by Dan Phillips
To the media, there is only one kind of noble, admirable Christian fundamentalist: an ex-Christian-fundamentalist.
And so the Washington Post does a heroic profile of Bart Ehrman, perpetrator of Misquoting Jesus. In it, the Christian faith is (we are clearly meant to believe) reduced to ruinous shards by these devastating, faith-shattering revelations. I should really put them all in horrified, breathless, blinking italics -- but it would become wearying. So here they are -- hope you're ready to LOSE YOUR FAITH!!!
- You don't have to deal with the "Lord / Liar / Lunatic" conundrum if you pretend Jesus never existed! (Cue crowd-sound: "Oooooh!")
- John 8:1-11 is textually suspect and may not be original! (Crowd: "Ahhhhhhhh!")
- There are variations of detail between the four Gospels! (Crowd: "Eeeeeeeee!")
- John is different from the Synoptics! (Crowd: "Aiieeeee!")
- You should have reasons for what you believe! (Crowd: "Whooooaaaa!")
- You shouldn't believe something just because your parents did! (Crowd: "Ohhhhhhh!")
- Greek was written without capitalization or punctuation! (Crowd: "Arrrrrrrrrgh!")
- Emotional "conversions" born in ignorance may end up in apostasy. (Crowd: "Oooo-eeee-oooo-eeee-oooo!")
- There are professors at Princeton who do not affirm the inerrancy of the Bible -- and they may write that on your papers! (Crowd: "Ack-ack-ack-ack-ack!")
- There are differences between the ~5700 Greek manuscripts we possess! (Crowd: "Wooooooooooo!")
- We don't have the original manuscripts of the Gospels! (Crowd: "Wacka-wacka-wacka!")
- You can't prove the Trinity from 1 John 5:7! (Crowd: "D'oh!")
- There's suffering in the world! (Crowd: "Zzzzzzzz!")
- It can be fun to have lots of stuff, and fame! (Crowd: "Ungh?")
Why have these deep marvels been kept secret? How have all these epochal truths been deliberately shrouded in obscurity, all this time? Why, oh why, did no one ever tell us these things?
Except they did. And a long time ago. And over and over and over. Ever hear of B. B. Warfield? J. Gresham Machen? Francis Schaeffer? Edward J. Young?
Josh McDowell? Norman Geisler? Robert Thomas? Stanley Gundry? Alfred Edersheim? William Hendriksen? F. F. Bruce? D. A. Carson? Ned Stonehouse? Gleason Archer? (I could go on, and on, and on....)
These men didn't all treat the same questions, nor did they plumb the same depths nor come up with the same answers. But none of them was forced to abandon all confidence in Scripture. Indeed, most on that list maintained the inerrancy of Scripture.
My point is this: these issues have been known and discussed for years... no, decades... no, centuries.
And yeah, that's really it. That's the whole withering case, at least as this article presents it.
So what we are evidently are meant to learn is:
- We should stop lying about the Bible, telling people that it dropped straight from Heaven into their hands, black, leather-bound, and in the original words of the original writers.
- We should stop lying about variant readings.
- We should stop telling people to believe simply because we tell them to believe.
- We should stop telling people not to study the Bible intelligently.
- We should stop telling people that everyone in the academic world is a fundamentalist, Calvinist Christian. Or, in other words...
- We should stop pretending that a bunch of apostate professors don't exist.
- We should stop telling people that the four Gospels read as if written by one person from one perspective in one sitting.
I can easily imagine scores of pastors reading these words, ready to tear out their hair and bellow at their computers, "I've been pleading with my people to study intelligently forever! I've been trying to get them to study and read broadly, to buy some books, to bone up on the facts! I do classes on the history of the Bible, and seven people turn up, with an average age of 5000! I write articles nobody reads! 'Stop lying'?! I'll retire to Bedlam!"
I know, I know, I know. The stupidity of articles like this is thick, palpable, almost sliceable and spreadable. It hurts in so many ways. Reporters who have probably never in their lives spent an hour in a Bible-teaching church, who probably literally could not name a single practicing Biblical Christian whom they count as friend, lecturing the Christian church on what a terrible job we're all doing. It hurts.
This all keeps bringing to my mind the saying: ignorance is curable, but stupid is forever. I keep looking at these reviews of Ehrman, wondering whether I'll finally see why it is that we're supposed to care about anything he says.
But no, I guess the "breaking news" here is that the world, which has never listened to us nor understood us, still doesn't listen to us nor understand us.
And of course the more serious and tragic note is that there are folks who will look at these articles and arguments, and be caught off-guard. In some cases, blame could be laid on the miserable state of some pulpits today; in others, on folks' refusal to avail themselves of healthy, God-honoring, Bible-teaching ministries.
And sadly, those whose most desperate aim in life is to reassure themselves that their rebellion against God is defensible will find false comfort in it all.
The world is stupid. It has to be. It's a matter of survival of the world qua world.
But not as stupid as Christians who take their cues from it.
[Two BTW's: First, some years ago I did a little send-up of the last, supposedly annihilating assault against Christianity -- the cutting-edge nineteenth-century radical "scholarship" of the Jesus Seminar -- in How to Make Your Very Own Jesus. Second, I intend a brief follow-up to this article.]