God, the Bible, and Human Suffering: Leading Bible Scholars Face off at Beliefnet.com
Bart Ehrman and N.T. Wright Debate God’s Role in Human Suffering
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- Is Looking to the Bible a Fool’s Errand”or Humanity’s Only Hope? -
New York, NY – April 22, 2008 – A heated debate between two highly respected and accomplished biblical scholars is taking place at Beliefnet.com, the leading online community focused on issues of spirituality and inspiration. Addressing the question, “If God is loving and all-powerful, why do humans suffer,” are Bart Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; bestselling author of God's Problem and Misquoting Jesus among other titles. Joining Mr. Ehrman is popular Christian author and religious scholar N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham for the Church of England, who has taught at McGill, Oxford, and Cambridge, and whose books include bestsellers Surprised By Hope, Evil and the Justice of God, and several others. The exchange continues throughout the month, and visitors can join in the debate by logging on to http://blog.beliefnet.com/blogalogue/.
Excerpts from both sides of the argument follow. Please check back frequently to follow these two noted theologians in a no-holds-barred examination of one of the world’s most important questions.
Bart Ehrman Says the Bible Fails to Answer the Question of Why We Suffer
- “It is impossible to reconcile the pain and misery all about us – the millions of children in Africa dying of AIDS and malaria, the millions of others dying because they are forced to drink unclean water, the countless others dying from natural disasters (hurricanes, tsunamis, droughts, famine) – if there is a good and all powerful God in charge of the world.”
- “The issue of human suffering is not a logical problem to be solved or some kind of mathematical equation. It is a human problem that requires empathy, sympathy, emotional involvement, and action.”
- “My wrestlings with the problem have led me, even as an agnostic, back to the Bible … the biblical answers are striking at times for their simplicity and power. Some of these answers are at odds with one another (is it God or his cosmic enemies who are creating havoc on earth?), yet many of them continue to inform religious thinkers today.”
- “I am personally dead set against an approach to suffering that thinks that human agony is to be seen from the distance of intellectual engagement with the “issues.” It is one thing to preach from the ivory tower of the academy or the cathedral about the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God. It’s another thing to sit beside a child starving to death in Darfur and to speak of God’s glorious purposes for this world.”
N.T. Wright Calls Ehrman’s Biblical Analysis “Out of Date” and “Misleading”
- “I want to take issue with your analysis of the biblical material. I read the story of Israel … as the story of theodicy-in-practice: ‘this is the narrative through whose outworking the creator God will eventually put all things to rights.’ Hence the promises of Isaiah 11 and so forth.”
- “Your reading of ‘apocalyptic’ seems to me inaccurate in terms of substance and quite out of date in terms of scholarship. The sharp disjunction between ‘prophetic’ and ‘apocalyptic,’ and the characterization of apocalyptic in terms of dualism, pessimism, etc., is very misleading, growing out of an older scholarship, which had no sympathy for what the apocalyptists were trying to do.”
- “ I was startled that when discussing Paul you never even mentioned that Romans is all about ‘the righteousness of God,' i.e. the very question of your whole book; you reduce Paul’s understanding to a simplistic substitutionary account of the cross, which, though important, doesn’t catch the whole picture or his whole argument.
- “The gospels offer themselves as the climax of precisely that Abraham-rooted story of Israel-as-God’s-answer-to-the-problem. Jesus’ inauguration of God’s Kingdom was precisely his answer to the question ‘what does it look like when God is running the world.’ The form of Christian belief you were rejecting was a particular kind of north American Protestantism which I don’t believe itself did justice to the material.”
In addition to following and commenting on the Ehrman/Wright blogalogue, visitors can share thoughts, learn from others and debate Christian theology in the Beliefnet Community network. Check out http://community.beliefnet.com/?page_id=1107&group_id=262 for more information.
About N.T. Wright
N.T. Wright is the Bishop of Durham for the Church of England. He previously taught New Testament studies at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford, and has continued to write and speak on biblical theology and Christian history. Wright is author of Surprised By Hope, Simply Christian, Evil and the Justice of God, and many other titles. Beliefnet's interview with Wright appears here. He has done a Q&A with Beliefnet readers and written on trusting the gospels and more.
About Bart Ehrman
Bart Ehrman is the author of God's Problem, Misquoting Jesus, and several other titles. He is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Beliefnet's previous interview with Ehrman appears here. He has written for Beliefnet on women and the early church, and Gnostic Christianity, and more.
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