There seems to be a lot of buzz over Bart Ehrman’s new book, Misquoting Jesus, with sales ranking in the top 200 at amazon and culminating with a guest appearance on The Daily Show. While his academic work in the field of New Testament textual criticism is exemplary, it’s his packaging of New Testament criticism alongside his personal conversion epic from ‘born-again’ fundamentalist to an "atheist without balls" that I find frustrating. Essentially, this comes across as the idea that it is impossible to read Scripture critically and maintain Christian faith, such that the only logical response is to choose one or the other. This may seem like a particularly harsh (perhaps even self-conscious) reading of Erhman’s text, however the majority of the reviews by ‘laity’ read similar to this one at erratic wisdom which describes the book as the "nail in the coffin" for Christian faith.
In reflecting on the role his book is having in popular culture I came to realize that this "nail in the coffin" is not so much the result of Ehrman’s book as it is the failure of the church to engage and teach Scripture honestly. The only attempt at textual criticism I ever received from the church involved the classic circular argument of 2 Tim. 3:16.
The church in America seems to be trapped in an Oprah Winfrey type of Christianity; that is: self-centered, emotionally appealing, and marketed to the lowest common denominator. Perhaps it is the absence of knowledge which is keeping the modern church from outgrowing this immature level of faith. While I’m not against making the gospel accessible, the church needs to recognize the importance of academics as an inherent component of spiritual maturity. Are we creating a desire for learning amidst the stage lighting and electric guitar? Is there room in Christian practice for the pursuit of truth and authenticity? Will we able to ask for forgiveness for this intellectual deception? Are we going to begin taking the Christian faith seriously. I fear if we do not, we will become the last nail in our own coffin.
My child, if you accept my words
and treasure up my commandments within you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
if you indeed cry out for insight,
and raise your voice for understanding;
if you seek it like silver,
and search for it as for hidden treasuresâ€”
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.