Tag Archive: Bart Ehrman

Book Review: Did Jesus Exist? by Bart Ehrman

did jesus exist

Repost from 2012

I am delighted to review Dr. Bart Ehrman’s latest book, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. The book was sent to me by the publisher.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I am a big fan of Bart Ehrman. When I began to move away from Christianity, Ehrman’s books were extremely helpful. They forced me to confront my beliefs about the English Bible and the underlying Greek and Hebrew text. I was also forced to consider that many of the ideas I had about Christianity and its history were either complete fabrications or an admixture of truth and error.

I have stated many times that any Evangelical Christian who honestly reads Bart Ehrman’s books can no longer say, I believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Evangelicals might be able to hang on to some form of progressive or liberal Christian belief but Ehrman’s books are an axe to the root of Evangelical Christianity.

Ehrman’s latest book, Did Jesus Exist? is 368 pages long. As he has in the past, Ehrman writes in a manner easily understood by the non-scholar. I am sure he will be faulted, as he is every time he comes out with a new book, for not having enough footnotes or endnotes, but Ehrman knows who is target audience is and he does not weigh them down with copious notes that only the scholars among us would appreciate. The bibliography does list 45 authors and 66 books, with ample representation by authors who believe Jesus existed and those who don’t. Anyone wanting to research this matter further will find plenty of material listed in the bibliography to help them with their research.

I am not a scholar, at least in the sense the word is used in the Did Jesus Exist debate. I was a Christian for 50 years. I spent 25 years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I have a rudimentary Bible College education. While in college I received no training in Hebrew or Greek. I was taught a narrow, truncated version of Christian church history. What knowledge I gained about Hebrew and Greek and Christian church history came from tens of thousands of hours spent in the study.

As a pastor, I was largely self-taught, and books became my education. Over time, I came to trust certain authors. This is what most non-scholars do. We decide which authors, which experts, we are going to trust. We do this all the time in virtually every sphere of life in which we are not expert. However, when it comes to the Bible, it seems everyone is an expert.

I am not a expert. I am not a novice but I am certainly not a university- and seminary-trained scholar. I am also at the place in life age-wise and health-wise where my ability to improve my academic lot is limited. I read and study as much as I can. As I do this, I again look for authors that I can trust. Dr. Bart Ehrman is one such author.

In Did Jesus Exist? Ehrman states several times that history is not a science. There is no test to prove that Jesus existed. The historian must look at the available evidence and come to a reasonable conclusion. From those conclusions, we end up with probabilities. The main question that Ehrman asks is, is it probable that Jesus existed? Based on the available evidence Ehrman says, Yes, Jesus existed.

Ehrman states in the introduction that his goal is not to convince mythicists (those who don’t believe Jesus existed) of the folly of their view. He writes :

I do not expect to convince anyone in that boat. What I do hope is to convince genuine seekers who really want to know how we know that Jesus did exist, as virtually every scholar of antiquity, of biblical studies, of classics, and the Christian origins in this country and, in fact, in the Western world agrees. Many of these scholars have no vested interest in the matter. As it turns out, I myself do not either. I am not a Christian, and I have no interest in promoting a Christian cause or a Christian agenda. I am an agnostic with atheist leanings, and my life and views of the world would be approximately the same whether or not Jesus existed. My beliefs would vary little. The answer to the question of Jesus’s historical existence will not make me more or less happy, content, hopeful, likable, rich, famous, or immortal.

But as a historian I think evidence matters. And the past matters. And for anyone to whom both evidence and the past matter, a dispassionate consideration of the case makes it quite plain: Jesus did exist. He may not have been the Jesus that your mother believes in or the Jesus of the stained-glass window or the Jesus of your least favorite televangelist or the Jesus proclaimed by the Vatican, the Southern Baptist Convention, the local mega-church, or the California Gnostic. But he did exist, and we can say a few things, with relative certainty, about him.

In any event, I need to admit that I write this book with some fear and trepidation. I know that some readers who support agnostic, atheist, or humanist causes and who typically appreciate my other writings will be vocal and vociferous in rejecting my historical claims. At the same time certain readers who have found some of my other writings dangerous or threatening will be surprised, possibly even pleased, to see that here I make common cause with them. Possibly many readers will wonder why a book is even necessary explaining that Jesus must have existed. To them I would say that every historical person, event, or phenomenon needs to be established. The historian can take nothing for granted. There are several loud voices out there, whether you tune into them or not, who are declaring that Jesus is a myth. This mythicist position is interesting historically and phenomenologically, as a part of a wider skepticism that has infiltrated parts of the thinking world and that deserves a clearheaded sociological analysis in its own right. I do not have the skills or expertise to provide that wider analysis, although I will make some brief remarks about the broad mythicist phenomenon in my conclusion. In the meantime, as a historian I can show why at least one set of skeptical claims about the past history of our civilization is almost certainly wrong, even though these claims are seeping into the popular consciousness at an alarming rate. Jesus existed, and those vocal persons who deny it do so not because they have considered the evidence with the dispassionate eye of the historian, but because they have some other agenda that this denial serves. From a dispassionate point of view, there was a Jesus of Nazareth.

Did Jesus Exist? has three parts:

  1. Evidence for the Historical Jesus
  2. The Mythicists’ Claims
  3. Who Was the Historical Jesus?

In the first chapter Ehrman gives a brief history of the mythicist view and its relevant present-day authors. Later in the book he will come back to these authors and give their views more careful consideration. Ehrman looks at the mythicist claims of such men like Robert M Price, Richard Carrier, Frank Zindler, Thomas L. Thompson, Earl Doherty, George A. Wells, Acharya S, D.M. Murdock, Timothy Freke, and Peter Gandy.

In chapter two Ehrman talks about the non-Christian sources for the life of Jesus. Ehrman makes it clear that there is no hard, physical evidence for Jesus. There is no archeological evidence. There are no writings from Jesus. Does this mean the Jesus did not exist? Hardly.

Ehrman writes:

This is not much of an argument against his existence, however, since there is no archaeological evidence for anyone else living in Palestine in Jesus’s day except for the very upper-crust elite aristocrats, who are occasionally mentioned in inscriptions (we have no other archaeological evidence even for any of these). In fact, we don’t have any archaeological remains for any non-aristocratic Jew of the 20s CE, when Jesus would have been an adult. And absolutely no one thinks that Jesus was an upper-class aristocrat. So why would we have archaeological evidence of his existence?

We also do not have any writings from Jesus. To many people this may seem odd, but in fact it is not odd at all. The vast majority of people in the ancient world could not write, as we will see in greater detail. There are debates about Jesus’s literacy, if of course he lived. But even if he could read, there are no indications from early sources that he could write, and there is no reference to any of his writings in any of our Gospels. So there is nothing strange about having nothing in writing from him. I should point out that we have nothing in writing from over 99.99 percent of people who lived in antiquity. That doesn’t mean, of course, that they didn’t live. It means that if we want to show that any one of them lived, we have to look for other kinds of evidence.

Ehrman spends a good bit of the book talking about the non-Christian sources for the life of Jesus. He talks about:

Roman references: Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, and Tacitus

Jewish sources: Josephus

Mythicists often claim that the passage in the writings of Josephus that makes mention of Jesus was not written by Josephus, that it was added by a Christian years later. Ehrman charts a path between the extremes of yes, Josephus wrote this and no, he didn’t by suggesting that the passage in question had been embellished.

Ehrman writes:

The big question is whether a Christian scribe (or scribes) simply added a few choice Christian additions to the passage or whether the entire thing was produced by a Christian and inserted in an appropriate place in Josephus’s antiquities.

The majority of scholars of early Judaism, and experts on Josephus, think that it was the former–that one or more Christian scribes “touched up” the passage a bit. If one takes out the obviously Christian comments, the passage may have been rather innocuous, reading something like this:

At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. He was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. When Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.

If this is the original form of the passage, then Josephus had some solid historical information about Jesus’s life: Jesus was known for his wisdom and teaching; he was thought to have done remarkable deeds; he had numerous followers; he was condemned to be crucified by Pontius Pilate because of Jewish accusations brought against him; and he continued to have followers among the Christians after his death.

As can be expected, Ehrman spends considerable space detailing why the gospels must be considered as historical sources. Ehrman does a good job defending the view that that gospels are a historical source and certainly are appropriate for use in determining whether or not Jesus existed. Mythicists like to reduce the gospels down to one gospel, Mark, and Ehrman makes short work of the folly of such an argument.

Ehrman concludes his chapter on The Gospels as Historical Sources with this:

The evidence I offer in this chapter is not all there is. It is simply one part of the evidence. But it is easy to see why even on its own it has proved to be so convincing to almost every scholar who ever thought about the issue. We are not dealing with just one gospel that reports what Jesus said and did from some time near the end of the first century. We have a number of surviving gospels—I name seven—that are either completely independent of one another or independent in a large number of their traditions. These all attest to the existence of Jesus. Moreover, these independent witnesses corroborate many of the same basic sets of data—for example, that Jesus not only lived but that he was a Jewish teacher who was crucified by the Romans at the instigation of Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. Even more important, these independent witnesses are based on a relatively large number of written predecessors, gospels that no longer survive but that almost certainly once existed. Some of these earlier written texts have been shown beyond reasonable doubt to date back at least to the 50s of the Common Era. They derive from locations around the Mediterranean and again are independent of one another. If historians prefer lots of witnesses that corroborate one another’s claims without showing evidence of collaboration, we have that in relative abundance in the written sources that attest to the existence of the historical Jesus.

But most significant of all, each of these numerous gospel texts is based on oral traditions that had been in circulation for years among communities of Christians in different parts of the world, all of them attesting to the existence of Jesus. And some of these traditions must have originated in Aramaic-speaking communities of Palestine, probably in the 30s CE, within several years at least of the traditional date of the death of Jesus. The vast network of these traditions, numerically significant, widely dispersed, and largely independent of one another, make it almost certain that whatever one wants to say about Jesus, at the very least one must say that he existed. Moreover, as we will now see, there is yet more evidence.

In chapter four Ehrman talks about the evidence for Jesus from later sources outside the gospels. He briefly talks about Josephus and Tacitus but he spends the bulk of this chapter giving evidence for Jesus’s existence from Christian sources like:

Papias

Ignatius of Antioch

1 Clement

The book of Acts

The writings of Paul

Ehrman writes:

As a result of our investigation so far, it should be clear that historians do not need to rely on only one source (say, the gospel of Mark) for knowing whether or not the historical Jesus existed. He is attested clearly by Paul, independently of the Gospels, and in many other sources as well: in the speeches in Acts, which contain material that predates Paul’s letters, and later in Hebrews, 1st and 2nd Peter, Jude, Revelation, Papias, Ignatius, and 1 Clement. These are ten witnesses that can be added to our seven independent Gospels (either entirely or partially independent), giving us a great variety of sources that broadly corroborate many of the reports about Jesus without evidence of collaboration. And this is not counting all of the oral traditions that were in circulation even before the surviving written accounts. Moreover, information about Jesus known to Paul appears to go back to the early 30s of the Common Era, as arguably does some of the material in the book of Acts….

In chapter five Ehrman talks about two key data for the historicity of Jesus:

Paul’s association with Simon Peter and Jesus’s brother James.

The crucifixion of Jesus.

Ehrman writes:

Paul indicates that he received some of these traditions from those who came before him, and it is relatively easy to determine when. Paul claims to have visited with Jesus’s closest disciple, Peter, and with his brother James three years after his conversion, that is around 35—36 CE. Much of what Paul has to say about Jesus, therefore, stems from the same early layer of tradition that we can trace, completely independently, in the Gospels.

Even more impressive than what Paul says about Jesus is whom he knew. Paul was personally acquainted, as I’ve pointed out,with Peter and James. Peter was Jesus’s closest confidant throughout his public ministry, and James was his actual brother. Paul knew them for decades, starting in the mid 30s CE. It is hard to imagine how Jesus could have been made up. Paul knew his best friend and his brother.

Paul also knew that Jesus was crucified. Before the Christian movement, there were no Jews who thought the Messiah was going to suffer. Quite the contrary. The crucified Jesus was not invented, therefore, to provide some kind of mystical fulfillment of Jewish expectation. The single greatest obstacle Christians had when trying to convert Jews was precisely their claim that Jesus had been executed. They would not have made that up. They had to deal with that and devise a special, previously unheard of theology to account for it. And so what they invented was not a person named Jesus but rather the idea of a suffering Messiah. That invention has become so much a part of the standard lingo that Christians today assume it was all part of the original plan of God as mapped out in the Old Testament. But in fact the idea of a suffering Messiah cannot be found there. It had to be created. And the reason it had to be created is that Jesus—the one Christians consider to be the Messiah—was known by everyone everywhere to have been crucified. He couldn’t be killed if he didn’t live.

In chapters six and seven, spanning almost a hundred pages, Ehrman talks about, and discredits, the claims of those (mythicists) who say Jesus did not exist. He returns to the writings of the mythicists I mentioned earlier.

What claims do mythicists make? Ehrman gives four claims that mythicists make:

Claim 1: The Gospels are Highly Problematic as Historical Sources.

We do not have the original texts of the gospels

We do not know the authors of the gospels

The gospels are filled with discrepancies and contradictions

The gospels contain non-historical materials

The stories in the gospels are filled with legendary material

Claim 2: Nazareth Did Not Exist.

Claim 3: The Gospels are Interpretive Paraphrases of the Old Testament.

Claim 4: The Nonhistorical “Jesus” is based on Stories About Pagan Divine Men.

In chapter seven Ehrman homes in on mythicist claims that Jesus was a mythical being. He asks and answers several questions:

Did the earliest Christians invent Jesus as a Dying-Rising God, based on Pagan myths?

Was Jesus invented as a personification of Jewish Wisdom?

Was Jesus an unknown Jew who lived in obscurity more than a century before Paul?

Was Jesus crucified in the spiritual realm rather than on earth?

Did Mark, our first Gospel, invent the idea of a historical person, Jesus?

Ehrman’s answer to each of these questions is NO!

The final part of the book asks the question, Who was the historical Jesus? If Jesus existed who was he?

Ehrman makes clear that we must differentiate between the historical Jesus and the Jesus who Christians claim was born of a virgin, worked miracles and rose again from the dead. Before the supernatural claims can be addressed we must first determine if Jesus existed. We can believe Jesus existed without believing Jesus was born of a virgin, worked miracles, and rose again from the dead. The former is a matter history can decide. The latter is a matter of theology, of faith.

According to Ehrman, who was Jesus? After reading the book, I would summarize Ehrman’s view like this:

Jesus was born in relative obscurity in the town of Nazareth. His parents were poor and his father was a common laborer. As an adult Jesus became a disciple of John the Baptist, and over time became an Jewish apocalyptic prophet. He was crucified by the authority of Pontius Pilate.

In the final part of the book Ehrman has much to say about the apocalyptic proclamations of Jesus and his apocalyptic activities. He makes a compelling case for Jesus, the apocalyptic prophet. I plan to write several posts in the future about several interesting points Ehrman makes about Jesus and the works he did during his three years of public ministry.

I have no doubt that the diehard mythicists who frequent this website will not be convinced by Bart Ehrman’s, Did Jesus Exist? I can only hope they will read the book and it will force them to add a bit of nuance and temper to their claims. I also hope their wilder claims will die the swift death they deserve.

For the rest of my readers I hope the book will be instructive and will provide ammunition when debating with Evangelical Christians about the inerrant, inspired, infallible Word of God.

For Christian readers of this blog (yes, I know you are out there) the book is likely to be offensive, instructive, or affirming depending on how you open you are and how you view the Bible itself. I can only hope this book will be widely read in Christian circles.

As our family gathered together to watch Ohio State go down in flames to Kansas last night, I told them that I thought Did Jesus Exist? was Bart Ehrman’s best book (and I have all of them). While Ehrman spends a good bit of time dealing with mythicist claims he also spends a lot of time detailing how we should read the Bible and judge its historical reliability. I daresay if Evangelical Christians are willing to read the book with an open mind they will never view the Bible or Jesus the same again.

Who is Dr. Bart Ehrman?

Bart D. Ehrman is the author of more than twenty books, including the New York Times bestselling Misquoting Jesus, God’s Problem, Jesus, Interrupted, and Forged. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is a leading authority on the Bible and the life of Jesus. He has been featured on a variety of top media outlets.

You can buy Did Jesus Exist? here.

Bart Ehrman on God, the Bible, and the Problem of Suffering

gods problem bart ehrman
What follows is an excerpt from a recent post Dr. Bart Ehrman wrote about a 2008 interview on the subject of  the Bible, God, and suffering. This interview occurred around the time Ehrman released God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer. Ehrman wrote:

For most of my life I was a devout Christian, believing in God, trusting in Christ for salvation, knowing that God was actively involved in this world. During my young adulthood, I was an evangelical, with a firm belief in the Bible as the inspired and inerrant word of God. During those years I had fairly simple but commonly held views about how there can be so much pain and misery in the world. God had given us free will (we weren’t programmed like robots), but since we were free to do good we were also free to do evil—hence the Holocaust, the genocide in Cambodia, and so on. To be sure, this view did not explain all evil in the world, but a good deal of suffering was a mystery and in the end, God would make right all that was wrong.

In my mid 20s, I left the evangelical fold, but I remained a Christian for some twenty years—a God-believing, sin-confessing, church-going Christian, who no longer held to the inerrancy of Scripture but who did believe that the Bible contained God’s word, trustworthy as the source for theological reflection. And the more I studied the Christian tradition, first as a graduate student in seminary and then as a young scholar teaching biblical studies at universities, the more sophisticated I became in my theological views and in my understanding of the world and our place in it.

Suffering increasingly became a problem for me and my faith. How can one explain all the pain and misery in the world if God—the creator and redeemer of all—is sovereign over it, exercising his will both on the grand scheme and in the daily workings of our lives? Why, I asked, is there such rampant starvation in the world? Why are there droughts, epidemics, hurricanes, and earthquakes? If God answers prayer, why didn’t he answer the prayers of the faithful Jews during the Holocaust? Or of the faithful Christians who also suffered torment and death at the hands of the Nazis? If God is concerned to answer my little prayers about my daily life, why didn’t he answer my and others’ big prayers when millions were being slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, when a mudslide killed 30,000 Columbians in their sleep, in a matter of minutes, when disasters of all kinds caused by humans and by nature happened in the world?

….

About nine or ten years ago I came to realize that I simply no longer believed the Christian message. A large part of my movement away from the faith was driven by my concern for suffering. I simply no longer could hold to the view—which I took to be essential to Christian faith—that God was active in the world, that he answered prayer, that he intervened on behalf of his faithful, that he brought salvation in the past and that in the future, eventually in the coming eschaton, he would set to rights all that was wrong, that he would vindicate his name and his people and bring in a good kingdom (either at our deaths or here on earth in a future utopian existence).

We live in a world in which a child dies every five seconds of starvation. Every five seconds. Every minute there are twenty-five people who die because they do not have clean water to drink. Every hour 700 people die of malaria. Where is God in all this? We live in a world in which earthquakes in the Himalayas kill 50,000 people and leave 3 million without shelter in the face of oncoming winter. We live in a world where a hurricane destroys New Orleans. Where a tsunami kills 300,000 people in one fell swoop. Where millions of children are born with horrible birth defects. And where is God? To say that he eventually will make right all that is wrong seems to me, now, to be pure wishful thinking.

As it turns out, my various wrestlings with the problem have led me, even as an agnostic, back to the Bible, to see how different biblical authors wrestle with this, the greatest of all human questions. The result is my recent book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer. My contention is that many of the authors of the Bible are wrestling with just this question: why do people (especially the people of God) suffer? The biblical answers are striking at times for their simplicity and power (suffering comes as a punishment from God for sin; suffering is a test of faith; suffering is created by cosmic powers aligned against God and his people; suffering is a huge mystery and we have no right to question why it happens; suffering is redemptive and is the means by which God brings salvation; and so on). Some of these answers are at odds with one another (is it God or his cosmic enemies who are creating havoc on earth?), yet many of them continue to inform religious thinkers today….

Here is a one hour video of the interview. If you are unfamiliar with Dr. Ehrman, I encourage you to watch the video.

Video Link

I heartily recommend Ehrman’s book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer. You can purchase it here.

Ehrman has a member-only blog, with an annual $24.95 membership fee (all monies raised go to charitable groups).

Other books written by Ehrman can be purchased here. Ehrman’s latest book, Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior, is scheduled to be released on March 6, 2016. You can pre-order the book here.

15 Astounding Predictions for 2016 by Atheist Bruce Gerencser

end of the world

This is the time of year when Evangelical soothsayers, psychics, and Nate Silver (ESPN 538) make predictions for the coming year.  I thought, in keeping with the spirit of the New Year, that I, the atheist version of Carnac the Magnificent, would make a few predictions of my own. Here’s my 15 Astounding Predictions for 2016.

  1. Richard Dawkins will say something stupid.
  2. Neil deGrasse Tyson will say something brilliant.
  3. The Pope will not get laid.
  4. Evangelicals will continue to say the rapture is nigh.
  5. At least three Evangelical preachers will be arrested and charged with molesting children and 25 others will be accused of sexual misconduct.
  6. Evangelicals will continue to say atheists hate God and secretly want to have wanton, immoral sex.
  7. Franklin Graham will be exposed as a cross dressing transvestite.
  8. Evangelical Calvinists will continue to say their critics don’t understand Calvinism.
  9. Bart Ehrman will write another book. It will be titled Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented their Stories of the Savior. I predict it will be released on March 1, 2016
  10. Donald Trump will say bat-shit crazy stuff and his followers will love it.
  11. Evangelicals will continue to think that Christianity is under attack and that secularists are trying to make Christianity illegal.
  12. Tea Party Republicans will continue to think that the lame stream media controls America and that Muslim socialist Barack Hussein Obama is coming to take their guns.
  13. The day after Thanksgiving, Fox News will say that there is a War on Christmas.
  14. One Million Moms will continue to be outraged over nudity, cursing, and gay kissing on TV. This year they will find their lost remote and learn that if they push the channel button it changes the channel.
  15. Democrats will win the presidency, a sure sign that the Antichrist is preparing to usher in the new world order.

Never Doubt Your Bible, No Matter How Far-Fetched it Seems

never doubt the Bible

I received Michael and Debi Pearl’s No Greater Joy magazine in today’s mail. In an article titled, Watching Bible Prophecy Fulfilled, Michael Pearl details the so-called prophecies found in Ezekiel 38, 39. Evangelicals like the Pearls believe that this passage of Scripture predicts the establishment of the Jewish state and a war in the Middle East prior to the rapture of the church and the seven-year Tribulation.

As Pearl was unpacking his theories about the future, he told the story of a Church of Christ preacher who had written a book in 1946 attacking the premillennial view of future events. The author of the book reminded his readers that “for premillennialism to be true, the Jews would have to occupy their ancient land of Israel.” The author believed such a claim to be absurd, yet in 1948, Israel became a nation. Pearl remarked, never doubt your Bible, no matter how far-fetched it seems.

Spend any amount of time around Evangelicals and you will find out that they have many—to use Pearl’s term—far-fetched beliefs. Evangelicals believe that the Bible is a supernatural book written by a supernatural God. While this God used human instrumentation to write the Bible, its authors, empowered by the Holy Spirit, wrote down exactly what God wanted written. The Bible, then, contains the very words of God.

Once people buy into the myth that the Bible consists of  the words of God, it is easy to get them to believe the most outlandish of beliefs. No matter how crazy these beliefs might sound to non-Evangelicals, Christians accept them as God-uttered truth. No amount of reason or common sense will persuade them to believe otherwise. A world created 6,020 years ago in six literal 24 hour days? Noah building a big boat in the middle of the desert and a flood destroying the entire human race save eight? Fallen angels having sex with human women resulting in hybrid children? A virgin woman being impregnated by God so she could give birth to a baby who was one hundred percent God and one hundred percent human? This same baby, as an adult, healing the sick, raising the dead, turning water into wine, walking on water, dying and coming back to life three days later, walking through walls, and ascending back to heaven, promising to return in the future?  All of these fantastical claims, and more, are believed by Evangelicals. Remember, never doubt your Bible, no matter how far-fetched it seems.

Ask Evangelicals if they think the foundation stories of religions like Mormonism or Scientology are absurd, they will, to a man, say yes!  Yet, Evangelicals seem incapable of seeing their own beliefs in the same light. This is due to the fact that Evangelicals have been indoctrinated, often from the cradle to the grave, in mythic Christianity. Every Sunday, Evangelicals gather together to hear a supposedly educated man remind them that the Christian myths are true. Evangelicals are expected to swallow every fantastical Bible story hook, line, and sinker. As fishermen know, let a catfish swallow a hook, and it is almost impossible to retrieve the hook without killing the fish.  So it is with Evangelicals. Once they have swallowed the hook of Bible literalism, it is almost impossible to deliver them from God said it, I believe it lunacy.

The only hope for people locked up in the Evangelical padded room is for them to have doubts about the veracity of the Bible. Once Evangelicals dare to entertain the thought that the Bible might not be what their preachers say it is, they are opening the door of their mind to skepticism and reason. Preachers fear church members who dare to doubt, knowing that the path out of the church is paved with questions and doubts. Preachers remind church members that Satan caused Adam and Eve to doubt the words of God. When tempted to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve reminded the serpent that God had commanded them not to eat the fruit. Satan replied, yea, hath God said (in perfect King James English)?  Adam and Eve ignored the words of God, ate the fruit, and plunged the human race into sin. See what happens when you doubt the words of God?, the Evangelical preacher says. NEVER doubt your Bible, no matter how far-fetched it seems.   

This is why Evangelical leaders consider authors like Bart Ehrman dangerous. Ehrman, like Satan in the Garden of Eden, says to readers, yea hath God said? Ehrman, a University of North Carolina New Testament scholar, confronts Evangelical readers with evidence that thoroughly and completely destroys the notion that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible words of God. Focusing on the New Testament, Ehrman exposes ignorant Evangelicals to the facts about the transmission and history of the Biblical text. This evidence is so overwhelming that honest Evangelicals are forced to admit that the Bible is not what preachers claim it is. While it is certainly possible for Ehrmanated-Evangelicals to hold on to some semblance of Christianity, they will never view the Bible is the same way again.

When Evangelicals stop by this blog to challenge this Evangelical-preacher-turned-atheist, I always ask if they have read any of Bart Ehrman’s books.  Invariably, their answer is no. Often they see no need to read his books. Their pastors have either told them to stay away from Ehrman’s books or they have read their favorite fundamentalist bloggers post about Ehrman’s heretical beliefs. No need to investigate further. Since truth is always wasted on a closed mind, I rarely engage Evangelicals who refuse to read Ehrman’s books. Long time readers have watched me tell Evangelical zealots to read Ehrman and then we will talk. Few do so, preferring to remain safe and secure in the Evangelical bubble. Until they are willing to entertain doubts and questions about the Bible, there is no hope for them. Until Evangelicals are willing to reject the irrational parts of the Bible, the parts Michael Pearl calls far-fetched, they will remain enslaved to their literalistic interpretations  of God’s perfect words.

Jim Elliff says, Avoid Bart Ehrman, He Could Cause You To Lose Your Faith!

bart ehrman

Jim Elliff, the director of Christian Communicators Worldwide, thinks Christians should avoid Bart Ehrman because he could cause them to doubt or lose their faith.  For those of you who are not familiar with Evangelical turned agnostic New Testament theologian Bart Ehrman, his credentials are as follows:

Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He began his teaching career at Rutgers University, and joined the faculty in the Department of Religious Studies at UNC in 1988, where he has served as both the Director of Graduate Studies and the Chair of the Department.

Professor Ehrman completed his M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees at Princeton Seminary, where his 1985 doctoral dissertation was awarded magna cum laude. An expert on the New Testament and the history of Early Christianity, has written or edited thirty books, numerous scholarly articles, and dozens of book reviews. In addition to works of scholarship, Professor Ehrman has written several textbooks for undergraduate students and trade books for general audiences. Five of his books have been on the New York Times Bestseller list: Misquoting Jesus; God’s Problem; Jesus Interrupted; Forged; and How Jesus Became God. His books have been translated into twenty-seven languages.

His books include:

  • 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
  • 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)

Ehrman is a royal pain in the ass for Evangelical pastors and theologians. His books are well written and quite devastating to the many of the tenets of Evangelicalism. His books are accessible, making it easy for the average Joe the plumber reader to understand what is written. In other words, Ehrman has successfully bridged the ivory tower/pew divide. I heartily recommend his books.

Ehrman  participated in a debate with Craig Evans at a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Midwestern is a Southern Baptist institution.  By all accounts Ehrman decidedly won the debate. (here’s Midwestern’s report of the debate)

Jim Elliff, a man I knew from my days as a Reformed Baptist, thinks debating Bart Ehrman is a bad idea:

First, because Ehrman is a false teacher and we are forbidden to give such men a forum to express their views.

The Bible doesn’t treat false teachers kindly. It is one thing to talk with a skeptic who is asking questions to know the truth, or who is confronting you in public, but it is quite another thing to invite and pay a false teacher to come to your turf in order to present his views in an open forum.

Inviting a false teacher to present his errant views in order to persuade students and the public is like allowing a gunman to shoot randomly out into an audience of military personnel because it is assumed the troops have body armor. For one thing, body armor cannot shield against all shots, and for another, there are many people attending who have no armor at all. At last week’s debate, for instance, there were many people from the public who were not even believers. Some young people also attended, and some seminary students who are not yet prepared for the effects of doubt-producing verbiage….

Second, because the minority position almost always gains some followers regardless who wins the debate.

When you have a sizable crowd it almost goes without saying that someone will be convinced of the false views of the false teacher. You may sense an overwhelming approval of the debate by many who love the give and take, but fail to take note of the quiet student or outsider to the seminary now stricken with doubt about the Scriptures. Ehrman’s presentation might be all that is needed to move him over the line….

Third, because debates are not always won on the basis of truth alone.

We don’t need to comment much here, because you understand how this works. Ehrman clearly won the debate by the account of several attending. He simply won it by his cleverness and expertise at debating. His opponent, the believer, was well able to defeat him with the truth, but missed his opportunities in several places, giving credence to the idea that he was a better writer and lecturer than debater. In fact, this is the second time Ehrman won a debate at the same seminary, but against a different Christian opponent. What does that do for our witness? Though I have no question in my mind that our position on the reliability of Scripture is the right one and can withstand Ehrman’s arguments soundly, our side was out-debated.

Fourth, because many of the listeners will not have the opportunity to sort out confusing aspects of the debate with professors or knowledgeable persons….

Fifth, because doubt is insidious.

One seminary student who has now graduated told me that he occasionally had huge doubts about Scripture and God. They were not there often, perhaps only for a few difficult days or weeks once every year or two, but they were so strong that he found himself almost smothered by them when they came. This was a leading student, chosen as one of the best preachers of the seminary. Doubt is insidious. Like a drop of ink added to gallons of water, it can ruin everything. It is the fly in the perfume. We are naïve to think that, being free from doubts ourselves, others do not deal with them regularly.

When a man like Ehrman speaks, doubt-producing statements may be forever lodged in people’s minds, causing trouble when least expected. It only takes a tiny amount of doubt for some people to be destroyed. A weak person might believe his doubts rather than believe his beliefs…..

Where, oh where do I begin?

There is no need for me to go through a lengthy refutation of Elliff’s  post. His position is quite simple:

  • Bart Ehrman is a false teacher
  • Christians are not to listen to false teachers
  • False teachers like Ehrman cause Christians to doubt
  • Doubt causes people to lose their faith
  • Doubt must be avoided at all costs, so information that is contrary to the approved narrative must be avoided

Consider this. The doubting students that Elliff is so concerned about have gone to Evangelical (Southern Baptist) churches their entire lives and have at least four years of college education, most likely at an Evangelical college. After a lifetime of training, four years of college, and after uncounted sermons and Sunday school lessons, the students still aren’t prepared to withstand hearing ONE debate featuring a non-Christian?

I have one word for this, pathetic.

Elliff lives in a world where the only truth is his truth (though he calls his truth God’s truth). Even though most everyone admits Ehrman handily won the debate, according to Elliff he won by deceptive means. Since there is only one version of the truth, Ehrman had to win by other means.

The money quote is this:

Ehrman clearly won the debate by the account of several attending. He simply won it by his cleverness and expertise at debating. His opponent, the believer, was well able to defeat him with the truth, but missed his opportunities in several places, giving credence to the idea that he was a better writer and lecturer than debater.

Elliff seems to have forgotten his Bible. If I remember right, the Holy Spirit indwells every follower of Jesus. When a believer is called on to give a defense of their faith, the Holy Spirit gives the believer the words to say. Evidently, the Holy Spirit didn’t come through for Evans.

Elliff lives in an alternate universe where saying the Bible says _________ is the satisfactory answer to every question. It’s the equivalent of a child wanting to know why and their mother telling them, because I said so. Remember the EF Hutton commercials? When EF Hutton speaks everyone is silent. That’s the world Evangelicals like Jim Elliff live in. Any facts that don’t fit the approved orthodox narrative are rejected out of hand. Even when the facts are overwhelming, great lengths are taken to explain away the contrary evidence. Young earth creationists like Ken Ham are a perfect example of this.

I left the Christian faith because I no longer believed the Christian narrative to be true. It was my desire to know the truth that ultimately resulted in my deconversion. If Christian seminary students, most of whom are studying for the ministry, cannot be confronted with contrary evidence for fear of losing their faith, I would suggest it is not a faith worth having.

Doubt should not be discouraged. Evangelicals should be encouraged to question, investigate, and test the beliefs which their pastors (and college professors) and churches say are true. A faith that will withstand the onslaught of the modern/postmodern world must be able to answer the questions the modern/postmodern world presents. Perhaps, that is the real issue. The Christian faith has run out of answers. All that is left is warmed over dogma from years gone by, irrelevant and no longer satisfying for the needs of humanity.

It really is all about the Bible; on this point both the skeptic and the Evangelical can agree.

Video Link

Playing Dodge Ball With a Creationist

ken ham's book dinosaurs

Page from Ken Ham’s fiction book, The Dinosaurs of Eden

repost, edited and updated

James Hoskins, one of the writers for the Pathos blog, Christ and Pop Culture, wrote a post about the upcoming debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. I left several comments on the post and I thought readers would enjoy reading my interaction with a young earth creationist by the name of Riley:

Riley

Regarding dinosaurs and humans coexisting, we know that to be true already. So it seems plausible that the dragon myths point back to what we would now call dinosaurs. As far as the anatomical details, some of it was probably embellished and exaggerated over time, while other details come from witnessing different strains of dinosaurs.

Nemo

Citation needed. Before the Paluxy River tracks, I’d like to point out those were faked. Also, to add to my post about the origin of dragon myths, early European paintings showed them to be about the size of large monitor lizards (St. George, most notably). Over time, their size was exaggerated.

Riley

Ancient literature documents dinosaur siting’s. Citation: Job 40 (thought to be the oldest book in the Hebrew Bible)

15 “Behold now, Behemoth, which I made as well as you; He eats grass like an ox.16 “Behold now, his strength in his loins And his power in the muscles of his belly. 17 “He bends his tail like a cedar; The sinews of his thighs are knit together. 18 “His bones are tubes of bronze;
His limbs are like bars of iron. 19 “He is the first of the ways of God; Let his maker bring near his sword. 20 “Surely the mountains bring him food, And all the beasts of the field play there. 21 “Under the lotus plants he lies down, In the covert of the reeds and the marsh.
22 “The lotus plants cover him with shade; The willows of the brook surround him. 23 “If a river rages, he is not alarmed; He is confident, though the Jordan rushes to his mouth. 24 “Can anyone capture him when he is on watch, With barbs can anyone pierce his nose?

Nemo

The behemoth in Hebrew mythology was the beast embodying the land, with the Leviathan representing the sea. Occasionally, the ziz, representing the sky, would be mentioned.* You must realize that the Book of Job was written well before any of the other books of the Old Testament, and contained some references to older myths.

As for the “tail like a cedar”, that was most likely a euphemism for it’s reproductive organs, a reference to the beast’s virility. Creationists have tried to insist that the Behemoth was a sauropod (to explain the size) despite the fact that sauropods had teeth unsuited to the eating of grass, and instead ate the leaves at the tops of trees. Sauropods also, contrary to early beliefs about them, were not partially amphibious creatures.

Bruce

Funny how you abandon literalism when it is convenient. Where does this text use the word dinosaur. This is a behemoth not a dinosaur. Isn’t that what the TEXT says? At best, all you can say is that you don’t know what a behemoth is. Apply the Evangelical hermeneutic that Scripture interprets Scripture. Where does the Bible say that the behemoth is a dinosaur?

You want people to literally accept the Genesis 1-3 creation account, yet you are free to read your own interpretation into Job 40. Is this not hypocritical?

Further, even if this is a dinosaur, shouldn’t Evangelicals call the dinosaur a behemoth? After all, that is what God called it.  Dare you replace the Word of God with your own word?

Riley

Someone is sure in a bad mood! I don’t think I’m reading anything into the text when I conclude based on the textual description that it is what we would call today a “dinosaur.” What else has a tail like a cedar that swings? The word Behemoth was taken straight from the Hebrew by English translators because they didn’t know how to translate the word. But I think the context points to it being a dinosaur. I have no problem if you prefer to call it a “Behemoth”, but most people won’t know what you mean.

Bruce

How could you possibly know what my mood is? Don’t confuse my directness with anger or being in a bad mood.

Why is it that no modern translation translates the word dinosaur? Even the CEV translates it hippopotamus. What in the Hebrew text warrants translating the word dinosaur? In fact, according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the Hebrew word behemoth( H930 if you want to look it up) is the plural of the word behemah (H929) which is translated everywhere else in the Bible as cattle or beast. Even in your beloved Gen 1-3, it is translated cattle.

You have no textual warrant for translating the word dinosaur, other than your presupposition about dinosaurs. This isn’t about creation or science. It is about being honest with what the text says.

At best, all you can say is that you don’t know what a behemoth is. But, based on the singular use of the word, it is likely some sort of cow. The translating of the word as dinosaur is not not found until modern creationists needed “prove” their theology.

All I am asking is that you be honest with the text.

Riley

I am doing my best to be honest with the text, friend. From the immediate context I think signs point to it being a dinosaur. I never said it should be translated, “dinosaur.” I think given the uncertainty the traditional rendering, “Behemoth” is preferable to speculative renderings of hippopotamus and whatever else some modern versions have.

Riley

And so would small lizards now extinct not qualify as dinosaurs in your book?

Numerous other comments you can read here

Riley

I didn’t say I “believed” the explanation for the appearance of lizards breathing fire, at least not in the same sense that I believe what is in God’s word. But any intelligent person can discuss possibilities without making it a matter of faith.

Don’t get hung up on the word, “Behemoth”, considering it just means a large beast and is not more descriptive than that, based on the linguistic data we have. Examine carefully the rest of the description in the passage. What do you think it could be?

Tehsilentone

You’re ignoring the obvious rebuttal you must already know if you wish to argue your perspective. When it says a tail like cedar it is not saying it is large and thick. The text does not specify the trunk. It is assumed by this line to be much more reasonably than a dinosaur, a hippo, elephant, maybe giraffe? As their tails are whippy and light as a ceder switch.

If there is no reason to believe something is real why try to argue for it. Goodness. Just cause you don’t believe it to your very core doesn’t mean you aren’t horribly muddying the waters.

Then Riley goes where all Evangelicals go when backed into a corner:

To me it makes very little difference whether the “Behemoth” in Job 40 is dinosaur or not. It’s not really worth arguing over, since it’s not an important matter of faith what kind of animal it was. The point of the passage is that God must be very powerful if he can create a large powerful animal which is far beyond human control. I just tend to think that it is a dinosaur when I read the description. This question might perhaps merit a more detailed exegesis, but this is not the forum for that. I have not studied this passage in depth in the original Hebrew (though I have read it through once or twice in Hebrew.) I could be wrong, but I am taking “like a cedar” to be like the tree, i. e. the cedar beam. I already know that dinosaurs and humans coexisted from the Genesis 1 account.

end of discussion

dinosaur reading bible

Riley wants to do some “detailed” exegesis of the Hebrew. I think I gave him all he needs to know. He has no warrant for saying behemoth actually means dinosaur. The only reason he does so, and the only reason any creationist does so, is because they need to fit dinosaurs into the young earth creation timeline. They KNOW they existed because the fossil record tells them they did, so the behemoth in Job 40 and leviathan in Job 41 become dinosaurs. This is a classic example of having a presupposition and making the Bible fit that presupposition.

As I have stated many times before, I think it is wrongheaded to argue science with creationists. The better line of argument is the Bible text itself. Their faith lies not in science, but in the Bible. Cause them to doubt the Bible and they are more likely to consider that they just might be wrong about creationism. Once their god, the inspired, inerrant Bible, is crushed, then those educated in the sciences can help lead them into the light.

If you have a creationist friend or family member, I encourage you to try to get them to read several of Bart Ehrman’s books. Ehrman destroys the notion that the Bible is an inspired, inerrant text. It’s impossible for a creationist to honestly read Ehrman and come away still believing the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. This doesn’t mean that they will necessarily abandon Christianity, but it does mean, if they are honest, that they will recognize that the religious authority figures in their life have misled them. They might even conclude that their pastor, Sunday school teacher, and every other Evangelical Bible expert has lied to them. As Ehrman makes clear in several of his books, many Evangelical pastors know the truth about the nature of the Bible, but they refuse to share what they know with congregants. Telling the truth could result in conflict and loss of employment, so they stand week after week before their fellow Christians and lie about the history and reliability of the book they call the Word of God.

[signoff]

The Resurrection of Jesus From the Dead: Fact or Fiction?

resurrection of jesus

Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Wefo asked:

What do you make of 1 Corinthians 15, which is an early christian creed held by majority of biblical scholars (with a few exceptions like Robert Price) to be written no more than five years after Jesus’ death and it being held as proof of a belief in the resurrection?

Also what changed your mind on the resurrection?

While the majority of biblical scholars think Paul was quoting an oral tradition in 1 Corinthians 15, it is not all clear who Paul actually received this tradition from or whether it was some sort of vision. I certainly understand the importance of the gospel creed in 1 Corinthians 15 to those who base their entire worldview on the death and resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but this singular record is not enough to convince me that the claims the Bible makes for Jesus are true.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 states:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

Paul says that the death and resurrection of Jesus were “according to the Scriptures.” What Scriptures is Paul referring to? There is no record of the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Old Testament and 1 Corinthians was likely written several decades before the gospel of Mark. (biblical scholars generally think Mark was the first gospel and Matthew and Luke use Mark as a source) In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul states he received the gospel, not from any man, but by direct revelation from Jesus Christ. Which is it?

In his latest book, How Jesus Became God, Bart Ehrman details what we can historically know about the resurrection of Jesus:

In the previous chapter I argued that there are some things, given our current evidence, that we can not know about the resurrection traditions (in addition to the big issue itself—whether God raised Jesus from the dead): we cannot know whether Jesus was given a decent burial, and we cannot know, therefore whether his tomb was discovered empty.  But what can we know?

We can know three very important things: (1) some of Jesus’s followers believed that he had been raised from the dead; (2) they believed this because some of them had visions of him after his crucifixion; and (3) this belief led them to reevaluate who Jesus was, so that the Jewish apocalyptic preacher from rural Galilee came to be considered, in some sense, God. [page 174]

While some of Jesus’ follower believed he had been raised from the dead, this doesn’t mean he actually was. Belief does not equal fact. People believe many things that are untrue. Did they believe his resurrection was bodily? Spiritual? Since Gnosticism deeply influenced the early church, perhaps Paul thought Jesus’s resurrection was spiritual. There is no way for us to know.

It’s been a long time since I looked at the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. As I read various articles and blogs, I came away thinking that there’s no possible way to know, from history, if Jesus resurrected from the dead. If a person presupposes there is a God and that the Bible is God’s revelation to humanity, then they are likely to believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead. For those of us who are not Christian, we are left with determining whether the Bible accounts of the resurrection should be considered factual.

According to the Bible, Jesus was buried in a grave belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. There is no evidence for a man named Joseph or a place called Arimathea. Since Jesus was executed as a criminal, it is unlikely he was given a proper burial.  The Godless Skeptic writes:

More interesting are the two things Dr. Ehrman says he has changed his mind on regarding what we cannot know about the resurrection. Like his colleague John Dominic Crossan, Professor Ehrman now believes that the tradition of an honorable burial of Jesus is doubtful. He makes note of the suspicious backstory of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the same Jewish council that condemned Jesus to death, absent from the early Christian creeds, and a figure who is progressively portrayed across the four gospels as more and more of a sympathizer to the Christian cause. Citing a handful of ancient examples, he observes that Roman crucifixion victims were not usually given proper burials because humiliation was an important part of the practice, intending to deter potential criminals from committing acts of rebellion against Rome. Those who were crucified were often laid in common graves or left to decay and be eaten by scavenging animals.

It is sometimes remarked that Jesus was buried by Joseph in accordance with Jewish law, since the Sabbath was close at hand. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 gives instruction in this vein, but as Dr. Ehrman points out, it’s an open question of whether or not the Romans, particularly Pilate, would have respected such a rule. Though the Pharisees and the Jewish Sanhedrin had accused Jesus of blasphemy, the charges brought against him in front of Pilate were more political – inciting crowds, forbidding payment of taxes to Caesar, and claiming to be king (Luke 23:1-3). If Jesus was executed as an insurgent, under certain circumstances perhaps he would have been left unburied. If, however, he was executed in accordance with Jewish law, it’s not so obvious where he was buried. In a chapter of the anthology The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave,  Peter Kirby writes that there is some evidence for a dishonorable burial tradition in passages like Mark 12:8 and Acts 13:27-29, which allude to Jesus being buried by his enemies rather than by his followers.

While I find all the back-and-forth debate over what the Bible does or doesn’t say about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead quite informative and entertaining, the reasons for why I reject the resurrection of Jesus are quite simple.

First, there is no record outside of the Bible for the resurrection of Jesus. I find it astounding that no historian recorded anything about the life, execution, and resurrection of Jesus. We are left with the Bible and its accounts of the life of Jesus, accounts that contradict one another. The fact that they contradict one another is not proof that Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, but the contradictions do cause me to wonder if I should put much stock in what the Bible says.

Since history is silent on many of the “historical” events and figures in the Bible, why should I accept as factual what it says about the resurrection of Jesus?  For me, accepting the resurrection of Jesus from the dead requires faith, a faith I do not have.

Second, accepting the resurrection of Jesus from the dead requires believing in miracles. According to John 14:12, Jesus said

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

According to the Bible, Jesus worked many miracles, including turning water into wine, walking on water, walking through walls, healing the sick, and raising the dead. Jesus told his followers that they would do greater works than he did. Yet, everywhere we look we see a lack of the miraculous. In fact, many Christians argue that the miracles of the Bible were only for a certain time, and once the canon of Scripture was completed, there was no longer a need for the miraculous. However, this isn’t what Jesus said. He clearly stated his followers would do greater works than he did, yet we have no historical evidence that his followers were in any way miracle workers. Where can I find a modern-day miracle worker? Where I can I go to see the dead raised back to life?

Third, if there is one thing I know it is that living people die and do not come back to life. Every time I drive by a cemetery, I see the evidence for once dead, always dead.  This alone is sufficient evidence for me to say that Jesus lived and died, end of story.

But, Bruce it is possible that a miracle of some sort could happen. Sure, anything is possible, but now we are talking about probabilities. Based on the evidence, is it probable that humans can die and come back to life? No. Once dead, always dead. Is it more likely Jesus lived and died or Jesus lived, died, resurrected from the dead, and is currently alive sitting at the right hand of God, the Father? The latter requires a suspension of reason and the exercise of faith. I am not willing to do this. I know what I see with my eyes and what history tells me; once someone dies they stay dead. Since, outside of the Bible, we have no record of someone dying and miraculously resurrecting from the dead, it is safe for me to say that the resurrection of Jesus is improbable.

If you would like to read more on the subject of the resurrection of Jesus, I recommend reading:

(if readers have other book titles they think will be helpful, please leave their name in the comment section and I will add them to this list)

In the last part of Romans 14:15, Paul stated “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”  After looking at the evidence, I am persuaded that Jesus did not resurrect from the dead. Whatever he may or may not have been, he was a man who lived and died. Everything else Christians say about him requires faith, a faith I do not have. When new evidence becomes available, say the actual tomb where Jesus was supposedly buried, I will look at it, but, for now, count me one who does not believe.

101716

Who Was Jesus?

jesus

Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.

Tony asked

I’d like to hear your thoughts on Jesus: who exactly do you think he was? I’ve read back through your archives to see if you covered it before, and found some thoughts, but would love to hear your take on specifically what you think Jesus was about. I sat in church last week and heard the old “JESUS CHRIST WAS EITHER A LIAR, A LUNATIC, OR LORD!!” sermon. Yeah, whatever… I find those options to be extremely limiting and I don’t see what authority anyone has to demand we choose only one of those. I also realize we are confined by getting much of our historicity of Jesus from the scriptures that were written decades after his death, and surely seem to be agenda-driven. But still, would like to hear your thoughts. Thanks for your great work on this blog, Bruce! Always enjoy reading.

Tony asks a question that tends to stir up all kinds of controversy. Some atheists now think Jesus was a myth, that everything the Bible says about Jesus is fiction. I am not one of them. I think Bart Ehrman’s arguments in Did Jesus Exist: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth and How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee provide ample evidence for Jesus being a real person (and I have no desire to debate this issue).

Christians answer this question with all sorts of faith claims based on their interpretation of the Bible. As a non-Christian, I look to history, including the history found in the Bible, to determine who Jesus was. The Christian says, you mean who Jesus IS, right? No, that would be a faith claim. I know of no compelling evidence for the belief that Jesus, the son of God, resurrected from the dead and is now in heaven interceding on behalf of his followers. What the evidence does tell us is that a man by the name of Jesus lived in Galilee, was some sort of religious or political figure, and was likely executed. He lived, he died, end of story.

Some atheists think the Bible is a complete work of fiction. Again, I don’t agree with this position. I think within the Bible we can find historical facts. Granted, these facts are mixed in with distortions and fabrications, so I can understand why someone might say the Bible is historically unreliable. That said, I think most of what Christians say about Jesus has no proof outside of the Bible. Believing requires suspending reason and exercising faith. While the Christian is free to do so, I am not willing to accept that Jesus is who Christians claim he is based on the Bible says so.

Outside of the New Testament — a collection of books written by unknown authors 20 to 100 years after the death of Jesus — there is very little historical proof for the existence of Jesus. I can easily understand, if someone rejects the history found in the Bible and relies on secular sources alone, they might conclude that Jesus was a mythical being. Each of us must determine for ourselves if the evidence is sufficient to warrant thinking Jesus was a real person.

As textual critics and New Testament history scholars continue to punch holes in the Christian/Jesus narrative, some followers of Jesus are forced to reevaluate their beliefs. Sometimes, this leads to a loss of faith or, as in the case of the Evangelical, a move towards liberal Christianity. Sadly, the majority of American Christians could not defend their beliefs if their life depended on it. They wrongly think that the Bible narrative is true and that whatever their pastor tells them is rooted in historical fact. This is why books by Bart Ehrman and Robert M. Price are so deadly to faith. They confront the Evangelical with evidence their pastor or Sunday school teacher never mentioned. Once confronted, Evangelicals must determine how this evidence changes their view of God, Jesus, and Christianity. Some hold on to faith, others lose their faith or move on to sects that value scholarship over blind faith.

Personally, I consider Jesus’s sermon in Matthew 5-7 to be a powerful indictment of modern culture and much of American Christianity. I find great value in his teachings and the world would be well served if Christian and atheist alike embraced many of his teachings. Not all of them, of course, but I do find value in many of the things Jesus said. I can say the same thing about other moral/ethical writings, secular and religious.

101716

Atheists Like Bart Ehrman Because They Want to Suppress the Truth in Unrighteousness

bart ehrman

According to one commenter on Dr. Michael Kruger’s blog,  The Canon Fodder, the reason atheists like Bart Ehrman is because they want to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Here’s what a commenter by the name of Grant had to say:

“Jeff, just to add to your thoughts in this, Bart Ehrman has a ready audience of people who want to hear what he’s saying. The world will view him as an authority on the matter, and accept his claims as truth. 1 Timothy 4:3 warns of something similar: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”

Ehrman is a teacher who suits the passions of the world: to suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Thus, even though someone who refuses to believe the Gospel might spot this hypocrisy of Ehrman’s, rebuking moralizing while doing the same himself, they will likely suppress that truth along with the Truth of the Gospel. Because it suits their passions to do so.

So if we ignored him, Bart Ehrman might “go away” in the sense that we don’t hear so much from him, but he hasn’t really gone anywhere. He wants an adoring audience to validate his unbelief with their attendance to what he teaches as much as they want him to validate their unbelief by him teaching what he does.”

“Very good points. Of course, “agnosticism” and “atheism” are just a smoke-screen for their suppression of the Truth in unrighteousness, and it shows in Bart Ehrman’s hypocrisy. Basically he wants people to believe him, not the Gospel.”

I always love it when Christians tell atheists, agnostics, and humanists the REAL reason they don’t believe. Instead of having to do a bit of intellectual heavy lifting, a Christian like Grant can dismiss a whole class of people with one wave of the proof text hand. According to Grant the reason atheists read Bart Ehrman is because his writing appeals to the fleshly desires. Atheists are unwilling to hear and understand the TRUTH, truth meaning the Bible, so they seek out writers who reinforce their beliefs and opinions about God, Jesus, Christianity, and the Bible. Of course, Christians don’t do that, right? (that’s sarcasm, BTW)

While Grant’s argument might have some merit when it comes to someone who never was a Christian, it falls flat on its face when it comes to people like me. I spent 50 years in the Christian church and I was an Evangelical pastor for 25 years. I spent the majority of my life thinking the Bible was divine truth. Yet, here I am at age 57 an outspoken atheist and humanist. Could it be that the reason I know longer believe is because I intellectually found Evangelical claims about the Bible, God, and Jesus lacking?

Grant is upset because people like me believe Bart Ehrman and not the gospel. In his mind, if one believes the gospel then everything else falls into place. Because I do not believe the gospel, that means I am a Ehrman fan boy. My recommendation of Ehrman’s books couldn’t be because I find them intellectually persuasive, right? Of course not, if I just believed the Bible, well actually if I just believed Grant’s interpretation of the Bible, then I would understand that Ehrman wants to be god in place of the one, true living God.

In others words, atheists, agnostics, and humanists are stupid. They are being led astray by Bart Ehrman, a false prophet. The answer is to have an old-fashioned Bart Ehrman book burning. Then we can return to reading and believing the only book that matters, the B-i-b-l-e. What’s funny, at least to me, is that Evangelical zealots like Grant has shelves full of books that reinforce their beliefs and worldview. If the Bible is all the atheist needs to read, why do Evangelicals read so many books that purport to tell them what the Bible teaches? If the King James Version was good enough for the Apostle Paul and good enough for Bruce, shouldn’t it be good enough for Grant?

Ken Ham Say Dinosaurs are in the Bible Because They Have to Be

dinosaurs noahs ark

Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum, and a staunch defender of young earth creationism, believes that dinosaurs are in the Bible.  His proof? I’ll let Ham speak for himself:

To understand dinosaurs, we need to look at what the Bible teaches us about Earth’s history. We also need to recognize that the word dinosaur wasn’t invented until 1841, as a word for a particular group of land animals. According to Genesis, God created everything in six, literal, 24-hour days. Land animals were created on Day Six of Creation Week .

Since dinosaurs are land animals (some people think that certain flying and marine reptiles were dinosaurs, but these actually aren’t classified as dinosaurs), they must have been created on Day Six as well. Originally all dinosaurs, like everything else, were created vegetarian . They didn’t begin to eat meat until after Adam and Eve rebelled against God.

The reason we have a number of dinosaurs buried in sedimentary layers is because of the global Flood described in Genesis 6–8. This catastrophic Flood would have ripped up miles of sediment, trapping and burying creatures that weren’t on the Ark as it was re-deposited. These creatures turned into fossils that we dig up today. After the Flood, dinosaurs died out for many of the same reason species die out today: changes in climate, habitat, lack of food, human predation, and so on.

Dinosaurs aren’t a mystery when you start with the history recorded in God’s Word. The Bible perfectly explains dinosaurs. They are just another example of the incredible variety of creatures that God created in the beginning…

Simply put, since God created everything, and the universe is only 6,019 years old, God not only created dinosaurs, they roamed the earth at the same time as Adam and Eve.

For Ham, it’s not about the science. In Ham’s world, the Bible is an inspired, inerrant, infallible book. When it speaks to matters of science, it is absolutely, infallibly correct. No matter what science tell us, no matter what archeology tells us, no matter what geology tells us, no matter what biology tells us, the BIBLE trumps all of them.

Let this be a reminder of why it is a waste of time to talk to, debate, or argue with young earth creationists. Their minds are shut off to anything but their narrow, literalistic interpretation of the Bible. Arguing science with them never works. Until they come to see that the foundation of their system of belief, the Bible, is not what they claim it is, there is no hope for them. Before Jerry Coyne can do his job, Bart Ehrman must do his. Until the Bible is shown to be errant and fallible, their interpretations will remain inerrant and infallible.

Comic by Dan Piraro

Count the Cost Before You Say I am an Atheist

god made me an atheist

The Bible gives some pretty good advice about counting the cost in Luke 14:28-30:

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.

Who starts a building project without first counting the cost? The key phrase here is counting the cost. Every choice we make has a consequence. I think a loose definition of Newton’s Law of motion applies here: every action causes a reaction.  Foolish is the person who does not consider the consequences of saying for the first time to family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, I AM AN ATHEIST.

When I left Christianity and the ministry, my wife came along with me. Polly was a few steps behind, but close enough that we could hold hands. We spent many hours reading books and having long discussions about the past, the Bible, and Christianity in general. Bart Ehrman was nightly pillow talk for many months. When we finally came to the place where we said to one another “we are no longer Christians”, we knew that telling our family, friends, and acquaintances would cause a huge uproar. What should we do?

Polly decided to take the quiet approach, keeping her thoughts to herself. When asked she would answer and try to explain, but if people didn’t ask she felt no obligation to out herself. She still operates by that principle. There are people she works with who likely think she still goes to church on Sunday and  is a fine Christian woman. Just last week, a woman Polly has worked with for 15 years asked her if she was going to church on Easter. Polly replied, no. Her co-worker then asked, so do you go to church? Polly replied, no. And that was that. I am sure the gossip grapevine is buzzing. Did you know Polly doesn’t go to church? Why her husband is a pastor! And they don’t go to church? Never mind that the woman asking the questions hasn’t been to church in 8 years. She stays home, watches “Christian” TV, and sends money to the TV preachers she likes.

I took the nuclear approach. I wrote an open letter to my friends, family, and former parishioners. This was totally in character for me. I am an all in kind of guy. In Dear Family, Friends and Former Parishioners, I wrote:

I have come to a place in life where I can no longer put off writing this letter. I have dreaded this day because I know what is likely to follow after certain people receive it. I have decided I can’t control how others will react to this letter, so it is far more important to clear the air and make sure everyone knows the facts about Bruce Gerencser.

I won’t bore you with a long, drawn out history of my life. I am sure each of you have an opinion about how I have lived my life and the decisions I have made. I also have an opinion about how I have lived my life and and decisions I have made. I am my own worst critic.

Religion, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life, from my youth up. My being is so intertwined with religion that the two are quite inseparable. My life has been shaped and molded by religion and religion touches virtually ever fiber of my being.

I have spent most of my adult life pastoring Churches, preaching, and being involved in religious work to some degree or another. I have pastored thousands of people over the years, preached thousands of sermons, and participated in, and led, thousands of worship services.

To say that the Church was my life would be an understatement.  As I have come to see, the Church was actually my mistress and my adulterous affair with her was at the expense of my wife, children, and my own self-worth.

Today, I am publicly announcing that the affair is over. My wife and children have known for a long time that the affair was over, but now everyone will know.

The Church robbed me of so much of my life and I have no intention of allowing her to have one more moment of my time. Life is too short. I am dying. We all are. I don’t want to waste what is left of my life chasing after things I now see to be vain and empty.

I have always been known as a reader, a student of the Bible. I have read thousands of books in my lifetime and the knowledge gained from my reading and studies have led me to some conclusions about religion, particularly the Fundamentalist, Evangelical religion that played such a prominent part in my life.

I can no longer wholeheartedly embrace the doctrines of the Evangelical, Fundamentalist faith. I do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture nor do I accept as fact the common Evangelical belief of the inspiration of Scripture.

Coming to this conclusion has forced me to reevaluate many of the doctrines I have held as true over these many years. I have concluded that I have been misinformed, poorly taught, and sometimes lied to. I can no longer accept as true many of the doctrines  I once believed.

I point the finger of blame at no one. I sincerely believed and taught the things that I did and many of the men who taught me were honorable teachers. I don’t blame those who have influenced me over the years, nor do  I blame the authors of the many books I have read. Simply, it is what it is…

The backlash from my letter was immediate and severe. Keep in mind I was not yet an atheist. All I said was that I could no longer embrace the teachings of Christianity. I was agnostic when it came to God question. I still had lots of doubts and questions.

The reaction of my family and Polly’s family was the hardest to bear. For the most part they said nothing. To this day, some family members, including Polly’s parents,  have not said one word to us about our defection from Christianity. It’s like there’s a huge elephant in the room that no one can see but us. Six plus years of silence.

My friends and fellow pastors took to writing me letters, sending me emails, visiting me, preaching about me, and having prayer meetings focused on praying me back into the fold. The level of nastiness and judgmentalism was overwhelming. During this time, a long-time friend and parishioner turned pastor came to see me. I wrote about his visit in A Letter to a Friend. In the letter I wrote:

You got my letter.

I am certain that my letter troubled you and caused you to wonder what in the world was going on with Bruce.

You have been my friend since 1983. When I met you for the first time I was a young man pastoring a new Church in Somerset, Ohio. I remember you and your dear wife vividly because you put a 100.00 bill in the offering plate. Up to that point we had never seen a 100.00 bill in the offering plate.

And so our friendship began. You helped us buy our first Church bus (third picture below). You helped us buy our Church building (second picture below). In later years you gave my wife and I a generous gift to buy a mobile home. It was old, but we were grateful to have our own place to live in. You were a good friend.

Yet, our common bond was the Christianity we both held dear. I doubt you would have done any of the above for the local Methodist minister, whom we both thought was an apostate.

I baptized you and was privileged to be your pastor on and off over my 11 years in Somerset. You left several times because our doctrinal beliefs conflicted, you being an Arminian and I being a Calvinist.

One day you came to place where you believed God was leading you to abandon your life work, farming, and enter the ministry. I was thrilled for you. I also said to myself, “now Bill can really  see what the ministry is all about!”

So you entered the ministry and you are now a pastor of a thriving fundamentalist Church. I am quite glad you found your place in life and are endeavoring to do what you believe is right. Of course, I would think the same of you if you were still farming.

You have often told me that much of what you know about the ministry I taught you. I suppose, to some degree or another, I must take credit for what you have become. (whether I view it as good or bad)

Yesterday, you got into your Lincoln and drove three plus hours to see me. I wish you had called first. I had made up my mind to make up some excuse why I couldn’t see you, but since you came unannounced I had  no other option but to open and the door and warmly welcome you. Just like always…

I have never wanted to hurt you or cause you to lose your faith. I would rather you not know the truth about me than to hurt you in any way.

But your visit forced the issue. I had no choice.

Why did you come to my home? I know you came as my friend, but it seemed by the time our three-hour discussion ended our friendship had died and I was someone you needed to pray for, that I might be saved. After all, in your Arminian theology there can be no question that a person with beliefs such as mine has fallen from grace…

During the first few months after my initial letter, I heard from Laura Hardman, the wife of Evangelist Don Hardman. She bared her fangs and let me know that it was quite evident that I NEVER was a Christian.

About two years after the  Dear  Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners letter I wrote:

Almost two years ago I sent my friends, family and former parishioners a letter concerning my decision to deconvert from Christianity. I wish I could say my letter was well received.  I wish I could say that people told me they supported my decision. I wish I could say I have been treated in a kind and respectful manner.

But I can’t.

A longtime friend of mine, Bill Beard, pastor of Lighthouse Memorial Church, drove over three hours to my home to talk (argue) with me about my deconversion. He and I had been friends for over 25 years.

Laura Hardman, wife of Evangelist Don Hardman, wrote me a scathing letter telling me that I never was a real Christian, I had been friends with the Hardmans for over 20 years.I wrote them back and I have not head from them since.

Friends of mine for over 40 years, missionaries with Child Evangelism Fellowship, wrote to me and told me I was under the influence of Satan. They sent me literature to read. I returned it with a letter of my own. They never wrote back.

I stumbled upon a forum discussion about me. They were discussing what to do about Bruce.

I have received numerous emails from former parishioners telling me of the errors of my ways.  Some of them are deeply troubled about how this could happen.  How could their pastor now be an agnostic who doesn’t believe in the Bible or God?

A few former parishioners took it upon themselves to tell me their conclusions about me. Many of them mentioned my reading habits. They told me I read too many books and they suggested I just read the Bible.

Two former parishioners wrote to tell me that though they disagreed with me, they loved me and were my friend. I really appreciated their love and friendship.

I hear bits and pieces of the gossip about me that is floating around Bryan and Defiance. People questioning whether or not  I was ever a Christian. Some raise issues about my mental stability. One thing they never do? Talk to me personally.

My adult children have to field questions at work about their apostate father. Once again, the questioners never talk to me personally.

It is not much better on the family front.

Silence is how family has decided to deal with me. It’s like I never wrote the letter about deconverting from Christianity. Behind the scenes there is a lot of gossip about me and what to do about the Bruce matter. Last Christmas, the patriarch of the family, a pastor of 40 plus years, was intent on confronting me about my apostasy. I am grateful my mother-in-law quashed his plan to confront me. It would have been ugly.  I mean ugly, ugly.

My wife decided that we could no longer do Christmas at her parent’s home. The stress and undercurrent are such that it is impossible to “enjoy” time with the family during the Christmas holiday. (we do go to visit when the extended family is not there)

I wish I could tell you that I came through all of this unscathed, but I can’t. I decided to seek out a counselor two years ago. I knew I needed to talk to someone about the pain and deep wound I was carrying as a result of my defection from Christianity. I still see a counselor every few weeks. His work with me has been extremely helpful and has enabled me to move forward and away from the past. The scars remain. The viciousness of people who say they are followers of the man who said turn the other cheek and love your enemy has scarred me. Every time a fundamentalist spews his bile on this blog I am reminded of the deep wound I carry. I am also reminded that I am glad to be free from such an ugly, vile, and vicious belief system and way of life.

So how are things now?

Some family members are still silent. Perhaps they will never ask, inquire, or attempt to engage me in a discussion. I think some people are intimidated by me, so they avoid the elephant in the room. Others fear I might cause them to doubt or lose their faith, so they avoid all contact with me. I have come to accept this. I wish they would talk to me, but I know I can’t force the issue and I leave it alone.

All but two of Christian friends have abandoned me. I don’t blame them. I have come to see that our friendship was held together by fidelity to certain beliefs. Remove the beliefs and the friendship dissolves. If I came back to the Christian faith, I would instantly have dozen of friends. I would be lauded as the Preacher reclaimed From the Devil’s Clutches. Hmm…there is money to be made…

If I had to do it all over again would I do it the same way? Would I write THE letter? Probably. My experiences have given me knowledge that is helpful to people who contact me about their own doubts about Christianity. I am often asked, what should I do? Should I tell my spouse?Should I tell my family, friends, or coworkers?

My standard advice is this: Count the cost. Weigh carefully the consequences. Once you utter or write the words I AM AN ATHEIST you are no longer in control of what happens next.  Are you willing to lose your friends, destroy your marriage, or lose your job? Only you can decide what cost you are willing to pay.

I know there is this notion “Dammit I should be able to freely declare what I am” and I agree with the sentiment. We should be able to freely be who and what we are. If we lived on a deserted island I suppose we could do so. However, we are surrounded by people. People we love. People we want and need in our life. Because of this, it behooves (Shout out to the KJV)  us to tread carefully.

I hope some of you will find this post helpful. My deepest desire is to help you on your journey. I am hoping that my walking before you can be of help to you as you decide how best to deal with and embrace your loss of faith.

This blog is here to remind those struggling with leaving Christianity or who have already left Christianity, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Why I Stopped Believing

why

Jason, an Evangelical Christian, asked:

What would cause someone with your Biblical education and years of preaching the Word of God not just claiming to be a Christian but also living it one day decide to not believe and do a 180 and turn your back on it?

While I deal with this question at length in the From Evangelicalism to Atheism series, today I want to give a short, condensed answer to this question.

People like Jason are often perplexed by how it possible for someone with my background and training to one day walk away from the ministry and Christianity. Most of the clergy who deconvert do so at a much younger age, often in their 20s and 30s. In my case, I spent fifty years in the Christian church and I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years before I deconverted. When I started going to counseling, my counselor told me that it was quite rare for someone my age and with my experience to walk away from a lifetime of belief and work. It happens, just not very often.

Jason is not alone. A number of my ex-friends, family members, and former parishioners can’t understand how it is possible that the man they called Preacher or Pastor is now an atheist. Often they can not or will not believe the reasons I give for my deconversion. Instead, they try to find some other reason to explain why Bruce Gerencser, the man of God, the pastor, the preacher, their fellow colleague in the ministry, is now an apostate, an enemy of God.  Is there some secret past I am hiding, some secret sin? they ask themselves. They wonder if I have mental problems, or if I am unstable.  They rack their brains trying to come up with a plausible explanation, anything but accepting the reasons I give for my deconversion.

Christian fundamentalism taught me to stand firm on my beliefs and convictions. When I was a pastor, people appreciated and applauded my willingness to resolutely defend my beliefs and convictions, But now that I do the same with atheism and liberal politics, they think there must be some other reason I drastically changed my mind and life. I am the same man, a man who thinks that beliefs matter.

My mother taught me, from my youth onward, that it was important to stand up for what I believe. Now, this does not mean that I am not now tolerant of the beliefs of others, because I am. As I get older, I realize that tolerance is an important virtue. Stepping outside of the box I spent most of my life in, I found a rich, diverse, and contradictory world that forced me to be more accepting and tolerant.

When I entered kindergarten I could already read. My mother taught me to read and she developed in me an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. This may seem counterintuitive at first, since I was raised in a fundamentalist environment that is not known for promoting a thirst for knowledge. But, by becoming a proficient and avid reader, I had at my disposal countless opportunities to expand my knowledge. Sadly, my quest for knowledge became quite stunted as a pastor because I rarely read books that would conflict with my Christian beliefs.  However, when I began to have doubts about Christianity and its teachings, my thirst for knowledge kicked into high gear and I began reading books that I once would have considered heretical.

I never made a lot of money pastoring churches. I never had church-provided health insurance or a retirement plan. The only benefits I received were a check I got once a week IF the offerings were enough.  Outside of the time I spent pastoring Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, every other church I pastored paid a part-time or poverty-level wage for the full-time work I gave the church. I often worked outside of the church, as did Polly when I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I am not pointing a judgmental finger at the churches I pastored. Most of the churches were either small or in poverty-ridden areas. Over the years, I was privileged to pastor many gracious, giving poor people. They gave what they could.

About now you are thinking, what in the world are you talking about, Bruce? I thought this post was about WHY you stopped believing! It is, and what I have written above can be distilled down to these three important statements:

  • I was taught to stand firm on my convictions and beliefs
  • I was taught to read at an early age and I developed a thirst for knowledge
  • I never made much money in the ministry

Since I never made much money in the ministry, there was no economic reason for me to stay in the ministry. I always made more money working outside of the church, so when I decided to leave the ministry, which I did five years before I deconverted, I suffered no economic consequences.

Freed from the ministry, my wife and I spent five years visiting more than a hundred Christian churches. We were desperately looking for a Christianity that mattered, a Christianity that took seriously the teachings of Jesus. During this five year period, I read countless books written by authors from a broad spectrum of Christendom. I read books by authors such as Thomas MertonRobert Farrar CaponHenri Nouwen, Wendell BerryBrian McLarenRob BellJohn Shelby SpongSoren Kierkegaard, and NT Wright.  These authors challenged my Evangelical understanding of Christianity and its teachings.

I decided I would go back to the Bible, study it again, and determine what it was I REALLY believed. During this time, I began reading books by authors such as Robert Wright Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, These three authors, along with several others,  attacked the foundation of my Evangelical belief in the inerrant, inspired word of God. Their assault on this foundation brought my Evangelical house tumbling down. I desperately tried to find some semblance of the Christianity I once believed, but I came to realize that my faith was gone.

I tried, for a time, to convince myself that I could find some sort of Christianity that would work for me. Polly and I visited numerous liberal or progressive Christian churches, but I found that these expressions of faith would not do for me. My faith was gone. Later, Polly would come to the same conclusion.

I turned to the internet to find help. I came upon sites like exchristian.net and Debunking Christianity. I found these sites to be quite helpful as I tried to make sense of what was going on in my life. I began reading the books of authors like John LoftusHector AvalosRobert M. PriceDaniel DennettChristopher HitchensSam HarrisJerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins.

The five books that made the biggest impression on me were:

(I make a few shekels if you click on the above links and buy the books)

I read many authors and books besides the ones listed here. I say this to keep someone  from saying, but you didn’t read so and so or you didn’t read _______,  So, if I had to give one reason WHY I am no longer a Christian today it would be BOOKS.  My thirst for knowledge – a thirst I still have today, – even though it is greatly hindered by chronic illness and pain – is what drove me to re-investigate the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible. This investigation led me to conclude that the claims of Christianity and the teachings of the Bible could not rationally and intellectually be sustained. Try as I might to hang on to some sort of Christian faith, the slippery slope I found myself on would not let me stand still. Eventually, I found myself saying, I no longer believe in the Christian God. For a time I was an agnostic, but I got tired of explaining myself, so I took on the atheist moniker, and now no one misunderstands what I believe (see Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners and Dear Friend).

The hardest decision I ever made in my life was that day in late November of 2008  when I finally admitted to myself, I am no longer a Christian, I no longer believe in the Christian God, I no longer believe the Bible is the Word of God. At that moment, everything I had spent my life believing and doing was gone. In a sense, I had an atheist version of a born-again experience. For the past six years, I have continued to read, study, and write. I am still very much a work in progress. My understanding of religion and its cultural and sociological implications continues to grow. Now that I am unshackled from the constraints of religion, I am free to wander the path of life wherever it may lead. Now that I am free to read what I want, I have focused my attention on history and science. While I continue to read books that are of a religious or atheist nature, I spend less and less time reading these kind of books. I still read every new book Bart Ehrman publishes, along with various Christian/atheist/humanist blogs and publications, and this is enough to keep me up to date with American Christianity and American atheism/humanism.

I hope this post adequately answers the WHY I stopped believing question.

Notes

  1. This is a brief answer to the question WHY? I will fully develop this answer in the series From Evangelicalism to Atheism.
  2. I also spent some time investigating other religions and gods that humans have created (a study I still find quite fascinating).
  3. There is also a political aspect to my deconversion. I will talk about this in the aforementioned series.
  4. Jason asked if I believed in evolution. The answer is yes. I am no expert when it comes to science, but I have done enough reading to be comfortable with saying that I believe evolution/natural selection best explains the natural world.

121815