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Look, it’s a snow day here in Amarillo, and I’m feeling lazy. So this is a re-post of an old book review, but there’s a reason behind it.
1. Jesus, Interrupted was one of my favorite books I read in 2009. I was given a review copy by HarperOne in exchange for blogging about it — positive or negative — and, being a Bible nerd, I enjoyed it immensely.
2. Jesus, Interrupted is being released in trade paperback next week.
3. Transparency time: If I call attention to point #2 above and then direct you back to my original review, then Ehrman’s publisher will give me a free copy of God’s Problem, a book that happens to be next on my Ehrman reading list.
Yes, in fact, I will. But only because I believe Jesus, Interrupted is the kind of book most Christians need to read.
(For what it’s worth, the blog-about-this-please approach doesn’t work with most books. I’m looking at you, Berenstain Bears publisher.)
Jesus, Interrupted is very challenging to the Christian faith. No mistake about that. But I know too many Christians who simply aren’t educated about biblical scholarship beyond the devotional stuff they hear on Sunday mornings. JI is a hard education, but it is an education nonetheless. It would be easy to go through life reading only the church bookstore-approved stuff while ignoring the more challenging stuff, but a faith that avoids adversity will always be shallow and weak.
A strong faith is a faith that is aware of challenges like Ehrman’s, engages with them, and then finds a way to move past them (or beyond them, or alongside them).
Anyway, read anti.
I do recommend Jesus, Interrupted, but but it’s a qualified recommendation. Read the Cannarf review below (thanks, Bryan Allain) and make your own decision. My original review is below. In the meantime, I’ll be scouring the mailbox for my free book — and once I’ve read it, I’ll probably review it here.
As an author of a book about the Bible and an armchair student of theology and biblical studies, I’m pretty fascinated by Ehrman’s work — as well as his personal story. (He entered college and then seminary from a fundamentalist Christian background, interested in studying the Bible in its original languages. By the time he earned his doctorate, he’d become an agnostic.)
So I read Jesus, Interrupted. I read it very quickly, and have been postponing a review of it for awhile because I wasn’t sure what to write. A single-post review won’t really do the subject justice — especially as much as Jesus, Interrupted relates to my own writing career (and faith) — so I’m going to spread it out a bit.
To begin, I thought it would be fun to explore the book using my friend Bryan Allain’s quirky, efficient, and totally subjective “Cannarf Rating System.” That’s right: Cannarf. What’s a Cannarf? Read this to find out. In short, it’s a means of reviewing almost anything based on your expectations going in. Was the book better or worse than you expected?
So…here we go.
Author: Bart Ehrman
I’m Glad It Wasn’t Called: Jesus, Interrupted: A Book Intended to Destroy Your Christianity (Bwa-ha-ha-ha-HA)
Book Synopsis in Twitteresque 140 Characters or Less: The New Testament has some serious reliability problems, which you probably aren’t aware of since they’re rarely discussed in church.
Where I Bought It: I didn’t. A review copy was provided to me free by the publisher, HarperOne. Which I’m always tempted to pronounce “Harperone,” as if it rhymes with chaperone or megaphone.
Paid for With: My mortal soul. (Or not.)
How Long It Took Me to Read: About a week. I don’t have time to just sit for hours and read — I have to make time for it — but I kept returning happily to the work. Because, being a big nerd, I enjoy reading Bible scholarship. No, really, I do. That’s one reason I wrote Pocket Guide to the Bible: to bring Bible scholarship to the masses. With jokes. And it should be said that this book can be described as “Bible scholarship,” but it’s not a heavy, hard-to-read book. It’s a popularization of scholarship, when means you can read it without having to know, in advance, words like eschatology or dispensationalism or Nag Hammadi.
Who I WOULD NOT Recommend This Book to: That’s a really interesting question, and one that deserves more than a paragraph of explanation. Here’s the deal: If your Christian faith is wrapped up in the inerrancy of the Bible — the belief that every word of scripture is inspired by God and contains no errors — this book will either make you 1) confused; 2) dismayed; or 3) angry. Ehrman goes to great lengths to explain how he doesn’t see Jesus, Interrupted as an attack on Christian faith. And I agree, to an extent. It is, however, an attack on the kind of Christianity that requires an inerrant Bible and cannot allow any human fi
ngerprints on the Old and New Testaments. Other than a few opinions he carefully qualifies, Ehrman isn’t presenting any new or unusual scholarship. He’s simply outlining some of the contradictions and discrepancies (from dating of events to diverging views about Jesus by the biblical authors) that are apparent in the Bible. If these human elements are new to you, then yes, you’ll struggle with this book.
So I’m not sure whether to recommend it or not. I believe all Christians need to be better informed about the Bible. That’s why I wrote my own book about it (and which discussed a few of these contradictions). After all, truth is truth, and if your faith can’t withstand some honest questioning, then what kind of faith is it anyway? But I know a lot of Christians whose faith might not survive becoming aware of the “humanity” of Scripture. If you grew up in the kind of biblical fundamentalism that says, of the Bible, “God wrote it, I believe it, that settles it,” then you probably won’t enjoy Jesus, Interrupted. At all. It’ll complicate things, but personally I’d rather have a complicated faith than a simple but uninformed one.
Who I WOULD Recommend This Book to: Pastors, ministers, students of theology, anyone wanting a better understanding of the scriptures and ideas from which Christianity developed (…with all the hesitations rambled about above).
What I Used for a Bookmark: An outdated business card from my days in the advertising world.
What Were Some Interesting Stories from the Book? There were tons, though I wouldn’t call them stories. More like examples. I’m pretty familiar with most of the biblical discrepancies in the New Testament — again, scholars have been noting them for some time — although Ehrman pointed out a few new ones. In the Gospel story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter, the account in Mark 5:21-43 has Jesus learning the girl is sick and dying. Jairus asks Jesus to heal her. But Jesus is interrupted on the way to visiting her, and eventually hears from Jairus’ servants that it’s too late. The girl has died. (He goes to see her anyway and raises her from the dead.) In the same story as told in Matthew 9:18-26, Jairus comes to Jesus and tells him, “My daughter has just died.” He asks Jesus to bring her back to life. So which is it? Is she dying when he approaches Jesus? Or is she already dead?
What Is the One Thing I Will Take from the Book? Because I’ve done a lot of reading about the Bible already, there weren’t too many “surprises” in Ehrman’s book. Most of this stuff — as he points out many, many times (almost too much) — is widely known and widely accepted. What strikes me the most was Ehrman’s contention that it wasn’t his knowledge of these biblical problems that led him to abandon his Christian faith, but rather his inability to get past the problem of evil. But that’s another book entirely. (It’s called God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer. I haven’t read it.)
What I Learned from This Book That I Will Apply to My Next Book: It confirms my hatred of end notes. Ehrman cites a lot of scholarly sources and adds comments via endnotes, but you have to turn to the back of the book to read them. Big pet peeve of mine. I personally love to use footnotes in my writing, but only if you can read the note without having to turn to the back of the book. True footnotes are best used on the bottom of the page in which they appear. If I have to interrupt the reading of the chapter so I can turn to the back of the book, look up the chapter and note, and then read it before going back to the original page, then I am officially annoyed. My books all have true footnotes, and always will if I have my way.
Expectations Going In: Again, I wasn’t surprised by the information, but I was surprised by a couple of things. First, Ehrman’s writing is very accessible. His wordcraft isn’t elegant by any means, but he’s good at distilling the information in a way the average pew-sitter can read and understand. Secondly, I was surprised at his tone. Based on some responses to his books, I almost expected him to be the kind of raging, angry atheist who is intent only on dragging you out of your faith and into their own non-belief system. (I guess I was expecting a Christopher Hitchens-type diatribe?) But this doesn’t seem the case at all with Ehrman. He seems very concerned with making sure the reader realizes he’s not trying to attack faith or deter his readers from Christianity — even though he has personally left the faith. This concern seems genuine, and almost pastoral. Like he’s torn between his desire to educate people about the Bible and his concern that their whole belief system not end up torn to shreds.
Cannarf Rating: So I was fascinated by the subject matter, enjoyed his approach as a writer, and appreciated a tone that was more gracious than I expected. And it’s thought-provoking, too, which is good. +2 cannarfs.
Have any of you read this book? (Or another Ehrman book?) If so, how do you rate it?