Bart Ehrman has a new book out titled God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer. I have not yet read this book, but I note it here because I just listened to an interview with Ehrman in which he talks extensively about the book and his reasons for leaving the Christian faith. You can listen to the interview by pushing the play button below or by visiting NPR’s website.[audio:http://podcastdownload.npr.org/anon.npr-podcasts/podcast/13/19186602/npr_19186602.mp3]
I won’t give a point-by-point analysis of this interview, but I do have a couple of reactions that I will write here.
1. First, grief. It’s not a happy thing to listen to a man who has so resolutely turned away from the faith. In his earlier bodok Misquoting Jesus (which I reviewed here), Ehrman talks about how his skepticism about the Bible contributed to his leaving the faith. In God’s Problem, Ehrman says that it was in fact the problem of evil that pushed him over the edge. He writes,
“Eventually, though, I felt compelled to leave Christianity altogether. I did not go easily. On the contrary, I left kicking and screaming, wanting desperately to hold on to the faith I had known since childhood and had come to know intimately from my teenaged years onward. But I came to a point where I could no longer believe. It’s a very long story, but the short version is this: I realized that I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life. In particular, I could no longer explain how there can be a good and all-powerful God actively involved with this world, given the state of things. For many people who inhabit this planet, life is a cesspool of misery and suffering. I came to a point where I simply could not believe that there is a good and kindly disposed Ruler who is in charge of it.”
What makes it even sadder is that Ehrman embraces his unbelief with eyes wide open. He knows Christianity’s and the Bible’s answers to the problem of evil. He simply rejects them and says that he does not find them at all compelling.
2. Second, surprise. I’m not surprised by his skepticism, but by the clarity with which he speaks of the Christianity he rejects. In one part of the interview, he describes the apostle Paul’s teaching on redemptive suffering. Ehrman says that Christ’s death in Paul’s eyes constituted redemptive suffering in which Christ received the punishment for sin upon Himself. It was fascinating to hear Ehrman talk about Paul’s view of the cross because Ehrman pretty much takes a penal substitutionary (PS) view of the atonement in Paul. Obviously, he doesn’t agree with the PS view, but he nevertheless recognizes that this is what Paul taught.
I have noticed that often times some of the most liberal scholars are the ones most willing to take traditional/conservative readings of scripture. I wonder if the reason for this is that the most liberal scholars don’t believe in the authority of scripture so they don’t mind coming to exegetical conclusions that are non-PC. Since there’s nothing at all normative about the Scriptures, it’s okay to take Paul at face-value and then reject what he teaches. For those who do not care even to tip their hat to biblical authority, there’s no motive really for making Paul or the other biblical writers conform to modern sensitivities (e.g., aversion to the wrath of God, patriarchy). So they don’t.
In any case, I note the book and the interview because a lot of people read Ehrman’s work. His last blockbuster book made deep inroads into the popular culture, and I’m betting this one will too. Many will come away feeling emboldened and confirmed in their unbelief. Every thoughtful Christian will grieve about and pray for Ehrman and those influenced by his book. They will also want to be ready to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15).
P.S. For a better account of the problem of evil, I recommend John Piper’s NPR interview from 2005. You can download it from the Desiring God website or listen to it below.[audio:http://www.desiringgod.org/download.php?file=/media/audio/interviews/20050110_npr_interview_edited.mp3]
By John Piper. Â© Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org