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Jeff Siker Part 2: Why I am a Christian (and yet a New Testament scholar)

This is a part 2-continuation of Jeff Siker’s reflections on why he is a Christian still, even though he knows and believes what I do about the New Testament from a historical perspective. To make fullest sense of this post, you should read it in conjunction with the one from yesterday. He and I will welcome comments and interactions.

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Like Bart I became interested in pursuing an academic career, but with some grounding in the life of the church.  And so after my BA and MA (Religious Studies) at Indiana University, I went off to Yale Divinity School.  And so my trajectory from Young Life in high school to Indiana to Yale was rather different from Bart’s trajectory from Moody to Wheaton to Princeton.  Whereas much of Bart’s education involved the study and practice of Christian apologetics (being able to defend one’s faith and challenge others – akin to Josh McDowell’s then very popular Evidence that Demands a Verdict, which I had also studied along the way), my own Christian faith involved a much less strident and argumentative approach to defending the truth of the Bible.  I began to understand significant differences in the New Testament as different perspectives that did not necessarily have to be reconciled to each other (anathema for those who believe the Bible is internally consistent in every regard).  At Indiana University the study of religion did not include a confessional approach.  Courses on the Bible stressed historical and literary contexts, including the history of interpretation across different approaches to Scripture (e.g., the Alexandrians vs. the Antiochenes regarding the matter of allegory).  Truth claims about faith grounded in Scripture was not part of my academic study.  There was certainly a challenge to integrate what I was learning in the classroom with my developing faith life, which was nurtured in the mainstream tradition of Protestant liberalism.  This integration continued at Yale Divinity School and after my ordination (PCUSA) in my two years as a pastor to a small church in rural Michigan.  At Yale I also grew familiar with the various movements of liberation theology in addition to classic Protestant theology.  In retrospect I would say that increasingly I came to see my understanding of biblical interpretation as a conversation between the biblical authors and modern faith in seeking to discern God’s presence and the leading of God’s Spirit in both personal faith and the life of the church. Not only was this a rich conversation between modern and ancient communities of faith, it was a banquet of conversations that involved all of church history and hundreds of biblical commentators across the ages.  This understanding only grew deeper during the Ph.D. program at Princeton Theological Seminary.

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Being on Leave
Guest Post: Jeff Siker — Why I Am Still a Christian (and a NT Scholar)

42

Comments

  1. Javalos  January 25, 2013

    Prof. Siker,
    Thank you for answering this question. ( I was the one that originally sent this question to Bart) Quick follow up question: Do you believe that Jesus is God or just an apocalyptic prophet that truly believed that God would soon intervene in this world?

    Bart,
    I really enjoyed your talk last night at LMU. We actually recorded the talk and will try to send you the link if you want to post it on your blog. Thanks again for opening this blog to other scholars. Should be very interesting!

    • DrSiker  January 28, 2013

      How about this for an evasion… I believe that Jesus is an expression of God, and that we are ever seeking to find the right analogies/metaphors to describe what this means. I also believe Jewus was an apocalyptic prophet that truly believed God would soon intervene in this world (but apparently he was wrong — along the lines of Schweitzer).

  2. Adam  January 25, 2013

    Thanks for your post Jeff. Would you say yes or no to the following (in your opinion rather than the opinion of your church, or Christians in general, etc.). A simple yes or no would be fine. No explanation or elaboration necessary. I won’t respond with a follow up question…just curious what your beliefs are as a scholar.

    1. The general theistic view of God being somehow personal, present, and active in the world is generally true.

    2. If God is a personal being, God personally knows and remembers the name of every human being alive now.

    3. Both Islam and Christianity can in some cases be valid ways of worshipping God.

    4. Jesus was literally and bodily raised from the dead by God and continues to exist somehow as a person.

    5. There is life after death.

    6. Jesus is fully God and fully man.

    • DrSiker  January 28, 2013

      Hmmmm. Scholars don’t do very well with simple yesses or nos!! But here goes:

      1. yes, with the emphasis on _somehow_; for the most part I think we experience God through other people, as well as through our encounter with the world

      2. yes, unless there’s a name change. Look, if God is infinite and good, remembering and knowing names just isn’t that hard.

      3. Islam, Christianity, Judaism all claim to worship the same God. I see no reason to argue with the validity of such claims. There are forms of Christianity that I worry about (e.g., the Gospel of Wealth), but there is a great diversity of ways people worship God.

      4. Beats me. Paul talks about a spiritual resurrection. The earliest Christians narrate all kinds of things about the risen Jesus — he appears in bodily form, but then can disappear, walk through walls, eat fish, has holes in his sides and hands, speaks but does not appear, … it seems the earliest Christian narratives are full of attempts to give voice to “something,” without much agreement beyond that.

      5. Yes, or in other words, God is a God of life.

      6. That Jesus was fully a human being, yes; what it means that he was/is an expression of God is something we will no doubt continue to discuss/debate, even as the early Christians did the same!

  3. KungFuJoe  January 25, 2013

    Very interesting, Dr. Siker! Thank you for sharing!

    The immediate question which pops into my head would be this: how do you reconcile your historical understanding with your faith? For example, if you agree with Dr. Ehrman that the historical Jesus did not see himself as divine, and that it wasn’t until at least a half-century after his death that Jesus’ divinity began to be asserted, how do you reconcile belief in Jesus leading to salvation? Or, if you agree that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher who taught that the world would soon come to an end, how do you reconcile the fact that he was wrong with your faith?

    My own story parallel’s Dr. Ehrman’s, somewhat. I spent the first 28 years of my life as a fundamentalist Christian, until I started to realize that certain historical events couldn’t have occurred as reported in the Bible. This was a slippery slope which led to my loss of faith (amongst other factors, of course). I am often asked why I didn’t simply become a more liberal Christian, as opposed to abandoning my faith, entirely. For me, since I can no longer bring myself to believe in the historicity of the divine Jesus’ Resurrection, I can no longer truly have faith. Where do you draw the line between historical understanding and the tenets of faith?

  4. ecbrown88  January 25, 2013

    Great stuff, Jeff. Interesting insight into why Bart made such a stark break. I don’t think I’d say i have faith in a Chrisitian mileu per se, but like you I approach the Bible as the various and varied of writing of people who experienced or thought they had experience of the divine. Well, maybe not Leviticus. Talmudic wriitngs and a recent translation of Gilgamesh also fascinate me in this regard, and like you, so to biblical commentators, right down to Crossana and the inimitable Ehrman.

    I have also had a hard time following Bart’s syllogism regarding the presence of suffering euquating the absence of the divine (of course I’ve heard that elsewhere, too). I just don’t see the connection, frankly.

    Growing up, I attended a North American Baptist church. my family were never members, my mother is a bleiever buyut my father used to teach adult sunday school classes there on Platonism (until a more conventional pastor arrived).

    Anyway, I recasll in middle school we’d read the bible in sunday school (KJV, of course!). I guess inerrancy was assumed but not really stressed in my recollection, and of course none of that at home.

    My wife was born Catholic in Ecuador, so when we had the twins (now 9), we started attedning a Catholic Church. The kids attend a weekly Church School (on a week night). My daughter really wanted a certain bible for Christmas, the “Break Trhough Bible” for young Catholics. She got it and I was leafing though it the other day. To my surprise (and improved opinion of the Catholic Church), in one of this Bible’s periodic “Breakthrough asides” they have a sort of interview with Adam and Eve. The surprise was that this book, endorsed by the Church and specifically for young people, takes the position that Adam and Eve were not specific real people.

    Maybe this Catholic thing is the religious framework to bring kids up in that actually “works.” It apparently doesn’t get wrapped up int he knots of literalism, and yet, unlike the (dying) mainline protestant churches, it has a consistent creed. These day my mother attends a methodist church, and frankly, I cannot see that once-vibrant “movement” lasting another two generations.

  5. Scott F  January 25, 2013

    Dr Siker,

    Thank you for agreeing to share your views. So many thoughts so I’ll have to trim it down!. Yours is a position I see frequently among more liberal Christians. In the end it seems that the bible and the church are not their ultimate reason for believing in and seeking out God. There is always some other impulse, a strange warming of their hearts, inexplicable experiences in their lives or simple incredulity that this is all there is. Over the last few years I have come to see these as understandable if not ultimately convincing (for me). Perhaps I am mellowing in my middle age 🙂

    I had a whole, rambling rant on the thinness of your response to God’s role in suffering but I don’t think this is place to engage in that sort of demagoguery. It would be folly to demand that you abandon your position based on the contents of the nightly news. Believe me, that never works!

    Again, thank you for braving the intertubes with your story.

  6. toddfrederick  January 25, 2013

    Dr. Siker,

    Good to have you here. I hope this sharing of many ideas will continue.

    A few random thoughts:

    1. Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all considered religions of “The Book.” Once we as Christians give up the idea that our book, the Bible, is the only and absolute source of all knowledge about finite life and our relationship to the infinite, and begin to see the Bible as the account of an ancient people’s attempt to understand the meaning of their finite lives in relation to the infinite, (the bible being a human creation and not the divine words of God), then we be free to open ourselves to a God, who is much bigger than a book, who continues to speak to all humanity through a far wider variety of venues than one ancient text. That provides us the freedom to find God in the most unexpected places. I believe that God is still speaking to us in many diverse ways, and we must listen even if those sources are rejected by the orthodox church. Along with traditional Christian practices, I also seek guidance through Buddhist mindful meditation, investigations into the awesome findings of science in the current age, and simply through working with, and to help, my partners in life.

    2. Regarding suffering: I simply think that suffering is not God’s problem at all, in that he does not inflict suffering upon us and does not intervene to stop suffering since all humans have the freedom to choose, and we often make bad choices or the consequences of our choices leads to suffering. We choose to kill another person. That leads to suffering to us and to the other person. We choose a spouse unwisely and that leads to domestic abuse and divorce or worse. Nations refuse to work together and that leads to the horrific violence of war. Greed leads to hunger and poverty. We choose to build our house in a flood plain and, when the hurricane arrives, we suffer the consequences. Or, our suffering is caused by the consequences of natural events beyond our control, which are an integral part of the life and growth of our planet or the consequent of natural events…volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, blizzards, tornadoes, and so on. Unlike the belief in ancient times, these events are not due to the anger of the gods. The best we can do, and the correct thing for us to do, is to help alleviate the suffering humanity endures and move on, without blaming or rejecting God. Natural disasters are not evil events…they just happen.

    3. We don’t need to prove God to believe in God. I often tell my friends that I am agnostic but still believe in God. That gets puzzled looks !! By that I mean, I can not prove God scientifically or rationally but I choose to believe that there is more to reality than what we experience here and now, in life or death. I call that God. So, I know that I don’t know that there is a God, but I choose to believe that there is far more beyond my simple self. That is my understanding of what God is.

    Welcome to our forum. Blessings. Todd (Also attended Yale Divinity)

    • JohnBradbury  January 26, 2013

      You can’t be an agnostic and believe in a god. You can quite rightly believe that there are many things we don’t know and understand about the universe, but calling that god is a misnomer. Theists or deists choose to believe in a god. Atheists choose not to believe in a god and some extreme atheists even believe in the non-existence of a god. An agnostic chooses not to make a choice! However I think all people are atheists, it’s just the list of gods that you don’t believe in that varies. Christians were once called atheists by pagans because they refused to believe in the gods of the pagans.

    • Joshua150  January 26, 2013

      I like what you wrote. Mirrors how I think and live now.

  7. JohnBradbury  January 25, 2013

    So you seem to be saying that you have a faith but it is not as fundamental as Dr Ehrman’s was and so you did not suffer the same level of cognitive dissonance when you discovered the historical truth about the New Testament. That you interpret the New Testament as just a story, very loosely based on reality, some of which can be applied to present-day morality and perhaps you cherry-pick the parts you think are appropriate and ignore the parts you think are not. I suppose you could do the same with any work of fiction that is loosely based on some reality, so I think you’re saying that the New Testament is almost irrelevant to your belief in the Judeo-Christian god, and if there had been another story about a man who trusted his belief to the point of the death, then you could just as easily use that story instead of the New Testament?

    • DrSiker  January 29, 2013

      Perhaps it’s funny, but I really don’t see any contradiction between my historical understanding of the development of early Christianity and my own faith. It does not matter to me whether or not Jesus saw himself as divine (I don’t think he did). From my view Jesus was a person of great faith, and in that respect he models what faith can look like — again the notion of Jesus as a parable of God’s presence in the world. I don’t view Jesus as perfect (seems to run counter to being human in my book), so the fact that he was wrong about the end of the age (as was Paul) doesn’t particularly bother me either. And as for the resurrection, I think that people often take an overly literal approach to the resurrection. Did his earliest followers experience something of his risen spirit (for lack of a better term)? Yes, I think so. But I’m also struck, as I said earlier, by the very conflicting reports of his followers — especially about whether or not they recognized him.

    • DrSiker  January 29, 2013

      I wouldn’t say that I interpret the NT as just a story. It is a story about people who actually lived. I’m not even sure I would say it’s very loosely based on reality. Instead I think that the NT relates all kinds of things that actually happened (e.g., Paul being let down in a basket over the wall of the city to get out of Damascus!). As for cherry-picking, everyone has a canon within the canon… the question is why these texts and not others? So I’m not at all saying the NT is almost irrelevant to my faith. Far from it. I find the stories there rather paradigmatic for what I think it means to be a Christian.

  8. DMiller5842  January 25, 2013

    Thank you very much for the effort, but this still leaves me wondering how you can know what you do and still carry on in faith. My Christian family and friends would not agree that you can read the Bible in any way other than literal. Most of my family live in KY near the Creation Museum. They are card carrying members there. My niece teaches third grade at a Christian school. They believe that the world was created by God (the God of the Bible) in 7 days. They teach that in school and insist that they are correct. I don’t understand how you can say that your faith was “deepened” by shifting from a literal reading to a critical reading of the Bible. How can your faith be deepened by learning that the Bible was not written by M,M,L, and J ,but instead unknown writers decades after Jesus lived? How can your faith be strengthened by knowing about discrepancies and contradictions in the narratives as essential as the birth and death of Jesus and his basic message ? And finally — What grace? Every 3.6 seconds a person dies from starvation — where is the grace in that?

    • DrSiker  January 29, 2013

      Yes, well I do have serious trouble with people who don’t think they are engaging in an interpretive process when they read the BIble. My faith can deepen through critical scholarship because it doesn’t require that I check reason at the door. Faith and reason work together, in my view, and God gave us the ability to think for a good reason! As for grace, we can choose to focus on death or focus on life. I choose life, which calls me all the more to seek life and well-being for those hemmed in by death. That’s the call of the gospel that I find so compelling. God is a God of life, despite humanity’s determination to cause death.

  9. nichael  January 25, 2013

    First I’d like to say thanks Profs Siker and Ehrman for doing this. A most interesting topic coupled with excellent discussion.

    Let me ask Prof Siker a specific, related question that I’ve wondered about for some time.

    One aspect of the historical/critical method is that it can make a very clear, sharp distinction between the world/religious view held by Jesus and his immediate followers, and what we would recognize, today, as Christianity; or, as it is often phrased, between the religion *of* Jesus and the religion *about* Jesus.

    For example, one obvious example is the view of Jesus (as expounded by Dr Ehrman and others) of Jesus as the Jewish Apocolyptic Prophet. There are many reasons why, in detail, this can not be harmonized with any modern branch of Christianity (e.g. that the Kingdom of Heaven didn’t appear within “that generation”, etc.)

    Could you say something about what, to your mind it means to be a Christian in light of such distinctions?

    Thank you.

  10. Jim  January 25, 2013

    Thank you very much for these two posts and hope we will hear from you again in the future. I certainly wish I could see Christianity from your eyes. For me, seeing the graciousness of God for someone who is suffering seems more like theological theory than tangible reality. Suffering is recognizably a part of physical human existence, and biological cells admittedly live and perform for only so long. However, I sort of wish that Christianity could be more effective in the area of suffering rather than just being primarily a source of warm sayings. This would seem like a logical hope if God was heavily involved in bringing possibility from impossibility. After all why just Bible characters like Sarah, Job, etc., and not hundred millions of others? Having said that, there are many Christians involved in caring for the poor and those who are suffering, and they reflect the potential of Christianity. Maybe it’s just my personality – I see the glass as three quarters empty.

  11. maxhirez  January 26, 2013

    It sounds like you continue to believe because that’s what you want to do, Reverend Doctor Sikes. Perhaps that’s all it comes down to for any of us.

    • maxhirez  January 26, 2013

      Pardon my misspelling your name! No disrespect meant.

      • DrSiker  January 29, 2013

        In answer to you question, the distinction between the proclamation _of_ Jesus and the proclamation _about_ Jesus is an important one, especially for historical reconstruction. For the early church, however, the two were fused early on, and particularly so since they believed that the spirit of the living Christ was among them, continuing to remind them and reveal to them Christ’s (God’s) guidance even in his absence (see Jn 13-16). It’s also important to note that before they came to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead, the earliest followers of Jesus thought that his death meant the end of any messianic identity for Jesus (see the conversation between the risen but unrecognized Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emaus in Lk 24 — “we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel” — i.e., we no longer hope this, since he was put to death!). So nobody expected Jesus to rise from the dead, and it caused tremendous difficulties when some of his followers claimed that they had seen the risen Christ. A dying and rising messiah was nowhere to be found in Scripture, at least not until the early Christians went back through and reread their Scriptures in light of this conviction. This led them to declare such passages as Ps 110 as referring to the resurrection, or Isa 53 to Jesus’ death. All of this, of course, is retrospective theology — theology after the fact.
        So, what does this have to do with anything? In my view we are always in the process of constructing theology anew in light of our experiences, whether it’s belief in the resurrection or the horrendous events of the Holocaust in WW II. We make sense of faith convictions and revise them in view of both personal and communal experiences. What does it mean to be a Christian today in light of Jesus’ apocalyptic prophetic message in the 1st century? Apparently it means that we do away with the apocalyptic part of Jesus’ ministry and focus on the prophetic and moral aspects of his ministry (with some wisdom motifs and a few miracles thrown in for good measure). Each age revisits and reconstructs Christian faith in conversation with the Gospel narratives and in conversation with the culture of the day.

  12. timber84  January 26, 2013

    Dr Siker,
    You mention the quote “There’s nothing wrong with having a third grade understanding of the Bible, as long as you’re in the third grade” and in Jesus, Interrupted, Dr. Ehrman talks about how ministers do not talk about historical-critical information in church.

    Is the Presbyterian Church (or other denominations) making an effort to develop methods and materials to teach parishioners this information? How do you feel about how adults are educated in church?

    • DrSiker  January 29, 2013

      There actually are a fair number of churches (Presbyterian and other denominations) where adult education classes are devoted to critical historical analysis of the Bible on a regular basis. I have often taught such material in a variety of churches. It’s less typical for such information to come from the pulpit in a sermon, and that is most unfortunate. At the same time, there are many churches (especially in the evangelical protestant world) that do not want to hear about historical criticism and see it as misleading the faithful. That is also most unfortunate!

  13. Mikail78  January 26, 2013

    Greetings Dr. Siker, thank you for your post. I have a few questions. As someone who still considers himself a Christian in a sense, do you adhere to any “orthodox” doctrines that are affirmed by evangelical/fundamentalist Christians, such as the death of Jesus for the sins of humanity and that he (Jesus) physically rose from the dead and ascended to heaven? Do you think Jesus is literally and physically alive today? Let me stress that I’m asking these questions out of curiosity. I’m not asking them to trap you or put you in a corner. Again, I’m just curious.

    Also, as far as Catholic universities, does LMU fall on the more liberal side? As a scholar there, are you encouraged to go where the truth leads, or do you have to limit your research so it doesn’t contradict their doctrinal statements and beliefs? I’m interested in this question because it’s been my experience that well respected Catholic Biblical Scholars, such as the late Raymond Brown, are not very well received in conservative Catholic circles. Thank you for taking the time to contribute to this already great blog and I look forward to your response.

    • DrSiker  January 29, 2013

      Let’s see. I do adhere to some classic orthodox Christian doctrines — e.g., that God created the universe (but not in 7 days!), that creation is good, that humans regularly sin against each other (not to endorse original sin) and need to seek reconciliation with each other. In my view, Jesus died because of his faithful ministry. Many later Christians interpreted this death as an atoning sacrifice, not an interpretation I share. The physical resurrection of Jesus is more difficult to address, both for early Christians and for Christians today.
      As for LMU, yes, in general the theological vision tends to be moderate-liberal (endorsing the trajectories of Vatican II). And no, I don’t have to be careful about what I teach in terms of adhering to a strict interpretation of Catholic doctrine. Yes, Raymond Brown — a centrist biblical scholar if ever there was one! — has been vilified by conservative Catholics, but that’s because they subordinate all biblical interpretation to the official teaching of the magisterium in its most conservative forms.

      • Mikail78  January 30, 2013

        Thanks for the reply! I appreciate it!

  14. Matt7  January 26, 2013

    Dr. Siker,

    Regarding this statement: ” I began to understand significant differences in the New Testament as different perspectives that did not necessarily have to be reconciled to each other …”

    Does this apply to the two incompatible nativity stories in Matthew and Luke? Aren’t they both trying to describe the same event? Why would God want to give us two completely different historical accounts of the birth of his son?

    Matt7

    • DrSiker  January 29, 2013

      Yes, this applies to the birth story as well. While both Mt and Lk seek to tell the birth story, they tell it in rather different ways for different theological purposes. See Ray Brown’s Birth of the Messiah.

  15. RonaldTaska  January 26, 2013

    Dr.Siker: Thanks so much. I certainly understand your remarkable description about how coming from a moderate background, rather than a fundamentalist background, may lead one to feel less betrayed and angry about what one was taught after one is jolted by studying the historical-critical approach to the Bible, but it still does not quite sort out for me. Maybe, this would help. How exactly would you explain your theology and how you got there to someone from Mars? Or maybe this would help. How would you go about trying to convince Dr. Ehrman of your position? It seems to me that Dr. Ehrman, as most of us, would be very open to convincing evidence. I also am not trying to put you in a corner, but am just searching.

    All in all, having an outside contributor, who accepts the historical evidence, but remains a Christian, is quite helpful. However, I still don’t know exactly how you do that although I think your friendship with Dr. Ehrman is a sign of something very good considering all the anger that inappropriately gets thrown Dr. Ehrman’s way. His writing has been so very helpful to me.

    I might suggest that you answer all of us with another blog since many of our responses are similar and that would do away with the need of your having to make numerous individual responses. Thanks again.

  16. rbarrimond  January 27, 2013

    I’d like to commend you both on this first of hopefully many more guests posts! (Wow do I sound like a politician! LOL)

    My thoughts on Dr. Ehrman’s secular humanism always turn back to God’s Problem which I found extremely poignant. It takes courage to bear one’s soul. Kudos. At any rate, I always found the interventionist Mr. Fixit God Dr. Ehrman apparently wanted to believe in (please correct me if I’m off) so very small, a little idol I find easy to dismiss. No wonder he doesn’t believe, I wouldn’t either.

    But similarly to Dr. Sikes I keep coming back to the immensity of God and a feeling of humility before a Reality that is truly transcendent. And when I think of how mystics apprehend that Reality as overwhelming Love, I’m left with a paradox. (How fitting!) You see, while people tend to dismiss mysticism, the contemplative prayer of Carmelite nuns for example, as mere brain misfiring or hallucination. It is not. Research shows these people are sane, normal, and have extraordinarily disciplined minds. And the neurophysiology is such that they are “looking” at reality from a perspective that is more real than the real of our day to day. Like when you know you’ve been dreaming when waking from a good night’s sleep. The reality Westerners see in the extreme state of Oneness, they call God whose direct experiential knowledge of brings peace, love and contentment.

    I’m hard pressed to reconcile that with the trenchant and piercing analysis Dr. Ehrman made in God’s Problem. The wrestle with God continues.

    Dr. Ehrman, you should examine the work of Dr. Andrew Newberg at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s attempting to start a new hybrid field in science and religion called neurotheology. Fascinating stuff.

    Dr. Sikes, thanks for your time and talent! God bless!

    –Robert

  17. bchungdmd
    bchungdmd  January 27, 2013

    Professor Siker, we share a few traits. You are an ordained Presbyterian, and my family became a convert to this faith three generations ago. Interestingly, it was so powerful that my great grandfather accepted his faith and became an outcast of his culture and his kinsmen. He ultimately died from poor health and his “white missionary’s burden.” Ironically, he was a seminarian of theirs in 1888, and the differences of pay (10th of a regular white missionary), but he never seemed to question why they lorded over him and worked him to death. This is why I think faith can be harmful to a person, it depersonalizes, de-cultures, and ultimately destroys one’s humanity. Perhaps Dr. Siker, you are on a better receiving end of this faith. That is, you are maintained, well-fed, nourished, and even perhaps found a mate from this faith. Despite your Jewish outcast background, you found acceptance in this new Christian community, you have perhaps never had to give up your total heath, wealth and devote your being, put your family on the line, and live a martyr’s death. If you had to do that, and do so at the hope of a better after life, and live and die by the rules of your religious faith community, if that ever happened to you, I am not sure if you could write what you write todate, and still hold your believe in a loving and gracious God.

    I no longer do. My eventual immigration to Canada, and the total immersion of my junior/high school education in the fundamentalist tradition has deeply impacted my own life, I was taught by the A.C.E. material, and Bob Jones University biology in my Christian high school. I was told to eagerly await for the apocalyptic second coming, and at best avoid all post secondary studies. I was taught to give God 100 and 10 per cent. I was enslaved by these holy roller’s teaching and it continued with my grade 12 at Prairie High School, part of Prairie Bible Institute, Three Hills, Alberta. I would have died a martyr for my faith, live and die by this literal interpretation of Bart’s American fundamentalist vision. Yours is the allegory of a loving and gracious God, ours is the curse of the hate-filled, angry God from which we are sinners in his hands (Jonathan Edwards). Yours gives you life and health and wealth, yours provide you with the nourishment, and grant you an upward social and economic mobility to lead a respectful life, ours is the slavery, the scum existence here, being sent to the 3rd world country to rot, to be raped (as some of the C.M.A. missionary children in Mamou, Africa), to be lorded over, and to live out this miserable life, so that the next life is the best, the final reality.

    Much of what you appreciate in this Christian community is the exact opposite of what I experienced as a fundamentalist, so I can appreciate your writing about the graciousness of God, while I maintain my own composure and say fuck you God, after I came to myself.

    I no longer prescribe to this fundamentalist faith. My coming of age, my struggles in the process of becoming an adult, and getting married, my gradual loss of faith, I came out screaming and kicking. This loss of faith with the help of reality, the problem of suffering, and the realization that the death of theism, all came to a point where I no longer could affirm the creed, the book, or the religious community. So here I am, a new found freedom. I see that we have been given this life, this green earth, and that we are here however short it is, is to enjoy this life. To lend a hand to help others, and to make life better for others. I appreciate your own faith in God, while, I have assume the role of being God myself. I have found the freedom to be. If I lost my faith at all, it is in the man-made God(s), the inerrant Bible (Jewish fables and myths), and the institutional Church (that collect religious tax and is a heavy burden to society). I see religious organizations as parasites to society, and its religious workers worse than whores. I actually like prostitutes better than Christian ministers/religious whores, at least sec workers work for a living, but many of these religious whores cheat others for a living as parasites to our society. This is what I see today. Instead, I watch over my children carefully, engaging them in the local farmers market, raise chickens, and grown 15 types of tomatoes, and sell them on weekends with my farmer friends. The greening of my Christianity, the deepened life struggles, and a fresh appreciation of humanity, all that forced me to abandon a God who has very little to do with human suffering, but we must assume the role of God and assume responsibility. I am happy to proclaim my faith in the earth, the fellowship of the human communities, and to make a better world for others. I no longer worship God (the goodness), I am God (goodness) and I invite others to assume their Godhood as it once was taught by Jesus of the gospels, and the Psalmist, “Ye are God.”

    • webattorney  January 4, 2014

      I am always surprised that so many people choose to believe in Christianity when they have (and should have) so many questions and doubts. In essence, my heart wants to believe, but my brain says this obviously cannot be true. And then I tell myself that if God exists, he gave me the brain, so I have no choice but to use my brain to reason. To be frank, it’s not life which makes me think about the possibility of God but the approaching death. Often, it almost seems too simple to believe, just accept the damn Book and turn off my brain, but again, that seems contrary to common sense. I guess I put common sense before what any book says.

  18. RonaldTaska  January 27, 2013

    Dr. Siker: Still another way to phrase the basic question: Dr. Ehrman and you basically agree on the historical evidence, but you add it open differently. It’s like the two of you add up 2 plus 2 and get different numbers. I find this to be so confusing. Is there any way to help clarify this? Thanks.

  19. bchungdmd
    bchungdmd  January 28, 2013

    Dear Dr. Siker:

    How do you reconcile the fact that most of the Jewish bible is very violent, and promotes violence to others, while maintaining your composure by teaching others that God (your God) is love? In the absence of Exodus’ archaeological finds and the apparent lack of evidences of many claims in theJewish texts, how can you propagate an out of date, stone age cosmology? Is it by a different exegetical method (Alexandrian), or by knowingly misleading your congregation/students about God and his apparent absence, how do you live with that? Thank you for clearing that up for me, the Free Thinker, and a God himself.

    • DrSiker  January 29, 2013

      Well, first of all, I don’t view most of the Jewish Bible as being any more violent than the God of Jesus in the NT. God in the Jewish Bible is also loving and forgiving, just as the God of Jesus in the NT also speaks of hell and judgment. I don’t adhere to the cosmology of the Bible, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing useful in the Bible!

      • bchungdmd
        bchungdmd  January 30, 2013

        Thank you, Sir, for replying my most ungodly questions. I have to ask, since I was raised as a fundamentalist, and I have now regard much of what I learnt and unlearnt as a Free Thinker. I no longer believe in the biblical God, nor do I appreciate much of American Evangelicalism. But I humbly thank you for taking the time to reply my most unholy questions, while I am still a Free Thinker, and a God.

      • bchungdmd
        bchungdmd  February 1, 2013

        I see no hand of God in human affairs. I would like to propose that we each create a religion better than the Jewish sacred text. Are you not making your own religion when the entirety of the biblical account cannot be trusted or verified? How can you preach or believe in a God sometimes is violent and vengeful, while at times appears as loving? But as much as biblical writers would like to assert, obeying god and following his commandments leads to the same result as others who ignore them (ie. invading army would kill and pillage the religious as well as none-religious, that is, the Nazi gassed as many devout Jews as regular Jews). Can we each make a religion, functionally-practically? I say we can, and if so, why being a Christian religious? Thank you for your thoughts. This is from your fan, an honest religious man, a God and a Free Thinker, the Lord Ben Chung.

  20. bchungdmd
    bchungdmd  January 28, 2013

    Another question, Dr. Siker, if your faith demands the absolute celibacy, the absolute poverty, and the denial of your own persons (that is, everything you own would be church property), would you accept this New Testament premise? If your faith is about selling everything you own, and give them to the poor, and lead a homeless and god-forsaken life, would you do it? Or is the pay too tempting, as a tenure professor with 6 figure pay, while others starve and die, and you get to teach about God and all these lovely things while pay absolutely no attention to the lack of his presence, is that ethical? Thanks. One more for the books by the Lord Ben Chung, and a God himself,

    • DrSiker  January 29, 2013

      Your “ifs” don’t really work. THe challenge is always to attend to those who suffer.

  21. stuart  January 30, 2013

    Dear Dr Siker,

    I think I understand from this chat that you do not believe Jesus died as an act of atonement or that we are all guilty due to original sin. You also say you are unsure or undecided if Jesus is one and the same with God. I would presume then that you don’t pray to Jesus, or ask forgiveness/repent of your sins? Maybe I am confused here, but it seems to me you are no more a Christian than Bart is. Perhaps you would be better to describe yourself as a deist who appreciates some good lessons contained in the Bible?

  22. dennis  August 18, 2013

    WOW !!!! A few days ago ( Aug. 15 2013 ) I sent a reply that suggested a subject index page . When I casually consulted the one that exists , I stumbled on this guest post by Dr. Siker . Superb thought provoking posts and , if the replies are any indication , stimulated a good many brain cells . How about some more guest posts ? I am thinking of such luminaries as Dr. Craig Evans ( Fabricating Jesus ) , Dr. James D.G. Dunn ( A New Perspective On Jesus and the , what I at least , found to be the truly mind blowing Did The Early Christians Worship Jesus ? ) or Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson ( The Real Jesus ) . Bart , if it had not been for you ” turning me on ” to this field , I would never had heard of the authors much less read them . Thank You Very Much !

  23. webattorney  January 4, 2014

    Dr. Siker’s views seem very close to mine, but I am an agnostic who is sympathetic to Christian belief until they try to change my beliefs. Therefore, it almost seems like using two different words for the same thing.

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