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Moody Bible Boot Camp

Back to my narrative about becoming trained in the Bible (as a prelude to what I started talking about — why my later technical training actually made me better prepared for writing books for general audiences than my peers who were not at all interested in the technical side of things).  So, I went to Moody Bible Institute – and took that entrance Bible exam – when I was all of seventeen years old.   And it was during my first semester that I decided what I wanted to do with my life.

I really, really, really do not advise doing that.  For 99.999% of the human race, it would be a very bad idea indeed to decide how to spend the rest of your life when you’re all of seventeen and can’t even yet order a beer (drinking age back then, in the Pleistocene age, was eighteen) (and anyway, we weren’t allowed to drink beer at Moody) (or smoke, play cards, dance, or go to movies) (really) (and there was a dress code).   But I’m in the .001% and I did decide and it worked for me.

My first semester at Moody I took five courses, as I recall, on a variety of topics related to Bible, theology, and ministry, but the one I remember and that made the biggest impact on me was a class on the Gospel of John.  An entire semester in that class of nothing but John.  I thought it was *fantastic*, precisely the thing I wanted to do in college.

The professor was …

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Learning to Teach at Moody
Am I A Better Person as an Agnostic? A Blast from the Past

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Comments

  1. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  August 29, 2016

    Can you recommend any college level theologian to read that resembles what they may teach at Harvard, Yale, Duke, Chicago etc? I have a passion for history and the Early Church and I have a passion for Theology. I haven’t read too much serious theology. I have read the trade books by Borg, Crossan & Spong (sounds like a law firm) and I have read some Paul Tillich but would like to dive deeper into more theology.

    Did becoming an agnostic/atheist either diminish your passion for Biblical studies or have you question whether or not to continue in the work you do?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 29, 2016

      I would recommend you try books by Rowan Williams and by Stanley Hauerwas. Just pick ones that seem interesting for you. And no, I’m still completely passionate about what I do.

      • Benjamin
        Benjamin  August 30, 2016

        I can relate to this MBI Boot Camp. I spent four years in a charismatic church in Vancouver, BC, taught by the arch fundamentalists using ‘Accelerated Christian Education’ curriculum, and my senior year was spent at Prairie High School, part of Prairie Bible Institute. I also memorized bible verses using King James Version. Even today, some forty years later, I can recall biblical verses and the passion for the truth has not been extinguished. Unlike you, Bart, the Exalted One, I have no luck in seminaries. My own pious folks talked me out of going to bible college, and later on seminary. But in my spare time, I was thoroughly indoctrinated by the teachings of ‘Complete Works of Francis A Schaeffer.” and other apologists of the faith. It is only years later, after I have come to the conclusion that my faith is an elaborated construct, something that may not be real or true. But for years, I resisted the liberals and their teachings about the bible. Reading your books for commoners like myself helps me to get out of this intellectual prison. Your book on suffering really helps to nail it, for me, it is personal why I finally reject this fundamentalist faith. I have lived to witness absurdities in the churches, of drunken pastors, lesbians who did not practice what they preached, abuses of all sorts, but that did not touch me. You’d must be familiar with the comments we are exhorted to ‘look to Jesus and not to men.” They thus give a pass to all sorts of absurdities in the faith. But a personal thing happened while I struggle with my faith. It was in the marrying my wife I gradually came to see how absurd I was and that my childhood faith is no longer sufficient or real to live in this world. That personal experience, not intellectual doubt, helps me to come out gradually. I am still pretty much the same person, same fundamentalist today. I don’t smoke, drink or dance. I am uncomfortable to swear, and my life style is the same old boring self. But I am a new person today, reading and re-reading your works. I don’s always understand, but I keep on seeking the truth that is in us and in the world. In my being, the teachings found in the gospels are sacred to me, and I try to live a life according to it. For others, it makes no sense, they would perhaps ask why don’t you just throw the whole thing out, and live a carnal life. I cannot, for I esteem these teachings for so many years, it has defined me. But with these discussions, I see that my understanding of the bible and my childhood faith is based on a construct that is no longer. So I now learn to treat LGBT people humanely and kindly, that I no longer ‘evangelize’ for it has no more meaning for me. I also stopped attending church, for I find it difficult to say the Nicene Creed ( like you did).

        Would I recommend the Bible Boot camp? I am not sure, but I am equally uncomfortable with an age that is more materialistic, and actively lead an epicurean life. I think, living a life of virtues, for in that, is my reward. I still believe in God, but I would rephrase God as Gott. (the good). A life patterns after goodness, is the best way I can describe my faith today, and that mystic Jesus still puzzles me. So I read and re-read your writings and others. If you have someone on the self-destructive pathway, and there is no answer, use fundamentalist faith, for that maybe the “hatch” (small escaping opening) of this terrible world, for which he maybe able to escape. For someone that has no moral structures, no stable family life or relationship, maybe suicidal, or hateful, what is the harm to teach him that “God is love” and to love others? And it maybe useful to scare him that God is holy and he is all but fire and will burn up sinners in the end. That was how they taught and invented this story to perhaps stop sociopaths of their days. And in the days such as ours, this is why they have so many of them flocking to their churches for clear and back and white answers. You will always have a few percent in the population to do this. This is why religion cannot be exterminated even in a godless society such as the Russians or ours.

        There, that is my take on it. Thank you, Bart Ehrman of God, for helping such a sinner as I. 🙂

        • Bart
          Bart  August 30, 2016

          Wow. You’ve had an interesting life. At Moody we always looked on Prairie Bible Institute as the REAL fundamentalists, way to the right of us. But I guess that’s how fundamentalism works. You’re never one yourself; it’s the guy more conservative than you who is….

  2. Avatar
    Habib  August 29, 2016

    Very interesting & amazing.

  3. Avatar
    Todd  August 29, 2016

    I think that there must be an interesting story why you did not like church history.

    Tell us about it 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  August 29, 2016

      I loved church history! And later in life it became my passion (early church).

  4. Avatar
    rivercrowman  August 29, 2016

    Bart, this comment is Biblical. … Several posts ago you re-shared an outstanding video lecture “How Jesus Became God, Part 1 of 3.” Thanks! You piqued my interest in the Jesus Seminar enough that I purchased the group’s massive and interesting book “The Five Gospels” (1993). The principal authors soon noted (p. 40) “the majority of the Fellows do not believe that Jesus proclaimed that the end of the age was near.” Thanks to a simple majority, that was “bye bye” to apocalypticism from that point forward. … Then you later emerged on scene with your book “Jesus – Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium” (1999). … To help me get added returns on these bookshelf investments, would you please go out on a public limb and share two verses in Matthew and two in Mark (skipping Mark 1:15) that you think Jesus almost certainly (or probably) said. .. I’ll highlight them accordingly. … Thanks very much!

    • Bart
      Bart  August 30, 2016

      You’ll find a whole slug of them in my book Jesus Apocalyptic Prophet (as I guess you know): but for the record, I’d say, e.g., Mark 8:38-9:1; 13:30; Matthew 24:43-44; 25:31-46.

      • Avatar
        rivercrowman  August 31, 2016

        Thanks! You’re right. I’m re-reading Chapter 8 in your book “Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet.” … It’s even more interesting the second time around!

      • Avatar
        Rogers  September 1, 2016

        Am reading that book right now (Jesus Apocalyptic Prophet) and it’s great.

        Approached via the historical critical methods of multi-attestation, dissimilarity, and historical contextual sensibility, the case that Jesus was basically a dyed-in-the wool, fully believing, Jewish apocalyptic preacher that sincerely thought the Kingdom of God was imminent, is a conclusion that looks unavoidable.

        But with that said, Jesus still had some things in his particular mix that none-the-less revolutionized religion (and spilled over into spirituality somewhat). Even when well explained in these terms, Yeshua still manages to emerge a bit paradoxical and enigmatic. Is it a shear accident of history that perhaps he and his ministry got blown way out of proportion to their actual significance? When one holds an atheist or agnostic position, one no longer reads anything into the narrative of human history – everything unfolds as some random cake walk. Yet when one is a direct experiencer of the paranormal/mystical, that door (narrative and meaning) remains an open one.

        Quantum Mechanics is now accelerating toward more and more uptake of the Simulation Hypothesis while the Many Worlds and Pilot Wave interpretations are failing miserably in the face of variations of double slit experiments that feature quantum erasure and apparent retro causality revision (the Copenhagen interpretation really is not an interpretation at all – but is one of agnosticism – just do the math because it works, don’t try to contemplate or posit any interpretive meaning).

        The upshot is that just as 20th century polymath John Von Neumann advanced in his early 1930s mathematical treatment of QM, consciousness is looking to be something external to the matter/energy of the cosmos. It is what collapses the QM wave function as our consciousness perceives our reality context. Consciousness (whatever it ultimately is) is the more fundamental substrate – not matter/energy. We individually are a kind of whirlpool vortex in the ocean of the consciousness substrate.

        The further upshot is that Materialism (and hence ultimately the ideologies of atheism/agnosticism – as Materialism is their only viable paradigm of scientific understanding that had any seeming rationality) are going the way of the Ptolemaic Theory of the solar system. By the end of this century Materialism will be regarded in the same vein as a Flat Earth paradigm. It’s been a slow boil for this transition to come about since the 1920s, but now some of the old guard are finally dieing off sufficiently, and the experiments have become more and more precise and definitive over the decades such that non-locality, entanglement and apparent retro-causality-revision can no longer be doubted. Once old, obsolete scientist die off, then the next paradigm shift can accelerate. A new QM physicist vanguard are going in the direction of the cosmos (our perceived reality context) is an information processing construct and “material” reality and its determinism are invalid and/or illusory. It is the only scientificly rational position that is being left on the table given the experiments (Einstein definitely lost the bet).

        Lucky coincidence, it would seem, that ancient gnostics held that perspective (in a big picture sort of way).

        • Avatar
          llamensdor  September 4, 2016

          I assume when you say that Einstein lost that bet you’re referring to his comment re: QM that “God doesn’t throw dice.” Isn’t it amazing that despite his disdain for QM he could make predictions and analyses that are still being proved correct more than 100 years later? I personally believe that eventually the apparent double-doorway observations will prove to be a failure of perception and that we will learn that these observations are just what they seem to be—gibberish. There is such a thing as cause and effect.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  September 1, 2016

        Interesting that you include that last, rather lengthy, quotation. Bertrand Russell, in his “Why I Am Not a Christian,” wrote, among other things, that he objected to the morality of Jesus on the grounds that he believed in eternal damnation. This quotation supports that view of Jesus. Do you think Jesus really believed that and would you agree with Russell’s critique.

        • Bart
          Bart  September 2, 2016

          I’m not sure at this point what I think about what jesus thought about eternal damnation. It’s part of my next project.

  5. Avatar
    Tempo1936  August 29, 2016

    The days where evangelists and pastors can just quote bible verses or recommend bible studies to our youth are long gone. The traditional church today is really in a crisis as the scientific method and facts about church, Christology and bible history are readily available to most. So different from 15-20 years ago.
    Hard to believe most Christian radio ministries and stations will survive five years. Most believers over 50 deny these changes as their children live in a post modern era.

  6. Avatar
    seward414  August 29, 2016

    Thank you for this. I feel much the same way about my 4 years at Bob Jones University. It was a total waste of time, and yet it helped me see the vacuum at the center of fundamentalism. I’m not sure I would have had the same experience at State U.

  7. talmoore
    talmoore  August 29, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, in previous blogs you said that in your youth you were a thorough-going the-End-Times-are-nigh guy (ala Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth), so how did you square your belief in an impending apocalypse with the circle of planning out a future career as a scholar?!? One would think you would have been more of a sell-everything-you-own-and-give-the-money-to-the-poor-and-await-Jesus’-imminent-return kind of guy, rather than a spend-seven-years-in-grad-school-and-then-seek-tenure kind of guy. Did you ever feel torn in two?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 30, 2016

      Ha! That’s a great question. A social-scientist should have interviewed me back then and tried to figure it out! I guess, in non-theological terms, it was “hope for the best and prepare for the worst” (although I was very excited about the worst…)

      • talmoore
        talmoore  August 30, 2016

        Did you think you’d be raptured, or were you gonna be one of those “left behind”? And, in a related question, did you believe in predestination?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 31, 2016

          Oh yes, I would definitely be raptured. And yes, predestination, all the way!

      • TWood
        TWood  August 30, 2016

        “although I was very excited about the worst…” Yep, that’s what pre-trib hysteria does to people (I thought and taught the same exact thing for years)… after all, before the worst actually happens, “we’ll be outta here!” When dispy fundies see all of the evil in the world, they actually become personally excited because their redemption is drawing near… little do they know they’re not going to be alien abducted by Jesus…

        Sorry for the comment, but I do have a question. I know how fundie’s explain the Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit… What’s your sense on how the earliest Christians understood it?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 31, 2016

          I”m not sure. It’s a good quesiton. Maybe the “rejection of Christ” (who was attested to by the Spirit)?

          • TWood
            TWood  August 31, 2016

            Yeah, that’s the immediate meaning I think. Do you also see it as the NT authors making a distinction between how harsh temporal blasphemy penalties were under the law compared to how non-existent they were under Jesus’ new teaching? (The idea being Christians shouldn’t set up a theocracy and stone people to death, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a reckoning after you die).

            Which brings up another question about the Pericope Adulterae. I know it was a later add… and even found in Luke once… but it seems like it might have been based on a real event. I say that because it seems like the NT authors wanted to keep it out (maybe because it seems to violate the Law of Moses which made it hard to accept for early Jewish Christians)… but because it was such a famous event people kept the tradition alive orally… and eventually it was placed in the NT because the story was seen as true and it wouldn’t go away… do you think such a theory is plausible?

          • Bart
            Bart  September 2, 2016

            There were huge controversies about the passage (the woman taken in adultery), with some church fathers thinking that it brilliantly taught the need to be forgiving and others thinking that it went to far in condoning sexual license. Jennifer Knust at Boston University is finishing a book dealing with just this issue. But no, I don’t think there are good grounds for thinking it is historical.

  8. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 30, 2016

    Interesting as your personal posts always are. My first year courses at the university of Texas:

    1. Introductory philosophy where we read Robinson’s “Honest to God” and Russell’s “Mysticism and Logic.”

    2. Greek

    3 Introductory Biology which essentially was a course of evolutionary history starting with one-celled creatures and ending with humans.

    4. Calculus, physics, and chemistry.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 31, 2016

      Ha! That was very different from my first year (or second or third!)

  9. Avatar
    fabiogaucho  August 30, 2016

    You have a peculiar way of using parentheses (not that I am complaining!) (I do wonder if it is grammatical, though) (but I suppose your editors have already talked to you about it) (either way it seems you will just keep doing what you are doing and not matter what people think).

    • Bart
      Bart  August 31, 2016

      Yes, I’m rather proud of my parentheses (although I write this way only informally) (my editors would massively object if I tried it in formal writing) (they have plenty of other things to object to, so I don’t give them this reason). It’s how my mind works!

  10. Avatar
    bensonian  August 31, 2016

    Awesome post. Thanks for sharing this part of your journey. Just curious, were you in the ‘once saved always saved’ camp, or did you think that you could loose your salvation potentially? Personally, I grew up believing the ‘once saved always saved’ camp, and then questioned that a bit later after digging deeper into scripture.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 2, 2016

      Yup, once saved always saved. Maybe I’m still saved!!

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  September 2, 2016

        I suppose predestination and eternal security (the technical Baptist term for “once saved, always saved”) go hand in hand, even though the Southern Baptists I grew up with thought the Calvinists were total heretics on that point (predestination, not one saved etc.). Have you run across anyone who tried to work out what happens to a person who believes, but was not predistined to “be saved?”

        • Bart
          Bart  September 3, 2016

          Well, we used to say that if the person truly believed, s/he *had* been predestined.

          • Avatar
            SidDhartha1953  September 5, 2016

            *L* and the Baptists said those who “fell away” were never truly saved in the first place. We are such talented creatures when it comes to rationalizing our beliefs.

  11. Avatar
    Jason  September 1, 2016

    I would love to see you in a charity Bible trivia gameshow against the other celebrity experts like Coogan, Magness, Branham and the Devers, or Crossan for the real drama!

  12. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  September 4, 2016

    One thing that really bugs me about some fundamentalists’ education is that their degrees can be earned at lightning speed. One particular person I know earned a Bachelor’s in a year because he received credit for being a pastor for so many years. A Master’s was obtained shortly after that followed by a PhD all in the span of 3-4 years. Things like that irritate me to no end.

  13. Avatar
    HawksJ  September 7, 2016

    You have mentioned studying the ‘history of the Church’ at Moody. I am curious, what ‘history’ did they teach?

    Fundamentalist history goes back less than 200 years (a fact that they, of course, would never acknowledge), so what did they say was the ‘history of the church’ prior to that? Was it merely a study of Acts?

    This raises a point that I think would be a fascinating project for you: it has been well-established that there were many forms of ‘Christianity’ in the first century; did any of them closely resemble any modern fundamentalist churches?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 8, 2016

      We studied church history, which was mainly the first couple of centuries, the important fourth century, the Reformation, and the 19th and 20th centuries.

      • Avatar
        HawksJ  September 8, 2016

        Interesting. I grew up in a fundamentalist church and it was if history just skipped from about 70 to 1900.

        Again, though, what ‘history’ did they teach? At a high level, how did it differ from what you would later learn? One important example: how old were you when you first realized that the NT didn’t exist in the 1st century church?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 9, 2016

          We certainly learned historical facts (about the Reformation, for example, or about 19th century missionary work). But especially the early centuries were heavily tinted by theological bias. The NT, e.g., was widely known to be canonical even if there were debates about some of the fringe works for a while.

          • Avatar
            HawksJ  September 9, 2016

            Thank you for the response. The ‘theological tint’ was what I was getting at. I find the process of how fundamentalists (especially organizations, even more so than individuals) learn, process, and deal with ‘discovering’ the (more) real history of the church(es).

            With respect to my comment about the “NT”, I meant that ‘1st century Christians’ (the model of what all modern fundamentalist aspire to) didn’t have a neat, little book of assorted documents that anybody called a “Bible”, much less a “NT”. I mean, a ‘church’ in 50 CE would literally have nothing on hand from our “NT” except possibly a letter or two or three from Paul – right (that’s not to say they didn’t have other documents available)?

            That is so obvious as to be silly, but I truly believe that most conservative Christians kind of imagine that they did.

          • Bart
            Bart  September 11, 2016

            That’s right!

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