Monday, January 27, 2014

Why I Pray for Bart Ehrman

I know, I know.  It’s a shocking title, at least for me.  However, that was not my intention.  This is a confession—I really do pray for Bart Ehrman.  If you are not sure who Bart Ehrman is, you can find out more about him on his personal website or his faculty profile page.  In short, Dr. Ehrman grew up in a conservative Christian environment and pursued a calling to ministry and theological scholarship.  However, after graduating from the prestigious, conservative, evangelical Wheaton College and attending the equally prestigious although more mainline and liberal Princeton Seminary, Ehrman suffered a crisis of faith where he essentially rejected the Christian faith of his youth and embraced a form of quasi-agnosticism.  I say quasi-agnosticism because his belief system is really hard to categorize classically.  He believes in God and accepts that Christ lived on earth; however he has rejected the Christian Church as the continuation of Christ’s mission.  Through his writing, he openly and ferociously criticizes the church for reinterpreting Jesus for political gain, for forging canonical works, and for causing worldwide religious oppression.  Just from this alone, some of you may understand why I pray for him.

However, none of the above is why I pray for him.  I pray for him for another reason—two, in fact.  First, I am thankful for Bart Ehrman, and others like Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan who are fellow members in the “Jesus Seminar” movement with Ehrman, because they compel me to study.  Paul instructed Timothy to study diligently so that he could proclaim the truth to those seeking it (2 Timothy 2:15).  In a world that stands for nothing and therefore falls for anything, I must continually evaluate my theology in light of the Bible and the traditions of Christianity (both accepted and unaccepted).  Therefore, when asked, I can give an answer for what I believe (1 Peter 3:15-16).  I thank God for Bart Ehrman because he compels me to be a better student of Scripture and history.

Second, I pray for Bart Ehrman because I can see me in him.  I agree with Tom Long when he suggests that Ehrman, in response to Ehrman’s book God’s Problem, “misses God.”[1]  Like Long, I think Ehrman wants to believe in God and embrace the Christian faith.  He certainly spends his life in the Christian realm.  Yet he wants a Christian faith that presents God to him in a way that does not insult his intelligence.  To be honest, I resonate deeply with this.  I, too, have quietly struggled long and hard with my faith, with how I understand God and faith.  I wonder what I would find if I really plumbed the depths of my theology, if I listened to the “deep that calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7).  What would I find?  Would it frighten me?  Would I like what I find?  Maybe there is nothing behind the curtain after all.  Unlike Ehrman, I am not afraid of rejecting my faith in God.  It means too much to me.  And this is why I pray for Bart Ehrman—because I do hope he will, someday and in his own way, find his way back home to the God who created him to be so passionately intelligent.    

[1]Thomas G. Long, What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2011), 27. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

2014 Reading List (I Think)

As promised on Wednesday, here is what I am looking to read in 2014.  They may inspire you, or you may think I'm nuts for reading them.  My reading plan for the first part of this year is to read 1 novel, 1 theological text, and 1 ministry text each month, since I have additional course texts to read.  Think I might like something you're reading?  Leave me a comment or sent me an email!  Happy reading!

Books I am Reviewing

  • Carl Prude, Anchored in Light (ACU Book Club blog)
Books I am Reading for Classes I Teach

  • David Hansen, The Art of Pastoring, rev. ed. (Introduction to Ministry)
  • Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (Providence and Suffering)
  • Thomas Long, What Shall We Say? (Providence and Suffering)
  • More will be added, I am sure, when my Fall schedule rolls around
Books I am Reading for My LAST Doctoral Class

  • Dave Bland and David Fleer, ed., Performing the Psalms
  • David Fleer and Dave Bland, ed., Preaching the Eighth-Century Prophets
  • Glenn Pemberton, Hurting with God
  • Fleming Rutledge, And God Spoke to Abraham

Books I am Reading for Fun (Fiction/Philosophy)

  • Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
  • Max Brooks, World War Z
  • Lewis Sinclair, Elmer Gantry
  • Cormac McCarthy, The Road
  • Arthur Miller, Death of a Saleman
  • Jose Ortega y Gassett, Revolt of the Masses
  • George Orwell, Animal Farm
  • Ayn Rand, We the Living or Atlas Shrugged
  • Philip Roth, The Plot Against America
  • Charlie Starr, Light
  • Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey
  • Jack Wolf, The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones
Books I am Reading for Fun (Homiletics)

  • Kenton Anderson, Choosing to Preach
  • Charles Bartow, God's Human Speech
  • Charles Campbell, The Word Before the Powers
  • Lucy Hogan and Robert Stephen Reid, Connecting with the Congregation
Books I am Reading for Fun (Ministry)

  • Timothy Keller, Center Church (for some consulting work)
  • Melick and Melick, Teaching that Transforms (for my dissertation; yes, this is it!)
Books I am Reading for Fun (Theology)

  • Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods
  • Timothy Keller, Every Good Encounter
  • Timothy Keller, Generous Justice
  • Timothy Keller, Jesus the King (aka, King's Cross)
  • Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer
  • Philip Yancey, Prayer
  • Philip Yancey, What's So Amazing about Grace?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2013 Reading List

Note: I realize it is a tad late, given today is January 15.  However, I have traditionally shared my reading list from the previous year, and I realize that a few of you have asked about it.  So, with that in mind, here is what nourished me spiritually and academically in 2013.  On Friday, I will post my preliminary reading list for 2014.

Books I Reviewed

  • David T. Bourgeois, Ministry in the Digital Age (for Stone-Campbell Journal)
  • Carpenter, Sweet and Blythe, Introduction to Applied Creative Thinking (for Teaching Theology and Religion)
  • Keith Francis and William Gibson, ed., The Oxford Handbook of the British Sermon, 1689-1901 (for Stone-Campbell Journal)
  • Gregory Hunt, Leading Congregations through Crisis (for Stone-Campbell Journal)
  • Rita Schulte, Shattered (for ACU Press "Book Club" blog)
Books I Read for Classes I Teach

  • David Fleer and Dave Bland, ed., Preaching Mark's Unsettling Messiah (Expository Preaching)
  • George Hunter, The Celtic Way of Evangelism (Evangelism in the Local Church)
  • Charles Talbert, Reading Luke, rev. ed. (Gospel of Luke)
  • N. T. Wright, The Early Christian Letters for Everyone (General Letters)
  • Philip Yancey, What Good Is God? (Providence and Suffering)
Books I Read for My Dissertation

  • Karl Barth, Homiletics
  • Joan Bolker, Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day
  • Raymond Collins, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus
  • Edward Farley, Practicing Gospel
  • Luke Timothy Johnson, Letters to Paul's Delegates
  • Kostenberger and Wilder, ed., Entrusted with the Gospel
  • Abraham Malherbe, Paul and the Popular Philosophers
  • Andrew Purves, Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition
  • Andrew Purves, The Crucifixion of Ministry
  • Andrew Purves, The Resurrection of Ministry
  • Ronald Sisk, The Competent Pastor
  • Paul Scott Wilson, Preaching and Homiletic Theory
  • Frances Young, The Theology of the Pastoral Letters
Books I Read for Fun

  • Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting
  • Bonnie Baeder, Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.?
  • Augsten Burroughs, This Is How
  • Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
  • Ian Fleming, For Your Eyes Only
  • Ian Fleming, From Russia with Love
  • Ian Fleming, Goldfinger
  • Ian Fleming, Man with the Golden Gun
  • Ian Fleming, Octopussy and The Living Daylights
  • Ian Fleming, On Her Majesty's Secret Service
  • Ian Fleming, The Spy Who Loved Me
  • Ian Fleming, You Only Live Twice
  • Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
  • C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  • Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
  • Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich
Books I Read for Seminars

  • C. Leonard Allen, Things Unseen (Theology in Ministry)
  • O. Wesley Allen, Determining the Form (Sermon Development and Delivery)
  • Chris Altrock, Preaching to Pluralists (Connecting Preaching with the Congregation)
  • Bartholomew and Goheen, The Drama of Scripture (Connecting Preaching with the Congregation)
  • Kennon Callahan, Small, Strong Congregations (Ministry in Small and Middle-Sized Churches)
  • Ron Crandall, Turnaround and Beyond (Ministry in Small and Middle-Sized Churches)
  • Ruth Ann Gaede, ed., Transitions in Congregations (Ministry in Small and Middle-Sized Churches)
  • Hicks, Melton and Valentine, A People Gathered (Theology and Ministry)
  • Richard Jensen, Envisioning the Word (Connecting Preaching with the Congregation)
  • Michael Lindvall, The Good News from North Haven (Ministry in Small and Middle-Sized Churches)
  • Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology (Theology in Ministry)
  • David Ray, The Indispensable Guide for Smaller Churches (Ministry in Small and Middle-Sized Churches)
  • Lyle Schaller, Middle-Sized Church (Ministry in Small and Middle-Sized Churches)
  • James Thompson, Pastoral Ministry according to Paul (Theology in Ministry)
  • Jason Vickers, Minding the Good Ground (Theology in Ministry)
  • Sondra Willobee, The Write Stuff (Connecting Preaching with the Congregation)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

I Am A Minister

Well, a new year is underway, although many of us may not feel very new as we are still thawing out from the Polar Vortex of 2014 or panting for fresh water in West Virginia.  Yet, the new year is in full swing, as evidenced by all of the schools starting back over the course of the next week or so.  My university technically started last night, although today marks the official beginning of a new year.  With anything new, there is a sense of anticipation.  What challenges lie ahead?  What surprises lie in wait?  Time marches on, therefore we live in the present and look to the future.

As a university professor, a new semester means new classes and new students.  Last semester is over and in the books.  Nothing can be changed or undone.  It is, as we say, history.  We have now only opportunity before us.  Opportunity to do something different, do something new, do something exciting.  One of the courses that I teach each spring is the Introduction to Ministry course for our underclassmen ministry majors.  And, as I have in past semesters, I have again assigned David Hansen’s wonderful book The Art of Pastoring: Ministry Without All the Answers as the primary textbook.

I was first introduced to this book when I was a freshman in college.  It has been an assigned text in several ministry courses that I have taken.  It is one of those books that I read every couple of years whether I am using it or not.  It is not a terribly academic work, in terms of lengthy footnotes and excessive bullet-pointed lists.  Yet it is a deeply profound book for at least one reason—Hansen claims to be nothing more than a minister.  He has made mistakes, which he discusses candidly in the book, and he has had some successes.  He has questioned his call at times, while also experiencing the rich joy of serving as God’s hands and feet.  Yet, in all that he has experienced, he is simply a minister.

I resonate with Hansen. . .a lot.  We both entered ministry hoping to become one of the guys that everyone looks to and idolizes.  We wanted the baptism notches on our belts and to be invited to all the big conferences as a keynote speaker.  Yet, although that has happened to some extent for Hansen, it has not been the norm for either of us.  For all of our hard work, all we can basically say is that, well, we’re ministers.  No accolades, no endorsement deals, no front-page spreads or interviews.  Just being a minister.

And you know what, thanks to my friend David Hansen and his book, I think I am starting to finally be okay with that.  And I think God is okay with that as well.