Recently I was reading a review of one of Bart Ehrman's books.
Ehrman is a prominent New Testament scholar who used to consider himself a liberal Christian, but now professes to be agnostic or atheist. His change of heart came about through his research coupled with the philosophical problems of evil and suffering.
Ehrman grew up a fundamentalist Christian and attended Moody Bible Institute, a bastion of biblical literalism, and on to Wheaton College in Illinois, a premier evangelical school. For whatever reasons, his graduate work and later research caused him to give up the Christian label with which he had identified all of his life.
I am always surprised when I read stories like his. I sympathize with the struggles that ensue when one delves deeply into the origins of faith. For better or worse, my trials by fire began my first year of college.
I recall hearing the word "myth" in an introduction to religious studies. That was the first of many salvos that would come my way during the academic segment of my undergraduate years, which was just a warm-up for what was to follow in divinity school.
One of the basic requirements of an entering seminarian was the introductory Old Testament course at Duke Divinity School. The syllabus alone was legendary. Day after day, the professor shot holes in certainties I had about God and scripture. Sometimes I felt that he went out of his way to antagonize us.
Near the end of the semester I had decided that I'd had enough. I would approach him after class and tell him that I was no novice to biblical studies, but he had gone too far. Ironically, on the very day that I planned to approach him, he told us that he had spent the semester tearing down doctrines and certainties that we held dear. He said that he hoped that he had also given us the tools to construct a solid belief system that no one would ever be able to tear it down again.
I was dumbstruck. And he was right. After that I deliberately chose courses that would challenge me, including a course on Jesus and the Gospels that set me on a path of lifelong learning about the very books on which we base our faith.
And not only the 4 Gospels, I researched other texts as well. Gnostic gospels? Yep. They are in equal measure weird, fun, inspiring and not at all capable of undermining my appreciation of the four Gospels we presently have.
As I may have mentioned in an earlier column it is not the supernatural or miracle stories that hold my attention, but the teachings and actions of Jesus. I am still a Christian because of the expectations I brought, or perhaps didn't bring to the table, I guess.
I am as puzzled as to the pervasiveness of evil and suffering in the world as the next person. I really cannot begin to fathom why so-called people of faith have fallen for charlatans, dictators and liars and embraced them as religious or secular leaders when they have the alternative behavior modeled by Jesus as presented in the gospels.
I do not take the gospels literally, nor do I think they were ever meant to be taken in that way. They represent the oral tradition that circulated for many years and finally took written form.
Can we ever know the historical Jesus in spite of the lens of faith that the gospels provide? Most doubt it, but that is a personal question that each of us must answer for him or herself.
As for me, the heart of the gospel message, which is selflessness and undying love, is enough. During a time when we see the very worst in people in the news daily, can we be Christian, still?
I am. Will you help me? Can I help you? Stay safe and take care of yourself.