Monday, April 03, 2006

A Textbook Case of "Post Fundamentalist Syndrome" or an Example of Intellectual Hubris and Leftward Drift?

This past weekend I purchased Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus (Harper, 2005). Ehrman, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the UNC at Chapel Hill, first came to my attention as the professor extraordinaire who did the brilliant job of lecturing on New Testament history for the Teaching Company. The course was simultaneously engaging, enlightening, and infuriating.

Ehrman makes for an interesting study. A graduate of Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, he completed his academic credentials under the tutelage of venerable textual critic Bruce Metzger to whom the book is dedicated.

The key to understanding Ehrman’s purpose is found in the subtitle: “The story behind who changed the Bible and why.” Albert Mohler likes to say that Ehrman “has made rejecting the New Testament text a professional project.” His pilgrimage began spiritually in the evangelical certainty of Moody (where he recalls “we used to say Moody Bible Institute, where Bible is our middle name”) "ending up in a dead end" and finally taking him to a place of unashamed agnosticism.

How do we understand Ehrman and his journey? Is he just another “recovering fundamentalist” who has hyper-corrected to the opposite pole from unqualified certainty to completely qualified uncertainty? We all know our share of critics of Christianity who were formed in the cauldron of evangelicalism’s most toxic expressions. Does Bart Ehrman fit that mold?

Another interpretation would see Ehrman as a fairly typical example of what happens when hubris, unbridled human pride, runs amuck in the mind of a seemingly honest seeker after truth. The process of higher education often proves alienating. It can separate the scholar from the community that sent her or him off to “get an education.” It can also alienate the learner from the One who is the Truth. Paul explains it this way when dealing with the Corinthians and their prideful chasing after “knowledge”: “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (1 Cor 8:1).

The sinful tendency to become enchanted listening to our own voices and our overly impressed by our own reason can easily lead even the most committed of us into the denial of truth and the embrace of palpable nonsense. Intellectual temptations are no less dangerous to the soul than bodily ones.

Having sent two of my five children to Moody to receive both their undergraduate and graduate educations, my heart aches to see what Dr. Ehrman has done with his. He possesses such gifts, such winsomeness, and such charisma in the classroom.

His story should serve as a severe reminder to all of us to beware lest we fall. The gift of scholarship was never meant to be separated from the life of prayer and piety. The temptation to follow the world in the field of knowledge, no less than the lure of following the world in the areas of sex or money, can only be resisted in the strength of the Lord, through the ministry of the Spirit, because of the finished sacrificial work of Christ for us.

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