Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:3-5
The integrity of Christianity is attacked from every conceivable angle in this postmodern, politically correct culture we inhabit. The overt, brash offenses are easily detected and shrugged off by most Christians, but the more cunning ones that take on the guise of “scholarship” are often confusing, intimidating, and outright alarming. Unfortunately, many Christians are ill-equipped to discern truth from ill-supported conjecture and when faced with unbelievers armed with such material they are virtually defenseless. Some have been known to abandon their faith; some choose a head-in-the-sand coping strategy, while others move on with a diminished desire for evangelism. After all, if they can’t answer the difficult questions that often arise, why even bother? Better to keep quiet and save face.
One contemporary scholar that has captured the attention of millions of readers is Dr. Bart Ehrman, head of the religious studies department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Here is an excerpt taken from his website biography:
Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He came to UNC in 1988, after four years of teaching at Rutgers University. At UNC he has served as both the Director of Graduate Studies and the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies.
A graduate of Wheaton College (Illinois), Professor Ehrman received both his Masters of Divinity and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, where his 1985 doctoral dissertation was awarded magna cum laude. Since then he has published extensively in the fields of New Testament and Early Christianity, having written or edited twenty-four books, numerous scholarly articles, and dozens of book reviews.
That’s a pretty impressive bio, right? He’s a seminary graduate. He’s extensively published. He heads the religious studies department at a highly respected university. Those facts alone lend him an air of credibility that can be highly influential with both laypersons and clergy who read Dr. Ehrman’s work.
One of Dr. Ehrman’s more recent publications is a popular-level book entitled: Jesus, Interrupted. Here’s a portion of the cover synopsis:
In this New York Times bestseller, leading Bible expert Bart Ehrman skillfully demonstrates that the New Testament is riddled with contradictory views about who Jesus was and the significance of hi life. Ehman reveals that many of the books were written in the names of the apostles by Christians living decades later, and that central Christian doctrines were the inventions of still later theologians. Although this has been the standard and widespread view of scholars for two centuries, most people have never learned of it.
Now, just chew on that for a moment. Notice the use of the phrase, “this has been the standard and widespread view of scholars for two centuries.” How incredibly convincing would such a claim be to someone browsing the religion section of their local bookstore, never having heard anything about Dr. Ehrman other than the impressive author biography printed on the back cover of the book?
While it isn’t practical to expect all Christians to study the discipline of textual criticism, I believe it is reasonable to encourage the cultivation of a base knowledge about what heretical scholars say about the Bible; to intellectually confront such accusations against our holy scripture and about our Lord Jesus Christ and decipher the truth behind the issue. Only in doing so can we strengthen our own convictions and have answers for others who are doubting, seeking, or attacking the faith. At minimum, we need the skills to identify unsound argumentation and how to verify questionable information through reliable resources.
In my next couple of posts, I’ll offer an analysis of Jesus, Interrupted for the purpose of demonstration. It is my hope that you will read it and come away better informed about the arguments against the authority and trustworthiness of the Bible and how to answer them truthfully and sufficiently.