Don’t you get tired of it: being thought an ignorant, credulous fundamentalist because you have historically orthodox beliefs? I get fed up with the insinuation that people who believe the Gospel accounts have “checked their brains at the door.” The implication is that smart people, sophisticated people, know better about Jesus than those silly creeds.
Yes, some people make their living with this story line: the big, bad church, while it was suppressing women and brave “heretics,” decided to declare Jesus a God to be worshipped, even though the “real” Jesus never intended that. This story worked for Dan Brown with his novel The DaVinci Code. It seems to work for Professor Bart Ehrman with his best-selling books asserting scholarly evidence that traditional Christianity has got Jesus all wrong. How should we answer this?
I always loved the scene in the Woody Allen movie when he was in line at a theatre, listening to people behind him argue about the author’s intent. “You’re wrong,” Allen’s character says, “And I happen to have the author right here.” At this point Allen brings on the writer of the script to show the pompous skeptics their error. I’ve always wished this could happen in theology, and now it has!
Professor Ehrman has just published How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. It’s one more salvo across the bow of orthodoxy, claiming that real scholars know better. But this time, we have an answer at hand. We have five expert scholars who have joined together to publish How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature.
Under the guidance of Professor Michael Bird, these scholars have replied to Ehrman, exposing the faults in his reasoning and in his reading of history. They politely but precisely dismantle the liberal assertions and show that scholars using their minds to deal honestly with the evidence know that Jesus’ divinity is part of the earliest Christian witness.
I recommend this book as a way both of learning what Ehrman and company are saying, and how to answer. These scholars have given us a tremendous gift. I want to engage my mind fully to know the issues and be able to make reply. The faith once delivered actually delivers again and again the greatest intellectual satisfaction, sustaining the deepest depths of inquiry and impelling the greatest works of love in reply.
Finally, I was so happy to see that a near miracle has occurred: in our local Barnes and Noble, right next to Ehrman’s book on the shelf is the reply: this lovely, accessible, scholarly description of How God Became Jesus.
Gerrit Dawson is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge and author of ‘The Blessing Life: A Journey to Unexpected Joy.’