Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman

October 24, 2007 at 12:36 am 71 comments

Misquoting JesusDISCLAIMER: What follows is my personal opinion and in no way represents anyone’s scholarship but my own.

I’ve been making my way slowly through the book Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman and am more and more convinced that there is no such thing as a “true” text of scripture, let alone an inerrant scripture or a “verbally inspired” scripture. There ain’t no such animal. It’s all verbal and doctrinal gymnastics to keep the faithful ignorant. I think that’s precisely the dirty, little secret of textual critics or anyone else who’s been to a university not tainted by religious bias and committed to honest inquiry. There is no “text” of scripture at all, but several letters, treatises, gospels, and other bits and pieces that were chosen randomly by a bishop here or another teacher there according to their whims at the time. No women were allowed to choose the texts, even though women were apostles and prophets as well. God no more orchestrated the gathering of these bits and pieces together than Zeus orchestrated the gathering of all of his children from several different mothers for a family reunion of the gods in ancient Greece. Of course, I always knew this from my own studies. Ehrman just solidified it for me.

Ehrman began his career as a conservative Moody Bible College graduate who, after working his way to a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, realized that what he was taught as an ultra-conservative fundamentalist Christian just didn’t jibe with the facts. In fact, the tossing about of texts, the castigating of those of differing opinions, and the fighting over words went on from the very beginning of Christianity. This was no seamless growth of a new movement, with faithful martyrs, or wonderful conversion stories. From the beginning NO ONE AGREED on how the church should be organized, which texts were considered authoritative, or what the mission of the church was. Many claimed they knew, or had a sanction from God to have the right opinion, but they were no different than anyone else.

Jon is right when he writes that the reason the christian church is failing it’s mission is because it can’t agree on what the word “christian” means, what the word “church” means, or what is its actual “mission.” In fact, a cursory read of any history of Christianity will clearly show that Christians have been disagreeing since the death of Jesus, hardly a sign that God is directing it and a sure sign that it’s of human origin (as is every religion in the world). I’ve believed for some time now that we create the mythologies that help us cope with the world. Mine is a mix that works for me. Fundies call this the “cafeteria approach” which I see nothing wrong with. I’d much rather take that approach than the approach I call “here’s your dinner and you’d better eat all those damn peas or I’ll kick your ass six ways to Sunday!” approach. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with believing anything that helps me move with love through the world. For me, as long as you harm none, live and let live, and leave a small footprint on the planet, you can believe pretty much anything you want! If the fundie God wants to send me to hell for that, so be it. I’ve lived according to my conscience.

- MysteryOfIniquity

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Ok! Ok! Maybe I never believed… The Unsinkable Rubber Ducks

71 Comments

  • 1. Curtis  |  October 24, 2007 at 12:49 am

    Thanks for the article. I will add the book to my list of reading. It seems as though it will give me some serious food for thought.

  • 2. Thinking Ape  |  October 24, 2007 at 2:36 am

    I agree with MOI, Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus” is a great little book, easily digestible for anyone. For those who are intrigued by this mass marketed work, be sure to check out his meatier “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.” I actually also recommend Timothy James’ “Misquoting Truth” published by *cough* InterVarsity Press *cough” – the fundamentalist response to Ehrman and other “liberal scholars.”

    My de-conversion was a result of authors likes James, not Ehrman. I, like most fundies, could come up with any sort of response and no one could convince me that the Bible was not inerrant or divinely inspired. However, the consistently blatant shallowness of authors like James and other self-appointed apologists for the faith made me wonder why things that should be obvious truths felt so contrived.

  • 3. pj11  |  October 24, 2007 at 2:49 am

    I’ve been reading the posts and comments here at de-con for the last couple of weeks, trying to stay out of the fray and enjoy some peace in my life. But this post dragged me back in!

    MOI said: “It’s all verbal and doctrinal gymnastics to keep the faithful ignorant. I think that’s precisely the dirty, little secret of textual critics or anyone else who’s been to a university not tainted by religious bias and committed to honest inquiry.”

    Seriously, who’s behind this giant conspiracy to lie about the text in order to keep people in the church ignorant? I’ve been trying to reach these people for years but they won’t take my call. I want to get in on the big joke before anyone in my church finds out. I’ve become so rich and powerful as a pastor … I’d hate to give all that up when the folks find out we’re all in on it! (lol)

    Seriously, do you honestly think that the majority of Christian scholars don’t believe in the accuracy and integrity of their work? Are they all working together, unwilling to break the code of silence? Sounds like a good conspiracy-action-adventure movie … we’ll call it the Ehrman Code!

    Then MOI said: “[the text of Scripture was] was chosen randomly by a bishop here or another teacher there according to their whims at the time.”

    So, for 300+ years church leaders from all over the ancient world read, studied, taught, preached, discussed, argued, and debated the NT documents … some at the risk of persecution, banishment, or death … but, in the end, you think one or two bishops chose them “randomly?” On a whim? You may not think the process was guided by a divine hand, but that’s a historically misguided statement.

    The MOI continued: “From the beginning NO ONE AGREED on how the church should be organized, which texts were considered authoritative, or what the mission of the church was.”

    Some of the contributors to this site need to stop with the excessive hyperbole … it hurts your credibility. The existence of dissent, debate, and a variety of movements with different emphases does not mean NO ONE agreed on anything in the first 400 years of the church. Be reasonable in your arguments.

    She then wrapped up with this doozy: “Christians have been disagreeing since the death of Jesus, hardly a sign that God is directing it and a sure sign that it’s of human origin (as is everything else in the world).”

    Everything in the world is of human origin? Huh? That one is too easy, so I’ll let it go.

    It’s a fallacy to say that disagreement in the church is a “sure sign” that something is of human origin and not divine. I would posit that it’s perfectly reasonable for God to work through ordinary human processes to bring about His desired results. He does it every day. The alternative would be for God to inject Himself into creation in a miraculous way. So we would expect Him to work most often through the ordinary. Ordinary human processes would include the things I mentioned above: study, research, writings, disagreement, argument, counter-literature, debate, gatherings of scholars, creedal writing, counter movements, and the like. In the end, He produces His work through secondary causes (human agency). And, in the process, He sifts and refines His servants, accomplishing His purposes in them. It’s a beautiful thing to behold a sovereign God at work!

    I’ll give you credit for this, MOI … you didn’t take any explicit shots at men as the root of all evil in your post. Thanks for that.

  • 4. saul  |  October 24, 2007 at 2:58 am

    I agree that this is the only way to approach the word of God. It should be powerful enough to speak through human filters, but that also requires a relationship with the word. And in this relationship you must bring something with you. I think many church leaders are afraid to encourage people to have an authentic relationship with the word, because that relationship might surpass their own authority. If God can’t use the word to speak to us all as individuals, then maybe it’s just a book after all.

  • 5. Thinking Ape  |  October 24, 2007 at 4:22 am

    Despite the attitude, I agree with many of pj11’s points. I do agree that there is no conspiracy to “keep the faithful ignorant.” I am unsure whether that is what MOI had meant, but I understand how her language conveys that. I do believe that there certainly are “verbal and doctrinal gymnastics” within the church and there has been since Paul first wrote to the Thessalonians. This doesn’t necessitate a conspiracy, it merely shows that people need to make sense of something that doesn’t (whether true or not).

    As for the Ehrman Code comment – really? We are all looking at the same text, but through different lenses. One must admit, however, that it is very hard to be critical of something that you stake your entire worldview on which is based on faith.

    Again, I agree with pj11 – nothing about the Scripture was random, which Ehrman does show in a multitude of his works. A “whim” is probably not the best word for any changes in the Bible (whim: sudden desire or change of mind, especially that which is unusual or unexplained).

    Hyperbole noted, but the problem with the disagreements in early Christian history is that they show the errancy of the Bible. A book like Luke-Acts, for example, glosses over historical and theological inaccuracies when compared to Paul. Revelation offers a radical different soteriology than Galations. No, it does not show that the world is of human origin, but it does show that the Bible was. This does not mean the God did not “inspire” the Bible, but it is unreasonable to believe that the collection or works should be granted idol-like status. There are greater works of poetry, ethics, and history available.

  • 6. Rebecca  |  October 24, 2007 at 7:40 am

    Moi, great to see you back posting! :-)

  • 7. Shannon Lewis  |  October 24, 2007 at 8:37 am

    Would you agree that the true meaning of any text is the intended meaning of it’s author? Although I admit that it is sometimes hard to do the historical, cultural, and even psychological research necessary to discover ‘intent’, I think it is often worth it. When I read the Bible, that it what I attempt to get at: what did the author intend to convey, then I work from there.

  • 8. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 24, 2007 at 8:55 am

    pj11,

    You wrote: “Seriously, do you honestly think that the majority of Christian scholars don’t believe in the accuracy and integrity of their work?”

    No, I believe they try to ignore the obvious in order to make their own points to support there own theses. They explain away as “mystery” what they refuse to see as fact. They teach forcefully what they themselves may secretly doubt. I believe they are as sincere at secretly doubting and refusing to see as atheists are sincere in seeing what they see. That’s what I meant.

    You know pj, your tone is childish so I’ll be the grown up and ignore it, but the post was written as I felt it, not as you want to see things written down, so take your own “literal reading” with a grain of salt. One person’s hyperbole is another’s heartfelt feelings, so deal with it. Your vitriol toward me is not furthering the conversation.

    No one agrees on what texts mean universally, as is obvious from the debates raging today and yes, most things in the universe (wherever they come from) are processed by humans to try to understand. That’s what I meant by the human origins of the understanding of the universe, NOT that everything comes from humans. Again, please don’t take everything so literally. This is the problem with literalists, fundamentalists, and inerrancy loving Christians. They are so touchy and don’t understand figurative and passionate speech. As a writer I can chose to couch my “feelings” in any language I choose, as did the writers of the bible. I never intend them to be taken literally or to have my writing taken apart piece by piece and dissected for “wrong” language. I write as I feel at the moment.

    I suggest you relax. No one, least of all me, is targeting YOU as you seem to take it. So take a breath, please. :-)

  • 9. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 24, 2007 at 9:03 am

    Hi Rebecca!!!

  • 10. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 24, 2007 at 9:04 am

    Hi Curtis, I’m glad you enjoyed it! :-)

  • 11. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 24, 2007 at 9:13 am

    Saul,

    As a believer, the only Word of God would be Jesus. That is the only way to approach God, not through another’s writings. Jesus would be the ONLY way to assure that everyone is “on the same page” so to speak.

    Millions of Christians had no written “word” to fall back on, either because of illiteracy among the faithful, the printing press wasn’t invented for a thousand or so years, or because the completed “bible” wasn’t available until well into the 2nd century. Therefore, they could rely on nothing but what they were told about the person of Jesus and the Gospel. I think more arguments would be curtailed if Christians kept it as simple as that.

  • 12. titus2woman  |  October 24, 2007 at 11:56 am

    Thanks for the recommendation! (((((HUGS))))) sandi

  • 13. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 24, 2007 at 11:59 am

    Hi Sandy!! Hugs to you as well and you’re welcome!

  • 14. OneSmallStep  |  October 24, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    **I do agree that there is no conspiracy to “keep the faithful ignorant.” I am unsure whether that is what MOI had meant, but I understand how her language conveys that**

    I get this more along the lines of the development of a mass-produced Bible. My understanding of the early Catholic Church was that it forbade the layman from having a Bible or reading it. You needed to be properly trained, in order to know how to correctly read/interpret it. Weren’t the earliest people who did try to get the Bible to the masses persecuted? And didn’t the Catholic Church also feel that preventing the mass distribution was necessary because if an average person could read/interpret for themselves, there’d be all sorts of divisions? Which is true, when looking at the Protestant movement: there are Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians (sp?) and it’s very much left up to the believer to interpret. So I do think the early church was working to keep the layman ignorant, because isn’t that how you keep someone ignorant? You feed them the information, rather than letting them access the information themselves?

    In terms of things being of human origin: I read this as humans creating concepts, and sometimes creating physical things. Take a tree: we don’t create the tree. But we do create the word to represent “tree.” We’ve created that concept, in order to be understood.

  • 15. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 24, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    OneSmallStep,

    That’s exactly what I meant when I wrote that!! Thank you for clarifying it for me!

    The Church has always been the “filter” between Jesus’ words and actions and the people. That’s precisely the point. Creating a canon of scriptures is also a type of filter keeping people from going straight to the source. Keeping literacy among monks and scribes is a protective measure. Conspiracy is the wrong word. I would use concerted effort to keep people from reading and interpreting early christian writings for themselves. Just look at the stranglehold scholars have over the Dead Sea Scrolls and other texts today! Same concept. Thanks OSS!

  • 16. Keith_1220  |  October 24, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    **As a believer, the only Word of God would be Jesus. That is the only way to approach God, not through another’s writings.** ~MOI

    Please take a look at:

    The Irresistible Revolution: Living As an Ordinary Radical
    By Shane Claiborne

    Excert from Forward by Jim Wallis:
    “As you read, you will son discover that Shane’s disaffection from America’s cultural and patriotic Christianity came not from going “secular” or “liberal” but by plunging deeper into what the earliest Christians called “the Way.”

  • 17. jules  |  October 24, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    Great post M.O.I I’ve been trying to make time to get through this book for the past few weeks and it is absolutely fascinating and has reinforced what I have suspected about the reproduction of the Christian holy book. And I agree with you… I will gladly accept whatever fate comes me of harming none and leaving a small footprint here. blessings, Julian

  • 18. pj11  |  October 24, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    MOI: I intended to challenge your post for this reason … leadership demands accountability. When you put yourself on the line as a contributor to a weblog that purports to stimulate theological conversation, you bear a responsibility. Precise language in theology is important. Reasonable arguments are important. Fact-checking is important. If I were to write as a contributor for an evolutionary biology site, I would want to be precise in my language and very careful that my statements are well-grounded. If I botched it up, I would expect to be challenged and I would hope to learn from the experience. When you write about church history, you should have a broad knowledge of the subject before you take on the assignment. I think it’s very possible that some who come to this site are looking to the contributors as experts (in some sense) … you have the opportunity to lead them well or mislead them.

    Now, I could be wrong … if this site is simply about the ramblings and musings of people on a journey and accuracy is not required, then fine. So be it.

  • 19. pj11  |  October 24, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    MOI said: “Conspiracy is the wrong word. I would use concerted effort to keep people from reading and interpreting early christian writings for themselves.”

    Actually, that’s pretty close to the definition of a “conspiracy!” American Heritage Dictionary: “An agreement to perform together an illegal, wrongful, or subversive act … a joining or acting together, as if by sinister design.”

    MOI said: “The Church has always been the ‘filter’ between Jesus’ words and actions and the people. That’s precisely the point. Creating a canon of scriptures is also a type of filter keeping people from going straight to the source. Keeping literacy among monks and scribes is a protective measure.”

    You’re falling into Dan Brown territory here … real history doesn’t play out like a good action-thriller novel. It’s far more complex and you’re not doing justice to the panorama of church history. You can make a case for the hording of scholarship in the medieval (Latin) period … but that doesn’t necessarily indicate sinister intentions, so be careful about using a broad brush. Sure, some in the Roman church had nefarious control issues. But far more teachers and monks of that day had a real concern for pious living and sound instruction of the people.

    More importantly, you cannot make that same case for the first 400 years of the church when literacy was greater and the common people communicated in koine Greek and Aramaic. The people were not kept away from the written tradition of the apostles. And remember … this period is far more important to the transmission of the text than the medieval period (due to its proximity to the apostolic age).

    I’m not sure how the codification of a standard of truth (canon) acted as a “filter” to keep people from “the source.” Remember that the formation of the canon was a very complex process that played out over centuries. The canon was not formed by a small group of bishops (as many would like to believe). The NT writings (Gospels and epistles) were taught and preached for hundreds of years in the church before they were codified into a single collection. The fact that they were codified in the 4th century doesn’t nullify the fact that the common Christian in this period was familiar with the apostolic writings.

  • 20. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 24, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    pj11,

    I never understood this blog to claim to require credentials of any kind to write here. I don’t understand your animosity toward me and I believe I have as much right to write how I “feel” as anyone else. I’m not requiring you believe anything I say. It’s my opinion after a Master’s Degree, years of research, and 25 years of bible study, nothing more. I suggest you take up your concerns with the administrators and let them censor who they will or let them scrutinize credentials or demand proof of sound mindedness before posting.

    Perhaps you’d be happier reading more theologically minded blogs or refraining from posting comments on those things I write about. By all means, skip my posts if you find them worrisome! You’d be a lot happier!

    Love you, pj! :-)

  • 21. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 24, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    Keith,

    As a matter of fact, someone in my office is giving me this book to read when she’s done with it. Thanks for the suggestion!! How serendipitous! :-)

  • 22. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 24, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Hi Jules! Blessings to you as well! :-)

  • 23. Around the Wire… « Confessions of a Seminarian  |  October 24, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    […] Mystery Of Iniquity, an “feminist agnostic Christian” (I hope I got that right), wrote a potentially controversial article on de-Conversion about the intentions behind the bible’s authorship, inerrency, and our own built in conscience. You may not agree with her conclusions, but her writing is certainly provocative, and I recommend it for anyone interested in having their thinking challenged a bit. […]

  • 24. pj11  |  October 24, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    MOI: Academic credentials are not the issue – the issue is accuracy. I’m glad to know that your intent was to make your feelings known … not necessarily make historically accurate statements. That helps the reader respond appropriately.

    No personal animosity from my end … just keeping it real. Lovin’ you too! :-)

  • 25. Ben  |  October 24, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    First of all, God doesn’t ‘want’ to send anyone to hell. So you can rest assured, He’s not out to get you. However, you make a good point about living according to our conscience. Our conscience is our ultimate guide to making decisions, it is what we all fall back upon when put in a tough spot.

    However, our consciences are formed (or ill-formed) depending on a.) whether we choose to follow them or not and b) by educating ourselves to and reflecting upon a worldview/belief system/etc outside ourselves.

    For instance, say I never littered and believed it to be wrong, but then, slowly, little by little over time I started throwing out trash here or there. At first I would feel a bit guilty or even moreso for it. Eventually, however, I would grow use to littering and my conscience would be ill formed/malformed, since it would no longer be convicting me of the evil of littering.

    Now, if I reflected upon the writings of environmentalists and educated myself by perhaps visiting some parts of the world that have been ruined by human garbage, I could slowly form my conscience back to where it had previously been. On the flip side, I could further compound my lack of conscience concerning littering if I chose to ignore environmentalists and the evidence suggesting littering was in fact wrong.

    This is exactly the state of society today in many regards. We choose to discredit the teachers of truth as old male chauvinists or fundie zealots and instead try to steer our morality down what we’ve yet to realize is an ever slippery slope.

    In regards to the scriptures, they were neither chosen randomly nor ‘thrown together’. The scriptures were used widely by the church with no declaration of a canon until it became necessary to keep non-scriptural books out of the pulpit. Both the councils of Carthage(419) and Hippo(386) ratified the canon of scripture.

    I applaud you for your effort to find truth as most will not even discuss faith logically. However, know that it is very dangerous to submit solely to one’s own conscience without a concrete form to strive for, as the conscience can become illformed over time. As for me, following Christ to the ends of the earth, living a virtuous and charitable life free from lust, pride gluttony, jealousy and envy and evil, putting others before myself and admitting I don’t know everything, acknowledging that I have a creator and am directed back to Him, I am living to the best of my ability. If there is no Catholic or ‘fundie’ God to let me into heaven, then so be it, for I’ve already found that the aformentioned life is much better than a self-centered one.

  • 26. Lorena  |  October 24, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    “but, in the end, you think one or two bishops chose them “randomly?” On a whim? “

    Hardly. The Bible is like a research paper: first you decide what your thesis will be, then you go around searching for sources that will support your point.

    That’s what the early “scholars” did. They included in the Bible those writings that supported the premise–which was the most popular–mythological–traditions of the early church. It is just like a sermon, pastor. That’s what you do when you are preparing a sermon, right? You search the Bible for verses that will support your thesis.

  • 27. Matt Blazer  |  October 24, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    MOI: I enjoyed reading your post. I studied under a very responsible Religious Studies Department at the University of Missouri where it seems both “sides” were taught.

    What I mean is, when questions arose (such as Authorship of Paul) or of the Canon, or of why the followers waited to write anything, etc: both “sides” were given credit and then left to the student.

    I personally wish we could get past our labels (both sides need to do this), and move forward in the discussion.

    While I don’t see the Bible as you do (with similar amounts of time and training) I appreciate your writing and the spirit behind them.

    I suppose I’m writing simply because it wears me out when we cannot discuss amicably… And even because I probably agree with Ehrman in many ways, but – because of my view of the Incarnation and then Scripture – I chose to believe in the church. if you bring up the horrendous deeds from the past I will be the first to acknowledge them and ask forgiveness, but the church – broken, a pain, mis-quoting with words and actions always – is still the vehicle God has chosen (obviously along with the people within it).

    As I look back over what I have written I am sad that the assumption continues that critical thinking MUST lead to the knowledge that the Bible is not authoritative or even well-linked. Even though I will immediately grant you the seam-fullness (is that a word?) of both the text and the tradition. It seems to me that there are brilliant and insightful men and women on both sides of this (among other) issue. Is that what you meant? Did you grow up being yelled at about this stuff? I kind of did… Sort of a, “If you question you must have a lacking faith…” Or something like that…

    What other authors do you enjoy reading?

  • 28. Matt Blazer  |  October 24, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    Man, I need to stop using so many parentheses… MOI, I will understand if you cannot even put together (ironically) my post.

  • 29. karen  |  October 24, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Excellent food for thought, MOI! Thanks for posting. I have had Ehrman’s book on my reading list for months, so it’s nice to get a preview of it. I heard him interviewed on NPR when it first came out and thought it sounded really interesting. I’ll get around to it! ;-)

    TA wrote:
    My de-conversion was a result of authors likes James, not Ehrman. I, like most fundies, could come up with any sort of response and no one could convince me that the Bible was not inerrant or divinely inspired. However, the consistently blatant shallowness of authors like James and other self-appointed apologists for the faith made me wonder why things that should be obvious truths felt so contrived.

    Wow – interesting. So it wasn’t the criticisms of the bible that swayed you, it was the inadequacy of the responses? That’s unusual!

  • 30. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 24, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    Ben,

    Very well and thoughtfully written response. I too believe in forming one’s conscience. What I don’t believe in is having others do it for me. No one can form another’s conscience and the whole point of the post when I originally wrote it was to show that what some rely on as absolute truth was formed by others and was suppressed by others. The deeper point is to search for knowledge yourself, to go to the Source if you need to, but do not rely on others to tell you what TRUTH is. That’s the entire point of the article and, I believe, the entire point of Bert Ehrman’s journey through textual criticism.

    Thanks for your thoughts! :-)

  • 31. karen  |  October 24, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    Matt
    I chose to believe in the church. if you bring up the horrendous deeds from the past I will be the first to acknowledge them and ask forgiveness, but the church – broken, a pain, mis-quoting with words and actions always – is still the vehicle God has chosen (obviously along with the people within it).

    Matt, welcome. Glad to have you here. And if you’ve posted before and I just haven’t noticed you – sorry! ;-)

    I appreciate the honesty and kindness of your point, above. But what bothered me about the conclusion you reached – as I used to share it when I was a Christian – is this: Where’s the holy spirit?

    The bible tells us that Christians who believe in Jesus and have received the holy spirit have access to god’s guidance, comfort and presence. If that’s true, it seems to me that there should be some way to detect that special influence in individual lives and in the corporate “life” of the church and history of Christianity. After all, people who have a member of the trinity living in their hearts should manifest that at least somewhat consistently – right?

    And yet it seems like the history of the church, and the individual lives of believers, bears no distinctive stamp of that indwelling of the holy spirit. The atrocities, the horrors, the corruption, the wars fought in the name of Christ, the individual selfishness, suffering, immorality – where’s the divine spark that separates Christians from followers of other religions, or from non-believers?

    I don’t see it. There are great churches doing good, and great individual believers living sacrificial lives. There are also great secular organizations doing much good, and great atheists living sacrificial lives. There’s not a pervasive difference that I can see, and it seems if the promises of the NT are true, there should be.

    The explanation that Christians and the church are so swayed by the evil of their sin nature that they ignore the spirit’s prompting wholesale didn’t cut it for me. If god’s prompting is so easy to reject, what good is it? That bothered me enough to question whether it was really there, or not.

  • 32. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 24, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    Lorena,

    Good point! That’s exactly what they did. The “gospels” and epistles that didn’t make it were either written by Gnostics or Essenes or some other group. The majority had a stake in excluding these. Thanks for the thoughts!

  • 33. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 24, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    Howdy Matt!!

    I, too, am sick and tired of the wrangling over words and ideas. Why can’t we just amicably exchange them I wonder. I believe there is much rancor on both sides and am grieved about that. I only want to point out the obvious when so many seem to miss it. That’s my whole point in writing, exposing feelings, offering options, and hoping that someone, somewhere will get something out of it. :-)

    I love reading ALL kinds of things. My current read is “The Divine Conspiracy” by Dallas Willard (there’s a conspiracy for you pj!) :-) It is the single best Christian book I believe I’ve ever read.

  • 34. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 24, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    Karen,

    You wrote: “I appreciate the honesty and kindness of your point, above. But what bothered me about the conclusion you reached – as I used to share it when I was a Christian – is this: Where’s the holy spirit?”

    Excellent, excellent point. What worries me so much about the christian/atheist debate is the seething hatred sometimes coming from both sides. This does neither side any good. We can all learn from each other without being personal about it, without closing ranks, without castigating another’s research. It’s not necessary. Where indeed is the Holy Spirit?

  • 35. Paul S.  |  October 24, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    pj11 said: “Precise language in theology is important.”

    I almost lost my lunch at that statement. The language of theology is anything but precise. What I think pj11 is doing is confusing the language of theology (a purely subjective topic) to Christian/church/biblical history (a purely objective topic). The canonical writings (whether formed by a small group of bishops or not) were decided on by church leaders without any input from the masses.

  • 36. Thinking Ape  |  October 24, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    Paul S. says,
    “The canonical writings (whether formed by a small group of bishops or not) were decided on by church leaders without any input from the masses.”

    Well, the church leaders were still limited to what “the masses” were willing to accept. Laypeople would certainly have accepted many other writings for sure, but history would find that the most popular books would be the ones that made there way into the canon (more or less). Had laypeople had more input, I believe that some books like the Shepherd of Hermes would have been accepted while others, like Hebrews, would not have been. The four canonical gospels and Paul’s letters, however, would have still been in.

  • 37. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 24, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    Paul,

    LOL, Lost your lunch… that’s rich. :-)

  • 38. Paul S.  |  October 24, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    Thinking Ape says,
    “…the church leaders were still limited to what “the masses” were willing to accept.”

    I agree with your statement. I just wonder how many Christians actually know the history of book they revere as the Word of God? Do many Christians know how and why the biblical canon is constructed the way it is? I’d be willing to bet the average Christian doesn’t have any clue to the apocryphal writings that are omitted from their current Bible. I would also be willing to bet a majority of Christians are under the impression that the books of the Bible appear in chronological order (i.e. Matthew was written 1st, Mark was written 2nd, and so on). If they knew that the epistles were written prior to the gospels, they might have a different view.

    What’s ironic is that is was only after my deconversion that I really started to study the Bible and church history.

  • 39. LeoPardus  |  October 24, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    So much I wan to pipe in on. Very early Church history and the history of the canon in particular are favorite areas of mine. But I must do the work I get paid for first. :)

    I did want to respond to just a couple things quickly.

    Just a couple post up MOI said:
    “The bible tells us that Christians who believe in Jesus and have received the holy spirit have access to god’s guidance, comfort and presence. If that’s true, it seems to me that there should be some way to detect that special influence in individual lives and in the corporate “life” of the church and history of Christianity. After all, people who have a member of the trinity living in their hearts should manifest that at least somewhat consistently – right?”

    AMEN! Preach it sister! This is part of my list of reasons I can no longer believe.

    From the article at top:
    bits and pieces that were chosen randomly by a bishop here or another teacher there according to their whims at the time

    Gotta get back to this when I’ve a bit of time, but this is simply not even close to what happened. Though it is a too common misconception.

    This was no seamless growth of a new movement, with faithful martyrs, or wonderful conversion stories.

    There certainly were martyrs who died proclaiming faith to the end. And there certainly were conversions, many quite amazing. Not sure what you’re meaning here.

    From the beginning NO ONE AGREED on how the church should be organized, which texts were considered authoritative, or what the mission of the church was.

    Again, not true. Trouble is that the overwhelming majority of Christians in today’s world never have a clue how the church was run from its beginning, not what texts were used, nor what practices were in place among the churches.

    The situation you describe is more in line with the church of the last few centuries rather than the first few.

  • 40. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 24, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    LeoP,

    Actually Karen said that wonderful bit about the Holy Spirit. Kudos Karen!!

    On “no one agreed” I meant that there have been dissensions from the beginning.

    On the seamless history of christianity, I meant there is no seamless history. All history is told by the winners of wars never by the losers. Again, hindsight always looks rosier than what actually happened.

    Thanks for the thoughts!

  • 41. HeIsSailing  |  October 24, 2007 at 11:09 pm

    Thus saith Karen:

    Wow – interesting. So it wasn’t the criticisms of the bible that swayed you, it was the inadequacy of the responses? That’s unusual!

    add me to that list. The book that pushed me over the edge was Christian Herbert Lockyer’s “All the Messianic Prophicies of the Bible”. I don’t know if the book was that bad or not, but it inadvertantly showed beyond all doubt what Messianic Prophecy was all about. That was the clincher for me.

    On a note closer to this article, I have not read Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus”, although I think that is probably a bad title. I have read Ehrman’s ‘Orthodox Corruption of Scripture’, and it was one of the most fascinating things I have ever read. It is one of my favorite books from last year. But according to it, many of the variants in the oldest copies of scripture can be mapped to various heresies that were around in the earliest Christian church: docetism, patripassianism, adoptionism, etc. Really interesting stuff – but I don’t think any of it has to do with ‘misquoting Jesus’ in any way.

  • 42. The de-Convert  |  October 24, 2007 at 11:37 pm

    I would say that Josh McDowell’s “Evidence Demands a Verdict” contributed to my skepticism vs. being a help. I remember everyone talking about what a great book this was (back when it was initially released) and I was so excited to read it. It probably ranks up there with one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had.

    A bigger one was a class we had during a YWAM Discipleship Training School (DTS). The class was focused on helping us to be confident in our faith. In order to make his point, the teacher began the class by raising all sorts of questions about our faith. I remember getting excited because some of them were questions I had. I thought that I’d finally get some answers. However, it was very anti-climatic. At the conclusion of the class I remembered thinking that he said nothing to answer all the questions he raised. I was baffled about the purpose of the class and how he really helped us be confident in our faith. I remember thinking at that moment that there really were no answers. No one has proven me wrong since even though I went through all the motions for many happy and rewarding years.

    Paul

  • 43. HeIsSailing  |  October 25, 2007 at 6:25 am

    The de-Convert- I concur regarding McDowell. I read both volumes of his Evidence that Demands a Verdict in the late 80s, and found it really anticlimactic. Especially bad was his entire chapter on evidence by experience, loaded with Christian testimony of how the Christianity changed converts lives. I dunno, but even as a committed Christian myself, I knew they were testimonies that could be given by any belief system for a multitude of reasons.

    At the time though, I was blown away with the Messianic Prophecies, especially when McDowell painted a silver dollar red and tossed it into a pile of silver dollars that covered the state of Texas. I guess that is why recently reading Locker’s book and doing a little digging on my own was such a shocker to me.

  • 44. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 25, 2007 at 7:33 am

    The de-Convert and HIS,

    The book that really got my goat was Lee Strobel’s The Case For Christ. There was no “evidence.” There was nothing beyond what ordinary Christians get prepackaged in their sermons each Sunday.

    My problem with Christianity as a religion is that bible literalists, fundamentalist teachers, and others who claim to KNOW the truth treat everyone else like imbeciles. Also, the lack of love one sees among Christians and toward others, as Karen said, is a very good reason to doubt it’s veracity. (I believe I wrote a post on my blog about the lack of love being sure evidence of Christianity’s failure as a movement).

    To me, this lack of love is the CHIEF reason why there is hostility toward Christianity, especially today. Christians are great students of the “Word” (when it doesn’t challenge their preconceived world views that is) and are good proponents of their own modified versions of history, but they are very poor doers. I still contend that the cult of Christianity has very little to do with Jesus’ actual mission.

  • 45. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 25, 2007 at 7:35 am

    pj11,

    Did you say you were a pastor? Of what denomination?

  • 46. Matt Blazer  |  October 25, 2007 at 9:35 am

    Hey Karen and MOI, Karen, you wrote, about the Holy Spirit,

    “I don’t see it. There are great churches doing good, and great individual believers living sacrificial lives. There are also great secular organizations doing much good, and great atheists living sacrificial lives. There’s not a pervasive difference that I can see, and it seems if the promises of the NT are true, there should be…”

    I agree. Looking back at your last sentence I agree totally.

    However, it does not disconnect me from the other aspects of the Holy Spirit, the church, and Christ. I think my brain doesn’t go as big picture as yours does and I don’t attempt to weigh the atrocities with the good. How does one weigh Teresa of Calcutta over and against Jim Bakker… or better yet, Teresa of Avila over and against the crusades, the ‘reformation wars’, or the inquisitions.

    I think we share a sadness, and are both standing here in 2007 wondering how it ever got this bad (even if we believe and trust in different things).

    MOI: what a fantastic book… I was cheating for awhile and listening to it on audio (someone gave me the CD’s). That is cheating because Willard is thick… Have you ever read Bruegggemann? He and Willard (and a couple of others) seem to have separated themselves from some of the more angry debates and are simply working towards good. I know that is vague… I just bought a MASSIVE bible with Willard, Brueggemann, Richard Foster, and Eugene Peterson notes throughout it… I just couldn’t pass upon the four of them together.

    I hope I can find the energy to pick Willard back up, he is so thick…

    And for my money it doesn’t get better than Brueggemann on the Psalms…

    Great post MOI, great response to me Karen, I wish I had an answer or rebuttal. Alas, I am sad also…

  • 47. lostgirlfound  |  October 25, 2007 at 9:41 am

    Amazing … alll those books (“Evidence,” “Case for Christ,” etc.) are touted by the “church” as definitive answers to skeptic’s questions. Again, back to my regular rant, “the church” is clueless about what “the lost” (their words) know/want/believe.
    I do agree with Keith that “Irrestistable Revolution” is an amazing book (I’m teaching it next semester to a bunch of “sheltered” home school Jr. and Sr. high schoolers…) and with MOI that “Divine Conspiracy” is at least palatable. Funny thing, though, the main stream evangelical church won’t recognize reads like that, because they push people to question. Another of my favorites right now is “The Last Word and the Word after That” by Brian McClaren. Again, I don’t totally agree with him, but the whole concept of “hell” is such a freakin’ sacred cow in “the church,” they’re calling him all kinds of names without ever really reading the book!

    Me? Like Shane, the more questions I had, the deeper I dig (been called a bulldog, yep). It’s only people who are “afraid” of the unknown that fear questions. In my humble opinion…

  • 48. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 25, 2007 at 11:05 am

    lostgirlfound,

    I’m not sure what people are afraid of, really. The unknown, yes, but why wouldn’t anyone WANT to find out as much as they could about the “opposite” side and truly try to understand it as it relates to their beliefs? What’s wrong with realizing there are problems with the inerrancy doctrine? Or that the history of Christianity has been glossed over? Does that make anything any less inspired? Why all the insistence upon everyone believing the exact same thing? History has shown that there were dissensions, schisms, and obvious disagreements.

    I think being dogmatic and unwilling to bend shows a basic lack of trust in the Divine. If there is a God and He (sic) is in complete charge, who do we think we are that such a being needs to be defended? Those who are unwilling to inquire into other kinds of knowledge and who insist on their own knowledge’s supremacy are like trees. It was Susan Howatch in Glittering Images that said, “Those that bend with the wind are made that much stronger, those who resist will be doomed to snap off and die.”

  • 49. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 25, 2007 at 11:09 am

    Hi Matt,

    I’ve heard of Brueggemann but never really delved into his writings. I might have to head over to the library and check it out. (pun intended). Yes, Willard is content to leave the disputes and focus on transforming the heart. I know which bible you speak of. Isn’t it the Renovare Spiritual Formation bible or am I thinking of another?

  • 50. LeoPardus  |  October 25, 2007 at 11:51 am

    MOI:

    I think being dogmatic and unwilling to bend shows a basic lack of trust in the Divine. If there is a God and He (sic) is in complete charge, who do we think we are that such a being needs to be defended?

    OK. This time I know it’s you who said it. So…… Preach it sister!! :)

  • 51. LeoPardus  |  October 25, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    OK. Gotta try to be brief here:

    There is no “text” of scripture at all, but several letters, treatises, gospels, and other bits and pieces that were chosen randomly by a bishop here or another teacher there according to their whims at the time. No women were allowed to choose the texts,

    Taking points out of order: No women were consulted, true, but then literacy among women was even rarer than among men. And of course, whether in the church or any other part of society back then, very few women were in any position of authority. So just pragmatically, there would have been extremely few women to consult.

    There was indeed no “text” in that at no time was a set of texts handed down with Divine directions to make them canonical. But what did form the canon were not chosen “randomly”, or by “a bishop here or another teacher there according to their whims at the time”. The books considered for canonicity (mainly at the Council of Carthage though others were also instrumental) were all acknowledged as being authored by people living in the apostolic age (hence exclusion of books like Clement’s letters), and were all used almost universally throughout the Church.
    The decision to allow any book to be declared canonical had to happen in a Council. No bishop or even patriarch had authority to declare canonicity on his own. It’s notable that even the Pope, with all the powers assumed by the office, never tried to claim the authority to declare a book canonical.

  • 52. LeoPardus  |  October 25, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    P.S. Read that last slowly and forgive my use of () and run ons. Mea culpa.

  • 53. karen  |  October 25, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks, MOI, though I wouldn’t mind at all if you wanted to take credit – you can do it anytime! :-)

    I constantly see Christians recommending the very books discussed here to skeptics as if these books contain all the answers and will silence the critics immediately. I never read any of them (I didn’t need to be convinced), but it’s interesting how ineffective they apparently are.

    The other author that gets recommended all the time is C.S. Lewis, and while I read and enjoyed his books as a Christian, I’ve since seen a lot of spot-on critiques of him and his theories from non-theists.

    Matt, again thanks for your honest and thoughtful reply. I never saw the big picture before I deconverted. In fact, I would have said that Yes! Christians have been faithful representatives of the holy spirit through the generations. I was that woefully, willfully ignorant about the early church, where the bible came from (the NIV itself was channeled directly by god and handed down on holy tablets, as far as I was taught!), church history, and all of it.

    I really only heard about the 20th century fundamentalist movement long after I started pursuing my doubts. I was taught – honestly – that today’s conservative Christians were part of a direct line of true believers going right back to the book of Acts. The Catholic church, the reformation, the splinters within Protestantism – all of this was glossed over or ignored as totally unimportant. What WAS important was ‘getting right with god’ before the upcoming Rapture. Everything else was just a distraction that we could clarify with god up in heaven.

    I shake my head now, I really do … and then I see the same ignorance that I had displayed in other fundies online all the time and I realize it wasn’t just me. :-(

  • 54. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 25, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    LeoPardus,

    You wrote: “Taking points out of order: No women were consulted, true, but then literacy among women was even rarer than among men. And of course, whether in the church or any other part of society back then, very few women were in any position of authority. So just pragmatically, there would have been extremely few women to consult.”

    O contrare! There were many well-educated Roman women at the time and Gospels written by women. In fact the Gnostics were keen on women’s roles in the church as well. See A History of Women in the West, Vol. I, which lists patronesses, scholars, and Deacons, as well as apostles and prophets that were all women. Many were included in the Church’s early history, but later there was a concerted effort to stop the practice of allowing women to speak, especially with the establishment of a christian priesthood (see http://www.womenpriests.org/deacons/index.asp) and with the practice of declaring some heretical.

    As for the canon, I stand by my statement that no women were consulted in forming this set of documents. There may have been criteria, but the criteria was to agree with the doctrine they wanted established. Hardly the practice of a free flow of ideas. Common followers and disciples were not consulted either, so basically a few decided for the many, which was my point of the post, despite the hyperbole of my over-excited brain.

  • 55. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 25, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    Hi Karen,

    Yes, I too acted quite absurdly when a fundie. It takes a big heart to admit we are wrong and it takes a humble spirit to be open to all sorts of views. I admit I sometimes say things in a weird way, but I find those not looking for a fight understand what I mean. :-)

    I still read the books we’ve spoken of here, even though I never really liked C. S. Lewis much. Too officious for me. But the books I still have are interesting. I find that when you reread a lot of what used to really “get you” it just makes one nostalgic. But, it keeps your wits sharp and reminds you why you give a lot of ideas up to begin with.

  • 56. LeoPardus  |  October 25, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    There were many well-educated Roman women at the time and Gospels written by women.

    How many is ‘many’? If male literacy was 10% was female literacy 2%? Frankly though, the question is unanswerable. We can only speculate. My point though, was that the number of literate females (or females in authoritative positions of government, church, business, etc.) at any time from 1AD until long after the enlightenment would be quite a lot less than the number of literate males (or males in authoritative positions of government, church, business, etc.. The advent of an occasional, St. Nina or Eleanor of Aquitaine, does not obviate that reality.

    In fact the Gnostics were keen on women’s roles in the church as well.

    Weren’t some of them also keen on emphasizing the spiritual to the point of denying the physical? and some went in for dualism? or the idea of demiurges? I mean they had lots of ideas and beliefs that were far out and others that may have been right on. The fact that some Gnostics (not all) supported greater roles for women seems a weak support for an historical thesis.

    See A History of Women in the West, Vol. I, which lists patronesses, scholars, and Deacons, as well as apostles and prophets that were all women. Many were included in the Church’s early history,

    Actually I was entirely aware of all that. Here I just have to toot the EOC (Eastern Orthodox Church) horn a bit.
    The EOC is, and always has been, completely aware of all this stuff. They know about deaconesses, past and present. (The bishop even taught about it when he was in town once.) When I read the “new scholarship”, “recent findings” and so on that that book, and the web site you referenced, I can only think, “What’s new? The Orthodox have known about this for two millennia.”

    but later there was a concerted effort to stop the practice of allowing women to speak, especially with the establishment of a christian priesthood

    First off, there was no “establishment of a christian priesthood” later. That was established in the 1st century. There are plenty of documents. Try the letters of Clement as just one example.
    Secondly, you’re in the realm of massive conspiracy theory here. What would you think if I proposed that there is a concerted effort to rewrite the role of women in earlier ages by feminist scholars of today?

  • 57. lostgirlfound  |  October 25, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    MOI: you said, “I think being dogmatic and unwilling to bend shows a basic lack of trust in the Divine. If there is a God and He (sic) is in complete charge, who do we think we are that such a being needs to be defended? ”

    Pass the bucket and say “amen.” I say that all the time to my “Church” friends (and leadership…), and the most I get is, “Umm, well, maybe…” They are afraid (I think) either to let God really be “in control,” or that they are following a myth, and refuse to find out for real what is. Loved the read!

  • 58. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 25, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    Leo,

    What’s with all the conspiracy accusations? It’s not a conspiracy, just misogyny. That’s part of history. Everyone knows it, why deny it? I’ve read Clement, the Didache, and most of the early writings. That no more proves an “established” priesthood than anything else does.

    You wrote: “How many is ‘many’? If male literacy was 10% was female literacy 2%? Frankly though, the question is unanswerable. We can only speculate. My point though, was that the number of literate females (or females in authoritative positions of government, church, business, etc.) at any time from 1AD until long after the enlightenment would be quite a lot less than the number of literate males (or males in authoritative positions of government, church, business, etc.. The advent of an occasional, St. Nina or Eleanor of Aquitaine, does not obviate that reality.”

    Leo, Leo, you really must take more classes about the history of women in the church and in society. There were far more than “an occasional St. Nina.” Sigh…….

    Let’s not turn this into a men vs. women thing here, even though I believe it’s a huge part of it (men and women cannot talk about it without rancor). That’s not what my post was about. It was about the efforts to shape Christianity as a movement toward what most men in charge wanted it to be. They chose epistles and books of scripture to support that end. It was a calculated move to bring about the supremacy of the church and to suppress dissenters, particularly women. That’s my point, nothing more. I believe the church is still doing this today, which is why I don’t go to church anymore. I’m following my conscience, not the church. This was the entire point of my post.

  • 59. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 25, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    AMEN Lorena!!!!!!!!!!

  • 60. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 25, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    lostgirlfound,

    Just doing my best to educate all of us poor, uneducated, sans the right degree, conspiracy lovin’ and martyr-hating females here on the internet! :-)

  • 61. LeoPardus  |  October 25, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    It’s not a conspiracy, just misogyny. That’s part of history. Everyone knows it, why deny it?

    I’m not clear here. Are you saying that the whole history of the world is a history of misogyny? Or just western history? or just church history? or…?

    I’ve read Clement, the Didache, and most of the early writings. That no more proves an “established” priesthood than anything else does.

    Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp and others are all known as bishops of cities or regions. There are others. The offices and duties of bishop, priest, and deacon, along with some other titles are all spoken of in the most ancient literature we have. What the heck do you need to demonstrate an established hierarchy? A time machine?

    Leo, Leo, you really must take more classes about the history of women in the church and in society.

    Done some reading. Will doubtless do more. How would you like to take some classes showing how feminist historians are wrong and poor scholars and all the stuff you’ve learned from them is highly questionable at best?
    Not that I know where to point you. Just wondering how interested you’d be.

    There were far more than “an occasional St. Nina.” Sigh

    Again I’m not clear. Are you trying to imply that the number of literate women in the ancient world is nearly the same as the number of literate men? Or that the number of women in authoritative positions in government, church, or business through the centuries has been nearly the same as the number of men?

  • 62. HeIsSailing  |  October 25, 2007 at 9:09 pm

    Lorena,

    It is possible, and quite common, for Bible teachers and pastors to not follow your procedure at all. I have been to many churches that just grab a chunk of scripture, say a chapter or two, and slog on through it while giving a running commentary with no apparant theme other than what is found in that passage. I have been to pj11’s website, and from what I saw, I do believe he conducts his services this way.

  • 63. Lorena  |  October 25, 2007 at 11:04 pm

    Heis,

    I think you are right. Many preachers, particularly Pentecostals, just “Let the Spirit Lead.” But as I said on my response to him, I assumed that he was a “scholarly” type.

    My mistake–wrong assumption. I guess in my book, those preachers who “follow the lead of the Spirit” are really bad. I could never stand those sermons, because I need the structure that a well-prepared message has.

    The mistake comes from the fact that I could never listen to a disorganized sermon for very long. I just stood and walked away–or fidgeted the whole time.

  • 64. karen  |  October 25, 2007 at 11:15 pm

    My experience in Calvary Chapel and most of the other churches I attended is that the sermon was more like a bible study. The pastor would choose a particular book of the bible and we’d read straight through it on Sunday mornings, with maybe a few verses one sermon and a few chapters the next, depending on what the pastor was emphasizing.

    I have heard sermons more like you mentioned Lorena, that are skillfully constructed to make a particular point, and I actually agree that those are more interesting and enjoyable.

    They were not favored by my pastors, however. They would often decry those kinds of sermons because they were taking the bible “out of context.” They preferred to read in context, rather than sculpt a true oratory to make a point.

  • 65. Mad Scientist  |  October 26, 2007 at 12:42 am

    MOI: Have you read “The Closing of the Western Mind” by Charles Freeman? Despite the somewhat provocative title, it provides a relatively neutral account of early Christian church history. I found the part about the decision of what books would constitute Christian canon and the dissension surrounding it quite fascinating.

  • 66. pj11  |  October 26, 2007 at 2:44 am

    Lorena, when you say to a pastor, “You come up with your thesis and then find texts to support your thesis,” that’s NOT a compliment! In fact, it’s a great insult. The job of a true preacher is to let the text speak for itself and try to stay out of the way as much as possible. My words don’t carry any power. The power lies in the indwelling Spirit applying the truth of the biblical text to the heart of the listener. I’m just a servant in the process … I don’t have the power to change anyone!

    There are two general types of sermons: topical and expository. You’ll find topical preaching emphasized in most seeker-oriented (growth-driven) churches. Typically, the pastor comes up with a series of messages he wants to preach, he applies catchy titles, his staff institutes a visually-stimulating marketing campaign, and then he sets out to find particular passages which suit the premise(s) he wants to communicate. They believe this methodology is most relevant to the culture and most likely to draw people in. But in my opinion, it’s a backward approach … it reveals the preacher’s will, but not necessarily the mind of God. It may draw people in because it’s catchy, but it attracts people for all the wrong reasons. What you win them with, you win them to. In order to keep these types of “seekers” happy, you have to keep feeding them entertainment-oriented services … like a drug, it has to be bigger, better, funnier, edgier. When you let them down, they move to the church down the street! This is the sad state of bubble gum Christianity today.

    Don’t get me wrong … topical preaching can be done with integrity, but more often than not it’s manipulated to further the goals and purposes of the pastor or church leadership.

    In churches where preaching and teaching is emphasized over and above church growth and cultural relevance, you’re more likely to find expository preaching. In expository preaching, the text is the central issue, not the pastor’s opinion. The main point(s) of the text create the main point(s) of the sermon. An expositor will usually start at verse 1:1 of a particular book and preach it all the way through using a “one concept at a time” approach (anywhere from one verse per Sunday to one chapter per Sunday, depending upon the natural breaks in the text). Since the NT writings were often written as letters – meant to be read from beginning to end – this is the most natural way to preach. It also allows the preacher to build one sermon upon another, always staying within the historical, cultural, and literary context. This is the preferred style of the church I shepherd. It may not be glitzy, but it’s the real deal … and it’s what people really need if they desire to be transformed. As many of you here at de-con have seen, the bubble gum version of Christianity doesn’t change people … it just feeds their consumer-oriented lifestyles without any significant change in heart or behavior. Again, sad.

    BTW, I could double the size of my church next year if I decided to compromise my integrity and follow the lead of most mega-churches. But what good would that do?

    And, yes, expository preaching requires a great deal of scholarly research. I spend on average 25-30 hours per week preparing my sermons. That includes doing my own translation from the original language, various word and grammatical studies, exegetical diagramming, historical and cultural background research, reading commentaries, several rough drafts, and a finished manuscript. It’s painstaking work, but the journey is amazing … I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sorry for going so long! :-)

  • 67. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 26, 2007 at 7:45 am

    Mad Scientist,

    I read parts of that book when my son was on leave and you’re right, it’s a great book! Indeed, very illuminating.

    Other great books that comment about this period are Jonathan Kirsch’s “God Against the Gods,” Karen Armstrong’s “The History of God,” and “The Battle For God,” The most influential non-christian books, for me, were Elaine Pagels’ “The Gnostic Gospels” and “The Origin of Satan,” and Ludwig Feuerbach’s “The Essence of Christianity” which is found online at http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/feuerbach/index.htm
    Wonderful, heady stuff.

    The bloggers here would probably love a most excellent overview of metaphysics found in Iris Murdoch’s “Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals” which is a brilliant treatise on philosophers’ ideas, some church “fathers” included. My post which focuses on the very human origins of christianity is bolstered by all these books which outline the personal, political, and philosophical infighting taking place during the early centuries leading up to and following Jesus’ death.

  • 68. loopyloo350  |  October 26, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    “Seek and Ye shall find” I think you are all living in the past personally. You act as if GOD authored the Bible itself intead of talking to the authors. We only have how they interpreted his message in the Bible. And do you think He quit talking to people at the time that particular Book was written. Our problem is we don’t listen enought to people who are still talking to GOD, and we listen to much to people who claim they speak for GOD.
    loopyloo350
    ps: blessing on all of you and may he walk by your side in the light

  • 69. Rebecca  |  October 29, 2007 at 9:58 am

    P.S. Love the disclaimer. :-)

  • […] author of Misquoting Jesus and more than a dozen other books, chairs the religious studies department at the University of […]

  • 71. Bart Ehrman’s God’s Problem « de-conversion  |  September 4, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    […] 4, 2008 I bought Bart Ehrman’s God’s Problem on the strength of reading his Misquoting Jesus, and I wasn’t […]

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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