[Bart] Ehrman, a best-selling author and a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a biblical sleuth whose investigations make some people very angry. Like the fictional Robert Langdon character played by actor Tom Hanks in the movie "Angels & Demons," he delves into the past to challenge some of Christianity's central claims...You have to wonder how such things become news. Seriously. Let's say a kid who was the secular equivalent of Episcopalian*, discovers at 15 that Darwin was correct**, then he runs off to Ozark Bible College*** to become a paleontologist and changes his mind about Darwin. Would that be news?
He was raised in the Episcopal Church in Lawrence, Kansas, and became a fundamentalist Christian at age 15 when he met a charismatic Christian youth group leader who reached out to him...
Ehrman says he later became an agnostic because he couldn't find the answer to another question: How could there be a God when there is so much suffering in the world?
But other than the fact that this story, repeated all over the blogosphere, falls firmly into the category of "not news," there are three things that ought to be said about it.
The first is that the guy is absolutely correct that one does not have to believe in an infallible bible to be a Christian. You don't. That's a modern shibboleth and a red herring.
The second is that I just love how if a former 15-year-old fundamentalist says unfundamentalist things - like "at least 19 of the 27 books in the New Testament are forgeries" - they must be accepted as true. It's almost as if fundamentalists are like Masons or Jesuits or something, in possession of a secret, long-suppressed body of knowledge that this guy is revealing for the first time. Wow, how mysterious.
But finally, it's always disappointing when a story lets the intellectual cat out of the bag and you discover that it is simply an emotional feline after all. The article notes that, "he later became an agnostic because he couldn't find the answer to another question: How could there be a God when there is so much suffering in the world?" In other words, his rejection of orthodox Christianity is not based on impressive intellectual accomplishments at all. Rather he went head-to-head with the biggest question of all and decided that he would not believe in a God who didn't run the universe correctly. If you understand that premise, then everything else he concludes becomes boringly predictable.
Hey, I don't know for sure why there's suffering in the world, though I have an idea. We live in a universe that is both cursed and broken. Evil men have the same free will as good ones. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. The Book of Job approached the issue and God basically told Job to shut up****. The Book of Revelation promises the mess will be cleaned up. I don't know the answer; hell, I don't even understand most of the components that go into question.
That doesn't matter a whit. As much as we would like to know, it is the height of imaginable human arrogance to insist that God is under some compulsion to tell us, to explain himself to our satisfaction, or to operate the universe - to the extent that he does - more in accordance with our liking.
One does not need an infallible bible to be a Christian, and one needs an understanding of God's purposes even less. Job had the right idea when he said, "though [God] slay me, yet will I trust in him." It's a hard saying, to be sure. Some, especially the above-average in intelligence, might say it's impossible. Yet in the end, this little matter of the will is exactly - and all - that is required of us.
* I think the word is "first baseman."
** He was. I read in the news today that, "Scientists say the cat-sized animal's hind legs offer ... a breakthrough that could finally confirm Charles Darwin's theory of evolution." And the logic is perfect, to boot: if A is similar to B in X, then A descended from B or B descended from A.
*** the guy went to Princeton, for God's sake. They know as much about theology as their favorite son, Bernanke knows about economics: a lot, and all of it wrong.
**** Actually God said something like, "Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? Wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous? I blowest mine nose at thee, thou no-brained wiper of other people's bottoms."