Thursday, May 07, 2009

Jesus Interrupted (A Review)

I am one of those people who likes all of Ehrman's popular writings and this
entry into his library is no exception. One reason that I like his popular writings is that he can take complex ideas and translate them so that it is accessible to the masses. If you were to put this book together with Misquoting Jesus and you basically have a crash-course of a New Testament Intro/Survey Class.

And this is Bart's purpose for writing. He wants to bridge the gap between Biblical academia and the pews. In his purpose he succeeds on a level that I think is unmatched by any other scholar. Is his scholarship debatable? Yes! He even lists critics (including website addresses) of the most respected critics of his previous book. I agree that there is a huge gap between the academic world and the Church world. I also think it is important that people step in to bridge that gap. Ehrman has a way of engaging the reader with sometimes complicated material and helps them to grasp onto these (many times for the audience) new thoughts and ideas. This is not a book that many Sunday School classes would use, so it raises many questions for the average reader about the Bible and perhaps the "faith" they are being sold in their churches.

This brings me to Ehrman's overarching purpose (why he writes what he does), which shows up beautifully in this book. Ehrman not only wants to engage the masses with Biblical scholarship, he has always enjoyed challenging the "inherited faith" of his students and many Christians in general. He believes (and I happen to agree), that a faith that has not been challenged and avoids the intellectual complications and enlightenment that can come from being exposed to Biblical academia, is not an "owned faith". So, on this, Bart succeeds in his book as well! So well in fact, that he gives you tons of information about things that are at odds with each other (or itself) in the Bible, and then leaves you to figure out what to do with it. He gets a lot of heat for doing this (deconstruction with no reconstruction), But I have to respect that he considers his audience to be intelligent people. For Ehrman, the fact that they do not know these things about the Bible has more to do with the teachers and leaders than it does the laity.

Most people know that Ehrman is a self-proclaimed agnostic. This is one reason he receives the amount of criticism he does. However, he does admit that reviewing the discrepancies (most of which he considers inconsequential, but are rarely pointed out anyway) is NOT why he is agnostic. In fact he goes as far as to say that 2 possible reactions that someone could have after initial exposure to these discrepancies is to 1) reject their faith, or 2) climb back into a hole and ignore their existence. He cautions against both of these outcomes and considers them an unhealthy reaction. This helps keep the framework of Bart's purpose intact. You can disagree with his scholarly view, but the challenge from there is to then continue to search and form your own opinions. He never comes across as arrogant in his writings, and in fact gives the reader access to other scholarly views in the notes. I think that these are huge reasons that his books succeed in the mass media.

So I believe that Jesus Interrupted is a successful book in the Ehrman library, but does it have any negatives. I would have to say that my views are more wishes than negatives. I wish there were more references to other scholars to back up his claims. He uses the phrase "many scholars" and "most scholars", but never truly names them, even in the notes. Although he names a few alternate sources for alternate views, most of the notes reference a previous work of his own.

The second wish is that, while I agree that there needs to be a bridge built from the world of academics to the pews, I think that there also needs to be a little more "spirituality" in the academic circles. It is way too easy to take the human/sacred element out of Christianity. However, I can't claim this as a negative since 1) that is not in Bart's purpose, and 2) I would think Bart would consider himself unqualified in this department. Being an agnostic, I think that he would claim that there are others far better at adding back in the spiritual element after breaking down the New Testament.

So what does one do with Jesus Interrupted? I think that one must use it as a primer for further research into the Bible and what else is out there. Just like a NT Survey class, you don't get everything that is out there from one teacher and one sitting. However, this book is meant to open up a whole new world simply by looking at something that the majority of his readers will be very familiar with. Just like most entry level Div./Seminary students who are taught these same views, there will be a lot of "How did I not know that?" and "Why have I never seen this?". This book is best used as a springboard to launch one into seeking out more about what the academic world has to say about the Bible and, through those people, work towards bridging the gab between the classrooms and the pews.
For a different perspective see:
Ben Witherington Detailed Review Post: 1 2 3 4 5 6
Also more reviews on Ooze Viral Bloggers

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