Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Interrupting "Jesus, Interrupted"

I loved Bart Ehrman's (fake) cameo on Jesus' facebook feed for holy week.

I was less impressed with the real Ehrman's appearance on the (real fake)Colbert Report.
I think Colbert won the
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bart Ehrman
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I hate apologetics debates.

But, as you can tell from my previous post, I was actually looking forward to reading my review copy of Ehrman's "Jesus Interrupted."

Sure, I knew there would be much I would disagree with;
but I also knew he was asking the right questions.

Much of what I thought I knew was wrong.

Better get my knower checked!

I received my copy of the book, and I must say it is disappointing.

NOT in that some "liberal" is even daring to ask questions of the Bible (applaud him for that);
He is indeed asking, but not adequately addressing, those right questions.

I hate sounding like a fundamentalist apologist, it's just not my vibe or intent:
defending attacks by dreaded "liberals" of Jesus Seminar.. been there, done that.

But I was assuming Ehrman would be more substantial. Yes and no: again the questions he raises are; but not much sign of substance as he grapples with them. Ironically (intentionally?), he seems to fall into the same reductionistic, dualistic, rationalist, modernity traps that fundamentalists do.

Ehrman's journey from the fundamentalist-evangelical (Moody, Wheaton) world and worldview to an agnosticism is well-known. I was glad he made a major point in the opening and closing chapters that he decidedly does not think that any open-minded grappling with historical-critical method, and asking the questions he and it do, necessitates a loss of faith. He goes out of the way more than once to spell out that some his best and most academic friends (in fact, in suspension of my belief, he says "all" on p. 17) have wrestled with the same evidence and theories, and only deepened their faith in Christ, and view of the veracity of Scripture.

He also clarifies that his loss of faith was not the direct result of his pursuing historical-critical method.

Sounds great and charitable.... yet the tenor and conclusions of his book betray that he may not fully believe his own press. Why, in his mind, would anyone be dumb enough to still believe in a book so full of "contradictions"?

The non-sequiturs, and instances of shallow (I prefer that descriptor to deliberately deceptive, but am unsure) thinking, are too many to catalog. I'll deal with a few, and refer you to Ben Witherington's critique/review if you are interested in countering most of Ehrman's conclusions.

Ehrman is insistent that only John among the gospels understands, and sets out to paint, Jesus as divine. I just happen to be reading Paul Johnson (no fundy)'s "A History of Christianity"

Paul's church had not been anchored to the historical Jesus of the Jerusalem church.. This was remedied by Mark, who wrote the first biography of Jesus, presenting him as a deity."

Ehrman's repeated arguments that the gospel writer's adapting chronology is damning are themselves damning to Ehrman's own argument. Why can't Ehrman even admit he has even heard of progressive evangelical scholars (I Howard Marshall, Fee and Stuart's' "How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth,") who are nowhere near losing faith in Christ or trust in Scripture; and who know what is common knowledge: that in the
culture of the Bible , it is not considered lying or deception to rearrange chronology to fit a writer/editor's point and theme.

Ben Witherington, professor at the evangelical seminary I attended (Asbury), responds to Ehrman:

If you actually bother to read ancient biographies (see e.g. Tacitus’s Life of Agricola, or Plutarch’s famous parallel lives) you will discover that the ancients were not pedants when it comes to the issue of strict chronology as we are today. The ancient biographical or historiographical work operated with the freedom to arrange there material in several different ways, including topically, geographically, chronologically, to mention but three. Yes they had a secondary interest in chronology in broad strokes, but only a secondary interest in that.
-Ben Witherington

So, contrary to what Ehrman would have you believe, one doesn't have to resort either to believing that Jesus cleansed the temple twice (the tempe tantrum occurs at the beginning of Jesus' ministry in John, and towards the end in the other gospels) or that the Scripture is in error.

In fact, the apparent contradictions are so plain and unhidden in Scripture that they cannot be accidental, or purposed: any discerning reader picks up that Matthew's Sermon on The Mount, and Luke's Sermon on the Plain order material differently, or that the resurrection narratives differ.

The other "contradictory" accounts Ehrman cites (the two creation accounts using different names for God, Romans 13 emphasizing the God-ordainedness of government and Revelation 13 addressing the satanic corruption of such) cause me to grieve that Ehrman either has little capacity for complentarianism, holism and paradox; or has an agenda which he has denied.

Among the questions listed in the promo material for "Jesus, Interrupted":

"Mark’s account depicts a suffering Jesus crying out, 'My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?' as he dies. Luke, however, portrays a calm Jesus who simply says 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.'

Where's the contradiction? Wouldn't anyone in Jesus's situation who had some faith, respond similarly? Aren't we, or Jesus, allowed to be honest; and bounce around the Kubler-Ross stages?.

This feels like an agenda to deconvert; or a publisher's advice and device to shake up some sales.

The author's ridiculous argument that John can't count is either incredibly naive (other "signs" are mentioned between the "first sign" and "second sign"...anyone reading John picks up that John has arranged his material into seven definitive signs, which does not exclude many others).

Even the New York Times Book Review points out that

Ehrman himself has certainly taken some knocks. Writing in Books & Culture, a magazine often referred to (deservedly) as a sort of Christian New York Review of Books, the scholar Robert H. Gundry took him to task for exaggerating the theological significance of some of the mistakes and inconsistencies inserted into the New Testament by generations of copyists, and for having too literal an idea of what it might mean for the Bible to be divinely inspired.

In fact, one word captures the gist of what Dr. Gundtry thought of Ehrman on this topic:
But Gundry adds, with a wink:

"That’s 'Horsefeathers!' with documentation."

I wish everyone having the chutzpah to diss a scholarly conclusion as "horsefeathers" had the a credenitials and documentation to do so! Gundry does; as does Witherington.

Having said all that, one insight of Ehrman's was hugely
helpful, as I am adjunct professor of Bible:

For nearly twenty five years now, I have taught courses in the New Testament...In all this time, the lesson that I have found most difficult to convey to students--the hardest to convince them of--is the historical-critical claim that each author of the Bible needs to be allowed to have his own say ( 99)

I believe it; and I grieve it.
Much of the fault is an oversimplistic view of God as the (only) Author of the Bible.

Thank God for The Voice translation:

Most English translations attempt to even out the styles of the different authors..Instead The Voice distinguishes the uniqueness of each author. (The Voice, Preface,vii)

I wish "Jesus, Interrupted" offered more constructive help in coming to terms with the metannarative and "distinguishing uniqueness" of each author.

I feel for Ehrman, losing his faith, unecessarily. Again, he claims the findings of criticxal method were not part of that loss, but I wonder of he protesteth too much.
His real struggle, he says, is the problem of evil.
Another Ooze Viral Blogger was able to score an interview with Ehrman, which is enlightening as to how far his transition has teken him:

In regards to the makeup of the universe, Ehrman is certain that there is no good God, because he thinks that there is no good answer to the problem of evil in the world. Therefore, he said that we live in an “indifferent universe” where “good is not an objective idea’ and that good for one person is not the same as good for another. Surprised by Ehrman’s answer and how far he had moved from being an evangelical Christian, I wanted clarification,
so I asked Ehrman a question:

Goodness for Osama bin Laden was flying airplanes into buildings, whereas I believe that that was an evil act. Would you still say that bin Laden is doing good, subjective to his interests and that each opinion is valid?

Ehrman answered, “yes."

-Ahub, link

Hmmm...Bin Laden, Interrupted.

Taking Ehrman completely seriously, as I thought I could, interruptus.

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