Licona:

The de Villiers article painted Dr. Craig and I as magicians traveling in a wagon from town to town. That’s okay, however. There was some very nice spiritual fruit that resulted from our trip and we cannot expect the secular media to present what occurred in an unbiased manner. It wouldn’t be much different here in the U.S.

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