Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Willimon vs. Ehrman

William Willimon discusses Bart Ehrman's God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer over at Christian Century.
Bart Ehrman has written another book that is probably destined to be a best seller. God's Problem is a lively, though thoroughly conventional and utterly predictable, dismissal of Jewish and Christian views of God. It is a real page-turner, quickly written by an author who assumes a position of moral and intellectual superiority to just about everyone who is unlucky enough not to be a tenured professor in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

God's Problem begins not with God but with Ehrman, and with antitheology as autobiography. We learn that suffering has "haunted" Ehrman "for a very long time" and that it is the reason he lost his faith. The faith he lost was Christian evangelical fundamentalism, which, as we are told, crumbled under "critical scrutiny." Ehrman told NPR's Terry Gross that for a while he tried the Episcopal Church, finding its rituals aesthetically pleasing, but that he eventually left because "even in the Episcopal church they say the creed." Even Episcopalians were too gullible and credulous for the agnostic Ehrman.

Being subjected to the puerile theodicy of undergraduates while he was teaching courses in religion at Rutgers was the coup de grâce for what was left of Ehrman's faith. So the professor ventured forth on the journey that he apparently considers heroic, even though it has been made by millions in the West before him: the journey of taking God less seriously and himself more so. While this is now an old story, Ehrman seems invigorated by the telling of it—I presume because it his own story. The radical subjectivity and narcissism of evangelical pietism must be tough to shake.

While reading God's Problem, I kept asking myself, why bother?

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