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Education at Moody

In thinking back on my days at Moody Bible Institute, part of my now-ambivalence has to do with not just what I learned (or more important, what I did not) but also about how the thinking process itself was handled.   That has both a downside and an upside, and I would like to say something about both.

I should start by reiterating that I am simply talking about my own personal experience.  Everyone’s experience would have been, and was, different.  Still, my strong sense is that my experience was not simply a result of my personality, although it certainly was in part that, but also as a result to how education itself was approached at Moody.   How did one get good grades at a school like that?   By mastering tons of material.   Committing lots of things to memory.  Knowing exactly what a teacher taught and being able to reformulate it, without changing its substance, in one’s own words.

What was not taught, so much, was how to think for oneself.   When one *did* get encouraged to think, it was in order to figure out how to defend the “truth” that we already knew against those who had different views.   Apologetics – the reasoned defense of the faith – was big at Moody.   I took a semester long course on it (I believe it was required).  We learned how to mount intellectual arguments for the faith.  How to prove God existed.  That Jesus was the Son of God.  That Jesus was physically raised from the dead.  That the Bible was the inerrant, revealed Word of God.

What we were not encouraged to do was to engage in anything like an intellectual engagement with or critique of the faith.  That part was a given.

In any event, when it came to mastering material, I fit right in.

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The Threat of Judgment
My Moody Experience

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Adam0685  May 13, 2015

    I graduated from Moody in 2008. In my experience there, many of the professors continue to use the approach you experienced. Since they now offer a BA instead of a diploma, students also take a few liberal studies courses (Intro to Psychology; Intro to Sociology; etc), but not many in comparison to most colleges and universities offering a BA. The critical thinking aspect is still heavily focused on apologetics.

  2. Avatar
    nacord  May 13, 2015

    As a Moody Alum myself (class of ’06–so a bit of a different experience than you had), I affirm that there is a lot of learning about and mastering one particular viewpoint. The place I found this to be not the case, though, was in my biblical languages classes. It was my Greek and Hebrew professors (one of whom assigned your book “The Text of the New Testament”) who opened my mind to the possibilities that there are other ways to look at scripture than I always had.

  3. Avatar
    rivercrowman  May 13, 2015

    Thanks again Bart, your posts are educational.

  4. Avatar
    Jason  May 13, 2015

    Out of curiosity did the apologetics always rely on inerrancy or were there arguments based on evidence outside the Bible?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 14, 2015

      There were both. But in some ways the *beginning* was to “prove” inerrancy.

  5. Avatar
    Bazooki  May 13, 2015

    I had a completely different college experience as I attended a giant state school. I spent my time between the science department and the Romance languages and linguistics departments. And I don’t recall any of those classes having an emphasis on learning think for yourself. Even in English lit classes we had to write papers dissecting literature with a view favorable to the prof’s to get a good grade. It was regurgitation of material, the difference per department was whether it was in essay form, solving formulas, or fill-in-the-blank exams.

    I really enjoyed reading your experience because I also had a very mixed experience at a large state school. Not related to Christianity, but related to my overall education, the degree I ended up with, and the lack of support for students at a big school. For better or worse, my experience helped mold me too. And if it weren’t for that school, I would have never have met my husband.

  6. Avatar
    Scott  May 13, 2015

    Interesting that you see your trainign as shaping your brain in important ways. Having trained as an engineer and worked as a computer programmer for 25+ years, I truly believe that pathways in my brain have been laid down that compel me to analyse and “solve” situations in very particular ways – even when they are not technical in nature.

  7. Avatar
    Loring  May 13, 2015

    Wow, your recent posts bring back so many memories! As I’ve mentioned in previous posts and other communications, my story is very much like yours. At about the same time as you, similar things happened. Substitute 20 for your age 15; Dorothy for Bruce; Baptist Bible College of PA for MBI; Grace Theo. Seminary for Princeton; and pastoral ministry (for 9 years) for your academic career and the rest is just about the same. We also both lost our faith for similar reasons (theodicy).

    Your comment today about how places like MBI, BBC, Grace, etc. don’t teach you how to think brought back a memory from my last year at Grace that illustrates this point. I should point out that when I was working on my ThM at Grace in Theology and Apologetics, the head of the Theology Dept. was none other than Dr. John C. Whitcomb (of Whitcomb & Morris, Genesis Flood fame). I heard him declare in class one day that he considered it a SIN that the library wasted shelf space by having a copy of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. This from the main theology professor! Fortunately, the library–despite the fundamentalist nature of the school–collected books that were not fundamentalist. (As a librarian now, I have to applaud their inclusive collection development policy!)

    As I worked on my ThM thesis regarding the incarnation, I took advantage of our library and found many interesting books (e.g., Dunn, Martin, etc.). As I read them, however, I began to become angry at Grace–or more specifically, my professors at Grace. Because of my research, I found valuable, scholarly works. But why had I not been told about these books when I had taken my class in Christology? Why had I–as a ThM student–been assigned Walvoord’s book–which was more suited for Sunday School level? I began to wonder: What else have they not told me? What other sources have they hidden from me? The head librarian had given us a semester long class on theological research just prior to the start of my research. Thanks to him, I learned how to search outside of the fundamentalist sources listed in our syllabi. But as you said, I clearly was not taught how to think in the classes themselves. Once I started reading outside of the “approved” texts, I was on my way out of fundamentalism, and eventually religion.

  8. Avatar
    silvertime  May 13, 2015

    Dr Ehrman: In the Apologetics course, did the intellectual defenses that you developed for key tenants of the faith come solely from the Bible(that is: is the Bible used to prove itself), or did you use logic and reason to make your case. If the latter is the case, how did you prove, for instance, the atontment doctrine, or the existence of the trinity?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 14, 2015

      We used both. For something like a doctrine of the Trinity, really Scripture was about the only way to go. But for proofs of God, or the historicity of hte resurrection, there were other kinds of arguments as well.

  9. Avatar
    prairieian  May 14, 2015

    What did your parents think of your fundamentalism? You’ve mentioned that your church background was Anglican/Epicopalian, so was anything but fundamentalist. Where they puzzled, bemused, supportive, opposed, or neutral?

  10. Avatar
    dmondeel  May 14, 2015

    Bart, read most of your books and seen and heard interviews and debates. You’ve validated much of my questioning of the claims of orthodox religion. You seem a very intense person, yet you have a great sense of humor. I appreciate you expressing your thinking.
    Dave

  11. Gary
    Gary  May 14, 2015

    I wish I could see a debate between Young Bart Ehrman and Professor Bart Ehrman. Are there any surviving works of Young Bart from those days?

  12. Avatar
    doug  May 14, 2015

    Did Moody have “experts” in Hebrew who taught that the correct translation of Isaiah 7.14 was that a *virgin* would have a child? My hunch is that fundamentalists have “experts” to justify any translation that supports fundamentalism.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 14, 2015

      I suppose they did — but I don’t remember what they said specifically about the Hebrew.

    • Avatar
      nacord  May 14, 2015

      I have to give a bit of props to my Hebrew prof at Moody who actually did the opposite of using the Hebrew text to justify traditionally held fundamentalist views. It was in his class that I learned the meaning of the word Almah and how it applied to specific events described in the author’s time. In my language classes I felt like I was being given access to classified information that would horribly mess with the theology of the Evangelical church if it were allowed to get loose. Yes, Moody is a fundy school, but in my experience there were some phenomenal, open-minded, clear thinking professors there that I studied under. I just have to throw a little respect there way.

  13. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 14, 2015

    It does not surprise me that you see both “the good” and “the bad” in your Moody education. That is the kind of person you are.

    The memorization reminds me of how we memorized stuff like all of the origins and insertions of all of the human muscles during the first year of medical school. To say nothing about memorizing the paths of all the nerves, arteries and veins and the details of the notorious Krebs cycle.

    For awhile now, I have been thinking that where a person starts a search determines where that search ends. One who starts with certain truths, then will mold all other evidence to fit those truths. On the other hand, one who starts without such truths but builds truth only as evidence builds will end up at a much different place than the first person.

    Pleas keep writing on this subject.

  14. Avatar
    paulmiller  May 14, 2015

    Hi Bart,

    Reading these last few posts has caused me to reflect on my own experience at North Central Bible College (Jim Bakker’s Alma Mater) in the early 80s. Thinking for yourself was definitely not encouraged! After being there for a year, I got a job next door to the college where many students worked. I was told a humorous story by one of the students that I think reflects how quickly fundamentalists will throw you under the bus. Jim Bakker donated money for a skyway to the college so the students wouldn’t have to walk outside in the cold Minnesota winter. There was a large plaque commemorating Jim Bakker’s donation and apparently on the first day that the Bakker scandal came out they had their maintenance crew with crowbars and screwdrivers in hand to rip that plaque of the wall. Although I can look back and laugh about such things, I also know that there was real spiritual and psychological damage done to many students. For example, my wife then girlfriend was told by one of the visiting pastors that if only she could have enough faith her mom will be healed after being involved in a car accident in which she was severely brain damaged and paralyzed. Can you imagine that! I’m grateful that I met my wife there and that we had enough common sense to get the hell out! I thank you for your honesty about your own history. Your books and your blog have been transformative in my journey of faith.

    Thanks again,
    Paul

  15. Avatar
    Tnewby4444  May 14, 2015

    Did you retain it? Can you you recite the New Testament word for word still today?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 14, 2015

      No, not really. I can quote tons of verses, but it would take some refreshing to give any of the books I once memorized off by heart.

  16. Avatar
    Macavity  May 16, 2015

    You’ve written at length about Moody. How about your two years at Wheaton? At least there Arthur Holmes said his task was to teach students how to think for themselves because in thirty years many memorized “facts” would become obsolete and his students would need the intellectual tools to help them discover truth. In your case, it appears Dr. Holmes was right since more than a few memorized so-called facts became obsolete although it didn’t take thirty years.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 18, 2015

      Yes, Wheaton was a liberating experience for me. Though it was an adjustment. It was too liberal for my tastes!

  17. John4
    John4  May 24, 2015

    I appreciate your comments on the things you now value about your experience at Moody. And, of course, I understand your regret: “Not, of course, classes in literature, history, classics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, math, chemistry, biology, physics, or much of anything else that normal college kids take”

    At Yale in the 70’s I took plenty of literature and history, two or three math classes, and one intro to psychology. But, if it’s any comfort to you, I never stepped foot in a chemistry, biology, or physics class.

    (And, one of my two C’s there was in Wayne Meek’s New Testament survey, lol!)

    Cherish the good you got at Moody! 🙂

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