One of the most well-known New Testament scholars to graduate from Moody Bible Institute is Bart Ehrman. He has a powerful influence over many young minds today as he is a professor at the University of North Carolina and has written many best sellers about Jesus. What is surprising, however, is that Ehrman is not a Christian! In fact, he has made claims suggesting that he is a happy agnostic who leans toward atheism.
Although I think Ehrman is wrong to “lean toward atheism,” I do respect him. In fact, I would venture to say that he knows the Bible far better than the vast majority of professing Christians found behind the doors of the church today. Although I believe his “reasons” for becoming an agnostic/atheist are philosophically weak, I do believe that Ehrman is fair and charitable most of the time.
In fact, although it is popular to see many internet atheists today claiming that Jesus never existed, Ehrman shows them the foolishness of their ways. This became apparent during a question and answer session when a “Jesus myther” claimed that he did not see any evidence for a historical Jesus. Here is Ehrman’s fantastic response:
“Well, I do. I mean, that’s why I wrote the book. I HAVE A WHOLE BOOK ON IT! There is a lot of evidence; there is so much evidence [for the existence of Jesus]!
I know in the crowds you all run around with it is commonly thought that Jesus did not exist. Let me tell you, once you get outside of your conclave, there is nobody, I mean, this is not even an issue for scholars of antiquity. IT IS NOT AN ISSUE FOR SCHOLARS OF ANTIQUITY!
There is no scholar at any college or university in the western world who teaches classics, ancient history, New Testament, early Christianity – any related field – who doubts that Jesus existed!
Now, that is not evidence, that is not evidence. Just because everybody thinks so doesn’t make it evidence. But, if you want to know about the theory of evolution versus the theory of creationism – and every scholar, at every reputable institution in the world believes in evolution, it may not be evidence, but if you’ve got a different opinion you had better have a pretty good piece of evidence yourself.
The reason for thinking that Jesus existed is because he is abundantly attested in early sources. That’s why, and I give the details in my book. Early and independent sources indicate that certainly Jesus existed. One author that we know about KNEW JESUS’ BROTHER, and knew Jesus’ closest disciple, Peter. He’s an eyewitness to both Jesus’ closest disciple and his brother.
So, I’m sorry. I respect your disbelief, but if you want to go where the evidence goes? I think that atheists have done themselves a disservice by jumping on the bandwagon of mythicism because frankly, it makes you look foolish to the outside world. If that’s what you are going to believe, you just look foolish.”
I could not have stated it better!
The God revealed in the New Testament
Because Ehrman spends so much time in the New Testament (in an attempt to debunk it) he does seem to grasp what it teaches about God’s character. In fact, this past December (right before Christmas) Ehrman offered a lengthy post on his Facebook page that benefits both Christians and atheists. Consider his parting words:
“The God of Christmas is not a God of wrath, judgment, sin, punishment, or vengeance. He is a God of love, who wants the best for people and gives of himself to bring peace, joy, and redemption. That’s a great image of a divine being. This is not a God who is waiting for you to die so he can send you into eternal torment. It is a God who is concerned for you and your world, who wants to solve your problems, heal your wounds, remove your pain, bring you joy, peace, happiness, healing, and wholeness. Can’t we keep that image with us all the time? Can’t we affirm that view of ultimate reality 52 weeks of the year instead of just a few?
I myself do not believe in God. But if I did, that would be the God I would defend, promote, and proclaim. Enough of war! Enough of starvation! Enough of epidemics! Enough of pain! Enough of misery! Enough of abject loneliness! Enough of violence, hatred, narcissism, self-aggrandizement, and suffering of every kind! Give me the God of Christmas, the God of love, the God of an innocent child in a manger, who comes to bring salvation and wholeness to the world, the way it was always meant to be.”
I must admit, when I first read these words emotion overcame me as I shouted “AMEN” to Ehrman! He is exactly right about God’s character. The God of Christmas loves all people — including Bart Ehrman and including YOU! God desires a true love relationship with all people and desires the best for all people for eternity (See The Omnibenevolence of God)!
The God revealed by Jesus is the same God who does not want anyone — including Bart Ehrman — to suffer in hell for all eternity. God desires a true love relationship with all people — a “marriage” with each individual (1 Timothy 2:4) — and does not desire anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9) or be eternally divorced from Him.
However, since true love requires genuine free will, if God desires a true love relationship with all people, He must give all people this freedom to reject His “marriage proposal” or not. When humans use their freedom to love in a backwards kind of way, we bring evil and suffering into God’s creation. This is easy to remember because LOVE backwards is EVOL.
C.S. Lewis states it well:
God has made it a rule for Himself that He won’t alter people’s character by force. He can and will alter them—but only if the people will let Him. In that way He has really and truly limited His power. Sometimes we wonder why He has done so, or even wish that He hadn’t. But apparently He thinks it worth doing. He would rather have a world of free beings, with all its risks, than a world of people who did right like machines because they couldn’t do anything else. The more we succeed in imagining what a world of perfect automatic beings would be like, the more, I think, we shall see His wisdom. (“The Trouble with ‘X,’ God in the Dock)
God is not waiting for you to die so He can send you to hell! No, the opposite is true, God is pleading with you to stop rejecting His love so that you will not be divorced from Him for all eternity (See True Love, Free Will, & the Logic of Hell).
God loves all people, desires the best for all people, and desires all people to love all people all the time! In fact, this seems to be the objective purpose of the human existence — to love all persons and to be loved by all persons (from each person of the Trinity to each person created in the image of God). Jesus made it clear when He summed up the entire Law in two simple and easy to remember commands (Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39):
1- Love God first!
2- Everybody love everybody (from your neighbors to your enemies)!
Ehrman is right; can you imagine what this world would be like if all people actually listened to and followed the teachings of the God of Christmas (aka, Jesus Christ)? If we all followed Jesus’ commands 52 weeks a year, think about the “Peace on Earth and good will toward men” that would follow in the wake of this tsunami of love! It sounds pretty close to heaven to me!
Bart Ehrman does not believe in God, but he says that if he did he would defend this view of God offered in the New Testament. I encourage him to examine his reasons for his “lack of belief” in God (See Atheism: Lack of Belief or Blind Faith?). I also encourage Ehrman and any others who do not believe in God to consider a plethora of arguments that either deductively conclude the existence of God or point to the probable existence of God. Here are a few to consider as you start your journey:
The Kalam Cosmological Argument
The Argument from Contingency
The Moral Argument
The Fine-Tuning Argument
The Ontological Argument
Why God Allows Evil & Suffering (logical problem)
Why God Allows Evil & Suffering (probability version)
The Freethinking Argument
With all of these arguments in mind, why not promote, proclaim, and defend the God of Christmas? After all, even if all of these powerful arguments for the existence of God turned out to be false, if all the world lived according to the teachings of Jesus Christ 52 weeks a year, then we would have a virtual end to war, starvation, epidemics, pain, misery, abject loneliness, violence, hatred, narcissism, self-aggrandizement, and so much suffering!
I think Jesus was on to something!
Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),
 I could be wrong, but from what I have gathered it seems that Ehrman’s reasons for leaning towards atheism are related to his doubts regarding the inerrancy of the Bible and with the problem of evil. I contend that these are not problems at all for Christianity (See Inerrancy Debate and Lex Luthor’s Lousy Logic).