Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why Christians Should Thank Bart Ehrman

As I shared in my book, Confessions of a Bible Thumper, my spiritual evolution drove  me to a place where I began to view the Bible differently; not as an inerrant, wholly-Divine , unified book, but  as a human collection of writings that, in my mind, still had telltale signs that Divine fingerprints were on it. It wasn’t the infallible Word of God throughout anymore. But it also wasn’t altogether a myth or nowhere inspired. It had inherent problems, yet still contained the Logos (rationality, reason) of God in many narratives, passages, and themes. Suddenly, the Bible became “possible,” not “impossible.” Author Bart Ehrman helped me make this transition.

I call this moving from a devotional approach to the Bible (not always bad) to an historical-critical approach. When I looked at the Bible only devotionally, I was forced to ignore the contradictions and inherent problems I saw within its pages. But I wasn’t being biblically and intellectually honest. When I learned how to look at it historically and critically, I could finally reconcile being honest (about what I read and studied in the Bible) with my faith in Christ.  For me, when people only look at the Bible devotionally, with no deep questions about its origins and inspiration, they can’t have a wholly genuine faith. Authentic faith only comes when we are intellectually honest about our doubts and misgivings. It also only comes when there’s a desire to find the original intention of Jesus and his earliest followers, or else one’s faith rests on later human tradition.

Many Christians fear Bart Ehrman because he has written
several books that challenge the traditional view of the Bible, Jesus, and Christianity. (By the way, this is a pathology soon to be categorized in modern psychology as “Fear of Bart” or “Bartophobia”). They think embracing his views will cause people to lose their faith. After all, Bart Ehrman, a former evangelical, is now an agnostic. These people forget one very important point. Bart Ehrman never claims historical criticism of the Bible logically leads to agnosticism.  “It did not lead me to become an agnostic,” he confesses. He continues: “My personal view is that a historical-critical approach to the Bible does not necessarily lead to agnosticism or atheism. It can in fact lead to a more intelligent and thoughtful faith.”[1] In truth, he admits many of his scholar colleagues, who also agree with most of what he reveals in his books, are still strong believers. Ehrman’s agnosticism didn’t come from studying biblical origins, but from a separate philosophical problem: how to reconcile faith with “the powerful reality of human suffering in the world.”
Historical criticism of the Bible has led me and others to a more reasoned faith and it can do so for Christians who fear the implications of reading a critic like Ehrman.  Bart Ehrman has done Christians a great service. He has opened the door that most conservative theologians and pastors (many of whom learned the logic and reason of the historical-critical approach in seminary but were afraid to share it for fear of confusing their audiences) have kept closed for too long. This is a door to an intellectually-satisfying and therefore more genuine faith. Not one that is one hundred percent certain about everything because “the Bible says so,” but one that follows where the historical, cultural, and linguistic evidence leads and finds much to trust about the Path of Christ without  insisting everyone believe the same thing. Thanks Bart Ehrman, for opening that door and helping many of us to walk through it. And, thanks for being intellectually honest in the way you have defended the historicity of Jesus in Did Jesus Exist?

What are your thoughts on Bart Ehrman? Do share your opinions, pro or con.

[1] Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted,  pages 272-273.


Marella said...

After recovering from fundamentalist religion to become an atheist, Bart Ehrman has made a career out of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet. These two factors make it impossible for him to look at the evidence regarding the origins of Christianity clearly, which is why his most recent book was such a disappointment. Although I have read and enjoyed many of his books, I have lost much of my respect for him since "Did Jesus Exist". He is a disappointment.

Michael Camp said...

I'm trying to figure where you're coming from. First, from his own books, he said he became an agnostic, not an atheist, and not right away. He remained a believer even with his new views for a while. Why was his most recent book a disappointment to you? Because it didn't argue for Jesus the myth? When he argues for Jesus being an historically substantiated figure (after rejecting ultra-conservative views of him), that in my mind, gives me more respect for him. He's being intellectually honest. I still don't come to the same conclusions as he on some things, but I do respect honest scholarship.