Thursday, March 19, 2009

Here's a Hint: Read First, Review Second

I finished reading Jesus Interrupted yesterday, and as usual I found Ehrman's work to be informative and well-spoken. To be fair, much of what he discussed has been covered in his other books, but I think it's kind of his style to write each of his popular books as a stand-alone piece (With the exception of Lost Christianities and Lost Scriptures, which are best read together). Biblical criticism aside, one thing that was of interest was his insistence throughout the book that it was not his study of the Bible that caused him to embrace agnosticism, but rather the problem of theodicy.

Ehrman repeats several times throughout the book that he doesn't view higher criticism as a path that leads inexorably down the road to a loss of faith (I'm not sure I really agree with him, but that's another post for another time) and that contradictions and whatnot in the Bible are not what led him to lose his own faith. He even devotes the final chapter of the book to this discussion, under the title "Is Faith Possible?", to which he answers, ultimately, "yes". To quote Dr. Ehrman, "I decidedly do not think that historical criticism necessarily leads to a loss of faith."

Why then am I seeing Amazon reviews that look like this:
A pot pourri of anti-Christian non-sequiturs, arguments from outrage and warmed over Dawkins-isms.... "Contradictions" are thus created ex-nihilo by Ehrman's hostile worldview and by nothing else.
And there is something increasingly disengenous about Ehrman's claim in the last chapter that he is not trying to destroy anyones beliefs...while that is obviously his agenda from the first page.
Could it be that, just maybe, some folks aren't bothering to read the book before they review it? Shouldn't it be, you know, the other way around?


Josh H-W said...

I haven't gotten that far in the book yet, so I can't say anything for certain. But I wonder if they're just not getting the point he's trying to make.

I remember that in his debate with W.L. Craig where he makes the point that we cannot use the tools of history to conclude that the resurrection happened. It's just not something that historical analysis can prove, even if it occured. Historical analysis has limits, and there are just some things that it cannot do.

I think the problem is that so many people want to use the tools of history or science to prop up their faith, but in the process they are misusing those tools. For example, they would never use those tools in the same fashion to investigate a pagan miracle claim. However, when folks like Ehrman explain that they are misusing those tools, they immediately assume that it is their faith that's under attack.

Jay said...

My friend, Prof. James McGrath at Butler University, recently published The Burial of Jesus, which deals with precisely that issue of how the tools of historical study have to be employed.

As much as I like Ehrman's writing, I can understand why it can be somewhat offputting to some people. James' book provides an introduction to quite a few of the same concepts in a somewhat softer manner.

Skippy the Skeptic said...

Ehrman's argument about not being able to use normal historical methods to prove or disprove miraculous events initially struck me as a bit of a cop out, but lately I can -kind of- see where he's coming from with it. I mean, I get what he's saying when he talks about how a miracle is by definition the least likely thing to occur and thus, from a historical standpoint, -anything else- is more plausible, but it still rings a bit hollow to me.

I think Ehrman takes a really conciliatory stance on faith in most of his books (Except, in some ways, for "God's Problem") in order to minimize how off-putting some of his subject matter might be to religious folks. He thinks a detailed study of the Bible is important for people of faith and doesn't want them to just clamp their hands over their ears and close their eyes when someone tries to teach them about textual criticism or the history of the early church. Unfortunately I think a lot of people are prone to do that anyway.

Heck, I offered to lend my copy of "Jesus Interrupted" to one of my work friends the other day and her reply was "No thanks. I like believing in God."

Anonymous said...

It occurs to me that people who think that reading a book that runs counter to their faith will, in fact, destroy their faith probably have very brittle faith to begin with, and in many ways depend on a rather childish and simplistic understanding of it in order to cling to it.