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

I mentioned yesterday that I would have a guest post to the blog; this is Jeffrey Siker, an ordained Presbyterian minister and New Testament scholar. Jeff is senior professor of New Testament at Loyola Marymount University. He and I have been friends for over thirty years; he was two years behind me in my PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary. I have asked him to explain why he is still a Christian, even though he knows and agrees with most of what I think, from a historical perspective, about the New Testament. I have cut his answer into two parts to make them fit the format of the blog. Part 2, where he gets most directly to the question, will be in tomorrow’s post. He, and I, welcome any feedback (which, of course, can be more informed after tomorrow’s post). The following are his words:

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When I first went to Princeton Theological Seminary to begin the Ph.D. program there in New Testament Studies, one of the first individuals I met in the graduate study room was Bart Ehrman.  (This was back in 1983.)  There were several long tables with chairs in the room, and each graduate student had managed to commandeer an end of one of the tables, marked by various piles of books and coffee cups.  Bart had his own stack of books and 3 x 5 note cards as he was busy collating (collecting and comparing) the Gospel citations from the 4th century theologian Didymus the Blind (Bart’s first published book).  I remember asking him what it meant for a blind man to use a particular version of the Gospel text.  His response was something like, “Good question!”  And we’ve been friends ever since!  He regularly whipped me in racquetball (and I mean whipped), and we spent many long evenings playing backgammon, smoking a cigar or two, and talking NT and theology, among other things.  At the time he was working part-time pastoring a Baptist church in the Princeton area.  His educational pedigree demonstrated a clear fundamentalist-conservative trajectory (Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, then Princeton Seminary for his M.Div. and finally his Ph.D. in text criticism with Prof. Bruce Metzger, the most important and prolific text critic of the time; and Bart was his prized student).  Despite his very conservative background, he was open to all kinds of questions and issues, and he had clearly moved significantly away from his most fundamentalist days that had included the assertion of biblical inerrancy.  His understanding of the Bible had developed a critical edge, which often happens to individuals with conservative theological roots.

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

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    wisemenwatch  January 25, 2013

    I also attended a Presbyterian Church a couple of times as a child. We lived just a block away from the church. It was a new one, still one of the nicer church buildings in town. This must have been around 1958-59.

    I couldn’t have been older than 4, because by the time I was 5, we were living in a different area of town; but I remember being in that church at Christmas, attempting to sing Silent Night, and being mesmerized by the scent and sight of the real Christmas tree strung with large bright blue, red, and yellow lightbulbs. And I was probably very excited about the prospect of owning that new doll that I wanted Santa to bring.

    Back in the 50s and 60s, this was the kind of church most of the respectable folks in town attended – the people who owned their own businesses, the middle and upper middle class folks living in the thriving 60s. That was the kind of Christianity these salt of the earth types believed in.

    A few years ago, a member of this church told me that the Presbyterian Church here in town is “like a country club”.

    The congregation is very small. There are a very few 30-somethings or older that attend, but the majority is rapidly aging, in their 70s, 80s, and 90s – and dwindling. They still have Sunday worship, but I’m not sure that they have a full time pastor.

    The church is used for larger funerals that overflow our town’s funeral home. In fact, the funeral home owner told me that he has first dibs on the building for himself, if/when the building comes up for sale. He is a member there, so knows what’s going on.

    It seems to me, that around here (technically out of the Bible belt, but precariously close) that Christianity was different when I was a child.

    People looked askance at anything but mainstream denominations. It was ok to have faith and believe in Jesus and God, but no one was preaching the end of the world. That was the thing of cartoons in the Saturday Evening Post.

    On the other hand, it was ok to sing Christmas carols in school, have Christmas and Easter vacations and a nativity scene in the city park.

    Prayer was legal in schools, apparently, back then – because I never had a teacher attempt to lead my class in prayer until the Supreme Court’s decision went into effect. I was in the 4th grade in 1964 and out of spite for the decision, our teacher made us recite the Lord’s Prayer. I was embarrassed because I only knew the opening lines, but that is the one and only time it ever happened..

    I really didn’t know of any fanatics back then. It’s not for nothing that they say we were living in Camelot.

  2. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 25, 2013

    Good start. Keep going. It can be quite a “jolt.” I love the “third grade” quote. I also understand the “waving off of questions.” I also hope you will recommend a few books that helped you get to your view since a blog has to be rather short.

    • Avatar
      DrSiker  January 28, 2013

      As for books, they were all pretty much the standard fare for Ph.D. programs in NT — critical Introductions to the NT, Greco-Roman contexts, Jewish contexts, early Christian history, and the like. Everything from J.D.G. Dunn’s Unity & Diversity, to Schurer’s History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, to the work of E.P. Sanders, J.D. Crossan, and the rest.

  3. Avatar
    DMiller5842  January 25, 2013

    I love the third grade quote too. I happen to have a niece who is teaching third grade at Crossroads Christian School. I think she knows just enough to pull that off. She only has 7 girls in her class.

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