Tag Archives: Fundamentalism

Wayne Grudem responds to Christians who think law and policy are less important than piety

Trump surrounded by prominent evangelicals: Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo
Trump and his evangelicals: VP Mike Pence (L) and Sec. of State Mike Pompeo (R)

Laura send me this amazing article from the Christian Post, written by famous evangelical theologian Dr. Wayne Grudem. He was responding to a blue state pastor named John Piper. Piper has made a name for himself by emphasizing emotions, piety and “Christian hedonism”. Let’s take a look at what Wayne Grudem had to say about Christians who support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Here’s the intro:

[John Piper] and I have reached different conclusions about this year’s presidential election. His October 22 article, “Policies, Persons, and Paths to Ruin,” explained why he thought it would be wrong for him to support either candidate in this election.

Here is Grudem’s summary of Piper’s argument:

1. The personal sins of a leader can be as harmful to persons and to nations as morally evil laws.

2. Christians communicate a falsehood when we act as if policies and laws are more precious than being a certain kind of person.

3. The horrible sin of pride leads people to other sins, including defending abortion, and therefore voting for a clearly boastful candidate might also be indirectly supporting abortion.

4. Voting for either candidate would compromise a person’s Christian witness

I covered point 1 in a previous post. Below, we’ll cover points 2-4.

Here’s part of his response to point 2:

A presidential election is not deciding what is most important in all of life, which is certainly our relationship with Christ. Paul writes, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Phil. 3:8). A presidential election is simply choosing the leaders of our government. In such a situation, the primary purpose is to decide what kind of government we will have, and in that situation policies and laws are not the only consideration, but they are the most important consideration.

Here’s part of his response to point 3:

I do not think that “arrogance and boasting” are the primary motivations that lead people to support abortion rights. I think rather the primary motive is rebellion against God’s commands that forbid sex outside of marriage between a man and woman. The motive is a desire for sexual freedom without the responsibility of raising children. As for doctors who perform abortions, I think the primary motivation is greed.

Piper refers to James 4:1-2 to show that support for his statement that “child-killing” comes from “self-absorbed arrogance and boasting.” But these verses specifically speak about coveting, not boasting, that leads to murder: “You desire and do not have, so you murder” (James 4:2).

Here’s part of his response to point 4:

[I]f all evangelical Christians followed Piper’s example and decided to write in someone else’s name instead of voting for either Trump or Biden. The result would be an overwhelming landslide victory for Biden, because the largest single bloc of Trump supporters is evangelical Christians. In 2016, 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump, while 16% voted for Clinton and 4% didn’t vote for president or voted for some other candidate. If that 4% of “vote for neither one” evangelical voters had been 5% or 6%, Hillary Clinton would have been president.

So, if Trump loses the evangelical bloc, Biden wins. In fact, if a significant number of Christians decide not to vote for either Trump or Biden, the result will not be some ideal third-party president. It will be a Biden presidency which (in my opinion) will bring great harm to the nation.

This is really important. If you are going to share Grudem’s post on social media, cut and paste this above your link – this is the most important part:

I differ with my friend John Piper about the results of a second term for President Trump. In Trump second term, I look forward to the appointment of more originalist judges (who will interpret the laws and not make new laws on their own), further legal restrictions on abortion, greater protections for religious freedom and freedom of conscience, lower taxes, fewer government regulations, a rapidly growing economy, low unemployment rates (especially significant for ethnic minorities), increased prosperity for people at every income level, additional history-making agreements between Israel and additional Arab nations, a clearheaded recognition of the economic, military, and information threat from China, a high value placed on human freedom and on personal accountability for committing crimes, increasing numbers of children eligible for taxpayer-supported school choice, a secure border followed by a comprehensive reform of our immigration system, and an increase in police presence in high crime neighborhoods, with a resulting decrease in crime.

That seems to me to be likely, given Trump’s first term actions.

More:

On the other hand, if evangelicals stay away from voting for either Biden or Trump, then then under a Biden presidency I would expect the appointment of hundreds of judges who take the law in their own hands and even consider themselves to be above the original meaning of the Constitution, laws that allow abortion up to the moment of birth and even after, the use of tax money to pay for abortions and gender reassignment surgery, the crippling of our economy with ever-increasing government control and ever-increasing taxes, increased unemployment, a weaker military unable to counter the increasing aggressiveness of China in the world’s oceans, a Jimmy Carter-like foreign policy of appeasement, abandoning Israel to fend for itself in the Middle East, adding additional seats to make a liberal majority on the Supreme Court, draconian laws that compel artistic professionals to affirm the validity of same-sex marriage even when contrary to their consciences, a reinstatement of the Obama-era guidelines that required schools to allow biological males to use girls bathrooms, locker rooms and showers and to allow them to compete in women’s sports, a massive increase in energy costs, ever-increasing restrictions on police forces, leading to an increase in crime, and the proliferation of violence and intimidation to nullify freedom of speech (in practice) for those who disagree with the liberal political agenda, open borders, sanctuary cities, and a complete federal takeover of our healthcare system.

I definitely think that Wayne Grudem’s article showed a greater knowledge of what’s going on in the real world than John Piper’s article. We ought to be concerned about what our lives will really be like under the laws and policies of the next president. It doesn’t matter how voting makes us feel, or how voting makes us look to others.

Wayne Grudem responds to Christians who think arrogance is worse than infanticide

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Trump, Pence and Pompeo champion religious freedom at the United Nations

Laura send me this amazing article from the Christian Post, written by famous evangelical theologian Dr. Wayne Grudem. He was responding to a blue state pastor named John Piper. Piper has made a name for himself by emphasizing emotions, piety and “Christian hedonism”. Let’s take a look at what Wayne Grudem had to say about Christians who support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Here’s the intro:

[John Piper] and I have reached different conclusions about this year’s presidential election. His October 22 article, “Policies, Persons, and Paths to Ruin,” explained why he thought it would be wrong for him to support either candidate in this election.

Here is Grudem’s summary of Piper’s argument:

1. The personal sins of a leader can be as harmful to persons and to nations as morally evil laws.

2. Christians communicate a falsehood when we act as if policies and laws are more precious than being a certain kind of person.

3. The horrible sin of pride leads people to other sins, including defending abortion, and therefore voting for a clearly boastful candidate might also be indirectly supporting abortion.

4. Voting for either candidate would compromise a person’s Christian witness

I have a friend in my office, Scott, who has exactly these views. He is pro-life and pro-family, but he thinks voting for Trump’s policies would be wrong, because of Trump’s past moral failings.

Here’s part of his response to point 1:

Americans are perfectly free to say, “Trump’s boastfulness offends me and I don’t want to act that way myself.” But if laws are passed (and upheld by the courts) that enforce the LGBT agenda, no creative professional like a cake decorator (or photographer or florist) will be free to say, “I believe same-sex marriage is morally wrong, and I won’t use my artistic talent to decorate a cake celebrating same-sex marriage.” No high school girl will be free to say, “I won’t undress and change clothes for my gym class because there are boys in the locker room who claim to be girls.” No Christian adoption agency will be free to say, “We will not place children with same-sex couples.”

And if Democrats gain control of our government and the Supreme Court, and enact their desired policies, no Christian taxpayer will be free to say, “I refuse to pay that portion of my taxes that the government is using to pay for abortions.” No business owner will be free to say, “I will not buy medical insurance for my employees that pays for abortions and sex-change surgeries.” There will be only two choices: violate your conscience or else be driven to bankruptcy or go to jail.

Trump’s first four years not a parade of immoral actions:

[A]fter his nearly four years in office, I would add that he has shown remarkable courage of his convictions, faithfulness to his campaign promises, steadfastness of purpose in spite of an astoundingly hostile press, incredible energy in the performance of his job, dignity and even eloquence in many formal speeches and ceremonies at home and abroad, respect and appreciation for his wife Melania and his sons and daughters, and a wide-ranging understanding of the hundreds of different issues that every president faces. In contrast to his past life, during his term in office there is not been even a hint of any sexual impropriety. He is sometimes boastful but on a number of occasions I have seen him publicly give credit to many other people for things that have been accomplished. And I think he has shown mature and wise judgment in a variety of situations that he has faced as president.

Biden’s character not exemplary:

It is easy to compare President Trump with a hypothetical “perfect” president and to conclude that he falls short, but that is not our choice. If Trump is not reelected, we will have President Biden, with an entirely different set of character flaws. The multiple allegations that Vice President Biden used his government office and influence to enrich members of his own family with millions of dollars from China, Russia, and Ukraine should be of deep concern, because using government power to enrich one’s own family is the consistent characteristic of corrupt leaders in many countries of the world.

Conservative Christians occupy prominent positions in Trump’s Cabinet, and they make many decisions that affect voters:

Donald Trump is not the only person we are voting for. It is remarkable that the Trump administration has elevated so many self-professing evangelical Christians – far more than any in my lifetime – into positions of high influence in our government. They also provide role models for Americans. To vote for Trump as president is also to vote for Mike Pence as vice president, Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, Russell Vought as director of the Office of Management and Budget, and numerous others. In addition, Trump has appointed numerous deeply committed Roman Catholics to various positions, the most recent being Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The character of these leaders is also a role model for the nation.

We will look at responses to the points 2-4 in  another post.

For my part, I think that if Trump’s character was going to be a major factor, it would all have come out in his first term. Instead, we’ve seen him act in a way that is friendly to evangelical Christians. I don’t expect him to write systematic theology or do philosophical apologetics or discover a new example of cosmic fine-tuning. He doesn’t have to be a Christian in order to push for laws and policies that allow me to run my Christian life-plan. I need to be able to earn money without compromising my values, and spend it on the Christian causes I care about. I need to be protected from people like Antifa and gay rights extremists, who don’t seem to be at all concerned about moving from angry words to property damage to actual violence against those who disagree with them.

By the way, if you want a good review of Trump’s achievements in different areas: economy, job creation, immigration, foreign policy, national security, defense, deregulation, agriculture, law and justice, energy and environment, transparency and accountability, health care, social programs, infrastructure and technology, education and veterans, you can find all that right here.

Related posts

Why did Dan Barker leave Christianity for atheism?

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

Unbelievable’s  radio show featured a discussion with former Christian Dan Barker, the founder and co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The MP3 file is here. (60 minutes)

I thought that I would make some general comments about why I think that many people leave the Christian faith, and what you should be careful of in order to avoid following in Dan Barker’s footsteps, specifically.

Basically, there are four major reasons why people leave Christianity.

  1. They want to do something immoral with impunity. This type of person wants to do something immoral that is forbidden by Christianity, like pre-marital sex or getting drunk in clubs with friends. They dump Christianity in order to have freedom to seek happiness in this life.
  2. They want to make decisions based on their emotions, rather than wisdom. This type of person thinks that God’s job is to save them when they act irresponsibly. When God disappoints them by not make their recklessness “work out”, they leave the faith.
  3. They want to be loved by people, not by God. This type of person thinks that Christianity is a tool that they can use to become popular. When they first try to articulate the gospel in public, they find that people don’t like them as much, and they feel bad about offending people with exclusive truth claims that they cannot back up using logic and evidence. So, they water down Christianity to get along with non-Christians. Finally, they jettison Christianity completely. This happens to a lot of young Christians the moment they hit college / university.
  4. They don’t want to learn to defend their faith. This type of person is asked questions by skeptics that they cannot answer. Usually this happens when people go to university after growing up in the shelter of the Church. The questions and peer pressure make them feel stupid. Rather than investigate Christianity to see if it’s true, they drop it, so they can be thought of as part of the “smart” crowd.

Now listen to the discussion and see if you can identify some of these factors from Barker’s own carefully-prepared words. He is trying very hard to make himself look honest and moderate, because he wants Christians to be sympathetic with his story and his motives for leaving Christianity. But I think that there is enough in his statements to construct a different hypothesis of why he left Christianity.

I’ve grouped the data by risk factor. Some of this is my interpretation of his real motivations, based on my experience dealing with former-Christians.

Non-rational, emotional approach to Christianity

  • he was raised in a devout Christian family where he probably wouldn’t have faced skeptical questions
  • he converted to Christianity at age 15 as a result of a religious experience, not a serious investigation
  • his idea of God was probably idealized and uninformed, e.g. – a loving God who wants us to be happy
  • he wandered around from church to church preaching, with no fixed address or source of income
  • he earned money by collecting “love offerings” from churches where he performed his music
  • he wrote Christian songs and Christian musicals, but nothing substantive on apologetics and theology
  • he worked in three churches known for being anti-intellectual and fundamentalist
  • there’s no evidence that of any deep study of philosophy, science and history during this time

Desire to gain acceptance from non-Christians

  • he began to notice that some people were uncomfortable with sin and Hell
  • he began to avoid preaching about sin and Hell in order to make these people comfortable
  • he watered-down the gospel to focus on helping people to be happy in this life
  • his manic approach to Christian ministry was challenged by the “real life” needs of his growing family
  • he met liberal pastors while performing his music in their churches
  • he found it difficult to disagree with them because they seemed to be “good” people
  • he watered down his message further in order to appeal to people across the theological spectrum

Ignorance of Christian apologetics

  • he began to think that if there are many different views of religion, then no view can be correct
  • he was not intellectually capable of using logic and evidence to test these competing claims to see which was true
  • he decided to instead re-interpret Christian truth claims as non-rational opinions, so they could all be “valid”
  • he became a theological liberal, abandoning theism for an impersonal “ground of being”
  • he embraced religious pluralism, the view that all religions are non-rational and make no testable truth claims
  • he began to see God as a “metaphor” whose purpose is to make people have a sense of meaning and purpose
  • he jettisoned God completely and focused more on helping people find meaning and morality apart from God
  • seems to think that religion is about having a “great life”, and felt that you can have a “great life” without religion
  • seems to think that religion is about being “good”, and felt that you can be “good” without religion
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them what to do instead of letting them do anything they want
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them what is true, instead of letting them believe whatever they want
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them that God will hold them accountable for their beliefs and actions

So what do I think happened?

Barker was generating an income from donations from churches where he entertained them. Gradually, his family grew to the point where conservative churches were not enough to support him. He had to change his message to appeal to liberal churches in order to cast a wider net.

He seems to have thought that Christianity is about having his needs met and being liked by others. I think he wanted to feel good and to make people feel good with his preaching and singing. But Christianity is not a feel-good religion. It’s not a tool to make people like you. He seems to have become aware that the exclusive claims of Christianity made other people feel offended, so he cut them out. Christian apologists learn how to provide evidence for claims that non-Christians find offensive or hard to believe, but Dan hadn’t studied philosophy, science or history so he couldn’t defend it. It’s hard to speak unpopular truths when you have nothing to back it up except your music composing. Eventually, Dan just quit making the truth claims entirely.

I also think money was a factor. It seems to me that it would have hurt his career and reduced his invitations from liberal churches if he had kept up teaching biblical Christianity. In order to appeal to a wider audience, (like many Christian singers do – e.g. – Amy Grant, Jars of Clay, etc.), he would have felt pressured to water down the unpleasant parts of his preaching and singing. Lacking apologetics skill, he instead abandoned his message. He needed to account for his family’s needs and “real life”, and exclusive truth claims and Hell-talk would have reduced his ability to do that. It seems to me that he should have scaled back his extreme schedule of preaching and singing, and instead gotten a steady job so that he could afford “real life” and a family without being pressured into altering his message. The Christian life requires a certain amount of wisdom that Dan did not have.

Life isn’t a fairy tale. God isn’t there to reward risky behavior. We need to be more shrewd about financial matters so that we have the ability to not care about what people think of us. Look at this blog. I work all day as a senior software engineer with two degrees in computer science, so that I don’t have to rely on donations. Additionally, I save most of what I make in case a tragedy strikes. Since I am financially secure, I can say what I think, and disregard anyone who wants me to change my message because they are offended. Becoming a Christian isn’t a license to behave irrationally and immaturely with money. For some people, (like William Lane Craig), stepping out in faith works. But if it doesn’t work, it’s better to retreat and re-trench, rather than to compromise your message for money.

I actually met someone like Dan Barker recently. She grew up in an anti-intellectual hippy Christian home. Her mother came from a good family, and decided on a whim to marry a non-Christian. Like Barker, the family exalted feelings and irrational expectations of miracles from God for “fearless” acts. She got herself into trouble with alcohol and promiscuity in her 20s, by making emotional decisions and mixing with the wrong crowd. Her way of fixing this was to fly off on a one-year missions trip, wrecking her resume and finances. Now, she is in her late 30s, unmarried, and literally blaming Jesus for putting too many demands on her that she doesn’t have time for, e.g – morning quiet time. This causes her to feel guilty, and make her want to reject Christianity. She had no intellectual conception of basic core doctrines like God’s existence or Jesus’ resurrection, which might have acted as a bulwark against her emotions. When I explained to her how I had structured my education and career so that I could have an influence without testing God, she seemed bored and said that I was too “fearful”.

This is apparently widespread, especially among anti-intellectual denominations. Another ex-Pentecostal atheist woman I heard about from people who knew her when she was young decided to drop out of college to travel around North America doing pro-life work. When she found herself penniless, unmarried and without children in her mid-30s, she decided to have a baby out of wedlock. The government will pay for it, she said. Rather than trying to justify this decision as a Christian, she blamed God for not making her madness “work out”. She is now an atheist, because God did not reward her decision to live fearlessly for him with a husband and children. It was all God’s fault. There is a whole subculture within Christianity, where the pursuit of fun and thrills can be masked with pious language, and all talk of prudence and restraint is seen as cowardice and lack of faith.

The Christian life requires a certain level of intelligence, a certain level of practical wisdom, and a certain level of self-control and discipline. Make sure that you don’t walk away from God because of your own bad choices.

Non-Christian historian Bart Ehrman attended a Christian apologetics conference

Are we allowed to look at the Bible as a historical document?
Are we allowed to look at the Bible as a historical document?

My summaries of Bart Ehrman’s debates mock him for being a rigid Moody Bible Institute fundamentalist whose blind faith was shattered by 1) minor Bible difficulties, 2) disappointment that God allows good people to suffer, 3) wanting to look smart to his professors, and 4) the desire to make lots of money selling apostasy porn to the New York Times set. But maybe he is not as bad as I thought.

Consider this blog post in which Ehrman reports on his experiences at a recent apologetics conference, where he met with a few of the more effective and engaging evangelical scholars.

He writes:

I spent yesterday at a conservative evangelical apologetics conference outside of Chicago and, as you might imagine, I was the odd person out. But I was very well received, people were overwhelmingly gracious and receptive and openly grateful that I had come. There were jokes about being thrown into the lions’ den, but it didn’t really feel like it. It felt like I was speaking to a crowd that wanted to hear, respected what I said, and simply fundamentally disagreed. In particular there was a group of current Moody Bible Institute students there; really interesting, interested, and good humored, and we had a great time together.

What I was most interested in was how Christian apologetics – the intelligent “defense” of the claims of the faith – has changed in the many years since I was involved in the movement, shifted in ways I never would have imagined, very much away from our old fundamentalist assumptions and assertions into a far more reasonable and intellectually sustainable form of discourse that requires actual research and knowledge rather than hard-core theological assertion based on completely dubious premises.

[…]The issue at the conference were the “Contradictions” in the New Testament. How does one deal with apparent or real contradictions and still remain committed to an evangelical view of Scripture as inspired by God and in some sense “inerrant”?

[…]The discussions yesterday (well, most of them) were at a much, much higher academic/intellectual level than ones I’ve had, say, during a recent debate on the blog. I think some of the positions staked out yesterday were utterly, demonstrably, mind-bogglingly simply WRONG. But they were advanced with the kind of learning and historical knowledge that we simply didn’t see back in my apologetics days in the mid-1970s.

Roughly speaking I was hearing two positions, neither of them ones we were taught and advanced in the day (in my circles). One of the two strikes me as completely tenable, though again, only in a sense.

Our old position, back then, was that any contradiction in the New Testament Gospels (or the Bible, for that matter; but yesterday we were talking only about the Gospels) can in fact be reconciled if you look closely and deeply enough at the matter. ANY contradiction. To be sure, there may be places where you aren’t sure HOW to reconcile them, but in principle they are all reconcilable in one way or another.

And, as a corollary, everything the Bible says is literally true. There are no mistakes, of any kind, whatsoever, in the Bible.

[…]None of the three speakers yesterday has that view, even though they call the Bible inerrant and affirm that it is completely reliable. Their views strike me as odd – that they can admit there are, technically speaking, incorrect statements in the Bible but that it is still without error. But they consider my old view (no mistakes of any kind whatsoever) as a dated kind of fundamentalism that is simply not held by thinking Christians any more, and, even more interesting, that my objections to their views are rooted in fundamentalist views that I myself don’t accept but that I’m assuming in order to attack their alternative views. In other words, they think I’m kicking a dead horse.

Interesting.

And here are the two views that were presented:

One is indeed to “reconcile” them as best as possible; or, the term they appear to prefer, “harmonize” them: that is take the two texts that appear to contradict each other and show how they actually fit together, possibly in a complicated way, into a harmonized whole so that they round out and complement each other, rather than stand at odds with one another.

[…]The current view seems to be much more open to the possibility that there are places that we simply can’t figure it out, places that do appear to be contradictory. And here is the KICKER. When they (the evangelicals who take this view) admit there are apparent contradictions, then they say that the details are not important. What matters is the major message. The ultimate point. The big picture. The gist. The gist of what a passage is trying to teach is what is inspired and inerrant. Not the picayune details.

That is to say – a phrase you hear a lot in these circles – “the Bible is inerrant in what it affirms.” That is, it makes no mistakes in what what it is trying to teach.

So you might have a story in which Jesus heals someone, found, say, in both Matthew and Luke. There may be small contradictory details: in one he heals the person before he does this other thing, in the other he heals the person after he does the other thing. Small discrepancy. But the story is not trying to teach *when* Jesus did the miracle. It’s trying to teach that he did the miracle. And it is inerrant about that. He *did* do the miracle.

We never ever would have allowed that back in my days at Moody Bible Institute. But it’s becoming a thinking-person’s view among evangelicals who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, apparently.

But the other change – the second position – strikes me as even more significant, a real step toward traditional scholarship, which tries to explain WHY there are contradictions, and then goes on to say that since we know why they are there, they are not really contradictions.

The reason I am posting this is because we are facing a problem in the church, the problem of massive numbers of young people leaving Christianity:

Christianity continues to decline among U.S. adults as the number of adults identifying as “nothing in particular” increases, Pew Research Center found.

The number of American adults who describe themselves as Christian dropped 12 percentage points over the past decade and the number of both Protestants and Catholics in the U.S. has dropped, according to Pew Research data released Thursday.

Surveys Pew conducted over the phone between 2018 and 2019 found 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christian. Meanwhile, 26% of American adults identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” a number that increased from 17% in 2009.

“The data shows that the trend toward religious disaffiliation documented in the Center’s 2007 and 2014 Religious Landscape Studies, and before that in major national studies like the General Social Survey (GSS), has continued apace,” according to Pew.

I was recently at the National Conference on Christian Apologetics, where I saw a debate featuring Michael Licona. Licona is an informed historian who published a book with Oxford University Press about differences in the gospels and the genre of ancient biography.

A video of the debate is here:

Licona argues that ALL ancient authors used “compositional devices” such as “time compression”, which would explain the differences between the gospel accounts. These compositional devices are found in the works of other authors of that period. Most people I polled in the audience liked both debaters, but they thought that Mike Licona won. Licona also emphasized over and over, in his speech, how questions about contradictions, gospel authorship, etc. do not undermine the core of Christianity, which is the bodily resurrection of Jesus. This is important, because even questions about peripheral issues should not affect the core, which is on solid historical grounds.

I think Ehrman’s post shows why apologetics is important for having productive conversations with non-Christians about the Christian worldview. Remember what happened to Antony Flew when someone took the time to share the evidence for a cosmic beginning and fine-tuning and origin of life with him. Bye-bye atheism. This is how the world really works – evidence is important to finding truth. Evangelism works best when we use reason and evidence to make our case that the Christian worldview is true.

We are living in a time when belief in God has been boosted by significant discoveries in the realm of science: origin of the universe, fine-tuning, habitability, origin of life, Cambrian explosion, molecular machines, etc. We have amazing work coming out of philosophers of religion like Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, etc. And now we are seeing ground-breaking, high-quality work coming out of scholars like Richard Bauckham, N.T. Wright, Craig Keener, and Michael Licona. When is the church going to realize the importance of scholarly research for evangelism?

Peter J. Williams debates Bart Ehrman on his book “Misquoting Jesus”

Dr. Peter J. Williams, an expert on New Testament reliability
Dr. Peter J. Williams, an expert on New Testament reliability

I have to re-post this debate between Bart Ehrman and Peter J. Williams, because Dr. Williams just followed me on Twitter. I noticed that he had re-tweeted one of the two senators I follow on Twitter, so I re-tweeted him. I like Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley, and he re-tweeted Senator Hawley talking about free speech.

Bart Ehrman posted the debate audio on YouTube:

Details:

Bart Ehrman is the US author of the bestselling book “Misquoting Jesus” (In the UK “Whose word is it?”).  He calls into question the authority of the New Testament as scribal changes over time have changed the documents.

So can we trust the scripture? Bible scholar Peter Williams believes in the reliability of the New Testament and that Bart’s prognosis is far too pessimistic.

This post is a re-post from 2011. I have been listening to this lecture by Peter J. Williams on “Misquoting Jesus” this week, and it reminded me to re-post this debate. (I checked to make sure the MP3 link is still good, and it is)

Summary of the Williams-Ehrman debate:

Note: this summary is snarky. If you want an accurate view of the debate, then listen to it. My summary is meant to be humorous.

Ehrman:

  • I had a mystical experience in childhood and became an evangelical Christian
  • I went to Moody Bible Institute, and they told me that the Bible was inerrant
  • For a while, I was committed to the view that there are no mistakes in the Bible
  • At Princeton, I was taught and graded by professors who did not accept inerrancy
  • By a strange coincidence, I began to see that the Bible did have errors after all!
  • We don’t have the original documents written by the original authors, we only have thousands of copies
  • if the words of the Bible are not completely inerrant, then none of it is historical
  • if all of the words in all the copies of the Bible are not identical, then none of it is historical

Williams:

  • I would say the New and Old testaments are the Word of God
  • We don’t need to have the original Greek writings in order to believe in the authority of the Bible
  • I believe in inerrancy, but doesn’t mean there are no problems
  • the doctrine of inerrancy has always referred to the original Greek copies, not the translations

Moderator:

  • what are the main points of Misquoting Jesus?

Ehrman:

  • we don’t have the originals of any of the books of the New Testament
  • we have copies that are much later, sometimes even centuries later!!1!
  • the copies we have all differ from one another – they were changed by scribes!!1!
  • we have 5000 manuscripts in the original Greek language
  • there are hundreds of thousands of differences!!1!
  • most of the differences don’t matter
  • some differences are significant for meaning or doctrine
  • errors are propagated because the next scribe inherits the mistake of their source copy
  • a large gap between the time of writing and the first extant copy means more errors have crept in

Williams:

  • the reason we have so many variants is because the number of manuscripts is large

Angry Jesus or compassionate Jesus in Mark

Ehrman:

  • most manuscripts say that Jesus was compassionate when healing a leper, but one says he was angry
  • it makes a huge huge huge really really big difference if Jesus is compassionate or angry
  • the whole Bible needs to be thrown out because of this one word between different in one manuscript

Williams:

  • this variant is important for understanding the passage, but it has no great meaning
  • the change is probably just an accident – the two words are very similar visually in Greek
  • it’s just an accident – it emerged in one manuscript, and it impacted a few more
  • the tiny number of manuscripts that have the error are geographically isolated
  • I’m pretty sure that WK prefers the angry Jesus anyway – so who cares?

Ehrman:

  • no! someone changed it deliberately! it’s a conspiracy! you should buy my book! it’s a *big deal*!!!!!1!!1!one!!eleventy-one!

The woman caught in adultery in John

Ehrman:

  • it is isn’t in any of the earliest manuscripts
  • this is an apocryphical story that some scribe deliberately inserted into the text
  • most people don’t even know about this! it’s a cover-up! you need to buy my scandalous book!

Williams:

  • that’s right, it’s a late addition by some overzealous scribe
  • and it’s clearly marked as such in every modern Bible translation
  • the only people who don’t know about this are people who don’t read footnotes in their Bible
  • and in any case, this isn’t a loss of the original words of the New Testament – it’s an addition

Grace of God or apart from God in Hebrews

Ehrman:

  • well this is just a one word difference, but it makes a huge huge really really big difference!
  • the words are very similar, so it’s could be an accident I guess
  • but it wasn’t! this was a deliberate change! it’s a conspiracy! it’s a cover-up! scandal!
  • buy my book! It’s almost as good as Dan Brown!

Moderator:

  • hmmmn…. I kind of like “apart from God” – why is this such a big scandal again?

Ehrman:

  • you don’t care? how can you not care? it has to be inerrant! or the whole thing is false!
  • Moody Bible Institute says!

Williams:

  • yeah Bart is always saying that every change is deliberate but it’s just an accident
  • the words are very similar, just a few letters are different, this is clearly an accident
  • I have no problem with apart from God, or by the Grace of God
  • please move on and stop screaming and running around and knocking things over

Moderator:

  • but what if pastors try to use this passage in a sermon?

Williams:

  • well, one word doesn’t make a big different, the meaning that appears is fine for preaching
  • it’s only a problem for people who treat the Bible as a magic book with magical incantations
  • they get mad because if one word is out of place then the whole thing doesn’t work for their spell
  • then they try to cast happiness spells but the spells don’t work and they experience suffering
  • the suffering surprises them since they think that fundamentalism should guarantee them happiness
  • then they become apostates and get on TV where they look wide-eyed and talk crazy

Ehrman:

  • hey! are you talking about me? a lot of people buy my books! i am a big success!
  • it is very important that people don’t feel bad about their sinning you know!

Is Misquoting Jesus an attack?

Williams:

  • it’s rhetorically imbalanced and misleading
  • it tries to highlight change and instability and ignore the majority of the text that is stable
  • he makes a big deal out of 5 or so verses that are different from the mainstream text
  • he says that scribes deliberately changed the scriptures, but he doesn’t prove that
  • it’s just as likely that the differences are just scribal errors made by accident

Ehrman:

  • well, maybe the variants aren’t a big deal, but what about one angel vs. two angels?
  • that’s a significant issue! significant enough for me to become an apostate – a rich apostate
  • if one word is different because of an accident, then the whole Bible cannot be trusted
  • it has to be completely inerrant, so a one word difference means the whole thing is unreliable
  • we don’t even know if Jesus was even named Jesus, because of one angel vs two angels!!!1!
  • buy my book! you don’t have to read it, just put it on your shelf, then you’ll feel better about not having a relationships with God – because who’s to say what God really wants from you? Not the Bible!