Blog

I Don't Get Bart Ehrman

Bart Ehrman has become the new media darling of the 21st century. He’s been on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, the Colbert Report, and virtually all the major news media (e.g., NPR, ABC, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, and countless others). Publisher’s Weekly, which reviews newly released books for a general readership and is the bible for the main secular bookstores in America, ran an article not too long ago called “The Ehrman Effect,” showing that books by Ehrman as well as those stimulated by his writings (both pro and con) have captured a large market. Beginning with Misquoting Jesus (2005), followed by God’s Problem (2008), and most recently, Jesus, Interrupted (2009), Ehrman’s books have sold by the tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands.

What makes him so popular? Essentially, he’s a former evangelical who is becoming increasingly outspoken about leaving the faith. He’s now a ‘happy agnostic.’ And he’s not just someone who abandoned the faith, but someone who is a bona fide biblical scholar. The media are fascinated by him. Most recently, CNN ran a story on him (May 15, 2009) entitled, “Former fundamentalist ‘debunks’ Bible.”

To those who live in the world of biblical studies, CNN’s headline is a yawn. We’ve heard it before. Some years ago, I was on a committee that was working on a revision of the standard Greek grammar of the New Testament. The grammar, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, by Blass and Debrunner and translated by Robert W. Funk in 1961, has been known by students of the New Testament simply as Blass-Debrunner-Funk or BDF. Yes, that Funk, the former head of the Jesus Seminar. This small committee met annually for about ten years; Bob Funk occasionally showed up to urge us along in his own inimical style. Since he died and the chairman of the committee, Daryl Schmidt, died, the revision of this important work has come to a standstill.

In one of our annual two-day meetings about ten years ago, we got to discussing theological liberalism during lunch. Now before you think that this was a time for bashing liberals, you need to realize that most of the scholars on this committee were theologically liberal. And one of them casually mentioned that, as far as he was aware, 100% of all theological liberals came from an evangelical or fundamentalist background. I thought his numbers were a tad high since I had once met a liberal scholar who did not come from such a background. I’d give it 99%.

Whether it’s 99%, 100%, or only 75%, the fact is that overwhelmingly, theological liberals do not start their academic study of the scriptures as theological liberals. They become liberal somewhere along the road. I won’t discuss why that is here; that’s for another blog post. My point is simply this: Bart Ehrman is hardly unique.

But he’s adored by the media because here, finally, is someone who has seen the inside of the evangelical movement (or fundamentalist fortress) and can speak intelligently both about it and about the Bible—but from a viewpoint that no longer embraces either. Or so the media think. This is old news to biblical scholars. But what makes Ehrman different is that here’s a liberal scholar who not only writes for the public square; he also speaks about his own spiritual journey in those books.

I guess, in the end, I do get Bart Ehrman. He’s capitalized on a trend that finds its greatest impetus in Bob Funk’s Jesus Seminar: liberal scholars speaking in the language of the people, and being brutally honest about their beliefs (or lack thereof). But for anyone to think that the ideas presented in such trade books are new, earth-shaking, never-before-heard-of or dealt-with trouncings of the historic Christian faith knows very little about the state of biblical scholarship today.

63 Responses to “I Don't Get Bart Ehrman”

  1. “Happy agnostic” indeed. I don’t think that’s an honest representation of his story. His own reason for leaving the faith doesn’t have to do with issues with the Bible, as much as the problem of evil. This is quite clear in his debate with N. T. Wright on the subject – his heart could not sustain hope in God in the face of evil, and so his faith foundered on the rocks of despair. It’s tragic, and listening to his story in the debate is heart wrenching – anything but “happy”.

  2. I kind of get where Bart Ehrman is coming from. In my own history, I went from theologically liberal to “happy agnostic”. If Ehrman left the faith because of the problem of evil, then we have more in common. I happened to come back to the faith, this time more theologically conservative. There’s always hope for Ehrman.

  3. Dan, I am very familiar with Ehrman, having listened to numerous of his Teaching Company lecture series (basically college-level courses) and he definitely knows his stuff, for good or ill. On the good side, he entirely trashed the Da Vinci Code in a special series of lectures (as far as the history, he acknowledged that it was a good read).

    On the bad side, he not only uses (actually misuses) his expertise to present each point as directly contrary to Christian teaching whenever possible. While never outright lying, he uses very selective evidence, exaggeration and hyperbole which results in a very false presentation of the evidence (as you surely know). Worse, he takes a certain glee in doing so. He admitted in one of his lectures that it is almost part of his job (he believes) to burst religious bubbles.

    But here is what I really want to say: I also “get” Ehrman. He is the product of fundamentalist evangelicalism which teaches that if Scripture is not “accurate” (as they define it) in every fact and detail, then you should toss the whole thing out. They argue this for the proposition that we should, then, trust it to be a strict science and history book. What is happening in reality is that people brainwashed with this fundamentalist “either/or” dichotomy who then come to realize that the Bible can not be read that way in every instance simply do what they were trained to do: toss it out.

    Now, Ehrman is bright enough and educated enough to see that this was a false dichotomy to begin with, but that type of training is hard to overcome and I believe his initial disillusionment created bitterness and now he, like so many in his situation, USE the fundamentalist “either/or” dichotomy to undermine Scripture wherever they can.

  4. Who’s Bart Ehrman? I don’t watch CNN so I missed it. I don’t think he is able to singlehandedly topple Christianity…or is he? (Homer Simpsonish thought bubble over my head there…).

  5. Kara, you will most easily find him in your local bookstore in the religion section, where he will have about half of the top ten books at any given time, it seems.

    He is speaking the words that the general public wants to hear.

  6. John the Fisherman May 21, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    I thought the Calvinists had solved the problem of evil. Along with all other problems except the Arminians.

    Interesting that most all theological liberals did not start their journey as such. I know that I could not even become a Christian until that ‘side’ of things became known to me.

  7. Vance gives a nice summary in #3, I think. Any evangelical scholar in America since the 70s who is working through inerrancy issues not only faces the crisis of potentially having to rewire their brain so that scripture can be authoritative without being inerrant (as even some of the old fundamentalists held!), but he or she also must face the prospect of having no real future in their own community. The scholar or would be scholar looks back at various events related to inerrancy and the dismissal of pastors and faculty and realizes that without inerrancy, one is too liberal to be hired by evangelicals and not liberal enough to work for the State U. If one is lucky enough to have theodicy issues thereafter, the “not liberal enough” problem could be solved.

    Dan is right on, though, to point out that this is nothing new. (Similar to Elaine Pagels presentation of gnosticism as the long lost true spirit of Christianity.)

    Maybe our response should be to talk about people who face these issues but do stay in the faith.

  8. “theological liberals do not start their academic study of the scriptures as theological liberals. They become liberal somewhere along the road.”

    He denies the diety of Christ. He denies the ressurection. There is a road that leads to losing your salvation?
    There is nothing one Christian can do to another to scare or frustrate the Holy Ghost out of another Christian.

    This man has always been agnostic he is happy now because he can freely vent and unburden what has always been eating at him . He is at enmity with God. Not other scholars or evangelicals or fundamentalists. God.

    What I don’t get is how can you believe in a possibilty that a god exists, be angry at that god because he has power to alleviate suffering and does not, accuse this evil god of being evil and not be afraid for your dear life. It’s a “stupid- agnostic” that pokes a stick at an evil uncaring god in hopes that that god will strike him dead and prove he exists. I don’t get that.

  9. “so that scripture can be authoritative without being inerrant ”

    Can someone help me understand the difference here? I have heard it bantered around over at Stand to Reason that the Bible is inerrant in what it teaches. I am really trying to understand the difference as I have stumbled over the likes of Ehrman. Thanks

  10. What bothers me about Bart is that I cannot pin down his motivation. I understand that he has lost his faith in God and the Christian message. But what I do not understand is why he has made it his mission to actively deconstruct the faith of others, to get to people to go down the same path that he has.

    I can understand atheists like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, who see religion in general as a malignant cancer that corrupts and eats away at everything good in society and holds back the progress of human kind. But I have not gotten the impression that Ehrman holds this perspective. Even if there is no God, what good can possibly come from convincing people to abandon Christianity? Shouldn’t (from the agnostic or atheist’s perspective) religious people be allowed the comfort of their religion and encouraged regarding the social utility that religion itself represents. Surely Ehrman must realize that religion doesn’t really “work” unless people actually believe it.

    Not only this, but as many have pointed out, Ehrman really does not have anything to say that has not already been said. Surely he must know that his claims are not revolutionary. So the world does not need his books, either for their contribution to human thought, or for their persuasive power to change people’s beliefs. So why does he do it?

    I can think of only a few possibilities.

    1.) He is just the kind of person who, whenever he has an idea, has to write a book about it. He is a compulsive self-publisher. It does not matter if the world needs to hear it or not.

    2.) Having lost hope in anything absolute, in any expectation of eternal life, in all of the beliefs that he used to hope dear, he figures that he may as well take the best shot at getting rich that a Biblical scholar and text-criticism expert will probably ever have. There is a market these days for books that “debunk” Christianity, and Bart has just decided to cash in.

    Can anyone think of any other convincing reasons?

  11. scott K-

    authoritative means the Bible is accepted as the rule of faith and life for the Christian. This means we trust and follow it.

    infallible is often used to mean the Bible does not lead the Christian into error, or that it is trustworthy in all it intends to teach. (this technically leaves open that God may have allowed human authors to make use of some errant facts that had no bearing on his message)

    inerrant means that there are no factual errors of any kind in it. Usually inerrancy is restricted to the originals, since a very few errors are widely held to have entered in transmission. In addition, inerrancy is not intended to apply to figures of speech like “the sun rose”. There are numerous other nuances to inerrancy as well, as can be seen in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, which gives a much more detailed look at what it is and isn’t.

    So, if the logic is that the Bible must be inerrant to be God’s authoritative word, then a person confronting what they are convinced are be errors must logically reject the whole as not God’s word. If a person accepts the idea that God may have communicated through the Bible inspite of errors in it, then they may still hold the Bible as authoritative.

    Vance’s post at #3 touches on this as well. As does an earlier post on this site called Inerrancy is too much.

  12. J

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Scott

  13. Kara, you will most easily find Ehrman in your local bookstore in the religion section, where he will have about half of the top ten books at any given time, it seems.

    Kara, Bart is more easily found at Half Price Books where he enjoys a larger representation—still found on the religious aisle, yes, but instead of the top ten, look for the ten shelves below the end times prophecy section. This will both save you money, as well as acquaint you with the smallest scholarly perspective on Christian origins—but, if you are doing any work in historical revision, he could be quite handy. (But, then there’s also Dan Brown, and he sells movies).

    You won’t find many Wallace books at Half-Price, ever. Apparently there are not many who like to part with Dr. Wallace’s material; but Ehrman curiously does not share in this dedicated readership.

  14. Bart Ehrman seems to make it pretty clear in his book “God’s Problem” that he doesn’t have any beef with intelligent Christians who have found a way to stay committed to Christianity. He includes his own wife among their number.

    Ehrman has become something of a fad among Mormon scholars at the moment because he simply popularizes and makes accessible what a lot of them have been saying about the Bible and traditional Christianity for years now. If you get in a fight with a Mormon apologist about inerrancy these days, it’s a good bet Ehrman will be invoked at some point.

    I imagine he’d be more amused by his Mormon following than anything. Certainly his agnosticism isn’t really compatible with Mormon belief.

  15. Lisa Robinson May 21, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    A video came out recently where Bart Ehrman had his head served on a platter, or so I have been told. I was looking it for it but could not remember who the debate was with. Anyone?

  16. Truth Unites... and Divides May 22, 2009 at 5:41 am

    Fundamentalism –> Theological Liberalism/agnosticism/atheism

    CSBI Inerrancy —-> Theological Liberalism/agnosticism/atheism

    ————

    Yawn. Got some more good ones?

  17. What I find interesting is Ehrman’s take on the resurrection – his best guess is some of Jesus’ followers had visions. This is the crux of the matter according to 1 Cor 15. With the resurrection all the ‘lesser’ miracles are both probable and validated. Without it, we are of all men most miserable.

  18. Daniel B. Wallace May 22, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    John Carroll, you have articulated THE issue well. It’s about the resurrection. That defines true Christianity. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, Christianity is also dead. This is the watershed issue, the great divide between liberalism and orthodoxy. Unfortunately, way too many Christians have drawn the line at inerrancy instead of Christology, and thus they view all who deny inerrancy as liberal. When this happens, Christ becomes the handmaiden to the Bible rather than the other way around.

  19. You can’t blame “bible as science” for ehrman. Since by his own account be spent many years calling himself Christian yet believing the bible had errors. Later he slid further down the slipery slope.

    I think his current motivation is $$$

  20. Truth Unites... and Divides May 23, 2009 at 12:40 am

    Daniel B. Wallace: “When this happens, Christ becomes the handmaiden to the Bible rather than the other way around.”

    Strawman.

  21. Daniel B. Wallace May 23, 2009 at 12:44 am

    Good argument, Truth. Can you elaborate?

  22. Truth Unites... and Divides May 23, 2009 at 12:58 am

    Dear Professor Wallace,

    A helpful way to navigate the argument in the beginning is to define terms. In this particular instance the key term is the word “liberal”. How do you define the term? It may or may not be the same way that an Inerrantist defines the term.

    Furthermore, your statement of “When this happens, Christ becomes the handmaiden to the Bible rather than the other way around” smacks of the accusation that inerrantists are practicing bibliolatry. The implied accusation is what I was responding to.

    Hence, the one word reply of “strawman”.

    If you didn’t mean to make that assertion, and that I read more into your statement than was warranted, then I humbly retract and apologize.

    Pax.

  23. Daniel B. Wallace May 23, 2009 at 1:03 am

    Truth, you certainly did read more into my words than I meant. I, too, am an inerrantist. So, the implication that inerrantists define liberal differently than I do is incorrect. You might say ‘most inerrantists,’ but certainly not speak in absolute terms. I’ve already mentioned how I define a liberal. How do you define a liberal?

  24. Truth Unites... and Divides May 23, 2009 at 1:16 am

    DBW (if I may abbreviate),

    Please point to me where you define a liberal.

    As for me the term liberal depends on the context. In this instance I had a recent internet conversation with someone about CSBI Inerrancy. He said that anyone who holds to CSBI inerrancy is a “fundamentalist”. Fine with me, I said. I just need to understand how you define terms. Based on the foundation that he set I then replied that since those who believe in inerrancy are fundamentalists, then those who don’t believe in inerrancy should be known as liberals.

    And I and many other inerrantists don’t make Jesus Christ the handmaiden to the Bible when conversing with “liberals”.

  25. Truth Unites... and Divides May 23, 2009 at 1:21 am

    Version 2.0.

    “Furthermore, your statement of “When this happens, Christ becomes the handmaiden to the Bible rather than the other way around” smacks of the accusation that *most* inerrantists are practicing bibliolatry.”

  26. Daniel B. Wallace May 23, 2009 at 1:49 am

    D’oh! Sorry, that was in something else I wrote this week, not this blog post. Here’s how I define a theological liberal: someone who does not believe in the bodily resurrection of the theanthropic person. Inerrancy is hardly the litmus test of orthodoxy, of whether one is an evangelical or liberal. A liberal is defined by his denial of the essentials of the Christian faith, that which one must believe to be saved. As much as I embrace inerrancy, I know that the Bible did not die on the cross for me.

  27. Truth Unites... and Divides May 23, 2009 at 2:10 am

    Dan, you may have an uncommon and overly narrow definition of a theological liberal.

    The Wikipedia definition is not bad:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_Christianity#Liberal_Christian_beliefs

    Excerpt: “The word liberal in liberal Christianity denotes a characteristic willingness to interpret scripture without any preconceived notion of inerrancy of scripture or the correctness of Church dogma.”

  28. Daniel B. Wallace May 23, 2009 at 2:11 am

    Wikipedia?

  29. Truth Unites... and Divides May 23, 2009 at 2:36 am

    Your rhetoric is not improving. To wit:

    #1. “As much as I embrace inerrancy, I know that the Bible did not die on the cross for me.”

    Tell me of an inerrantist that you know who believes that the Bible died on the cross for him or her.

    #2. “Wikipedia?”

    Instead of a diversionary move to the source, how about acknowledging (or challenging) the substance of the entry therein?

    Your question “Wikipedia?” comes across as a sneering ad hominem.

  30. Daniel B. Wallace May 23, 2009 at 4:19 am

    Truth, I think you’re reading too much into my words again. Wikipedia is hardly a first-rate source, and certainly not the most valid one to use to define theological liberal or evangelical. For example, I would consider the Institute for Biblical Research to be more valid for defining what an evangelical is. In order to be a member of IBR, one has to have an earned PhD in either Old Testament or New Testament studies, be sponsored by two members, be voted into the organization by the 3/4 of the members, AND embrace evangelical theology. The confessional bibliology of the organization is belief in “The unique divine inspiration, integrity, and authority of the Bible.” Nothing is said about inerrancy. Wouldn’t you agree that this is a better source than Wikipedia?

  31. Truth Unites... and Divides May 23, 2009 at 10:11 am

    What??

    Non-sequitur. What does #31 have to do with the definition of “theological liberal”?

    And no, I really don’t think I’m reading too much into your words again. Not at all. If anything, and with all due respect, I think you may be blind to the pattern of caricatured assertions that you’re making about most inerrantists. The tar on your broad brush is not helpful at all. To recount your caricatured strawmen:

    #1: Most inerrantists do not make Christ the handmaiden to the Bible.

    #2. Most, if not all inerrantists do not believe that the Bible died on the Cross for them.

    Next. In #28 I said that the Wikipedia definition is not bad, believing that you would focus on the current content of that entry instead of a misdirect play to the source of that entry.

  32. TUAD,

    Dan’s comments in post #31 are by no means a non-sequitur! He tries to provide you with a construction/definition of liberalism as produced by evangelical scholars acting in consensus with one another. How you fail to recognize this is beyond me!

    As for your Wikipedia definition (can’t believe that even merits a response):

    So you agree that one should interpret Scripture with a “preconceived” notion of inerrancy? I always thought you should arrive at inerrancy by first interpreting Scripture! Cart-horse. You are carrying a presupposition into the text of what inerrancy should look like. I would hardly classify a scholar who doesn’t do this as liberal (cf. Metzger, Bruce).

  33. In actuality, much of what Ehrman says is as old as the second century. There was a work written in the second century called the Clementine Homilies that alleges to be an account of the apostle Peter’s teachings to a disciple named Clement. In this work, Peter is represented as teaching plainly that Jesus said there are errors in the Scriptures, and that the job of the Christian is to believe the true things in the Scriptures and reject the false, for which purpose Jesus is said to have said “Be ye wise money-changers” because money-changers distinguish between real and counterfeit coins. In the same place, Jesus is represented as saying (in response to the hypothetical of the woman with 7 husbands) not “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” as in Matthew 22:29, but rather “Ye do err, not knowing the true things of the scriptures, and therefore the power of God.” The idea is clearly taught there (as early as the second century!) that the problem with the Saducees wasn’t that they didn’t believe the Scriptures, but that they believed the wrong parts of the Scriptures, i.e. that they believed the errant parts of the Scriptures rather than the inerrant parts. Peter is then represented as not believing that any of the holy men of the Old Testament committed such sins as polygamy, incest, murder, adultery, as they are presented as committing in the OT. He says these things were added by the Pharisees to excuse sin.

    I bring this up to make this point: Every time a book like one of Ehrman’s comes out, inevitably and invariably there are pastors up in arms about how the Bible is under more attack now than it ever has been, and so on. But look at what was being said in the second century! Even back then contradictions and/or perceived contradictions were a huge problem for the church.

    BUT, and here is what is interesting: The writer of the Clementine Homilies, and his followers, were the most conservative Christians of their day. Their morality was the absolute strictest. They were committed to Christ also. They couldn’t be called “liberal” even though they held a great portion of the Scriptures to be in error. It was their belief in errancy that actually supported their conservatism, because they were then freed to use their moral sense to eradicate all the bad examples in the Bible. The Pagan would assault them with “God commanded genocide over here, so the Bible is false” and their answer wouldn’t be “Well, God dealt with people different back then” or “God gets to do whatever he wants,” but rather, “The Pharisees added that because they are racists,” and then they would go on to repudiate it and teach good morality and strengthen their converts in good works. It is a very different way of looking at things. And, as far as belief in an errant Bible goes, it is a superior version of errancy than what Ehrman peddles.

  34. Truth Unites... and Divides May 24, 2009 at 9:43 am

    I stand by #32. Also, DBW’s comment in #29 struck me as being on the same conceptual plane as “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” I.e., can anything good come out of Wikipedia? I just don’t appreciate this sort of rhetorical response.

    Lastly, I did some research and found that I’m treading on old ground that’s already been trod by Professor Wallace. I’m of the same perspective as Phil Johnson of Team Pyro. Excerpts here:

    “What makes me less than disposed to give Mr. Wallace the benefit of the doubt regarding whether his opinions on biblical inerrancy are perfectly sound and well within the boundaries established by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is the way Wallace utterly fumbled the inerrancy issue in his article dealing with the decline and fall of Bart Ehrman. Essentially, Wallace argues that evangelicals are at least partly to blame for Ehrman’s apostasy—specifically because they put too much stress on the idea of biblical inerrancy. In the rarefied academic climate to which Mr. Ehrman ultimately ascended, his faith began to be shaken first of all when he was called upon to defend the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. Wallace clearly thinks conservative evangelicals helped drive Ehrman to apostasy, and the remedy for that, he suggests, is to move our commitment to inerrancy out of the center and more to the periphery, “learn to nuance our faith commitments a bit more,” and stop thinking of the non-inerrantist position as a slippery slope.

    That argument only works if in your own heart you suspect that Scripture is not inerrant.

    For those who were part of the Council on Biblical Inerrancy or took an interest in the Battle for the Bible a generation ago, it’s galling to see self-styled “evangelicals” who had no role in that struggle relinquish that hard-won ground so blithely.

    Sorry if you think my opinion “graceless,” but contra Mr. Wallace, I don’t think inerrancy is a truth we can afford to set aside—or subjugate it to someone’s standards of academic collegiality; the intellectual qualms of every Doctor of Divinity from Princeton; or even the heckling of an Emerging generation who, like Mr. Wallace, find it convenient to blame conservative ideas for every radical aberration rebellious hearts want to embrace.

    Since I absolutely believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, I’m similarly unimpressed with Mr. Wallace’s argument, and appalled by his eagerness to consign the inerrancy and verbal inspiration of the Bible to the periphery of the Christian worldview. And I am convinced that the truth of biblical authority arising from those principles is absolutely essential to authentic Christianity.”

    Prior to my doing some legwork this morning, I didn’t realize I was treading over old ground that’s already been covered.

  35. TUAD,

    You’re straining credibility by continuing to cite Wikipedia (it’s an open-source & only mildly regulated).

    You’ve yet to answer my question. And you’ve employed a block quote that doesn’t provide so much as a shred of an intellectually or biblically informed response, only gross insinuations and exaggerations.

    Empty rhetoric that employs the exact same shock & awe technique as Ehrman:

    “academic collegiality”
    “self-styled evangelicals”
    “radical aberration”

  36. Truth,

    Altough I disagree with Dan Wallace about how much effect Fundamentalism had on Bart Ehrman’s ” leaving” the faith…Did you read Dan Wallace’s response? To say you agree with Phil Johnson is strange seeing Dan Wallace’s response is pretty much just stating he did not say or believe what Phil Johnson thought he did.
    There were no further comments after the link to the response was posted. Was there another discussion? apology? That seemed strange.

  37. TUAD, etc., the fact that one can have an entire statement on inerrancy (e.g., the Chicago one), is proof enough that “inerrancy” is not a single faceted concept and that “inerrancy” does not have a single unified meaning as a scholarly or lay term, or as a concept.

    Bart E., obviously learnt a very simplistic sort of inerrancy in his youth, and a very simplistic theory of language and God’s use of language. Wallace, and many other evangelical believers in inerrancy, have a much more nuanced understanding of language and God’s use of it, and that feeds directly into how one understands the concept of inerrancy.

    So, for example, to some people inerrancy means believing that the universe was created in six 24-hour days. However, others do not, and believe that one can hold to inerrancy without believing in the 72 hour creation theory.

    Phil Johnson’s statement is quite reactive and unsupported by quotes fomr or writings by Wallace and consitutes an unwarranted and unbrotherly attack on Wallace. Wallace has, appropriately, ignored him and let his work and writings speak for themselves.

    In terms of what is a theological liberal, I think Machen defined it well when he wrote that liberal christians were a different religion from historic Christianity because they did not believe in an incarnate God who died and rose again. “Tarring Machen with the brush of inerrancy, however, fails to do justice to the profundity of his critique of liberalism, one that won praise from secular intellectuals in the 1920s and from historians since then.5 In fact, reducing the arguments of conservatives like Machen to the doctrine of Scripture misses the substance of his argument. As it turns out, the authority and infallibility of the Bible were peripheral to Machen’s most important writings against liberalism, namely, Christianity and Liberalism (1923) and What is Faith? (1925). In these books, he staked out the main problems with modernist theology – that is was anti-creedal and anti-intellectual. What is more, stripped of its theological moorings, liberalism became an altogether different religion from historic Christianity. . . . [Machem wrote] “Christianity and Liberalism”. The book’s thesis – that liberalism was an altogether different form of religion than Christianity – was provocative enough . . .” (D.G. Hart, “J. Gresham Machen, Inerrancy, and Creedless Christianity”, Themelios 25.3 (2000): 20-34, at pp. 21, 21). Machem’s definition of liberalism has functioned as the definition of such among fundamentalist and evangelical circles for over 80 years.

    Along with an unorthodox Christology, liberals also had a belief in an errant Bible, but the key distinguishing belief was their position on Christ, not on the Bible. I believe that many English writers are included within the circle of evangelicalism, though they did not believe in a totally inerrant Bible (F.F. Bruce, etc.).

    Regards,
    John

  38. TUAD, your response to #29 is not an intellectually defensible response. Your first response indicates either that you did not get Wallace’s metaphor or you deliberately misrepresented it in your response. Wallace was, obviously, using literary technique to emphasize his point that it was Christ that died on the cross, that Christ is the focus of Christianity, and that one’s position vis a vis Christ is what distinguishes between evangelicals and liberals. The Bible is not the key of our beliefs, it is not what saves us. Furthermore, as I and mwoodward have indicated, some writers who are generally considered evangelical did not believe in Chicago statement inerrancy.

    With respect to “wikipedia”, Dan was not being diversionary, since he had already given his definition (a Christological one, which is well based both in tradition and literature). In questioning “Wikipedia”, he was rightly questioning the use of a non-scholarly source which has an acknowledged antagonism to evangelicals and other religious conservatives. It is appropriate for Dan to try to keep the discussion to a higher level and to press for a better founded opposing / different definition of “liberal theology”. If that (the wikipedia) definition is going to be used by you as an acceptable definition, then you need to be able to provide support for it. Absent acceptable support (and Wikipedia is not), there is no reason for Dan or others to interact with or react to that definition.

    Regards,
    John

  39. TUAD, your comment “Furthermore, your statement of “When this happens, Christ becomes the handmaiden to the Bible rather than the other way around” smacks of the accusation that inerrantists are practicing bibliolatry. The implied accusation is what I was responding to.”

    “Smacks of” is not the same thing as “is”. Dan’s comment also smacks of other things, so how do we decide what Dan himself meant it to smack of? I suggest by reading what he wrote above, and by reading his other writings. I did not take him to be referring to bibliolatry.

    It is improper, and unscholarly, and rude to assume the worst about someone’s post and to infer the most negative thing possible from what they posted. It is, essentially, to presenting the weakest form or case of someone’s argument and defeating only that strawman. One should rather infer the best or strongest meaning. Rather than jumping to the (wrong) conclusion, one should interprete Dan’s response charitably and respond accordingly.

    This now brings us to the only three useful posts of the last dozen or so: that of Seth R, John Carroll and rey. Seth’s post re Mormon use of Bart was interesting. Has anyone else experienced that? Is anyone aware of whether Bart knows that? John C’s post is interesting in light of a previous post about Bart’s wife—-is she still a traditional believer? I note also that Bart’s books do not tend to interact with the most recent scholarship, and this is particularly evident on Christological issues. Lastly, I know nothing of the Clementine homilies. Where might read them and read about them?

    regards,
    John

    Regards,
    John.

  40. There was a discussion of this on a Mormon blog a while back. Apparently some individual Mormons have mailed Mr. Ehrman their own personal witnesses of Mormonism. And I heard Ehrman on an “Unbelievable” (that British Christian radio program) podcast state he does read all the mail he gets (not sure how true that is).

    So I suppose he is aware that there are some Mormons out there hoping he’ll be the next big conversion story.

    This happens in any faith. We all listen to someone on the radio or TV and think – “if only he knew about my faith, he’d realize that his concerns are solved!”

    It’s a bit naive I think, but we all do it. We all think we’ve got the silver bullet that is going to wow opposition “if they only knew.”

    But I don’t harbor any hopes of Ehrman being a closet-Mormon. I like his books and they do tend to support a lot of things Mormons have been saying about the Bible and historic Christianity. Obviously, his attacks on the Bible are not going to faze a Mormon as much as, perhaps, a Southern Baptist. But I doubt we Mormons would be smiling as much after hearing his personal thoughts on Joseph Smith. Ehrman strikes me as too much of a skeptic to dive right into another conservative religious tradition.

    I have no idea if he is aware that he has a Mormon fan-club. I think the information would probably amuse him.

  41. Tuad writes:
    “For those who were part of the Council on Biblical Inerrancy or took an interest in the Battle for the Bible a generation ago, it’s galling to see self-styled “evangelicals” who had no role in that struggle relinquish that hard-won ground so blithely.”

    Evidently, it is possible to deny inerrancy and yet be, not just a conservative evangelical, but a fundamentalist, at least in the foundational sense, as was James Orr.

    Inerrancy sometimes strikes me as placing more faith in the text of scripture than in the Spirit that speaks through scripture. Maybe that could be considered a form of idolatry. The statement of faith of many or even most evangelical churches places the Bible and inerrancy above even belief in God. Yes, I understand the argument that scripture informs our belief, etc…, so it should go first, but it seems a little disrespectful to God to place the product above the source. Last year the EFCA revised their SOF to place God back at the top. Three cheers for the EFCA.

  42. Right on, Dave Z!

    On another note, it seems we are in a battle for the word “evangelical” here. I think this is what’s implicit in TUAD’s use of the phrase “self-styled evangelicals”. I imagine we might also hear some quarters rebutt that James Orr was a “self-styled fundamentalist.”

    These types of definition and branding disputes seem to be a trend in recent years. Arguments over what “marriage” is and what “Christian” is. Perhaps it all got kicked off several years ago when the question of what the meaning of the word “is” is was raised.

    Can Evangelicals redefine themselves again like they did with books like “The Battle for the Bible”? Or are Evangelicals views locked in?

    That’s a little tangential, but still a matter of interest as we consider our future as a . . . movement? ideology? community? . . . whatever we are.

  43. Daniel B. Wallace May 26, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Folks, I have not been intentionally silent as this dialogue has advanced to new levels; rather, I’ve been packing for a month-long trip to Europe to photograph more NT manuscripts, and then leaving on the trip. And now my time is rather compressed. I got into Germany yesterday and we’re here in Muenster photographing the manuscripts at the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung.

    Just a quick comment about why I place the dividing line between liberal and evangelical where I do. Although there are several issues that one could use for the litmus test, I think that far and away the most important is the death and bodily resurrection of the theanthropic person. Those who embrace that are not liberal, whatever else they may be. They may not be evangelical either though. There are a great many in the middle who are moderates. I have moved in the direction of seeing Christology and the cross as the key because I have logged a lot of years at the Society of Biblical Literature.

    Before I ever went to an SBL conference, it was easy for me to define an evangelical as someone who did not embrace inerrancy. That’s because my world of discourse was rather tiny, almost microscopic. Shucks, when some DTS spin-off schools started, there would be those associated with these new schools who said that DTS had gone liberal because it didn’t define dispensational the way it used to! Those who think this way are stunningly naive and unhealthily cloistered. The more I went to SBL the more I realized that there were friends out there—people who believed in Christ earnestly and could even embrace the bulk of the ancient creeds, often all of them—who did not utter inerrancy, infallibility, or any other shibboleth that the modern church has too often used to draw a line in the sand. These were people that I had considered enemies of the gospel because they did not regard the less important doctrines as of equal importance with the person and work of Christ. I don’t want to suggest that I’ve completely changed my stance on these issues, that I had made a mountain out of a mole hill. No, I don’t think that. Rather, I think that I had made a mountain out of a mound. Perhaps an important mound in its own right, a safeguard of some sacred tenet of orthodoxy, but not a mountain. And sometimes even a hill, but just a hill. There is but one mountain, Christ.

    I submit that those who define evangelicalism significantly further to the right of Christ are typically those who are unaware or at least unengaged in the most crucial battles over the Christian faith today. And, sadly, they are sometimes even taking pot shots several yards back at their own front-line troops. After all, the Christian army is the only army in the world that shoots its wounded.

  44. Dan Wallace wrote:

    Before I ever went to an SBL conference, it was easy for me to define an evangelical as someone who did not embrace inerrancy.

    I think you meant to write:

    Before I ever went to an SBL conference, it was easy for me to define an evangelical a liberal as someone who did not embrace inerrancy.

    Anyway, have a most successful trip!

  45. Daniel B. Wallace May 26, 2009 at 11:28 am

    LOL! Must be jet lag.

  46. Truth Unites... and Divides May 26, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Daniel B. Wallace: “And, sadly, they are sometimes even taking pot shots several yards back at their own front-line troops.”

    Yes. And the following are examples of unhelpful potshots through the construction of caricatured strawmen:

    “When this happens, Christ becomes the handmaiden to the Bible rather than the other way around.”

    “As much as I embrace inerrancy, I know that the Bible did not die on the cross for me.”

  47. Peace, Truth.

    Daniel, my own definition of a Christian is one who pledges allegiance to Jesus, the crucified, resurrected God-Man. I think it is similar to yours. I accept there are many who will be found in the Kingdom of Heaven, who don’t agree with me (shocking as that might be) but God will have mercy where He will have mercy.

    Ehrman appears to suffer from an unwillingness to simply treat the Bible as a historical document. Even if you allow for the normal vagaries of historical recorders, allowing them only the favour of assuming that they were trying to give the straight dope in their own way, the Bible still recounts a phenomenal story. As a historical document it is extremely well preserved.

    Ehrman has expressed an opinion that the role of a historian is to decide what ancient people could have experienced (against Bill Craig IIRC) hence they could not have experienced a miracle like the resurrection, whereas my view is that the historian’s role is to tell us what the ancients claim to have experienced. If they claim to have experienced something remarkable, such as having dinner with a teacher who was crucified, then the least we can do is be polite enough to acknowledge that may indeed have been their experience.

    On the other hand I probably won’t sell many books with that attitude. Coming soon… Jason writes a book claiming that the Bible is based on dreams of American Indian shamans under the influence of hashish.

  48. Daniel B. Wallace June 2, 2009 at 6:43 am

    Good insights, Jason. I think that one of the major problems with the regnant historical view of modern western scholarship is that it is fundamentally arrogant. By that I mean that modern historians assume that miracles cannot occur because they assume that the western worldview is correct and all other views are incorrect. Eddy and Boyd’s The Jesus Legend documents this arrogance and political incorrectness quite well. I find it fascinating that the same historians can appeal to minority views on almost every other matter as equally viable as majority views–when such views do not touch on the miraculous.

  49. Jason:

    I think that should be peyote, or perhaps ayahuasca/yage (esp. if they were SOUTH American Indians). :)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Lack of Inerrancy May Not Be A Big Deal After All | New Leaven - May 15, 2012

    […] then I found this comment by noted textual critic Daniel B. Wallace, over at Parchment & Pen: Here’s how I define a theological liberal: someone who does not believe in the bodily […]

Leave a Reply