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Bart’s Latest Attack on Christianity by Randy Alcorn

As you know, books on controversial topics get reviewed by all sorts of readers; some reviews are glowing and others are, well, nasty.  About a month or so ago several reader sent me an online review of my book Heaven and Hell on patheos.com (check it out: it’s a website dealing with issues connected with religious faith) by Randy Alcorn, a prominent evangelical author with a high public profile, who has written a number of books about Heaven from his faith perspective.

You can check him out online:

Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM) and the author of more than 55 books, including Heaven and If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. More than 11 million copies of his books have been sold. They’ve also been translated into 70 languages.

Randy’s review was, shall we say, of the harsh variety.  But now that I’m getting older and the body-joints aren’t working as well as in the days of my youth, my knee doesn’t seem to jerk as much as it used to when reviewers object to my work, and rather than erupting into a fit of cursing rage and firing off a nasty email telling the reviewer they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about, I tend to sit back and say, “Huh!”

So I decided to write Randy, whom I’ve never met and really didn’t know much about (I’m not in those circles any more, as you may have noticed), and ask if he’d be willing to have me post his review on the blog, so that blog readers might see a very different view of the issues I discuss.  We ended up having a very pleasant email exchange over a period of weeks.  When it comes to matters of religious faith, understanding the Bible, social and political issues, or, well, the nature of the universe and reality more broadly, we have very firm disagreements, to put the matter rather mildly.  But it’s possible to have these without going for each other’s throats, and I’m finding as I enter into maturity that it’s better just to have civil disagreements.  I’ve never yet changed anyone’s mind by hitting them with a sledge hammer.

In any event, Randy was indeed willing for me to post his review.  So here it is.  You can probably figure out places where I disagree, sometimes rather vigorously.  And you will certainly know the places where you do.  It may be that, down the line, Randy and I will have an actual back and forth on the blog about some of these issues.  But for now, here it is.

Randy has graciously agreed to address your comments and questions.   TWO requirements.  First, in your comment, if you are wanting a response, PLEASE indicate if you are asking him or me.  Either of us will be free to respond, but if your comment/question is in particular for one of us to address, let us know.  Second, as always on this blog, even where you disagree with one of us, please be respectful.  As I always urge, let’s pretend we’re not on the internet here…..

 

April 13, 2020  |  Randy Alcorn  |  The Gospel Coalition

Bart Ehrman is professor of religious studies at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He also teaches eight of The Great Courses’ widely acclaimed Bible and Christianity classes and has a part in 78 others. The subtitles of Ehrman’s books, including his five New York Times bestsellers, capture his premises: e.g., Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, How Jesus Became God: the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, and Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.

False teachers influence the church from both inside and outside, but outsiders gain special credibility when they are former insiders (cf. 2 Tim. 4:3–4). In this era of escalating deconversions, #exvangelicals, and the “Dones” (with church), Ehrman is a major instrument in countless readers’ downward spiritual trajectory.

Same Message, New Focus

Whenever I read an Ehrman book, déjà vu kicks in. His core message is always: “Christians are dead wrong; I know because I used to be one before I became enlightened.” Each of Ehrman’s books deals with something else Christians are wrong about; and his newest, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife, is another volume in his expanding canon of deconversion doctrine.

Ehrman speaks with the authoritative tone of a historian-philosopher, a wise sage, unfolding humanity’s preoccupation with death and the fear of death. Beginning with the Epic of Gilgamesh, he then examines Homer, Virgil, Plato, and other ancients. Along the way he interjects his belief that there’s no need to fear death, since it’s simply ceasing to exist (the very thing many people fear).

“Whenever I read an Ehrman book, déjà vu kicks in. His core message is always: ‘Christians are dead wrong; I know because I used to be one before I became enlightened.’”

Arriving at the Bible, simply one more myth to Ehrman, he presents what he calls the “older Hebrew view” that death is the final end, followed by nonexistence. He then addresses the “later Hebrew position” on resurrection and Judgment Day from the intertestamental era.

While he says little to refute pre-Christian views, once Ehrman gets to the historic Christian view of the afterlife, he conducts an all-out verbal siege. But he doesn’t rant and rave; he calmly presents his assertions, such as that Jesus and Paul disagreed on much, including the way of salvation, but shared a disbelief in an eternal hell. He says both of them, and the author of Revelation (whom he’s certain wasn’t the apostle John), taught annihilationism. He simply ignores or reinterprets passages to the contrary (e.g. Isa. 66:24; Dan. 12:2; Matt. 25:41, 46; Mark 9:43, 48; 2 Thess. 1:9; Jude 7, 13; Rev. 14:9–11; 20:10, 14–15).

Interestingly, though Ehrman doesn’t believe there is a heaven, he leaves room for its possibility:

I certainly don’t think the notion of a happy afterlife is as irrational as the fires of hell; at least it does not contradict the notion of a benevolent creative force behind the universe. So I’m completely open to the idea and deep down even hopeful about it. But I have to say that at the end of the day I really don’t believe it either. (294)

However, Ehrman is certain he isn’t wrong about hell:

Are we really to think that God is some kind of transcendent sadist intent on torturing people (or at least willing to allow them to be tortured) for all eternity, a divine being infinitely more vengeful than anyone who has ever existed? (293–94)

At the end of the book Ehrman quotes from ex-evangelical Rob Bell:

In [universalism], the love of God knows no bounds and cannot be overcome. . . . In the words of one modern Christian author, once himself a committed evangelical with a passion for the biblical witness, in the end “Love Wins.”

Ehrman seems to offer universalism as a backup position to his naturalistic worldview. He’s saying, “I don’t believe in an afterlife, but if there is one then everyone will be in heaven.”

He goes on to essentially applaud the rise of universalism in Christian churches: “Harkening back to Origen, and Paul before him, these committed believers maintain that in the end no one will be able to resist the love of God. . . . [E]veryone will be saved.”

Opinion Isn’t Proof

I admire Ehrman’s skill as a persuasive communicator. Were he a lawyer he could take either side in any case and would likely persuade the jury. (Hence the vulnerability of uninformed Christians who read his books.) Yet Ehrman frequently states what he believes as if opinion constitutes proof. For instance, he emphatically says, “There was a time in human history when no one on the planet believed that there would be a judgment day at the end of time” (8). Really? No one? Does he have private access to an ancient poll taken of every living person?

Ehrman frequently states what he believes as if opinion constitutes proof.

“Ehrman frequently states what he believes as if opinion constitutes proof.”

Ehrman, after denying the Old Testament ever speaks of resurrection, explains in a footnote:

Some readers may wonder why I am not contrasting this view of Job with the famous passage of Job 19:25–26: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (ESV).

Ehrman negates Job by citing a Jewish scholar who says, “The text has been garbled and we cannot tell exactly what Job intended to say.” This scholar adds, “Job is almost certainly not talking about seeing God in the afterlife.”

I consulted 12 major translations by different teams of Hebrew scholars, some of whom don’t hold to biblical inerrancy. Their translations contain only minor differences. All of them suggest Job is indeed speaking of seeing God in the afterlife.

This is just one example of Ehrman’s practice of either: (1) inaccurately conveying what the Bible says; (2) accurately conveying what the Bible says, then declaring it’s wrong; (3) arguing the text really doesn’t say what Christians believe it says (why does that matter if what it really says is also wrong?); and (4) citing Scripture in support of his contentions, even though he regularly dismisses Scripture’s validity.

When researching my book Heaven, I read more than 150 books on the subject, including many I disagreed with. And, in reading Ehrman’s book, I saw no evidence that he had read a single evangelical book on heaven, though he did manage to cite one on hell (containing arguments for annihilationism and universalism). While his footnotes reflect extensive research in ancient Greek texts, he seems largely unaware of what the Bible or evangelical Christians claim about heaven—the new earth. He refers to Revelation 21:1, and recognizes the teaching of bodily resurrection, yet doesn’t develop what the Bible teaches about the eternal dwelling place of God’s people.

While his footnotes reflect extensive research in ancient Greek texts, he seems largely unaware of what the Bible or evangelical Christians claim about heaven—the new earth.

“While his footnotes reflect extensive research in ancient Greek texts, he seems largely unaware of what the Bible or evangelical Christians claim about heaven—the new earth.”

With a few exceptions when he admits he’s not certain, I’m struck by Ehrman’s usual unswerving confidence that he is 100 percent right. He is, just like evangelicals, relying on an ultimate authority—but instead of the Bible, it’s his own intellect.

Apostle of Deconversion

As he does in most of his books, Ehrman seeks to build credibility by sharing his testimony of conversion to unbelief. He professed faith at age 15 at Youth for Christ, then attended Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College. He was a card-carrying evangelical. His exodus from evangelicalism began when he went to Princeton Seminary, where he lost his faith in the Bible and Jesus:

[At Princeton] my scholarship led me to realize that the Bible was a very human book, with human mistakes and biases and culturally conditioned views in it. And realizing that made me begin to wonder if the beliefs in God and Christ I had held and urged on others were themselves partially biased, culturally conditioned, or even mistaken.

These doubts disturbed me not only because I wanted very much to know the Truth but also because I was afraid of the possible eternal consequences of getting it wrong. . . . What if I ended up no longer believing and then realized too late that my unfaithful change of heart had all been a huge blunder?

Ehrman appears to believe his studies at Princeton were guided by objective truth and his rejection of the Christian worldview was a courageous submission to this truth.

With a few exceptions when he admits he’s not certain, I am struck by Ehrman’s unswerving confidence that he is 100 percent right. He is, just like evangelicals, relying on an ultimate authority—but instead of the Bible, it’s his own intellect.

“With a few exceptions when he admits he’s not certain, I am struck by Ehrman’s unswerving confidence that he is 100 percent right. He is, just like evangelicals, relying on an ultimate authority—but instead of the Bible, it’s his own intellect.”

He claims, “In this book I will not be urging you either to believe or disbelieve in the existence of heaven and hell.” No reader could imagine Ehrman is urging belief in heaven or hell. But it seems intellectually dishonest to say he isn’t encouraging disbelief in them. Arguably that is a central purpose of the book.

In fact, to understand Heaven and Hell and Ehrman’s other writings, we must grasp that his deconversion redirected, rather than removed, his evangelistic zeal. Many people have quietly lost their faith, but Ehrman didn’t go gently into the night. Instead, he has become an eloquent apostle of deconversion, and his disciples are many.

While critics of the faith come and go, I regard Ehrman as one of the most significant modern opponents to the Christian faith. He’s a secular prophet to certain evangelical and ex-evangelical readers.

Call to Hold Fast

I feel sorry for Bart Ehrman, but I’m even more saddened at the harm done to those who embrace his teachings. We who believe the Bible must recognize this is about our adversary, Satan, who comes to destroy and devours people through persuasive arguments, and who when he lies, “speaks his native language” (John 8:44, NIV).

In fact, to understand Heaven and Hell and Ehrman’s other writings, we must grasp that his deconversion redirected, rather than removed, his evangelistic zeal. Instead, he has become an eloquent apostle of deconversion, and his disciples are many.

“In fact, to understand Heaven and Hell and Ehrman’s other writings, we must grasp that his deconversion redirected, rather than removed, his evangelistic zeal. Instead, he has become an eloquent apostle of deconversion, and his disciples are many.”

In a time when “everyone has a story,” people listen to stories without discernment. The personal testimony historically has been used by faith-affirmers to reach the lost. Now it has become a tool of faith-deniers to reach the found.

There are still wonderful conversion stories, and we should tell them. But we should also teach our children to cultivate their intellects and equip them to refute falsehood. And we should demonstrate the transcendent vibrancy of a generous, Christ-centered, and people-loving life, enlightened by the authentic God-man Jesus, full of grace and truth.

Finally, as we call on God to do the miraculous work of conversion in people’s lives, we “must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that [we] can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9).

Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM) and the author of more than 55 books, including Heaven and If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. More than 11 million copies of his books have been sold. They’ve also been translated into 70 languages.

Copyright © 2020 The Gospel Coalition, INC. All Rights Reserved


Randy Alcorn’s Response to Some Blog Criticisms (part 2)
Did Jesus Favor Armed Rebellion Against Rome?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    VaulDogWarrior  June 21, 2020

    I used to read a bit of Alcorn back in the day. He has a perspective on finances that seemed to fit the Anabaptist (Amish/Metronome) circles I was moving in at the time.

  2. Barfo
    Barfo  June 21, 2020

    Don’t feel sorry for me, Randy. I deconverted from Christianity going on three years now and as a human being I have not changed one bit. I no longer believe that having a human nature is sin. I have read most of Bart’s books and they have helped me understand the Christian faith and how it developed and spread. However, what is more convincing for me that there is no God of the Bible is the collision course that science and the OT Bible events have been on for 150 years. I now understand that Christianity developed from Judaism and Judaism was produced from a group of nomads who emerged from within Canaan and set themselves apart from others by creating a story that they were the chosen people of one god who led them through miraculous events. As for the afterlife I’m extremely comfortable with “non fui; fui; non sum; non curo.” Thanks, Bart.

    • RandyAlcorn
      RandyAlcorn  June 23, 2020

      Barfo, I do feel sorry that you did not find in Christ what I did many years ago, and still find in Him daily. If you have not changed one bit after deconverting I’m not sure what you deconverted from could have been very substantial or meaningful. I’m not saying it wasn’t, just saying it’s hard to imagine someone not changing one bit after walking away from what formerly made a great difference in their life. I don’t think “having a human nature is sin,” but that to have a human nature is first to be made in the image of God, with all the dignity that implies. I do believe the biblical account of the fall, which twisted the human nature and tainted it with sin. That put human nature into an unnatural state. The good news is the sinful human nature is a temporary condition, and Christ died and rose to reverse the curse and RESTORE human nature to all He designed it to be and more (which it will be forever in the resurrection and on the New Earth–my understanding of the biblical teaching, of course I realize you don’t agree). Hence the biblical picture is not of a permanent fatalism about human nature, but a temporary aberration of it awaiting an eternal fix. You say, “As for the afterlife I’m extremely comfortable with “non fui; fui; non sum; non curo.” The part of the Epicurean worldview that’s most interesting to me is the non curo. We will not care IF we cease to exist, I get that. But if we do NOT cease to exist then I believe we will certainly care, as did the rich man in Christ’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). My belief in an afterlife will not keep me alive after death, and your disbelief in an afterlife will not keep you from continuing to exist. The question is, and I think you probably agree, whether or not a philosophy is true, not how comfortable we are with it. We believe differently, but neither of our comfortability with our particular beliefs is a valid (at very least not an ultimate) test of whether or not they are true. In any case, I sincerely wish you the best.

      • Avatar
        timcfix  June 23, 2020

        This parable has a lot of holes in it. For starts we have no back story as to what the rich man did that was so condemning, or what Lazarus did that lead to his exaltation. Should we follow the money or should we follow the attitude. Are we to understand from this that all the poor go to Abraham and all the rich burn. Is fear of burning the requirement to enter heaven? Is wealth or poverty a matters of chance and opportunity? Perhaps we should deny ourselves reciprocity. Is fearing the One who can kill both you body and your soul the ticket? Christianity and Judaism have given, and are giving, the world a moral standard from which it can survive, and I live by that moral standard expecting or wanting no reward. Those who want or expect such reward fall short of that moral standard. Why do we make money and have spare time on our hands, so we may have something in reserve to help others. Doing ‘good deeds’. for a reward is like a woman marrying a man because the man makes good money. It is just another level of prostitution.

      • Avatar
        RICHWEN90  June 23, 2020

        The Jesus you believe in has only a tenuous basis in fact. This has been amply demonstrated. It would be better for you to deal with historical realities, and better for Christians to understand the historical realities, than to cling to illusions. There might actually be a god of some sort, but it isn’t likely to be what you worship in Jesus.

    • Avatar
      mtavares  June 24, 2020

      I laughed when I read your post Barfo. I wondered if that pity line was one that Dr. Ehrman’s younger knee would have jerked at (tongue-in-cheek). In terms of Dr. Ehrman being an apostle of deconversion, I believe there is a middle ground to the work he makes available to us. I think some of us are sincerely interested in Christianity, but we frankly don’t know what to do with the horrific biblical stories, discrepancies, historical difficulties, and the problem of evil. For those of us with this temperament, we’re getting something satisfied mentally that isn’t simply anti-religious.

      Randy, if Dr. Erhman shouldn’t be relying on his intellect as his ultimate authority, what should he rely on? I have no idea what your theology is like, but at the end of the day aren’t we all kind of stuck in terms of relying on whatever intellect is available to us? Our intellect is what allows us to read or listen to the bible in the first place, so there seems like some chicken and egg here. If not intellect, what is available other than an intuition?

      • RandyAlcorn
        RandyAlcorn  June 24, 2020

        Yes, I totally agree we all must rely on our intellect to a certain extent. At the same time we should humbly recognize the limits of our intellects and realize we can be sincere and at the same time misled. I recognize that’s every bit as much true of me as it is Bart or you or anyone else. However, a core part of my worldview is believing Scripture is God’s inspired revelation to us. Obviously I don’t expect everyone else or even most people to believe that, but I truly do. And since I do, there are times where I submit my mind to a belief which, left to myself, I wouldn’t have figured out or chosen to embrace. An example of that is a response I just made to someone on this blog concerning whether Hell is eternal. If I were asked by God to cast a vote in favor of Hell or against it, or in favor of a temporary Hell rather than an eternal one, I would make a choice based on my limited human understanding and I certainly wouldn’t vote for eternal suffering. But since I believe there is a God who is both loving and holy, and that he sent his Son Jesus to save us, and that Jesus said more about Hell than anyone, then I bow my knee to his authority and trust his intellect above mine even when certain things don’t make sense to me. I’m well aware that many don’t beleive in Jesus and don’t beleive the Bible accurately conveys his words. I actually do, and hence while I trust my intellect to understand what Scripture says (though I no doubt sometiems get it wrong) I do not trust my intellect more than I trust God’s Word or Jesus. Hence I submit to what I believe is a higher authority even when it goes against my preferences. So I trust my mind to a degree, but I do not consider myself my final authority, which is what allows me to believe many things I never would have figured out on my own.

        • Avatar
          Phil  June 24, 2020

          Randy, firstly thanks for submitting yourself to this and taking part in the blog, it is great to be able to have these discussions.
          Your statement about how you submit to what the Bible says even if it is challenging is all well and good if we were debating the validity of some clear claim or doctrine that could be described as ‘what the Bible teaches’ and if Bart were encouraging us to reject such a teaching.
          But in fact Bart has taken an extremely Berean approach to this issue of Heaven and Hell and modern protestant doctrine thereon, and has ‘searched the Scriptures…whether those things were so” (Acts 17 v 11). And as with many aspects of christianity as we know it, they turned out not to be so, and Bart set out where, how and why.

        • Avatar
          SamuelStarfelt  June 25, 2020

          Hello Mr. Alcorn (what is the proper honorific for someone with a D.D.?),
          I hope it is okay that I reply to your reply. You claim that you must submit your intellect to a higher authority, and this is a statement I often hear in many Christian circles. However, it raises some obvious questions (or at least to me). All these questions start with “how do you know”. For example, how do you know that the Christian God is the proper authority to submit your intelligence to? How do you know that God is all-loving, and how do you know God is more intelligent than you are? One obvious question is “how do you know that the Bible properly conveys God’s word?”, but even IF that were true, how do you know that God is truthful? Even IF there was a supernatural being, how do you (and we) know that this being is telling the truth when he/she says “I am all-loving, all-mighty and most definitely more intelligent than you are, so therefore you should listen to me”? Or, in short, how do you know that everything in the Bible doesn’t come from the Devil?

        • Avatar
          Hngerhman  June 25, 2020

          Hi Mr Alcorn – Would you please describe how (and to what extent) one’s understanding of what Scripture says stands outside one’s intellect? Many thanks!

  3. Avatar
    JoeWallack  June 21, 2020

    Grace to you Mr. Alcorn. Yes, it’s a Cathechism-22, does your faith determine your intellect or does your intellect determine your faith. My one permissible question is…

    What do you think was the original ending of the Gospel of Mark?

  4. Avatar
    josephpatterson82  June 21, 2020

    For Randy Alcorn.
    What 12 translations of the Hebrew Bible did you consider? Could you list them for us so we can go check them out for ourselves? You said Bart is 100% sure that he is right. Could you show us where Bart made that claim? Are you aware of the work of Christian classical theist David Bentley Hart who has recently written a book that in many ways agrees with Bart’s conclusion concerning Universalism? Thanks for your willingness to share your review on this blog.

    • Avatar
      quadell  June 29, 2020

      I do wish Alcorn were willing to answer your questions. Sadly I suspect he has no good answers to them (at least, to the first two).

  5. Avatar
    Eaglesjack  June 21, 2020

    Randy,
    Although I appreciate your heroic effort, I don’t find you’ve offered any real rebuttal. Job 19 for example: “after my skin has been destroyed, in my flesh, I will see God.” God is standing upon the earth, Job has flesh, how can this be a credible depiction of the afterlife? Even Paul says flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom. It’s curious the apostle of apostles didn’t know whether he was in/out of the body in his “spiritual” experience. Keeping to evangelical premise, Job wrote his piece, an educated gentle, around 1500 BC before (or around) a burning bush or mass exodus. He must had such a deep-rooted transcendental experience that Moses certainly didn’t and even Paul couldn’t grasp..? Or Job was written much later, around the Babylonian exile, sharing a common theme with Ezekiel and a few others: any “resurrection” if you can call it that, was flesh and blood on earth, with no spiritual spot in the Pleiades and a kingdom described a reigning physical Israel. Can you prove otherwise in OT? 1500 BC Job and friends were some chosen..or these ideas were developed, overtime, in and through, a very “Christian” paradigm…

  6. Avatar
    Todd  June 21, 2020

    My thought on this addressed to both:

    Having had a seminary education and being involved in church work for many years, I have been chin deep in the exact same debates more times than I thought
    possible. I don’t want to go down that road again. It is sickening.

    As I approach my eighth decade of life I have learned one thing:

    ***I know absolutely nothing about anything absolutely***

    Everything we know is speculation. I gave up church life because, as a pastor, I concluded that I had no business telling other fallible humans how they should live and what they should believe when I too have problems in that regard.

    I concluded that the best I could do is to be the best fallible human being I can be by following the basic principals of love and compassion for my fellow humans as possible. I have no control over what happens beyond this life either for myself or anyone else.

    I find these debates a useless waste of time.

    I would rather spend my days doing what actually helps other people, helps our home planet, and to walk humbly with our god, whatever that may be, and love my neighbor the best I can.

  7. Avatar
    gbsinkers  June 21, 2020

    Randy, when you stated “I’m even more saddened at the harm done to those who embrace his teachings” it struck me because that could be said for so many “Christian” leaders these days as well. I put Christian in quotes because amongst the faithful there are major differences in belief and practice such that one end of the spectrum disavows the legitimacy of the other end or even the middle. Wouldn’t you agree? Same holds true for the other major faiths, including atheism. Some people swallow the teachings and never question. Others question everything and probably change their views along their faith journey. I worry more about those who do not question. I loved your fiction books when I was a believer. You were one of my favorite authors in the 90s. My faith journey has led me to a point where Bart’s books and blogs are more relevant now but he is not responsible for my “deconversion”. Please don’t be sad for me. There has been no harm done. The harm you think you see is that I no longer believe as you do.

  8. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  June 21, 2020

    Oh my. I don’t even know where to start! Mainly his criticism is not aimed at your conclusions but you personally. I’ve seen these ad hominem attacks in an attempt to discredit you countless times. Instead of challenging your views you are torn down as if this will discredit your findings.

    I find myself shaking my head at the accusation that the motives for your work is to de-convert Christians or destroy Christianity. Again, an ad hominem attack to discredit your work. My experience in debating evangelicals and fundamentalists has demonstrated and convinced me that the motives for such attacks are out of the fear you may be right!

    By the way, I belong to a Facebook group dedicated to the works of Bishop John Shelby Spong. You have manny admirers there and your work is referenced frequently in a positive manner. That just proves your work doesn’t result in de-conversion for believers. A Person can still support your work and be a Christian at the same time. It’s not mutually exclusive.

  9. Avatar
    birder1949  June 21, 2020

    This is an overall comment on Alcorn’s review. I have no idea what Bart Ehrman’s mission is other than to make contemporary Bible scholarship accessible to the non-scholarly reader. Admittedly he bases his approach on “critical” Biblical scholarship, but many of the philosophical assumptions he makes in his books I learned at an evangelical college more than 50 years ago, when Ehrman was still a teenager. None of this is new stuff. And far from being an “instrument” in my “downward spiritual trajectory,” I have found Ehrman’s books (I have all those aimed at non-scholarly readers) honest and fresh, leading me toward a much less superficial and/or limited understanding of the Bible and God. I should mention that I’m seminary trained and read my Greek New Testament often and have a passing knowledge of Hebrew. But I have gained a much deeper understanding the development of the Scriptures, the shaping of its texts. While I appreciated his approach in Heaven and Hell, again, I had a foundation for understanding it which was laid in college. I left evangelicalism long ago because of its tendency to judge others harshly. Perhaps that hasn’t changed.

  10. Avatar
    veritas  June 21, 2020

    For Randy. Thanks for the post and your view of Bart’s thinking. Someone once called Bart,” A much needed thorn in Christian Theology”. A couple of questions; 1) “Yet Ehrman frequently states what he believes as if opinion constitutes proof”. Are you not doing the same by believing that when you die you will be with Jesus somewhere? How do you know that and what is your proof other than faith/belief? 2) I will ask you the same question I asked Ravi Zacharias, who I admire and will miss deeply. In your last paragraph, “as we call on God to do the miraculous work of conversion in people’s lives”, In a multitude of religious beliefs, are you not declaring that your belief in Jesus and the New Testament movement to be the one and only true religion and thus calling it miraculous while rejecting the beliefs of billions of others? Thanks so much.
    Every deep thinker is more afraid of being understood than of being misunderstood.”
    ― Friedrich Neitzsche

  11. Avatar
    Steve Clark  June 21, 2020

    Thanks for posting on the Blog

    I left Christianity after 50 years being born and raised in a strict Southern Baptist environment. Now in my 60’s, since I left I’ve become much happier, with much more peace of mind, and more altruistic than I ever was…even becoming a living kidney donor a year and a half ago.

    How do you as a Christian explain that ?
    Do you think I deserve to be denied entry to heaven ?

    And shifting gears –

    Thailand is a country of 70 million people.
    Only 1% of the country is Christian. According to Orthodox Christianity 99% of the population of the country of Thailand are not going to heaven.

    Do you think that’s fair ?

    Thanks for your replies

  12. Avatar
    b.dub3  June 21, 2020

    Thank you Randy for your willingness to participate in this forum. I have not read any of your material on heaven or hell, nor have I read Dr Ehrman’s book on the topic.

    My question for you is, do you believe in a literal hell where unbelievers spend an eternity in punishment, Gehenna fire, or as “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:46? If so, would it be just for someone to be judged to eternal punishment for a tragic mistake of rejection that took place over a seventy year period or so? Thank you.

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    RICHWEN90  June 21, 2020

    Bart seems to have become an advocate of truth, as opposed to fantasy. Where’s the harm in that?

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    Hngerhman  June 21, 2020

    Mr Alcorn –

    Thank you for the generosity of time and intellectual courage to post and interact with the blog community here. I hope your experience is a positive one.

    I’ve read and reread your review – the thrust seems to be that you disagree with how Dr Ehrman is treating the data, and that this treatment runs counter and potentially detrimental to faith, especially to the underinformed.

    I have two questions:
    – Can you please expand on a key place (or places) where you think Dr Ehrman’s historical analysis is wrong? I am lacking a good sense as to your substantive counterargument.
    – Why is it important to you that God actually allow people to end up in an eternal hell?

    Many thanks in advance!

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    rwhershey  June 21, 2020

    Mr. Alcorn, please don’t “feel sorry for Bart Ehrman,” and do not assume that his “teachings” are harmful.

    I grew up in evangelical Christianity, attended church school, then seminary. I hold advanced degrees in theology and religious studies. Therefore, I can say with all authority that I can not, as a rational person, fall in line with any of the tangled theological traditions I’ve encountered.

    However, Mr. Ehrman’s historical research convinced me that Jesus was a real person, that some of his teachings were preserved, and that people believed in his posthumous appearances. From there I came to understand the nature of Jesus’ continued presence in the world. I now enjoy a personal relationship with Jesus, the Jesus who exists outside of religion, outside of theological traditions. As I’ve written elsewhere, “Religion needs God, but God doesn’t need religion.”

    Simply put: Without Mr. Ehrman’s “teachings,” I would not fully understand the kingdom of God.

    My questions are: Why do you think that it is appropriate to critique Mr. Ehrman’s historical method through the strictures of Christian theology? Do you “feel sorry” for me because I have been led to a relationship with Jesus through Mr. Ehrman’s research? Do I lack “discernment?”

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    aaron0383  June 21, 2020

    It is beyond clear that he has absolutely no idea what a real biblical scholar is, or what actual biblical scholarship itself is.

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    Hon Wai  June 21, 2020

    My comments are directed at Bart:

    Befitting of his achievement as a bestseller author of novels, here Randy Alcorn writes a very eloquent and amusing review which reads like a work of fiction, than a review of the real book.

    “[Ehrman] is, just like evangelicals, relying on an ultimate authority—but instead of the Bible, it’s his own intellect.”
    In other words, ever since his Bible-believing years, Ehrman has learned to think for himself.

    “While critics of the faith come and go, I regard Ehrman as one of the most significant modern opponents to the Christian faith. He’s a secular prophet to certain evangelical and ex-evangelical readers.”
    Alcorn holds Ehrman in high esteem, as a most worthy opponent to engage with. Ehrman has the stature of a modern-day prophet.

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    Bennett  June 21, 2020

    Question for Mr Alcorn:

    Bart has said someplace that in his studies of New Testament texts, he was not fearful of what he might discover, because “If it’s true, then it’s from God and you should not be afraid of it.” – or words to that effect.

    My experience (including personal experience) with evangelicals is that they are afraid to look critically at the many problems in the New Testament – the contradictions, etc. Instead they turn summersaults trying to fit square pegs in round holes so they don’t have to admit that the NT is not inerrant in its specific wording.

    My question is: are you able to objectively address the problems in the texts and admit that God may have used frail and imperfect human beings to communicate a message using imperfect means, including how humans garble the message over time and place, and still find God’s plan there? If not, then what do you think makes your view of the bible the ‘right’ view as opposed to other christian groups with different interpretations?

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    darren  June 21, 2020

    I found this really fascinating. And really appreciated the respectful tone. I agree with your observation Bart is evangelical in his promotion of his current beliefs, and it is part of what makes his opinions so compelling. But I get that from where you are coming from, it sounds dangerous and immoral. I’d really like to hear your response to the question of why someone who lived a bad life should be punished without respite for trillions of years?

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    janmaru  June 21, 2020

    [Dear Randy Alcorn,]
    I understand the sentiment of this article, but I don’t see the argument.

    According to previous Pope Benedictus XVI, human nature is rational because it proceeds from Reason.
    Humans would not be able to reason by themselves just because rationality evolves from nothing. This vacuum cannot hold by itself, and without an original Reason, human reason would not be any reason at all.
    It would be groundless, arbitrary, and ultimately dangerous.
    So, if formal thought emerges it can only be a rethinking of the original “Thought.”
    I was expecting that in the article, the impression of a subjective mind and the intellectual narcissism that evolves from it, would be underlined, but I see nothing at all.
    Please, clarify that.

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