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From Jeff Siker: A Response to Comments

Jeff Siker’s posts have elicited some very interesting responses. I don’t think he can reply to everything, but I did ask him to take one of the questions and give it his best shot. So, see here below.

After this one I’ll ask him just to respond to comments in the comment section of the blog (rather than as separate posts) as/if he sees fit. Tomorrow you’re stuck back with me again….

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QUESTION: 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.

 

JEFF SIKER’S RESPONSE: “Sorting Out the Historical Jolt, Human Suffering, and God”

Let me begin by saying that I also found historical criticism to be a bit of a jolt — not quite a betrayal, but surely a slap in the face. (Once in an early college paper I quoted C.S. Lewis to criticize Rudolf Bultmann’s demythologizing program; my professor’s marginal comment? — “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”!) But this was a gradual process for me and did not come as any kind of watershed moment. Nor did my faith come to me as any kind of revelatory conversion experience. As for my theology and Martians… explaining something presumes a common frame of reference, or at least enough of a common frame to make sense of what someone says. It reminds me of the joke that if the Martians are observing us, they must conclude that dogs are in charge because humans are constantly picking up their shit! So I’ll pass on the Martian question since I think we’d probably have to get some other more basic things out of the way before moving on to my theological vision.

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Jim  January 27, 2013

    Regarding “How would you go about trying to convince Dr. Ehrman …”, I think I would scrap the Gal 2 approach and go the Johnny Edwards route. After all fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom is it not? Now what would possibly scare Dr. Ehrman … hmmm … What about a rumor that the Moody Bible Institute was giving a multi-million dollar donation to his department to support a biblical inerrancy division.

  2. Avatar
    Forrest  January 28, 2013

    Thank you for your comments. I believe there is much to learn from this. Too often it is important for us to convince others, when in reality we need to more fully understand others.

  3. Avatar
    Adam  January 28, 2013

    Thanks for your post Jeff.

    I find that in general Christian fundamentalists, evangelicals, and Roman Catholics, for example, give a clear image of what it means to be a Christian to them…there are certain beliefs/creeds, practices, and ways that characterize each of them so one is able, generally speaking, to clearly distinguish and define each of them. You know when they use the term God they are referring to a triune God and so on.

    However, I find it’s difficult for me to understand what exactly those who self-identify as Christian liberals believe about God. I get so many different answers when I ask. I know this is a complex subject, but it seems to me sometimes that while the Christian fundamentalist is VERY specific about what one should believe about God to be saved; many Christian liberals are the opposite…when they talk about God God is vague and I don’t know how their God is different from the God of Judaism or Islam for example. And when you ask them about the God they worship, they give you vague answers. It’s almost like they say “God can be whatever you want God to be” as long as you talk about Jesus somehow. I’m not saying this is a bad thing…but I don’t know how to approach (or understand) this God.

    • Avatar
      CalifiorniaPuma  February 6, 2013

      Well said, Adam. I concur. One nice thing that can be said about evangelicals/fundamentalists is that at least one can figure out where they stand. The late Christopher Hitchens wasn’t too far off when, responding to a man who identified himself as “not a religious person but a Christian,” Hitchens remarked, “My impression of Christianity is that you’re a Christian if you believe that God gave a son for the redemption of our sins, and allowed him to become a human sacrifice as the seal of that pact. If you don’t believe something like that—that a human sacrifice commits you even if you didn’t want it to happen, then I don’t really think you can say you’re a Christian.”

  4. Avatar
    screwtaperocks  January 28, 2013

    Jeff and Bart,

    I just wanted to share with you guys the way I have framed the “issues’ when in dialog with conservative/fundamentalist Christians. I tell them that I, myself, used to be an ultra-conservative Evangelical in my youth and dillgently sought after a deeper understanding of the Bible. I relate to them the fact that as I learned more I ended up traversing the theological spectrum. I went from a hard right postion to a liberal left one, but then I fell off altogether. I currently live without a god and approach the subject as an agnostic. Upon hearing that they often ask me the reason(s) I changed my mind (and ultimately my heart) about the matter. If I have time, I share many of the plethora of problems that I have found in Christian theism. Everything from textual problems, theodicy, obvious sycretisms in the religion, and many other philosophical conundrums that are present.

    After I share these things, which as you guys know, most lay people and even most pastoral staff have never come across before, I see their facial expressions change as they realize that the issues are more complex than even the quick answers they can hope to find from their favorite apologist when trying to counter the arguments.

    This one is the kicker. I formulated this next line in order to challenge both liberal/moderate and conservative/fundamentalist Christians. Specifically to the conservative I ask, “Now that you know how strong my arguments are against Christianity, if you were witnessing to someone and presenting your apologetics to them, Would you allow me to present my case at the same time?” They always answer with a “No”. So I ask another question, “So you really think “the devil” has a pretty stong case, don’t you?” Now I say that tongue-in-cheek with a little smirk. Then I tell them that in reality I believe no one would become a Christian with all of the real evidence being put forth at the outset. Staying in the camp (whether liberalizing or not) is always because the emotional investment is huge and the ties are strong. Especially when it is directly connected to family, friends and (for pastors) career.

    Jeff, I am having a hard time thinking of any other scenario in life where when once you realized that something was starkly different than you were led to believe at the outset that you wouldn’t give up on it eventually.

    Also, I often present this line, Backwards formulating Jesus’ words,”Be willing to do unto yourself what you are willing to do unto others.” If you want people to see truth in religion, politics, or anything else then we must approach our own ideas with the same rigor and criteria with which we judge other ideas.

    • Avatar
      webattorney  January 4, 2014

      It is often true that many people become Christians due to the influence of their family members. Even the guy who wrote “The Case for Christ” probably became a Christian because otherwise he and his wife probably would part ways.

  5. Avatar
    hwl  January 28, 2013

    A question for Dr. Ehrman:
    Dr. Siker contrasted his moderate-to-liberal background against Dr. Ehrman’s fundamentalist-to-conservative background, thereby explaining why Dr. Siker does not feel “angry” or “betrayed” by his former churches and Christian groups. I don’t recall Dr. Ehrman ever using the words “angry” or “betrayed” to describe how he feels about his Christian past. Can Dr. Ehrman confirm that he does not feel bitter, angry or betrayed by his former fundamentalist and conservative mentors, pastors and teachers?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 28, 2013

      I don’t actually feel “betrayed,” although I do notice that people who try to “explain me” often say that I do! Hmm… Anyway, someone betrays another only if s/he knows that what s/he is doing is wrong or bad for the other, and my sense is that my teachers in fundamentalist Christianity were sincere and good hearted. And I have to admit, without that kind of background, I absolutely would not be where I am today, so I have mixed feelings about my past. I do indeed wish I had received a better education as a young man (e.g., in the classics, or in ancient history, or in literature, or in … lots of things I’m passionate about). But I wouldn’t describe my attitudes toward my past as either anger or betrayal.

      • Avatar
        DMiller5842  January 28, 2013

        I think anger and betrayal are common feelings ( at least initially) for people who learn more about the Bible after years of blind faith based on it.

    • Avatar
      Scott F  January 29, 2013

      I noticed that, too. For all his talk of openess, he falls back on a favorite of conservative Christians: those would don’t believe in God must be angry.

  6. Avatar
    hwl  January 28, 2013

    It would be good to have Dale Martin write a post about his religious experience, as he too had a fundamentalist-to-liberal trajectory.

  7. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 28, 2013

    You do indeed have a “generosity of spirit” and I think you did a superb job of empathizing with and then summarizing Dr. Ehrman’s views. I think trying to understand, rather than attack, his views was an excellent start to your response. I, in turn, am trying to understand and respect your views. If you get a chance, I would like to learn more about your “relatively low Christology.” I assume that means that you deeply respect the teachings of Jesus and the transformative power of those teachings without being convinced that Jesus was/is God or that Jesus physically rose from the dead. Is that correct? Could that possibly mean that Dr. Ehrman and you, more or less, end up at pretty close to the same place? Thanks again for your help.
    P.S. I stole the Martian analogy from Walker Percy’s “Lost in the Cosmos” where he attempts to explain his Catholic theology to an “unbiased” observer, namely a Martian. The idea was trying to find an “unbiased” person and Percy had to go to Mars, at least in his imagination, to find one. Thanks again for your “generous” contributions to this blog. One always risks attacks when doing such a thing and I hope most of the reader comments are/were as generous as your comments. It’s hard to ask questions and still come across as being respectful and “generous.”

  8. Avatar
    ecbrown88  January 28, 2013

    The God who suffers suffering problem is such a mainstay of atheists, agnostics, and faith-losing fellow Christians. You seem, like me, to disclaim the syllogism that a benevolent or worthy god must needs eliminate suffering.

    Can you make a full, cogent presentation of this point? or direct us to one? It seems a valuable arrow for the philosophical quiver.

  9. Avatar
    wisemenwatch  January 29, 2013

    I just got my copy of The End of Biblical Studies by Hector Avalos in the mail today. I remember you mentioning him, Dr. Ehrman. I am only in the Introduction of the book and wow, I am loving it! Dr. Avalos should be allowed an article, too!

  10. Avatar
    kidron  February 13, 2013

    Dr. Siker mentions one of his answers to suffering is ‘being the hands and feet of God’. This certainly falls very close Bart’s concept of moral obligations in this life. My observation is that the only evidence of the existence of God on this earth is in the response of humans. Rocks, waterfalls, tsunamis, volcanoes, tornadoes, floods, etc. do not exhibit characteristics of God. It is only when human beings become the victims of these natural events do we start to consider the existence of God and that is usually within our questioning of the obvious bad effects of the natural disaster and the hoped for remedy. The observable evidence is that there are two types of relief to suffering. One is the very evident ‘human hands and feet’. The other is mysterious and can be explained as chance. The avalanche killed and maimed ten thousand, but a hundred in the middle of the disaster were miraculously saved without harm. The question I would ask is … did God save those hundred. Was it divine intervention? Did they pray the appropriate prayers and God answered them?

    When we invoke a God whose intervention depends upon chance or ‘human hands and feet’ we are defining a God who is wholly removed from the traditional understanding of a triune God or a divine Jesus Christ. God becomes the distributed source of being that is evidenced in all life forms. If this is indeed God, then I would suggest that God is evolving and one might suggest is seeking to find expression on THIS earth.

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