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Jesus and My First Girlfriend: A Blast From The Past

Breezing through some old posts today from nearly six years ago, and came across this interesting little anecdote.  I’d forgotten I had written about it.  A funny personal story about something that actually became important for me.

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My first serious girlfriend was Lynn, whom I met when we were starting our sophomore year in high school.  She was funny, personable, attractive, intelligent, and Jewish.   I’m not sure I had ever known a Jewish person before her.

I don’t recall that we ever talked about religion, and looking back I suppose it’s a bit surprising.   She and her family certainly weren’t observant Jews and my uninformed sense is that they were completely secular.  I don’t know if they went to synagogue or kept any of the holidays, but I kind-a doubt it.  In any event, at that point in my life religion wasn’t really my main concern when it came to a girlfriend.

We were a hot item for months, and then at the end of my sophomore year, disaster struck.  Her mom got a new job in Topeka, which was only about 20 miles away but seemed like light years.  I got along great with her mom, but she (the mom) was quite firm that with the move, it would make better sense for us not still to be “going together,” as we used to do in those days.   So that was that.

We kept in touch over the course of high school, though.  And the big thing that happened to me the next Fall was that I started going to a Youth for Christ club (called “Campus Life”) that met once a week at someone’s house.  It was always a social event with a devotional talk at the end.  And pretty soon I was getting mesmerized by the religious aspects of the meeting.  I learned that even if you thought you were a Christian but had never asked Jesus into your heart, you weren’t really.  It didn’t matter if you …

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Comments

  1. godspell  March 19, 2018

    I’ve always found conversion attempts (from anybody, atheists included, though the spiel is different) a bit offensive, though I recognize no offense is meant. “I just don’t want you to burn in hell forever!” is the general gist. I mean, it’s thoughtful, but suppose you’re the one going to hell? Suppose there is no hell? Suppose God doesn’t care what we believe, only how we behave? (Seems that may really be what Jesus thought).

    When St. Francis attempted to convert Sultan al-Kamil, the Sultan responded with great consideration and respect (while some of his followers argued this infidel should be killed on the spot for blasphemy). St. Francis, whose faith was deep and genuine, was troubled afterwards. He knew this was, in many ways, a far more devoutly religious man than some of the Christian knights he’d met. If your behavior is righteous, doesn’t that mean your faith is as well? But part of his faith was that everyone had to accept Jesus as their savior. A puzzle he couldn’t crack, because he could not accept Jesus was a mortal man.

    But he still got what Jesus was saying, how Jesus wanted us to live, and that is what matters. That’s all that matters.

  2. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  March 19, 2018

    Thanks for the blast from the past! I can relate to this. I heard the same thing. You could believe in God, pray to him, ask for forgiveness, go to Church etc…but if you didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus you were still going to Hell!

    Today I can see the rigid, didactic and fear based thinking behind it all. It really turns God into a legalistic narrow minded deity. I learned many years ago such beliefs about God are often the projections of ones own judgemental and cold and unempathetic attitudes onto God.

    What Lynn said made a lot of sense! At some point did you question the irrationality of such a theological position?

  3. SidDhartha1953  March 19, 2018

    Candida Moss, in her book on persecution, cites an estimate from Ramsay MacMullen that only about 5% of Christians regularly attended communal worship in the 2nd to 4th centuries CE. Do you agree with that estimate and, if so, what made the ordinary Christian notably different from other people? Also, when and why did church attendance become important?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 21, 2018

      I deal with it in my book, but that’s not the statistic. It’s that 5% of the population at large could meet in the Xn churches built in the fourth century. It’s hard to know if Xns were mainly meeting in private homes, or cemeteries, or if they simply didn’t come to church much, or what!

  4. doug  March 19, 2018

    In my teens I had a girlfriend who told me that there were witches. It was around Halloween, and I laughed out loud, thinking she was joking. But then she told me the Bible said so. Things went downhill from there…

  5. ardeare  March 19, 2018

    I remember those collect calls of the 70’s. I googled a few articles to juggle my memory on the outrageous rates. Sure enough, people remember paying $1 to $3 a minute. If you called from a telephone booth, you needed a bucket of quarters with you. She must have really been the cat’s meow.

  6. J--B  March 19, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Did you read any books on the historical Jesus – such as you have written – during your college years?

  7. fishician  March 19, 2018

    So relatable: I was raised Lutheran and then converted to evangelical Christianity in college, and also had a similar conversation with an old girlfriend, except that she was Catholic instead of Jewish. I also studied intensely, but so much so that, like a preacher I once heard say about one of his flock, I “studied myself right out of the church!” One of the sad things about religious groups is that they create these artificial barriers between people that prevent us from seeking truth together; instead we’re concerned about separating the “sheep and the goats,” as Jesus might say.

  8. Judith  March 19, 2018

    Thanks for sharing. Wonder if Lynn knows all that’s happened with you since high school?

  9. jdub3125  March 19, 2018

    Most importantly for this story, do you know what Lynn has been up to for the past 45 years and where she is now?

  10. Actual_Wolfman  March 19, 2018

    Whatever happened to Lynn? Did she eventually find out about your loss of faith? Curious to know.

    Thanks for your blog!

  11. talmoore
    talmoore  March 20, 2018

    When was the last time you spoke to Lynn?

  12. RonaldTaska  March 20, 2018

    Well, this once again confirms what I have been saying for a long time: Your best book would be an autobiography of your religious journey.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 21, 2018

      I actually proposed it to my publisher and they weren’t very enthused!!

      • RonaldTaska  March 21, 2018

        Ugh! How disappointing.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 22, 2018

          I’ll be re-proposing it! Another publisher was *very* interested.

          • Marykeesling  April 5, 2018

            I would be most interested in that. Faith journeys are always interesting. Honest questioning.
            I just read Misquoting Jesus, really enjoyed it, fascinating!

          • Edward  April 17, 2018

            Would be happy to read it. Like you, I was raised mainline Christian, but Catholic not Episcopalian as in your case. And was asked to pray the sinner’s prayer by a friend at age 15, a year younger than you, then I voraciously read the Bible for the first time, and then many Christian answer books, and also tried to convert a 16 year old Catholic girl to born again Christianity by having her pray the sinner’s prayer with me one night when we were making out. Years later I left the fold, and edited a collection of such testimonies, titled, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists. I keep toying with the idea of editing another such collection since I have run into some interesting testimonies since that first book was published. In fact my book was published in1995, which preceded a flood of such books by leavers, 300 or so! And mine was even mentioned in a Yale U Press publication about Evangelical Disenchantment.

          • Dennyk  July 7, 2018

            I see this post is some months old but as I’m new to your blog and your forum I don’t know whether you’ve been able to arrange publication of your memoir/biography. If not, have you considered using Kickstarter or some similar online service?
            I’d say publish it on your own website electronically, but that would add several more layers of complications and delays on top of the mountain of work already involved in writing, editing and producing a physically bound and printed book. I suspect many of your readers here would find your memoir/bio very interesting reading. Sign me up for a copy! Thank you for your work and your frankness and honesty in your writing.

          • Bart
            Bart  July 8, 2018

            No, I’ll only publish with a major trade press, since I would want to have wide distribution.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  March 21, 2018

        Do you mean enthusiastic? (Sorry, it’s a pet peeve.)

        • alvinstoll  March 24, 2018

          “Enthused” is in the dictionary, in the exact sense that Bart used. The rules of English are established by the general usage of native speakers of the language, and not by any one person.

          • talmoore
            talmoore  March 25, 2018

            Yeah, well, the dictionary is wrong.

      • RG959  April 23, 2018

        That book would be so amazing. Maybe reconsider?

  13. Gary
    Gary  March 21, 2018

    I remember that post! 🙂 Thanks for posting it again. Kinda spooky that it was six years ago.

  14. Steve  March 21, 2018

    Off topic: my devout Christian mother and I were talking and I mentioned an event from the past. She said, “I asked you for forgiveness. Why are you still talking about It?” Is the concept “forgive and forget” Biblical or is that a doctrine based on a human hope that once the magic words are spoken, it’s as if it never happened? I remember my fundamentalist upbringing would say that’s how God views our sin once forgiven, as if it never happened.
    Love the new book! Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 21, 2018

      The very phrase “forgive and forget” is not biblical (even though it’s a good one!)

  15. anthonygale  March 21, 2018

    I remember being a teenager, thinking I had discovered such wonderful knowledge and being suprised that others did not see it my way when I tried to educate them. I am speaking of a field other than yours, but I don’t see it as being any different. When I listen to a college student speak matter of factly about matters people have studied for centuries/millennia that they have known about for weeks/months, I sometimes marvel. I can’t be too critical though because I was once just as naive/arrogant. At times I wonder if I still am (to a much lesser extent I think/hope).

  16. rivercrowman  March 21, 2018

    Youth for Christ still exists based on my web search. In a round-about way, I owe them a lot for guiding the young Bart Ehrman onto a path that resulted in a person so valuable to people today. Unlike Bart, I missed my chance to win a Jewish girlfriend in my youth. … Darn!!

    • royerd  March 28, 2018

      I agree. But not to be missed, and perhaps this is what you mean but I’ll underscore it anyway: Bart could have his degree and scholarly life even without the conversion experience, but what I, and perhaps you and many others find so powerful is the voice of someone who understands so well the point of view of the hard-core evangelical. Bart’s experience provides him with a unique ability to address certain kinds of questions with answers that penetrate to the heart of the matter. He engages evangelicals with the unique experience of one who’s been there and left. And he does so without animosity. I think one of his most valuable insights, for me anyway, is his ability to point out where history leaves off and theology begins in these analyses and discussions. There’s so much sleight-of-hand in this regard among evangelical apologists. And it’s this perspective and these kinds of insights that would make a memoir so valuable. Instead of a Frankie Schaeffer sort of “tell all” kind of thing, it could work as an introduction to scholarship and scholarly thinking, a way for people to untangle this knot of belief that has so many folks–typically those Bart debates with even–confused.

      • Marykeesling  April 5, 2018

        The lack of animosity is indeed refreshing.

  17. royerd  March 27, 2018

    I think an autobiography would be interesting at several levels. My own experience is similar to yours. I grew up in Topeka at the same time you were in Lawrence–sorry, I can’t say I met Lynn when she moved to Topeka. 🙂 I didn’t get the same kind of education you did after high school (did get a PhD at KU though), and my evangelical faith did not endure quite as long as yours. By 1985 or so I think I was well on my way out of the fold. I studied autobiography and philosophy among other things. Recently I’ve been revisiting some of the American Pragmatists on the nature of belief. I think that would be an interesting theme in your autobiography. See, for example, William James’s essay, “The Will to Believe” and C.S. Peirce’s “The Fixation of Belief.” The folks were interested in the experience, per se, of belief, not just of God but of any sort. It’s just a thought I guess. How we come to believe and how we come not to believe are really interesting things to explore.

    I’ve found our work really helpful in quieting my “wish I had said this before I left the fold” voice even all these years later. Not sure how that works. I just finished reading your NT textbook–yep, all 500-some pages! I wish I had read it 40 years ago, but I was just trying to find a girlfriend myself in those days. Thanks for all your good work!

    Dan Royer

  18. natasha  March 28, 2018

    Good heavens…give us Lynn’s last name and we’ll do a quick Google and find her! :-).
    Did that last invigorating conversation with her set you on your path to the debate team as well?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 28, 2018

      Yeah, tried that. We met on the debate team, the first week of high school!

  19. Maxwilt  March 29, 2018

    Confessed your sins?
    Privately, or to a priest?
    Back in the day when I was an Episcopalian, I don’t remember that being done.

  20. The Agnostic Christian
    The Agnostic Christian  April 4, 2018

    “Well, I’m not sure; but if we have him, we might as well take him!”

    That made me chuckle. When were young Fundamentalists we didnt know why were right, but we were!

    Then we started coming up with more clever answers to why we ignorantly “accepted Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour”!

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