There are two things I really like about Nick Perrin’s new book, Lost in Transmission. The first is that Nick gets it when it comes to the level of books the church needs more of. Evangelicals, in the 70s and 80s, decided to be more scholarly; that’s a good thing. In the process most of these scholars decided they would write only for scholars. That’s not a good thing. Nick Perrin can write those kinds of books as well as the kinds of books the church needs. This book is one for those who have questions, Christian or not.
OK, here’s one: How do you respond to the critics of the reliability of the Gospels? Are all the “red letters” really red? What happens if some are pink or gray or even black? (I refer here to the famous beads in the Jesus Seminar.)
Two examples before I get to my second comment about Nick Perrin’s book. Did Jesus say “blessed are the poor” or did he say “blessed are the poor in spirit”? (One from Luke, one from Matthew.) Did Peter say, “You are the Messiah, the Messiah of God, or the Messiah, the Son of the Living God?” Does it matter? What does matter is that decisions on such questions lead us to what we think the Gospels are. Now to Nick, who has a great handle on this stuff.
The second thing I like about this book is that he winds his own story of conversion through the whole book. If you know about this book, you will know that Lost in Transmission is a response to Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus. Part of Ehrman’s tack was to tell his story of conversion, school at Moody and Wheaton, then discovering problems in the Gospels in his PhD program and how those problems led to his own honest abandonment of the faith he had known. Nick Perrin tells the opposite story: from life in a famous prep school (I’ve been there, Nick), to an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins and to his conversion there. During prep school he began to study Greek, read most of the NT, had all kinds of questions, dabbled in Buddhism as a Christian Buddhist (his expression), and then to his conversion. So, ironically, Ehrman’s encounter with Mark led to the undoing of his faith while Perrin’s encounter with Mark led to encountering Jesus and an openness to faith.
But, this book is more than his story; and it is not a simple point by point rebuttal of Ehrman. Instead, it uses Ehrman to ask bigger questions and therefore it has to settle for broader answers. Bigger ideas than what we find in Ehrman; not as much detail as we find in Ehrman.
It is actually a wonderful romp through the major issues an honest Christian must face when he or she examines the Gospels and the historical Jesus with serious questions. Did Jesus exist? What about differences of the Gospels? What about translations? Do we have the original text? My favorite chapter is about certitude because Perrin asks the right question and doesn’t settle for simplicities.