O Me of Little Faith

Bart Ehrman is the kind of person who fascinates me. Evangelical Christians love conversion stories, but his story goes in the wrong direction. He was raised Episcopalian, then became “born again” in his teens. He headed to Moody Bible Institute for his undergrad degree — a place where biblical inerrancy wasn’t just taught but was a required belief. But it wasn’t long before the things he was learning, when it came to scholarly biblical studies, began to shake his fundamentalist faith.

Ehrman got serious about biblical scholarship and transferred from Moody to Wheaton — as close as evangelicals have to the Ivy League — where he began studying biblical languages. Eventually he ended up at Princeton Theological Seminary, pursuing a career in biblical academia. The more he learned about the Bible, from its origins and languages to its teachings, the shakier his faith became. Eventually he gave up on traditional Christianity and became an agnostic biblical scholar. Not one of those bomb-throwing atheist guys like Chris Hitchens or Sam Harris, but nevertheless a popularizing scholar who knows Christians, who used to be a Christian, and who’s not afraid to make waves among Christians.

Which he did with Misquoting Jesus, a 2005 best-seller that offered a street-level look at contemporary biblical studies and textual criticism — with a focus on how the Bibles we’re reading now aren’t exactly what was written by the original authors. (A big problem when many evangelicals attribute the original writing to, well, God.)

Now the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Ehrman has a new book out that will be just as divisive. It’s called Jesus, Interrupted, and it picks up where Misquoting Jesus left off: that the New Testament (along with Jesus himself) doesn’t exactly teach what Christians think.

I’m looking forward to reading it, not just because I’m a Bible scholarship nerd but because I need to stay reasonably well-informed with Pocket Guide to the Bible being re-released this summer. And because I think Christians need to stay well-informed about Bible scholarship, even if it makes us uncomfortable. Will it be challenging to read? Probably. But I don’t mind.

So stay tuned for a review in a few weeks. In the meantime, you might enjoy (or be offended by) this interview with Ehrman in Salon.

You can read some sample chapters from Jesus, Interrupted here.

And here’s a video of Ehrman talking about the book. It has a happy little background-music track, which strikes me as funny considering the subject matter.

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