When Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus created a media storm, many Christian reviewers said that Ehrman’s motive was to shock Christians by revealing where our New Testament texts come from and how many variants there are.
But if Christians were ignorant of where their Bible comes from, that is the church‘s fault, not Ehrman’s. Every seminary-trained preacher and leader already knows that the Bible was cobbled together from dozens of sources, that the many of its authors are anonymous, that several books are known forgeries (Hebrews, 2 Peter, etc.), that its authors had many theological differences, and so on – but they almost never share this information with their lay audience.
The intentional dumbing down of the church for the sake of filling more pews will ultimately lead to defection from Christ. Ehrman is to be thanked for giving us a wake-up call.
Christian churches… must bear much of the blame for the misunderstandings of religious faith that are rampant today… when [church professionals] complete their training and begin to lead local churches, these religious leaders hide their newfound breadth and revert to the patterns of their childhood… Thus narrow and immature ideas remain in place… a failure of crippling effects…1
I know exactly what Jack is saying. I was brought up in an evangelical church, and after attending thousands of sermons, hundreds of bible studies, and several theology classes, I had never once heard the most basic facts about the Bible that are known to all Christian scholars. Once I learned these “secrets” (through my own study), I was so disillusioned with my church’s dishonesty that I was willing to put my entire worldview under examination. In the end, I decided I had no good reasons to believe God even existed. But I may never have examined my worldview so thoroughly if the church had told me the truth from the beginning.
And now I write one of the biggest atheism blogs on the internet. Talk about “crippling effects”!
So why did Jack write this book?
I write because I am convinced that an honest approach to faith, far from being an attack on religious tradition, is the only way to preserve that tradition… At its best, faith invites its adherents to be seekers… Faith is at its weakest when it treats dogma as if it were an ancient fortress that must be defended at all costs.2
Of course, not all Christian leaders are dishonest with their laity.
In 1963, Anglican Bishop John A.T. Robinson sent mild shock waves through the church with his book Honest to God. Robinson challenged his readers to rise above views that described God as a separate being who lives just outside earth and visits the planet on rare and unpredictable occasions. In 1996, Robert W. Funk caused further consternation with his volume, Honest to Jesus. Funk detailed the conflicting pictures of Jesus given in biblical accounts and insisted that… the context of Jesus’ life could clarify his relevance to the present day.
[Religious publications assured] the public that nothing had changed, that these writers were aberrations…
Neither Robinson nor Funk wrote as radicals attempting to undermine Christianity. Their book titles point to a common passion: honesty. They challenged the professionals in the Christian Church to speak clearly to church members about what they know of the divine…3
Next time, I’ll write about the damage done by the dishonest church, as seen by Jack Good.