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.” 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.