Friday, May 11, 2018

Bart Ehrman is right. . . and wrong. . . and dangerous

Bart Ehrman has published his zillionth book, this time on the advance of Christianity and how it spread through the world.  He began not with history but with his own personal address of Christianity and ultimate rejection of everything but the ethical authority of Jesus and the call to love.  He dismisses miracles and history with aplomb.  He insists that much of what is written cannot even be traced to Jesus at all.  He says he is a Christian agnostic.  What that means is that he does not regard much of Scripture as sensible, reasonable, or all that appealing.  It is, in some respects, a mystery to him why so many chose to believe.  He once did.  He does not any longer.  He ultimately found Jesus and the Bible an inadequate explanation of suffering and this was the last straw in his path toward rejecting Christ and the Gospels. 

Listen to the whole interview on NPR here.

Bart is right.  Christianity is not reasonable or sensible.  You cannot argue or debate people into faith.  Christian faith is not a reasoned choice among equal or at least equally appealing alternatives.  The faith is not spread by arguing folks into the Kingdom or by making a case for the reasonableness of the faith.  Faith is by the Holy Spirit working through the Word.  Yet we Christians often fall victim to the idea that we can argue others into the Kingdom or that Christianity is a relevant and reasonable religion that does not require all that much faith but is an appealing and winsome philosophy or history or ethic.  When we do this, we do a disservice to the Scriptures themselves.  Faith is not a reasoned choice.  It is the fruit of the Spirit's work in breaking through the hardened shell of doubt and skepticism.   Bart is also right in getting the message of Paul fairly truthful in that it is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone that accords salvation and not the works of the law and the power of this message for conversion.  However, he fails in that he is not at all sure that this has anything much to do with Jesus.  

But mostly Bart is just plain wrong and disingenuously so.  He insists that such things as heaven and hell are not Scriptural at all, that Jesus did not say the things attributed to Him, and that the Christianity that resulted from Jesus is different than the teachings of Jesus.  Ehrman finds the ethic appealing but cannot abandon his intellect or his reason to succumb to the claims of Christ or the Scriptures.  In this, he reveals his own bias and pride and finds the claims of Scripture simply untenable for the modern mind and in the modern world.  Ehrman is simply above Christianity.

At least Bart has acknowledged his error of the past in assigning the conversion of Constantine too much weight in the quick and profound conversion of pagans to Christianity.  He admits now that the rate of conversion was so great that the conversion of Constantine did not really matter all that much.  But he still holds to the idea that the Christianity of Constantine's time bears little resemblance to the Christianity of the earliest Christians.
The reason pagans were worshipping their gods is because the gods could provide them with things that they could not provide for themselves. It was all about divine power. We can't control if it rains. We can't control if the livestock reproduce. We can't control what happens when we get sick. We can't make ourselves well, but the gods can.

What the Christians argued was that the Christian God was more powerful than any other god, that this God was active in the world. He not only brought salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus, he continues to act in the lives of his followers. He heals the sick. He casts out demons. He raises the dead. This God is very active and he is more powerful than any of the others, and so it came to be a competition between the gods, where the Christians were trying to convince people that their God was the superior one.
Ehrman insists that it was the miracles of Christianity that proved the Christian God superior to all other gods. 

So listen with care to Bart Ehrman who delights in sounding really orthodox one moment and then sounds like Christianity's worst critic another moment.  But most of all he is well spoken and winsome and easily creates doubt and fear about the credibility of the Gospels, the integrity of the New Testament, and the truthfulness of Christianity.


doofus said...

Good morning Pastor,

I am a Catholic who loves your column and while I have some doctrinal differences with certain things said here, I agree with you on most.
I don't claim to be a learned theologian or scripture scholar but it seems clear to me that all of what Erhman and others like him say about Christianity and the Bible is what the Bible clearly says will happen or is coming to fruition. This isn't news. And isn't it ironic that a "learned" scholar such as Ehrman doesn't realize that he is fulfilling what was prophesied?

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Erhman is an educated garden variety agnostic, despite his somewhat tepid self described claim to be a "Christian agnostic." He is in reality a bonafide "false teacher." Such men have always lurked in the shadows of Christianity, eminently articulate and seeming reasonable men of evident intellectual insights....but remember that such people do the work of the devil in the strictest sense of the word. Doubt. Doubt and skepticism are what they sow, fertilizing weeds of unbelief in the garden of the word of God. Our best approach when dealing with such men is to simply ignore them, do not read their books, listen to their speeches, nor hear their ideas. You will never succeed in changing their minds by contending with them. They always have an answer to give. Their words are designed to sink your faith, not nurture it. We must not allow ourselves to give attention to the crackpots of theology. Essentially, they are working against you, against the church, and against the Lord Himself.

doofus said...


doofus said...

And....thanks for your service to our Country.

Anonymous said...

Bart is a legend in his own mind.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, and I’m an atheist skeptic.

Anonymous said...

I heard that Steve Jobs also could not reconcile the Biblical explanation for suffering and chose not to believe in a god that was so weak and capricious so as to allow it and not put a stop to it immediately. Had God worked for Apple he would have fired Him.

Anonymous said...

NPR? I’ll pass.

Anonymous said...

I am wondering why Bart Ehrman bothers to write -- about nothing. Abby