Recently Professor Bart Ehrman, of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, has come out with a new book entitled How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. Dr. Ehrman has become nationally recognized even by Bible-believing Christians as a scholar with a vast understanding of the Greek New Testament and early Christian history who writes bestselling books for every-day readers. His latest book claims that the first three Gospels do not present Jesus as God and it was only at the end of the first century when John was written that the followers of Jesus turned Him into a God-Man.
What makes this more than just another liberal-view-of-Jesus story are two things: 1) In our post-Christian America, this view of Jesus as just a Jewish teacher is very appealing to more and more people. 2) Ehrman is a former Bible-believing Christian who pastored a Baptist church and broadcast his sermons on local radio in New Jersey. He did not start out in the liberal camp but came to his views when he encountered questions he felt the traditional view of Jesus could not answer. He presents himself as an insider who sincerely seeks the truth but can no longer believe the traditional view and be intellectually honest. This is very appealing to people wrestling with similar questions and having doubts about the Bible.
What causes this to be of more-than-usual concern to me is that Bart Ehrman graduated from Moody Bible Institute in 1976, the same year that I entered Moody that Fall. He later graduated from Wheaton College with his faith solidly intact. What happened? How is it that we both had the same training, came out with the same beliefs and commitments, preached the same Bible, but ended up going two very different directions? Let me offer an observation for our learning.
Ehrman went on to get a Master’s degree and PhD at Princeton Theological Seminary, a school that abandoned a high view of the Bible 100-yrs-ago in the early decades of the 20th Century. Emphasizing critical scholarship without a reverence for the Bible as the Word of God placed Ehrman in a dangerous environment where his faith was sorely tested. While working on a problem in the Gospel of Mark where Mark makes what appears to be a historical error, Ehrman’s professor wrote on his research paper “Maybe Mark made a mistake.” That was a turning point in Ehrman’s thinking as he began to view the Bible as more of a human book containing many inaccuracies that he felt could not be explained away.
I went on to get a Master’s degree too and a DMin degree, but at schools with a high view of the Bible as God’s inerrant Word. I too saw apparent problems and inaccuracies in the Bible that demanded answers. But I cannot image a professor of mine ever writing in the margin of a paper I wrote “Maybe Mark made a mistake.” My professors would’ve suggested solutions that resolve the apparent contradiction giving the Bible the benefit of the doubt in light of its integrity in so many other ways. For my professors, scholarship rested on underlying faith in the Lord Jesus Christ giving them convictions about the reliability of God’s Word even amidst difficulties.
Perhaps the lesson here for us is that the Bible is a supernatural book that requires faith as well as intellect to be believed. If we depend solely on human reason without faith we will waver and fall. Trust in the living God and in His Son are indispensable to learning the Bible aright.
Your friend, undergirded by faith, Pastor Brian (:-}).