N.T. Wright: God’s Plan to Rescue Us

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Thanks, Bart, for the clear and actually moving account of your former faith, your questionings, and your eventual abandonment of Christian belief. I was glad to hear you say that you wrote the book not to encourage others to follow you into agnosticism (though I guess that is how the book may well work rhetorically for some), but to encourage all of us to think. That is something I constantly tell people: I believe in the authority of scripture, and in Christian tradition as the community of discourse within which Christians hear that scripture – but also, importantly, in the proper use of reason. Our culture has fallen prey to emotivism, leading people to say ‘I feel’ when they mean ‘I think’, and then – an easy shift – to allow feeling to trump thinking, and then to replace it altogether. That way, I think we agree, lie chaos and folly.
There are two large, general elements of your book, and your blog post, which I want to chew over in this first response.

First, picking up that point about thinking and feeling, I do think the rhetorical impact both of your book and of your brief opening statement is to make a powerful appeal to the emotions, perhaps particularly to the emotions of western persons such as ourselves who are insulated, geographically and culturally, from so many of the world’s horrors. You spend a good deal of time in the book, and even in your brief posting, detailing some of these horrors, as though to remind readers of what (surely?) all intelligent people know already. (I wouldn’t have been able to rattle off the actual statistics, but none of the phenomena came as a surprise.)
There are of course multiple miseries in the world, and for many (most?) of them it’s impossible to say, ‘There, look, some good came out of it.’ I think we both react in the same way against that suggestion. I once heard Rowan Williams suggest that it might actually be immoral to try to ‘solve’ the problem of evil, because as soon as you say, ‘There, look, that makes it all right, doesn’t it?’ you have radically belittled the problem, blinding yourself to the real, powerful and radical nature of evil. But I’m not sure what logical or moral (as opposed to rhetorical) force you add to your case by describing in such detail the horrors of the world.
In a sense, you simply bring us back to where western Europe found itself after the Lisbon earthquake on All Saints Day 1755. Up to then some had said, ‘Look at the world, think about it, and you’ll see that God exists and that Christianity is true.’ The earthquake was a wake-up call to casual western religion, and precipitated the whole Enlightenment revolution, first towards a detached Deism and then into agnosticism or atheism. Have you done anything other than recapitulate that moment? And, if you haven’t, I guess I want to ask: were you not aware, earlier, of the scale of evil in the world – the Holocaust, the dying babies, the inexplicable ‘natural’ disasters, and so on? You’re not implying, are you, that people (like me, for instance) who still hold to Christian faith are somehow failing to notice these horrors, or to reflect soberly and deeply on them? And if, as you say, your book (and your blog posting) do not actually constitute an argument against Christian faith (‘If you reflect on these issues you’ll see that the Christian claim is incredible’), might it not seem that the shift in your own position which you have described is a shift which came about, not because of logical argument, but because of other (unspecified) factors, with the problem of suffering providing a kind of intellectual backdrop to a journey whose main energy was supplied from elsewhere? I’m not saying the arguments are unimportant. But I’m trying to understand what you’re saying when you deny that they constitute an appeal to anyone else to follow your journey.
The second large, general point concerns your handling, and description, of the Bible and Christian faith. I want to take issue with your analysis of the biblical material. This is where I must refer to my own treatment of the same problem in Evil and the Justice of God, which forms part of the groundwork for my new book Surprised by Hope. I don’t know if you’ve read either of them, but in the former I give a very different account from you of the Old Testament material, seeing the call of Abraham not (as on your p. 66) as God simply calling Abraham ‘to be in a special relationship with him’ but as the moment when God launches the long-range plan to rescue the world from its misery. In other words, I read the story of Israel as a whole (not merely in its individual parts, which by themselves, taken out of that context, might be reduced to ‘Israel sinned; God punished them’, etc.,) 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.
From this there flow three sub-points. First, 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.
Second, 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.
Third, you never factored in the way in which 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 (and the culmination of that kingdom-inauguration in the cross and resurrection), as I have argued elsewhere, was precisely his answer to the question ‘what does it look like when God is running the world’ – the very question of your whole book. It wasn’t clear to me whether you were saying that Jesus was mistaken in his beliefs and teachings . . . I did have the sense, frequently, that 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 particular, of course, the resurrection of Jesus is absolutely central for me. Like many people ancient and modern, you don’t find it credible. If I didn’t believe it I wouldn’t have the beliefs I do about other things.
There is much besides, but this will do for a start. I suspect we are going to be frustrated at being limited to three posts. We’ve both already more than doubled our 500-word target on these first posts. I’m happy with that if you are.
Look forward to hearing back

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Jeff Young

posted April 18, 2008 at 9:38 pm

Thanks for that very thoughtful response Bishop Tom.
Ultimately, it seems to me that this question cannot fully be answered without a discussion of the resurrection of Jesus. If one does not accept that, given that he himself claimed, “I am the way, the truth and the life and no man comes to the Father but by me” (John 14), I don’t see how this question can be remedied. For me, that is where this question hinges.
There are many questions I have that are unanswered. Yet, I do have supplied enough evidence to trust a) that Christianity is believable (Jesus’ death, burial & resurrection – grounded in the historically credible documents and the eyewitness testimonies within); and b) that God does love humanity (“God demonstrates his own love in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly”).
Much as a child learns to trust the love of his/her mother and father from in-depth acts of love and kindness – in spite of an inability to fully comprehend some or many of their actions or explanations (sometimes a child may not understand what their parent did until they themselves are much older and have children themselves), I believe there is evidence in the Messiah that God is there; and that for those who trust in him – God will restore to a full relationship with him … “For I consider that the sufferings of this world are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed…”

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posted April 20, 2008 at 9:28 am

Well, as I stated on the other “opposing” thread, there is no credible, 3rd party (non Christian) evidence for the resurrection. In other words, no Roman, or non-Christian, account of a dead person walking around alive exists. That being the case, we have only the Christian’s word that it happened, which does not make it very believable.
Secondly, Bishop Wright talks about Abraham, and the “long range plan to save the world from misery.” This alone proves what Mr. Ehrman states, in that if there is a God, who is indeed all-powerful, why does there need to be a “long-range plan” at all? Why not just instantly snap the Divine fingers, and cure everything at once? Why have a long-range plan of intervention when in other accounts, such as The Flood or the destruction of Sodom, God sends a murderous deluge instantaneously? If God can do this, why can he not instantaneously right all the wrongs, cure the injustices, heal and prevent illness, etc? Is it that God can kill on a widespread basis, but cannot heal on the same scale?
If someone responds to this by using some form of “it takes faith to understand,” then I have “won,” because faith can take more than one form, and faith can lead one to believe as well as not believe.

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Jim Rigas

posted April 20, 2008 at 5:27 pm

Dear Bishop Wright,
You indeed speak (and write) very smoothly and eloquently. We used to have a mayor in Chicago who did the same. When journalists would ask him an unpleasant question he would talk glibly and passionately for fifteen minutes. At the end everybody was impressed by the good control he had over the situation, but nobody could remember anymore what the original question had been and that it had remained unanswered.
In this case, the question apparently was why a good and omnipotent God allows evil to exist in this world. Your attacks of Dr. Ehrman’s post, book, and beliefs may or may not be accurate but do not answer the original question. The closest you came to offering an answer was when you said that through the outworking of the Bible narrative the creator God will eventually put all things to rights. In other words, nothing has really been accomplished during the four millennia that have passed since God’s promise to Abraham. If God intends to solve the problem of evil in this world, he better hurry. At the rate the human race is progressing we will probably destroy this part of his creation in the next five hundred years.
You also mention the centrality of Christ’s resurrection for you. Why? What is so surprising about God’s ability to escape from the hold of death? What should astonish us, instead, is that the evil in man was sufficient to kill God, since this is what we say that Christ is. Far more important than the resurrection, perhaps, is the crucifixion that preceded it. That God’s solution to the pain in this world involved subjecting his own son (or himself since they are both one) to that pain shows his lack of omnipotence.
I have argued below against Dr. Ehrman’s rejection of God because he apparently does not possess ALL the properties that Dr. Ehrman assigns to him. My response to you is that you have not even attempted to deal with the question.
Jim Rigas

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posted April 20, 2008 at 11:41 pm

God allows pain because some people have to pay for their sins.People have no idea it is so.Even if they have pains they do not know that in fact is because of their sinns.Also God alows pain, to teach some people to be compasionate to others.
God cannot eradicate evil from the world because he noticed that it would have to sacrifice the whole world and only few to remain who are saints as he wants.Because God loves the world, he does not want the world to be blow up.Christ with his great advices about life, taugh people how to live a life without complications.He enlightened the world which as that time was much more in dark as today.Even today his words are still valable and true, because if people would follow his advices they would for sure live a much better life.That’s why he said he is the way,the truth and the life.

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posted April 21, 2008 at 4:56 am

Dear Bishop,
I’ve got two questions for you:
1. Is Life, in your opinion, but a test in order to filter out those humans who are worthy ( = who profess the divinity of Jesus) for Heaven and then later Resurrection?
2. Why does your God value the freewill of the rapist or killer more than the freewill of its victim?

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Jeff Young

posted April 21, 2008 at 11:38 pm

What you fail to realize – purpleK – is that the writers of the gospels were not “biased” toward Christianity and that then led them to propagate the resurrection.
It was the resurrection that led them to become Christians. And, those were Romans and Jews who accepted and wrote about the resurrection – on the basis of eyewitness testimony (not legend) – including Peter, Matthew, Paul, Luke, etc.. What we have is exactly what we would expect!
The point is – these people weren’t Christians before they accepted the evidence of the resurrection. Once they saw the evidence of the resurrection accounts; or once they (like the apostles; or skeptics like James or Paul) witnessed Jesus alive from the dead – then, they became Christians. The gospels are historically reliable documents. The witnesses within those documents are impeccable as eyewitnesses. Their testimony can and should be believed by reasonable minds.
What you are arguing is no argument at all. If Romans had accounts of a man alive from the dead – it would undermine the very uniqueness of the Christian message – not support it!
Suppose you are a skeptic in the 1st century. And, you become an eyewitness of Jesus having died on the cross and an eyewitness of his walking around alive, a few days later, and he’s not just holding onto life by a string, he’s Really Alive from the dead – he’s fine and fully healthy! You can touch him; you watch him eat; you hear him teach he is the chosen Messiah and son of God; and then you see him ascend into heaven. And, you are not the only one who sees this – hundreds of others do as well. Suppose, then, you become a believer (from being a skeptic) – which would be the reasonable/rational thing to do at that point. And suppose you were compelled to tell others what you saw – b/c of your integrity – even to the point of dying for that testimony. Should we discount everything you saw previously? Would you find it fair that others regarded your testimony as biased because you were one of his followers – after-the-fact? Or, would you be shouting – “Hey, I’m sorry, I saw him alive and its true and I’m not a biased witness!” It would clearly be the latter.
But, unfortunately, you’re not willing to treat this argument with fairness.

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posted April 23, 2008 at 5:25 pm

Reverend Wright
Are we not beings of both intellect and emotion where either can affect the other? It seems you would like to take emotion out of the equation and that seems like someone also very removed from ‘real’ life.
Christianity has never in any of it’s forms ever described a solution to the problem of suffering—why it exists or how it can exist in the lives of those who try to live good lives as prescribed by the founder of the movement Paul. Yes, I said Paul but that’s for a different discussion. One must endure, or pray for relief or get hands on and provide relief where possible but the reason for suffering other than the one provided in the bible: SIN is never adequately addressed. Even you avoided addressing it in this blog.
Your supposition of the risen Christ is based on the literature of the NT and cannot be confirmed by any other source. Tales of risen saviors are not uncommon in the ancient world, not uncommon are god’s who die and are reborn and yet Christians claim this to be something profoundly different and new….the reason for the growth of a movement into a religion. A movement which claimed to be based on Judaism but which has more elements of it’s pagan neighbors than of Judaism itself. Christianity in the beginning claimed to be the replacement of Judaism and there are still Christians today who look upon Paul’s “conversion of all Jews” from Romans as the sign of the return of Jesus and the apocalypse as promised by Revelation which you know was a book added under much protest and years after the original canon was set. So suffering has a purpose under God’s plan? Is that the Christian view, because it has always used that to justify it’s persecution of the Jews and others who refused to convert or who upon conversion, changed their mind. What purpose does suffering serve to a God who tortures one of his own because he has a wager with his servant Satan? It is the same God or the OT has no meaning other than a reference book of verses the NT writers used as proof texts.
You ended by saying, “In particular, of course, the resurrection of Jesus is absolutely central for me.” Central why, and how do you explain the lack of references to this fact which you accept as central in other outside sources of the time? You continued saying, “If I didn’t believe it I wouldn’t have the beliefs I do about other things.” My question is how can any Christian scholar worth their salt, knowing what is now known about the beginnings of Christianity, still believe as you do? How does this belief in the resurrection help you deal with suffering? Are you a cheerleader for the NT because you cannot conceive of life without the resurrection to explain suffering?
It doesn’t really explain suffering and no matter how strong your belief in the resurrection may be, there comes a time when it is totally inadequate in explaining illness, death or any real suffering which, I might add, causes distress on both an intellectual as well as an emotional level. You never explained how the resurrection is connected to understanding suffering. I hope you will answer that question as well as others that your blog to Mr. Ehrman has raised.

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posted April 24, 2008 at 9:40 pm

Actually, ancient claims of divine beings that were reborn didn’t typically have them become human. Those of human beings that were reborn rarely posited that they were divine all along. This was why Paul and the Evangelists wrote about Jesus being special, he was the preternal God rather than a demiurge or later divinity. He also was a real, full human being who suffered, not simply a hero who had a demigod in the woodpile, so to speak. 1 Cor 15 sees God’s resurrection of Jesus as proof that God really will follow through on the promise to raise all flesh some day.
Those who accept God’s promise and live as though this fleeting life is just a part of the bigger picture are supposed to experience the exhilarating freedom of having nothing left to lose. 2 Cor 1-2 explain that the Apostles still experience hunger, beatings, shipwreck, illnesses but experience a radical freedom to really love others, even those who seem to be enemies. Because Christ as god has fed them in the wilderness and healed their sick and even been willing to die for the message of God’s eternal love, they feel that they can love everyone in the interim no matter the cost – even their lives.
The Christian message certainly not rational. However, Bart Ehrman’s question is just as irrational: if there is no loving God, then we’re all getting what we deserve. Justice is a concept that only applies if there is a higher authority or law. I believe that the love of God in Christ is that law. When God raises us all from the dead, Ehrman will be miserable living eternally in the presence of the loving God he doesn’t find good enough for him.

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posted April 25, 2008 at 2:26 pm

Mr. Anonymous,
God allows pain because it is a byproduct of sin. ALL people deserve to pay for their sins. Jesus did not live and die in this world to enlighten, he did so with ultimately one purpose–to substitute Himself and absorb the wrath of God that every single one of us deserves. Jesus wasn’t a pseudo-Buddhist hippey.

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Karen Keil

posted April 26, 2008 at 1:22 am

Prof. Ehrman,
In your introduction, you spent a great deal of time expounding on your impressive credentials and education, and your practice of religion. It looks like you did all the “right things.” I read all about you, but I read nothing about your relationship with God during those same years. There was nothing about things that you learned from Him, changes He made in your life, challenges that you faced together, times where He revealed Himself or yourself to you, answers to prayer…. What about the relationship? Where was God in all those impressive achievements? What did HE do in your life?

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posted April 26, 2008 at 8:54 pm

Dear Clint,
Christ also wasn’t a Medieval crusader obsessed simply with legally “paying” for the sullied honor of his heavenly father. As Paul says, “the last enemy is death,” and those who have not been enlightened already are experiencing a foretaste of eternal separation from God, according to this thinking. If God were simply mad with people breaking positivistic laws, then all he would have to do would be to wave his hand and say, “I forgive you.” That certainly wouldn’t change the hearts and minds that had been shattered by sin. Only new hearts and minds could live with God in the eternal order he promised to establish at his second coming and resurrection of all flesh.
That’s why enlightenment (one of the earliest terms for Christian catechism and baptism)is necessary. Clearly, Paul and other NT writers assume that belief, instruction and baptism will be accompanied by real union with Christ (Gal 3, Rom 6) and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. This indwelling Spirit also will lead Christians to begin to lead lives that conform to this new kingship established in the Christian community that will become the general cosmic order with a new heaven and new Jerusalem.
That’s why early Christians could withstand earthly pain without the psychic suffering that plagues so many rich and comfortable people. The sign of Christ’s kingship was a death to earthly pre-occupations that enured them to momentary pain, much as an athlete or mother in labor finds their painful exercises tolerable (Pauline metaphors for a good reason). Their union to Christ in baptism and the Lord’s Supper had begun to open the Spirit’s life in their minds and hearts and sense experience of the world.
What is so intriguing about Dr. Ehrman’s discussion is that he has equated physical pain with suffering, much like a dog or squid. My experience is that pain and suffering are not the same thing. Many rich, educated people are in torment constantly, while some people enduring terrible physical pain experience little anguish. Ehrman too seems to find the God of the Bible locked into a simple system of fairness, only he seems to believe that people are born “good”. Therefore, he assumes that babies that experience pain are innocents that suffer under a callous god or, perhaps, no god. Your medieval theology of honor and ransom (the theory of Augustine of Canterbury’s “Cur Deus Homo”) still doesn’t deal with the problem of death. God could forgive sinners’ debts, but that wouldn’t have any effect on their death. Unless the believer experiences a real death with Christ that united him or her to Christ, then their is no genetic bond that will prepare the believer to recognize Christ in the resurrection and live in his light.
Indeed, Dr. Ehrman may well subscribe to Eastern soteriologies of mental enlightenment, but I doubt it. Karmic systems typically assume that suffering leads the soul to painless communion with the divinity through a series of progressive lives. Dr. Ehrman clearly doesn’t buy suffering, even when it might be the result of human sins in a chain reaction of sinful choices. Christians recognize that crises can turn the soul to knowledge of Christ, but not everyone who suffers believes that it has meaning and finds that meaning in Christ. Since sin, and not simply the legally reckoning of sin, leads to eternal death, pain is not the worst that can befall the Christian.
In fact, I’m surprised that Dr. Ehrman has posited the death of innocents as a reason not to believe in God. A child who dies a young, painful death certainly seems to suffer less than a child who grows up into prostitution, slavery in the mines, etc. Perhaps, the professor could explain what he finds really objectionable. After all, he seems to assume a system of fairness, where an axe murderer deserves death but a baby does not deserve to die. As the NT writers make clear though, all human life ends in death. I would be curious to know whether Dr. Ehrman sees human life as intrinsically valuable or whether he thinks some are more valuable than others. Does quality of life make a difference? Does he think that earthly accomplishments or faults effect one’s worth?
It seems that only a God concerned with a legal account of rights and wrongs could be held responsible for the unfairness Prof. Ehrman feels. I assume from his comments about his outrage that he is still struggling with a fundamentalist Protestant viewpoint: angry God that demands payment for those who inherited Adam’s guilt (in Augustine’s mis-reading of the ambiguous Latin translation of Rom 5:12). If he no longer believes in God, then I’m not sure why he views death as a tragedy. As a Christian, I do believe human death is an absolute tragedy, even when it’s an old person who lives a good life and dies a peaceful death. This assumes that human life has a higher purpose that Dr. Ehrman’s views don’t make clear. My hope is that he’ll see this note and fill in some of his cosmology.

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posted May 1, 2008 at 4:28 pm

Knowing what about the “beginnings of Christianity”? Could you explain what is so eye opening about the origins of Christianity that Dr. Wright clearly ignores?

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posted May 1, 2008 at 4:48 pm

Jim said:
“Actually, ancient claims of divine beings that were reborn didn’t typically have them become human. Those of human beings that were reborn rarely posited that they were divine all along. This was why Paul and the Evangelists wrote about Jesus being special, he was the preternal God rather than a demiurge or later divinity. He also was a real, full human being who suffered, not simply a hero who had a demigod in the woodpile, so to speak. 1 Cor 15 sees God’s resurrection of Jesus as proof that God really will follow through on the promise to raise all flesh some day.”
How can people say things like this and not get immediately challenged? The only way someone could say this is if they were largely uninformed about pagan mythology. Tons of pagan gods were born of human women and some of them were resurrection deities. Dionysus is the most well-known example that preceeded Christianity and that probably was a major influence.
As there is no more historical evidence for Jesus than for any other savior godman, then the belief in Jesus isn’t rational. One is free to have faith, but just don’t confuse it with being equivalent to objective data. If faith in Jesus is proof, then so is faith in Dionysus or any other deity for that matter. And what if someone has faith that Jesus didn’t historically exist? At least their faith in a lack of Jesus would be supported by the lack of historical evidence for Jesus.
People believe all kinds of things. Yes, Christians have a holy text, but so do adherents of other religions. Yes, Christians have spiritual experiences, but so do adherents of other religions. What does Christianity have that other religions don’t? Absolutely nothing to be honest. For someone who wants to believe Christianity is unique, this is a problem. For someone who believes in universal truth that transcends all religions, its no problem and in fact its a strength.
“The Christian message certainly not rational.”
Its nice to hear a Christian admit that. I wish more Christians would admit that. It would put an end to a whole lot of apologetic pseudo-intellectualism. I’m all for faith, and I have a strong personal faith in Christ. The difference between me and many Christians is that I don’t try to rationalize my faith. My faith is strong enough that I don’t need to find external justifications to shore it up… whether in historical texts or in theological apologetics.
“However, Bart Ehrman’s question is just as irrational”
I don’t know if his question is irrational, but it wouldn’t be the failing of him who questions. Rather, it’d be a failing of the Christianity he is questioning. How can someone ask a rational question about something inherently irrational or nonrational if you prefer? By the way, I don’t consider non-rationality a failing. But the rationalizing of the non-rational is certainly a failing or at least less than helpful.
“When God raises us all from the dead, Ehrman will be miserable living eternally in the presence of the loving God he doesn’t find good enough for him.”
And the Muslims who are as dogmatic as you say the same thing about you. And maybe you’ll be miserable with a god who truly isn’t good enough. Maybe we all get the gods we deserve. I find it sadly ironic that the Jewish text portrays a god who demands his people to commit genocide that he himself participates in, and its the Jewish people who have in recent centuries suffered under the Christians who have claimed to be serving that same god. Life is strange.
No one deserves suffering(not even those who have caused it onto others), and yet suffering exists. There is no divine justice in suffering, but there may be divine(read: nonrational) truth in it. I mostly agree with Ehrman in that suffering can’t be explained and that this is a problem for traditional theology, but I differ in that I still accept the label of ‘Christian’ as being applicable to myself. I just don’t believe that the truth of Christ is limited to the historical church.
As for Wright, he wishes to believe in Jesus and I’m fine with that. But there is no rational justification for his position and that is also fine. Faith can only be justified in our own direct experience. My sincerest wish is that everyone may have their own personal revelation in whatever form that will touch their heart. My other wish is that people would stop turning their personal revelations into dogma that must be conformed to, but I have strong doubts about the latter wish coming true.
Suffering is suffering and nothing more can be said about it. Some people like Ehrman lose their faith through suffering. But some such as myself gain faith through suffering. Neither response is more right or true, and the two positions aren’t necessarily opposed. Many people’s faith is superficial and they would do well to lose it by experiencing genuine suffering, and sometimes its through losing superficial faith that we come to a more inclusive genuine faith.

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posted May 1, 2008 at 5:49 pm

I think Wright may be onto something. . .
that finally, Ehrman had a *visceral* response to pain and suffering that no amount of reasoning, no amount of ink spilled, could overcome.
Been there. And I’m always on the verge of going there again.
And I can’t understand people like Wright, who don’t understand.

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posted May 1, 2008 at 6:19 pm

I agree with you tanya. Ehrman did seem to have a visceral response.
The balance between my suffering and my faith can feel rather tenuous at times. A deep sense of suffering can elicit a faith experience in me, but when I feel lost ins suffering faith can seem meaningless. I’m not always sure what my faith is in.
I think that debates like this are futile. I feel that the dichotomous forced choice of atheist or theist is false. I’m an agnostic myself because I don’t feel that belief in God is necessary to know God. Faith isn’t based on belief, and one can have strong beliefs and still lack genuine faith. Doubts and questions may undermine belief but not faith. Faith as an experience can be stengthened by the experience of doubt. Whereas, belief and doubt on the intellectual an non-expeiential level just go round and round.

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Eric De Telder

posted May 6, 2008 at 2:15 pm

Hello Marmalade & Tanya. Faith is defined (in different variations) as a believing in something (whether these are religious values, or things for which there is no physical evidence). So, if one fails to believe… one surely fails to have faith. For example; If I state I have faith in Jesus being my Savior. But I do not believe he rose from the dead (for which there is no physical proof). I basically have nothing to base my faith upon in regards of Jesus. The two are intertwined. There is no way to seperate them by mental exercises.
Personally, I want to respond this way though; I believe there are those who indeed do understand the positions you find yourself in. That is, the continuous struggle between suffering and remaining faithful. Being accustomed to suffering myself, I can identify with such struggles. The wrestling with – in my case – God. But my faith is not shaken by it. For I believe He is, He knows, and He redeems (whether now, or through eternal restoration).

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Pastor Burnett

posted May 9, 2008 at 12:23 am

Bishop Wright,
I enjoy your books and look forward to the new ones. Keep the TRUTH coming. Ehrman like many of his anti-Christ supporters miss the complete fact that Abraham did not ONLY represent God’s relationship with Israel. That whole account and everything afterwards was an unfolding of God’s relationship to MANKIND. So simple…but so complicated for the carnal mind to figure out.
I get tired of all these WHIMPS crying and falling out when things don’t go like they want it to…Yes, I said WHIMPS…you whiners!I’ve been HOMELESS, sick, without MONEY and in desperate conditions because of THIS WORLD and the SIN therein. I may cry to God, but I thank God I was never a WHINER…Ehrman and all these other that think GOd should just remove the effects of sin for THEIR convenience (As if they’d all of a sudden turn if he did) are just a bunch of CRYIN’ BABIES with no understanding of the nature of sin.
I’ll put the theological explaination to the side for a minute, the scripture is right…You’re not FIT for the Kingdom if you place your hand to the plow looking back…forget the spirito-pshchology…and all the comforting anecdotes…Just GET SAVED and surrender your hearts, not your garments…Ehrmann should be ashamed of himself for fakin’ as long as he did.
Keep writing Bishop…I loved EVERY word!
God bless

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Pastor Burnett

posted May 9, 2008 at 12:41 am

By the way Marmalade said this:
“How can people say things like this and not get immediately challenged? The only way someone could say this is if they were largely uninformed about pagan mythology. Tons of pagan gods were born of human women and some of them were resurrection deities. Dionysus is the most well-known example that preceeded Christianity and that probably was a major influence.”
I see you’re another parralellomaniac and you certainly don’t the the TRUE story of Dionysis…Check out the pRE-SECOND CENTURY NARRATIVE…Zeus…(Dionysis daddy)fell in love with Semele the daughter of Cadmus and she got pregnant…by the way Zeus had this little problem…he LUSTED after many women…no reason to think Semele was left untouched…That junk had NOTHING to do with early or late Christian belief, only in the mind of those desperately looking for any reason to not believe.
Things like this simply show how uninformed you and other like you are when it comes to factual and verifiable records…so that shoe you were trying to put on the other person…wear it…it fits well!
Your further errors and presuppositional fallacies are far too many for me wast time with at this point, I’ve gotta get back to this debate. PEACE!

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posted May 19, 2008 at 3:38 pm

Anyone, like Ehrman, who has abandoned faith because of their awareness of suffering has to answer this historical question:
In past centuries people were far more intimately acquainted with horrible suffering than we are now, and the further back you go the worse it gets. Yet it is those very people who had faith. They did not have all the knowledge of all the world-wide statistics of suffering that Ehrman provides us. But they did have direct personal experience with death and pain of all kinds. Yet they still believed? Why is that?
In the Roman Empire and Medieval Europe every family would have had at least one child that died in infancy or childhood. Famines, plagues were matters of recent memory. The experience of having armed bands sweep through your town and kill and destroy all you held dear was was not rare. And yet in Roman times many pagans found Judaism profoundly interesting, and Christianity grew rapidly. Medieval Europe, of course, was the “Age of Faith”.
Were all these people simply not thinking? No, they wrote works of theodicy back then too. Did they not feel pain and distress as sharply as we do now?

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Sally Morem

posted October 23, 2008 at 12:11 pm

Here is my answer to your question about why our ancestors, who on average suffered far more than we do, were also far more religious than we are. This portion is pulled from an essay I wrote in response to a book review on Charles Taylor’s book on secularism. The original review was published in First Things. My response is published in ScribD:
“Taylor finds profoundly inadequate the standard view that secularism was a direct and inevitable consequence of the rise of modern science—rejecting, as he does, all efforts to account for modernity as a “subtraction story,” a simple liberation from prior confinements and a sloughing off of preexisting superstitions and illusions.
Instead, Taylor argues, the secularity of our world should be seen as “the fruit of new invention”—a reconfiguration of consciousness and a product of our own choices. As he puts it, ‘The story of a rejection of the old, unchanging religion, which uncovers and releases the perennial human, is wrong on both counts. Reinvention and innovation exist on both sides, and continuing mutual influence links them.’”
I partially disagree with Taylor here. I believe secularism is literally inconceivable without the rise of modern science—and its Siamese Twin, modern technology. Not because they “subtracted,” but because they offered an alternate story of Life, the Universe, and Everything to that presented to us by the ancient mythos of the Near and Far East.
And naturally, I also partially agree with Taylor. Secularism is indeed “the fruit of new invention,” again, quite literally. Our scientists “reinvented the universe” (see James Burke’s “The Day the Universe Changed”) while our inventers reinvented our surroundings, our tools, our work and our leisure. Secularism is a refitting of our mental models of the universe, making them more supple, more comprehensive, and more accurate, in that they explain physical processes that traditional religions merely told “just so” stories about over the centuries, not to mention explaining processes humans never had access to before. It was modern science and technology that opened our senses to the very fast, the very slow, the very huge and the very tiny events that operate in our universe and make it function.

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Sally Morem

posted October 23, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Question for Christians:
I just watched a TV show on the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that buried the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneium nearly 2,000 years ago, burying thousands of people under tons of ash.
If you really do believe natural disasters are punishments from God for sins, can you imagine what sort of collective sinning these men, women, children, and babies were committing in order to deserve being buried alive???
This philosophical agnostic has far more respect for the naturalness of natural disasters than that. Mount Vesuvius is a live volcano, and has been so for ages. It threatens the lives of millions of Italians to this day. Geological forces occasionally force it to erupt. There is no meaning to it, no message in it, no punishment intended, no intent at all.
Please think through your assumptions about Reality. Please start taking matter and energy far more seriously than you have. Reality is NOT a morality play.
Thank you for reading and thinking about my very INTENTIONAL message.

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Mike Nunn

posted January 14, 2010 at 6:26 am

Sorry but your comments do little to refute the logic and common sense displayed by Bart. I developed my beliefs independant of his analysis and was amazed when I read his books. He was able to put into place my feelings. I felt that when I read him I found a Kindred Spirit.

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posted April 28, 2010 at 3:53 am

Dr Wright,
How about you tell us your answer in a particularly case so we can see how it sounds? For example, consider a 2 year old child who drowns in an unattended swimming pool. If any human had been there to watch it and had done nothing we would say that was a bad human. God watched (apparently) and did nothing: Tell us why that doesn’t make God bad or non-existent. I think Ehrman listed the possible answers, so which one is yours? Or can you give a different answer succiently.
On the off chance that your answer is the free will argument or even if it isn’t, tell me your view of any human who was there, saw what was happening and saved the child. Did that human saviour violate anyones free will, and if so 1) whose free will? 2) and why shoudln’t we violate that particular free will?
BTW, I don’t think you have never thought about suffering. I just want to know your answer in a form as easy to understand as thsoe answers listed by Ehrman.

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