A Comment from a Christian Seminary Student

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Recently, I received a Facebook message from a Canadian seminary student by the name of Matt. I assume he is an Evangelical. Here’s some of what he had to say:

You don’t know me. I am a seminary student at a school in Canada. One of my professors passed around your article entitled “Know it all Evangelicals” and asked the class to post a response in the class forum.

As I considered my response, I felt that if I wanted to take the assignment seriously I should also post my response in the comments on your article…

…If you are not interested in this I completely understand and will bother you no more. I wish you all the best as you battle through your health issues. Thanks for considering my request.

Here’s the comment Matt posted to the class forum page:

Dear Bruce,

Thanks for a thought provoking article. I’ll admit that my first reaction was indignation and the inner protest that while this may refer to most Christians, it certainly doesn’t refer to me, don’t lump me in with everyone else.

I suspect that just about any Christian reading the article would feel similarly at least initially. Perhaps others would jump on the bandwagon and say, “Yeah, that is the problem with the church, they are so arrogant and they know nothing.” as though they themselves are somehow apart from and therefore better than the church.

Then I tried to think more about what you are really saying. It seems that the main problem that you outline in the article is the arrogance Christians tend to have based on their knowledge which in reality often amounts mostly to ignorance. I wonder if I really can be lumped into that category.

Perhaps in your years as a pastor you had the experience of having kids from your church go off to Bible College and then come back after a year armed with a new knowledge and a great zeal to correct the areas where you were in error in your leadership. The reality is that I was one of those kids. I recall as a Bible School student zealously inserting myself into a church conflict in the church where I grew up.

I made sure to point out to the pastor the areas where he was wrong and clearly warned him of the dangers of his behaviour. He was a man who was struggling in life, he had a teenage daughter causing a great deal of grief in his home and a church in turmoil around him and I am sure that in my great wisdom and discernment I caused far more harm than good. I look back on that incident with no small regret and hope that I have learned something since then.

Now, years later I find myself with a role of leadership and influence within the church and your article is a challenge to me. I can ask myself, “How can I be an influence for good in the church? Can I challenge the young people around me to get into their Bible, to study the scriptures and to think about what they are reading?” I think I can. The reality is that if the scriptures are true (and I believe that they are) they are worth studying and knowing. If they are truly a way to know God then this is what I should devote my life to learning and I want to influence the next generation of the church to change the reputation that we have of being arrogant and ignorant.

Thanks for your challenge.

Matt

While I cannot find the post Matt references, I do remember what I wrote. I focused on the arrogance of many Evangelicals when it comes to them thinking they know everything. In truth, most Evangelicals know very little about theology, the Bible, the history of the Christian sect, and the transmission of the text they claim is divine. Even among preachers, the lack of knowledge is astounding.

I think Bart Ehrman’s books should be required reading in the Evangelical church (and even more so in Evangelical Bible colleges and seminaries). Evangelicals should know where their Bible and beliefs came from and how much these beliefs have changed over the centuries. They should know that many of the claims they make for the Bible are not only laughable but ignorant. If they are going to say that the Bible says ____________, then they should learn to defend and explain their assertions. In the process of learning how to defend themselves, they should expose themselves to authors and scholars outside of their sect, men such as Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, NT Wright, and even secular, non-Christian writers of the ilk of Bart Ehrman and Robert M Price.

I take the Bible seriously and those who say they believe it should do the same. I hope, in the advice Matt gives to his future church people, that he will encourage them to read outside the rut of their peculiar sect. Any belief worth having will stand examination and critique. Now, if it is really all about faith, then future Evangelical preachers such as Matt need to make that clear. They need to state that their beliefs are faith-based and not evidence based. This we believe, then becomes an article of faith, a shared faith, that may have some facts attached to it, but such facts are not required.

I want to thank Matt for his comment. I always appreciate it when an Evangelical makes an attempt to engage me on a  thoughtful, professional, and intellectual level. His kind message to me is a reminder that my writing is often discussed far beyond the pages of this blog.

Note

I have had countless Evangelicals attempt to disparage and discredit Bart Ehrman. When I ask them which of his books they have read, they often state they have read NONE of them. As with the Bible and theology, their knowledge is based on what someone else has told them.

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer

How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

(I do make a few shekels if you buy these books through the links above)

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18 Comments

  1. david buckley

    Maybe Matt should also have a look at Richard Carrier and D,M.Murdock

    Reply
  2. Matt Gunther

    Bruce,
    Thanks for the respect with which you treated my note. I see that I haven’t won you back into the fold (didn’t expect to and wasn’t really trying). I think though that Christians and Atheists should be able to engage in conversation without it degrading into mud slinging and ridicule. I am finding most of your posts to be very interesting and thought provoking (having a hard time appreciating the ‘songs of sacrilege’ if I’m honest) and I am glad I am hearing your perspective. The Seminary reading is pretty heavy right now but I am making a note of the authors you are suggesting for future reference. Glad to hear you don’t have cancer. Hope you can find some relief from your other health issues. All the best.
    Matt

    Reply
    1. Michael Mock

      I was actually about to say something complimentary about someone who, on reading a criticism of something they hold dear, would consult with the source of the criticism. (I work in city government, and I have some idea of how difficult that can be.) Since you’re here, and commenting, let me just say, “Thank you.”

      “I think though that Christians and Atheists should be able to engage in conversation without it degrading into mud slinging and ridicule.”

      That’s not as uncommon as you might think, though it helps not to stay completely focused on areas of disagreement. Not all atheists are necessarily anti-theist — to put that in more personal terms, just because the Christian way(s) of looking at the world make(s) no sense to me, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t — or, more to the point, shouldn’t — work for anyone else.

      We’re all doing the best we can with the information we have.

      I’d be happy to engage in such a conversation if you’re so inclined (though if you’re too busy or just not interested, I understand that too — seriously, seminary). Knowing Bruce, I feel safe in saying that you’re also perfectly welcome to converse in the comments here. For myself, I’d suggest that if you’re truly interested in being an influence for good in the church, that you challenge the young people around you to look closely at how their actions actually affect the people around them: have them not just weigh the intentions, but also — and primarily — the results.

      Reply
      1. Matt Gunther

        Michael,
        I’ve got to say it is a little weird getting ministry advice from an atheist. That said, I think it’s good advice and I will do well to take it. I appreciate the invitation to further conversation and am definitely interested in that though I am a little hesitant to commit to something like that. In the interest of full disclosure, I am only a part time seminary student. I work full time with a missionary agency training overseas christian missionaries and I am also pretty involved in my church so I don’t have a lot of margin in my life right now to seriously engage. I will keep up with reading this blog and perhaps try to leave a comment every once in a while. Thanks for your comments though. It is pretty easy to vilify someone with a different perspective and different world view (this seems to happen pretty regularly with both sides to blame) and I appreciate that you haven’t done that to me.
        Matt

        Reply
        1. Michael Mock

          That sounds fine. I don’t have any grand point to make in regards to religion/atheism, so there’s no particular commitment required; but I’m happy to answer questions or try to explain how I look at the world and how I got to looking at the world this way. If we can help dispel a few pernicious misconceptions along the way, so much the better.

          That said, I’m also happy discuss the upcoming Avengers movie, or my firm stance that if they’re going to reboot well-known superhero-movie franchises every five years or so, then moviemakers should figure out how to skip over yet-another-retelling of the same old origin story. You know, the important stuff.

          Reply
          1. Matt Gunther

            I think I would be definitely interested in hearing how you got to looking at the world that way. I suspect though that the comment section of a blog is not necessarily the appropriate place for such a conversation. I would be willing to allow Bruce to give you my email address if you are interested in some kind of correspondence.

          2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            Discussion in the comment section is fine by me.

          3. Michael Mock

            I have a description of how it happened to/for me here on my own blog. If I were summarizing, I’d say basically that 1. It wasn’t voluntary. 2. It wasn’t immediate; it was very definitely a process.

            That is, again, if you’re curious or otherwise interested. I promise I won’t think any the less of you, your seminary, your denomination, or Christianity in general if you decide not to read it. (Or, for that matter, if you don’t see this comment at all — we’re several posts on, at this point.)

        2. Ken

          Hi Matt,

          Great to see an Evangelical with an open mind =). I also studied in WIBI in Ontario when I was much younger. But I am back home in Ireland. The great thing about Canadian seminaries is that the people I’ve met are quite open.

          Of course I am an atheist also. There is a thriving community of ex-clergy at theclergyproject.org, which has just been revamped.

          If you like a good discussion there are many like minded individuals there who have many different perspectives on matters of the heart. =)

          Greetings!

          Ken

          Reply
          1. Matt Gunther

            Ken,
            I appreciate you giving me the benefit of the doubt. I am likely not as open minded as you think I am. I checked out the clergy project and I don’t think it is an option for me since I am convinced that there is a God and that the Bible is his communication to us. I might be interested in further discussion though. I’m a little confused about what you mean by like-minded individuals. Thanks for the greeting though.

            Matt

          2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            Discussion in the comment section is encouraged and welcome. Keep it friendly.

          3. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            Matt, BTW, this article was posted on Pathos

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nolongerquivering/2015/01/a-comment-from-a-christian-seminary-student/

            Not many comments but thousands of people will read it.

            The No longer Quivering site on Pathos often cross posts my writing. The women who run the site are friends of mine.

            Bruce

  3. Marlowe

    The big news… They’re discussing your blog in a Canadian seminary! You’re no longer just the Ney, Ohio Atheist. Now, you’ve become an International Atheist! Congratulations!

    Reply
  4. Ami

    I like what Michael said above. Considering your words is important, they sorta show who you are. But considering your actions and how it reflects on your entire belief system and everyone who shares it… that’s big.

    Generally speaking, I see far more hate, intolerance, anger and craziness from Christians than from Atheists.

    Changing that could possibly change the entire game.

    Reply
  5. Fraternite

    Honestly, those Ehrman books you listed aren’t the good ones.

    They’re too polemicky (is that a word? If not, I just made it one) and they provide highly mediated conclusions as opposed to the raw data proper. That may be why they sell so well, but they’re easy reading and half the problem with the Evangelical ethos is the embrace of easy reading where real thinking isn’t required.

    The Ehrman books Evangelicals need to read are first and foremost The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (and yes, that means they will also need to learn some Greek — but if they think the Bible is the Word of God, surely they should be interested in doing that, right?) and to a lesser extent, Lost Christianities. Ehrman is a talented scholar, and he is at his best when he is being technical and nuanced and conducting original research and writing for an academic audience — the other stuff is kind of crappy, honestly.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I think you need to reach people where they are and the books I mentioned are written on a popular level, a level that the average person can understand. Asking people to read technical tomes will only discourage them.

      There’s a reason such books don’t sell well. They are specialty books geared towards those who have the intellect and time to wade through them. Most people will not do this. Better to feed them a light lunch than not feed them at all.

      If someone wants to investigate further, then they can attempt to read weightier books.

      Reply
      1. Fraternite

        Maybe I’m just an educated religious snob, but I don’t think that more easy reading (even if the content is better) is ‘progress’, so to speak.

        Religion is serious business and Christians in general (and especially Evangelicals, considering their supposed beliefs about the primacy and importance of the Bible) should be able to hold a conversation about what the Bible is and how it came to be. And part of that is necessarily being serious about learning Greek and Hebrew, learning to navigate the critical apparatus, etc.

        If people aren’t willing to do this, it speaks volumes about their real priorities in life — and about how honest they are being with themselves. In such cases, Jesus’ advice about pearls and swine is very well taken.

        Reply
        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          Well I don’t know you, so I can’t attest to your snobbery. 🙂 but, as a man who pastored a lot of Evangelical people over the years, I know that most of them have no time or inclination to learn Greek or read heady tomes about theology.

          Like with every profession, we learn to trust trained professionals. Pastors should be those trained professionals. They aren’t and that is the bigger problem. Untrained pastors ignorantly tell their parishioners things that are not true. Instead of promoting inquiry they shut off inquiry though their preaching and teaching. Telling people that the Bible is any way inerrant is a fraud, yet countless pastors spout this fraud from the pulpit.

          Even pastors that are seminary trained and understand Greek use Christian voodoo to turn the Bible into an inerrant book. Sadly, this has been going on since the modernist/fundamentalist war in the 1920’s,

          Reply

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