Friday, April 17, 2009

"Jesus, Interrupted" by Bart D. Ehrman, a short review

Are you looking for a challenging read? Have you read the Bible and it raised more questions than it answered? Then perhaps you should consider picking up Bart D. Ehrman's new book, "Jesus, Interrupted". Interestingly, as I've talked about this book with a few while I've been reading it, I've thought the title was "Jesus, Interpreted", perhaps that was intentional on Ehrman's part. But be warned, if you do pick up this book, you may have some of your preconceived notions of faith heavily challenged.

On the whole, as Ehrman argues throughout, the book is a summary of what most pastors learned in seminary, that is the historical-critical approach to Biblical Interpretation. I try to bring some of these ideas to Sunday School classes and occasionally bring them to light in a sermon, but even for me, reading these ideas again was at times shocking. That being said, though, it wasn't really anything new, at least to one who has been through a fully accredited Presbyterian Seminary.

So what is the historical-critical approach to Biblical Interpretation? Donald K. McKim in his concise "Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms" defines it as "A means of biblical criticism that studies the texts according to their historical setting(s). This includes their time and place of composition, circumstances, author(s), how they came to be written, and audience(s) addressed. To reconstruct the historical situation is the main task."

That is, how did the Bible come to be? The short answer is that it did not descend from heaven as so much manna but instead developed over a long period of time and continues to be understood in various ways by a variety of people. Now that may not sound very "Christian", but then again it depends on your definition of "Christian" does it not?

For me, the long and the short of the Bible is that it can be looked at in its original context and that does not diminish my faith, in fact, a better understanding of how the Bible came to be only strengthens my faith. Does it lead me to question some of the central beliefs of the church? Absolutely, but does that mean I stop trusting in Jesus Christ? No way. Could some see this as a problem in their pastor or in a pastor? No doubt.

In fact, some of my colleagues in ministry did everything they could to challenge the idea of historical-critical interpretation of the Bible while they were in Seminary and now that they are serving in churches, by "protecting" the church (as they see it) from candidates for ministry who might hold such perspectives as well as from pastors who dare bring credulity to such ideas. That, truth be told, can be frustrating. But it does not deter me from enjoying good scholarship wherever it comes from.

So if you're up to it, look into Ehrman's latest book and along the way check in with me if you have questions or if you want to chat about it over coffee, virtually or in the flesh.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo. When we stop questioning even the faith we hold so close to us, learning grinds to a halt. Others may question us, and if we haven't plumbed the depths of our own beliefs and (gasp) misconceptions, the onus is upon us (ah, poetry) to do so. Most of the notable folks in the Bible asked questions (men and likely, women)in sometimes loud and irritating voices. I can do that, too. The pastor can handle it, and likely God can, too.