The Ehrman Project

Bart Ehrman, currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, seems to have a way of getting under people’s skin.

Perhaps it’s partly that he’s a highly regarded teacher and a prolific author. It certainly has something to do with his declared agnosticism after a very unexceptionable Evangelical upbringing and education.

Orthodox Podcaster Dr. Jeannie Constantinou spends a surprising amount of time talking about him, citing his abandonment of Christianity as what is inordinately likely to happen when someone indoctrinated in an indefensible Evangelical/Fundamentalist view of Biblical inerrancy finally gets blindsided somehow by reality. That strikes me as about right.

But what’s really kind of weird is The Ehrman Project, a cooperative effort of sundry Evangelicals, which “provides responses to Dr. Ehrman’s provocative conclusions.”

Maybe I’m insufficiently familiar with Dr. Ehrman’s books, because he doesn’t seem to me to warrant all the attention he’s getting, and the question and answer pairings at the Ehrman Project site seem strangely disconnected from each other.

I’ve “taken a course” or two with Dr. Ehrman through The Teaching Company, and he struck me as a good teacher and competent scholar whose own beliefs, insofar as he betrayed them, were unacceptable. So I didn’t accept them. Was that an inadequate response? Apparently so. I should have obsessed over his errors.

But the oddity of The Ehrman Project goes beyond a sort of soft, obsessive cyberstalking. The little articles they have, purporting to answer questions presumably raised by Ehrman, don’t really answer the questions. They just sort of meander around. For instance:

  • Why did certain texts make it into the New Testament canon? The answer, apparently, is that providence created a “Whitman Sampler” of books. So take that, Bart! Ipse dixit.
  • Or What is Inerrancy? The answer, apparently, is “not what you think.” Of course the books don’t use consistent spelling, silly! It’s just that “’wherever there is a truth-claim, God’s words are-in-fact true’ – that is all inerrancy is.” Boiled down to that, I can’t see that it’s the Big Whoop Evangelical Distinctive Harold Lindsell tried to make of it 40 years or so ago. Don’t all Christians believe that? Of what use is that kind of inerrancy, if we differ about where there is a truth claim and we don’t have the original autographs?
  • With no scripture in place, what controlled doctrine in the first century? Trick question! The Old Testament was in place! So the answer is “scripture [Old Testament], schooling, singing, and sacrament.” Apart from the excessive alliteration, this could be an Orthodox answer, since that’s what keeps Orthodox tradition on course — so much so that we’re faulted as stagnant by people like the author of this article! Thank goodness Evangelicals have scripture now so that they can teach (school) and sing whatever they want, and can abandon the sacraments! None of that sorry old first century Christianity! No, sir!

These sorts of answers aren’t so much wrong as goofy. It’s flat out goofy that guys with earned doctorates should band together to “provide responses,” and then — despite controlling the framing of the questions — should in essay after essay dance around issues instead of answering the questions they’ve just framed.

Someone said the only three options for a Christian ultimately are Catholicism, Orthodoxy and relativism. Maybe that’s what’s playing out here: Bart Ehrman has so heavily scored against Evangelicalism that Evangelicalism tapped some of it’s little luminaries to go out and thump their chests at him — while positing non-responsive “responses” that I would have faulted as suspiciously equivocal (and thus “liberal”) in my days as an evangelical a relatively few decades ago. Now I could see some of them as promising backings-away from untenable positions, except for the confrontation and obsessed-with-Bart tone of the site where they appear. In that sense, it feels more like “I’m right, you’re wrong, so shut up already. I’m just not sure exactly what I’m right about.”