The Ehrman Project

Apparently some folks who don’t agree with Professor Bart Ehrman, especially in his popularizing mode, have decided to do something about it. There’s a new web site, “The Ehrman Project,” with numerous short videos (and more to come, I’ms sure) responding to some of Bart’s claims about Scripture and evil, in particular. Among the contributors so far are Ben Witherington (NT, Asbury), Darrell Bock (NT, Dallas), and Alvin Plantinga (philosophy, Notre Dame). Ironically, the spokesperson for and apparent coordinator of the site, Miles O’Neill, is an employee at UNC Chapel Hill, where Bart works. [Update: According to a comment below, he actually is a staff member with Campus Crusade for Christ at UNC.] In his welcome video Mr. O’Neill states that the site is not an attack on Bart but a set of serious responses from respected scholars who differ.

As I have often told my students, Bart Ehrman and I go back a very long way, back to Princeton Seminary days: friends, neighbors, classmates, teaching fellows together for Bruce Metzger, delivering the New York Times together before classes to feed our families, watching our kids play together, teaching Greek together, etc. We remain friends, though we are no longer close.

As the welcome video states, Bart is smart, witty, and a great communicator. He is an excellent scholar, and has been for many years. I remember his morning quiet times, at 5 or 6 a.m., which consisted of reading the Bible in Greek and Hebrew. I also remember him as a pastor of a Baptist church for a while. I remember conversations about suffering, especially about the killing fields of SE Asia. Bart’s concerns are legitimate.

Bart is a fine NT scholar who knows his material like few others. Bart is a first-class textual critic. I have often thought, however, on some topics, that Bart exaggerates some issues and sometimes makes mountains out of molehills. Bart is not a philosopher or theologian, however, and his legitimate concerns about suffering probably should be addressed in public by someone who is.

Bart is also something of an iconoclast, to say the least. Iconoclasts have a legitimate function, but they also have a responsibility, and need to be held accountable for their words and deeds. I don’t know whether or not this site will encourage some of that, or whether it will itself be too reactionary. We will see. I have not yet viewed the videos, but some will certainly be better than others.

Bart and I come from somewhat similar backgrounds. We have similar Princeton educations–almost identical, in fact. Over time, we have chosen very different ways of understanding and teaching the Bible. I continue to hope that all who teach the Bible and explore the Christian faith publicly will do so in a way that edifies others. I also look forward to seeing what becomes of “The Ehrman Project.” I’m sure Bart does, too! He will not ignore it, I assume.

[P.S. To Bart--who would have thunk it would come to this?!]

17 Responses to “The Ehrman Project”

  1. [...] Bart Ehrman Project Bible Scholar Michael J. Gorman posted on his blog today that a few scholars have banded together to respond to the work of Bible [...]

  2. [...] 19, 2011 by Marc Cortez Thanks to Michael Gorman for pointing out The Ehrman Project, a website dedicated to exploring and engaging the work of Bart [...]

  3. Clay Knick says:

    I wonder how often this happens? Two scholars and friends going in very different directions? I’m asking this not in a general sense, but I’m asking about Biblical studies students or theology students. Given “our” area of study I think it might happen more often. So many options.

  4. A very helpful post, Michael.

    Thanks!

  5. Ashleigh says:

    Actually, Miles O’Neil is a campus minister for Campus Crusade at UNC. I wish the site were more clear about the fact that he doesn’t work for the university itself as a professor or in any other capacity. (I am a UNC ’08 alum, which is the only reason I know.)

  6. MJG says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Ashleigh. In his intro video he claims simply that he works at Chapel, but he does not say as a professor. I thought he might be a computer techie or something. Since he is not an employee, however, it is a bit misleading, but probably inconsequential.

  7. Mike Gantt says:

    I appreciated your personal perspective.

    I have viewed many of the videos at the site. I took nothing as ad hominem on Ehrman. They were just offering the alternative points of view.

    Obviously, Ehrman is a highly respected scholar and decent human being. What troubles me is the evangelistic zeal which he brings to the task of spreading his doubts. I never knew an agnostic could be so certain about his uncertainties.

    I wrote him an open letter about his naturalistic explanation of the resurrection. I hope he will respond. http://bit.ly/hNmXul

  8. Ashleigh says:

    I agree–not the biggest deal. I just appreciate when one goes to extra effort not to mislead. I don’t assume any bad intentions on the part of the site and think much of what they’re doing is a good thing, even if I might approach it somewhat differently (e.g. including more moderate and fewer very conservative voices).

  9. MJG says:

    Ashleigh: Agreed all the way around.

    Mike: I’ll try to get back to you after I read your post.

  10. Curtis Freeman says:

    Thanks for this very humanizing story, Michael. I think Ashleigh’s comments above are right, and in fairness O’Neil should probably identify himself, at least with a blurb. I don’t think there’s any question about what theological perspective he and the videos represent.

    Imo it would be good to have a wider range of scholarly perspectives represented. There are views across the spectrum, and faithful Christians might actually find themselves sometimes agreeing with Bart Ehrman rather than what is proposed as “the” Christian alternative. Are we to believe that the only options are Ehrman’s historical revisionism or inerrancy?

    I also want to affirm the comment above about Ehrman’s “evangelical” agnosticism. In the last decade I’ve met dozens of UNC alumni who tell the same story. Chapter 1–I was raised in a Christian home. Chapter 2–I went to UNC and lost my faith in Ehrman’s NT class. Chapter 3–I am wandering in the wilderness. It’s pretty clear that this is precisely his goal. He’s still an evangelical bent on converting students to unbelief.

    Granted, the faith of many of these students is probably pretty weak to begin with, but as you and others of us who have taught undergrads knows, it’s not a fair fight. As others have pointed out, the theological standpoint from which Ehrman assails Christianity is pretty weak itself. He may be a fine NT critic, but he’s a poor theologian!

    So I’m glad that someone is giving students a positive answer to Ehrman. I just wish that the views were slightly more nuanced.

  11. MJG says:

    Curtis,

    Thanks for your perspective and additional insights. I’m not surprised about the “effectiveness” of Bart’s evangelism, though it strikes me as sad in two respects (echoing your views, I think): (1) that that is his mission to college students; (2) that the version of Christian faith that many young people take to college is so generally intellectually thin and dependent on an especially thin foundation with respect to the Bible.

    Unfortunately, I agree that (some of) the videos are probably going to play right into the hands of those who think that faith and serious academic study of the Bible/serious engagement with deep theological and philosophical issues cannot go together–which is both ludicrous and historically untrue. Let’s hope that whatever conversation this generates does not degenerate into offering only the two too-narrow options of strict biblical inerrancy or disbelief. Bart, it seems to me, through the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. Seldom a wise move. Still less wise to try to reconstitute the scattered bathwater.

    [For those who do not know, Curtis teaches at Duke Divinity School.]

  12. Curtis Freeman says:

    Thanks for this note, Michael. Richard Hays was on a panel a couple of years back with Bart Ehrman and Norman Geisler. Richard, a serious scholar and faithful follower of Christ, found himself frustrated that the conversation seemed so polarized between the extremes. On some matters of interpretation, to the amazement of some in the audience, he agreed with Ehrman against Geisler. My guess is that Tom Wright might do the same, to the surprise of the Ehrman project supporters. The alternatives don’t have to be inerrancy or revisionism. There are more, and I would suggest, better alternatives. Your fellow pilgrim in the journey!

  13. MJG says:

    I heard about Richard’s experience. Of course I too would agree with Bart about many things, as would Tom. But not about the most important things.

  14. Ben says:

    Curtis and Michael – As a recent grad student of Bart’s (and a former ThM’er in the Duke Div School), who has both TA’ed for his NT course as well as taught the course during semesters in which he was on leave, I want to assure you that Bart does not intend for students to lose their faith. This, of course, is the by-product for some. Just as many (if not more) come away with their faith strengthened. I compare it to Jacob’s wrestling match at Peniel. Sure, they get hit in the hip and must limp around for the rest of their lives (i.e. – they lose a certain fundamentalist naivete), but in many ways they come out with a new name (a faith examined that they are now comfortable with in their own skin). Bart’s “zeal,” persuasiveness, etc., are NOT the result of some desire to drag others into the pit of agnosticism with him, but the byproduct of 1) his ability to communicate clearly; 2) his engaging personality and disarming sense of humor; 3) his honesty with students about the personal anguish he endured in the long process of deconversion; 4) and the ability to push the right buttons to get students to quickly understand that inerrancy is problematic from a historian’s perspective (he knows the evangelical arguments in and out). I would judge Bart by the company he keeps, not the undergrads whom he teaches. Most of his graduate students have been people of faith, many of whom teach in religiously affiliated divinity schools and liberal arts colleges. Many of his inner circle of friends are also people of Christian faith. I think his other grad students would agree – Bart is one of the most magnanimous people I’ve ever known. Just my two cents.

  15. MJG says:

    Ben,

    Thanks very much for this comment and perspective. I stand corrected if I have confused pedagogical effect and pedagogical purpose. (I probably owe it to Bart to ask him; I have perhaps over-relied on the perspectives of others.) Nonetheless, I’m not sure we should ever judge (and by this I mean simply discern/describe, not condemn) anyone simply by those they attract and not also by those they affect (or vice versa). “By their fruits…”

    I think what legitimately concerns some people is the apparent (and maybe it really is not real) zeal with which Bart seeks to affect the masses (undergrads and the general public), not grad students and colleagues, with the fruits of his own struggles and deconversion (your term). Is he equally committed to providing tools for coming out the other side? (That’s a legitimate, not a rhetorical, question. I simply don’t know.) If not, then one might reasonably conclude that some balance, or response, or whatever is appropriate, and if we are all fortunate, the response will throw off more light than heat, and maybe even engender dialogue.

    I don’t dispute the legitimacy of any of the questions or even some of the perspectives Bart offers. I’m all for challenging people, and I do that myself in a variety of ways. But a good number of us would really like to move on beyond the false dichotomy that is implicit in much of the conversation about Bart’s work (whether he is the source or not) of either literalisitc biblical inerrancy or agnosticism. That’s just plain wrong and silly, even for evangelicals, as I think you, Curtis, I, and even Bart would agree.

    Finally, just to make myself very clear, I remain Bart’s friend and concur with your observations about his personality and intelligence.

    Oh–I guess this is a p.s., since I already used the word “finally.” It is not my intention to continue this discussion. I think what needs to be said has been said. Thanks to all.

  16. Ashleigh says:

    I would agree with Ben from my experience. I was on InterVarsity’s Coordinating Team during my years at UNC, and I saw a majority of Christians students walk away from Bart’s class strengthened rather than weakened.

    Personally, I thought Bart simply wanted to push people to give up a naive faith. If they found something deeper and more lasting, he was happy for them; if they didn’t find that, they were in good company. After taking Bart’s class, I found fault not with him but with the evangelical community, who had pushed inerrancy and such on me my whole life. For example, if it weren’t for my own outside reading that had already exposed me to bits and pieces of textual criticism and the like, I probably would have been more concerned with things than I was. (But I was still plenty concerned, as Ben, my TA, could tell you. ;-)

    I took NT with Ehrman second semester of my senior year, and it pushed me to change my post-college plans from InterVarsity staff to Fuller Seminary student. Now that I’m done with my MA in Theology, I’m still just as thankful to Ehrman as I was when I first came here. He helped God get me to a place where I could explore my faith in an academic context, and I believe my experiences in his class have given me a lifelong passion for exposing laity to biblical studies and theology. I want evangelicals to be freed from the burden of trying to force the Bible to appear inerrant with textual gymnastics and for them to know enough about the Bible, Christian history, theology, etc. that they can learn from people like Ehrman without freaking out.

  17. MJG says:

    Well said, Ashleigh.

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