Of Critics & Zealots
There is no zeal like the zeal of a convert. It doesn’t matter much which way the “conversion” goes, whether from Protestantism to Catholicism or from Catholicism to Protestantism, from socialism to capitalism or from capitalism to socialism, from agnosticism to Christianity or from Christianity to agnosticism. We’ve all seen it. Converts invariably have their own kind of zeal and enthusiasm for their cause – and against their former cause.
So also Christianity has always had its critics, but now and then a critic arises with a special kind of interest in seeking to overthrow the church’s faith. And invariably, at least so it seems, these critics are converts – former (professing) Christians who now lead the charge against the faith.
Such is the case in our generation, of course, with one Bart Ehrman who has made his career and fame lecturing and writing against Christianity’s most basic pillars. And whatever motivations he may have, he has the zeal of a convert.
It’s not that his attacks are novel – they aren’t. And it’s not that he has “the facts” while Christians have only “faith,” as he loves to allege. But his story (from evangelical Christian to agnostic) and his zeal, coupled with his confident yet winsome air, has made his lectures and his books both popular and compelling.
If you’ve been around long at all, of course, these sustained attacks don’t make you nervous. We’ve seen these come and go before. Not every Christian has access to all the information, but deeply and instinctively persuaded of the trustworthiness of Scripture – and encouraged by the outcome of all such previous skirmishes – we expectantly wait (perhaps with a condescending smile) for all the facts to be heard, calmly confident that after this little skirmish plays out “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” will remain unscathed and unembarrassed.
Indeed, history and experience have taught us at the very outset of these battles to be eager to see what new insights will be brought to light, further affirming truthfulness of Scripture in yet another way and deepening our understanding and appreciation of the very passages and issues in dispute!
And sure enough, God equips some and puts in their hearts to pursue the issue fully and give response, and it’s always a particular kind of pleasure to watch the discussion progress as all the facts are allowed in … to declare yet again that God is true.
It is in this kind of context that we welcome books like Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World and now the larger sequel Truth in a Culture of Doubt: Engaging Skeptical Challenges to the Bible by Andreas Köstenberger, Darrell Bock, and Josh Chatraw. Bart Ehrman has proven effective, but that does not at all mean that he has the facts or that he has represented the case with academic integrity – and someone just has to say so. This is the purpose of these books, and it is a purpose masterfully achieved. The authors respond to Ehrman’s leading attacks, exposing skeptical biases and allowing all the evidence to speak. Questions of canon, inerrancy, orthodoxy, textual variants, alleged contradictions, the problem of evil – all favorites of Ehrman’s and (he would have us think) presenting massive, even insurmountable problems for Christianity – are shown in fuller light than Ehrman allows.
You might think that it would require a PhD to listen in profitably to this debate, and so you may be surprised to hear that Truth Matters is marked by simplicity – a very engaging entry-level introduction to the discussion. It is of no profit for Christian students to be unaware of these attacks and then hear them for the first time only from “the other side” when they go off to college, and this book is altogether suited to meet that need. Easily accessible to high school students I would heartily recommend its use in Sunday Schools and youth groups anywhere. Indeed, this very attractive, small-sized volume is not reader-text only, but each chapter concludes with a handful of study questions for group discussion. Still not done, B&H has provided a Member Book, a Leader Guide, and a Leader Kit to accompany the study and facilitate its use with teens. Truth in a Culture of Doubt addresses these same questions in further depth, but it is scarcely less accessible, and it will serve well for the teacher / youth leader’s further reading.
These books do not represent all that Christians have to say to critics such as Ehrman, but you will go a long way to improve on these two very important contributions from Bock, Köstenberger, and Chatraw – along with (by the way) Köstenberger’s & Kruger’s The Heresy of Orthodoxy. The light these books bring to bear on the discussion is essential, and given the seriousness and the popularity of these issues, no church library should be without them – and they easily fall in the “must read” category for every pastor.
Be sure you don’t miss our interview with the authors here, and our further interviews this week and next!
Fred G. Zaspel is one of the pastors at Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA, adjunct professor of Bible at Lancaster Bible College – Center for Urban Theological Studies (CUTS) in Philadelphia, and executive editor here at Books At a Glance.
Buy the books
Truth In A Culture Of Doubt: Engaging Skeptical Challenges To The Bible