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My Fundamentalist Beginning

Lately I’ve been thinking a good deal about my completely ambivalent relationship to my past, in particular in relation to my education at Moody Bible Institute.   In part my thinking has been set off by an email I received from my roommate and best friend at the time, and for years, who was the best man in my wedding and confidante and most closest male friend I had ever had.   He has remained a committed evangelical Christian all these years and continues in ministry.   We never have contact any more, but he reached out to me to say hey, and I’ve been flooded with memories and thoughts since.

There is a very big part of me – probably the most noticeable part – that is deeply resentful toward my time at Moody.   But there is another part that occasionally arises to the surface, which realizes that in many ways those three years were very good for me.   Without them, I would not be who I have become and what I am.   Sometimes I forget that.

Let me give a bit of background for anyone interested (all three of you) who doesn’t know this about me already.


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My Moody Experience
Year Three on the Blog



  1. Avatar
    MatthewAMcIntosh  May 11, 2015

    I am a member. The amount of work you put into this deserves compensation. But these are the types of posts that should not be “Members Only.”

    • Bart
      Bart  May 12, 2015

      I thought about it. But this is going to be a thread of many posts, and I want people to join the blog! Maybe these will encourage some to do so.

  2. Avatar
    Brooks  May 11, 2015

    Had a similar experience through Asbury College, now Asbury University.

  3. Avatar
    Adam0685  May 11, 2015

    I very much enjoy reading your personal reflections.

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    Wilusa  May 11, 2015

    I’m also “ambivalent,” in a sense. Raised Catholic, I don’t remember ever having found Catholicism, or Christianity in general, anything but unpleasant.

    But…when I was in my senior year in a Catholic high school, a priest gave us a course in “Apologetics”: arguments meant to prove first that God existed, then that Christianity was the only correct form of theism, and finally that Catholicism was the only correct form of Christianity. At age 15 or 16, I was intellectually convinced.

    A few years later, I saw it differently. At this late date, I don’t remember his arguments; but as a twentysomething, I no longer found them convincing. He had, however, given me a methodology to work with; and for *that*, I’m extremely grateful! I went back to the beginning, and found that I *couldn’t* be intellectually convinced that the existence of a Creator was the only, or even the most likely, explanation for the existence of the Cosmos. And I’ve been an agnostic ever since.

  5. Avatar
    Stephen  May 11, 2015

    Oh no there’ll be more than three.

    We’re not all academics or scholars but many of us look back on experiences growing up in fundamentalist communities. For me it was rural Georgia Southern Baptist. In the little town I grew up in the church was the center of the universe. I had to go away to school to first meet people for whom this was not the case. I was astounded. And many of us share your ambivalence.

    This is why it’s important for you to share your personal journey in your popular books. These issues aren’t just academic (pardon the pun). They matter to people’s actual lives.

    If I may ask, can you relate at all to your old friend anymore? Can you ever see your self attaining the level of intimacy that once existed between you?

    Finally, do you know whatever happened to Bruce?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 12, 2015

      My friend and I have gone completely different ways; all we really share now is our memories of young adulthood.

      Bruce went to his grave never changing an iota, a charismatic dogmatist.

  6. Avatar
    dmaddock1  May 11, 2015

    I (and the other two folks) are pounding the proverbial table for more autobiographical posts! I feel much the same way about my time at a Christian college.

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    Todd  May 11, 2015

    Hope you tells us much more in your NEXT post !!

    • Avatar
      Todd  May 11, 2015

      Ps…one thing I really like about Marcus Borg is the he get personal and let’s us know his own “convictions.” He wrote his last book all about that…I would like to know some of that from you as well…I know, scholars don’t do that, but I like to know about how people think and feel right now.

  8. ZekePiestrup
    ZekePiestrup  May 11, 2015

    One of three reporting. Looking forward to part 2.

  9. Avatar
    dirtfarmer  May 11, 2015

    in your next post please address how you dealt with “falling away”

  10. Avatar
    Scott  May 11, 2015

    Ah, to be 15 and primed to be “born again”! I had a similar 15 year old Episcopalian experience.

    All this talk of being born again makes me wonder. Have evangelicals latched onto the wrong translation of the Greek? Should they be saying to impressionable teenagers that they can not be serious Christians if they are not “born from above”?

    In what ways would evangelism be different if they had understood the punchline to John’s “joke” and discovered that everyone needed to be born not “again” but “from above”?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 12, 2015

      Yes, childhood evangelism is a dubious enterprise in my opinion. My guess is that a better translation would not have changed much for them. They would simply urge a new kind of birth from above.

  11. Avatar
    toejam  May 11, 2015

    I wonder if you could comment on your born-again ‘experience’. Was it a definitive physical experience – e.g. goosebumps, losing control of your legs falling back into a pastors trustworthy hands? Or was it more of a moment of mental conviction? Or was it more that you heard someone speak to you?

  12. Avatar
    justjudy6  May 11, 2015

    Well, it’s going to be hard to wait for the next post. Of course, Bart, we are interested. (It kinda sounds like my tale though–only it took me to 35 years to get to where you were at 17.)

  13. Avatar
    doug  May 11, 2015

    It’s sad to see conservative religious people prey on young people who often can’t think very critically. When I was 16 I got caught up in the teaching that the Bible is God’s inerrant word. I believed that since there was a God, he would want us to know his will – and conservative Christians *insisted* that the Bible was it. Fortunately, I started to see thru that after half a year. But sometimes I put on my old “conservative Christian hat” to try to understand their thoughts and feelings.

  14. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  May 11, 2015

    I’d like to know more about your resentment toward Moody. It’s really only been a few months that I realized the Old Testament must not be divinely inspired. I’ve been focusing my attention on the NT and trying to figure out how I feel about it.

  15. Avatar
    garytheman  May 11, 2015

    Professor Ehrman: Anyone reading your book “Misquoting Jesus” would have known about your fundamentalist upbringing and going to Moody Bible. I guess so many people here haven’t read a majority of your books in which you give reference to this. Nice that you take the time to let them know.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 12, 2015

      Yes, that’s true. But I’m saying a *lot* more about it here than I did there, by a mile!

  16. Avatar
    Jason  May 12, 2015

    It seems like most of us who got roped in to Christianity were more influenced by a “Bruce” than a Jesus. Kind of like a drug pusher whose substance is charisma. Lucky for us he wasn’t into smack.

  17. Avatar
    VirtualAlex  May 12, 2015

    Bart, what do you mean by “I eventually had a born again experience as a 15 year old” and ” I saw the spiritual power of the Bible” and how would you explain these things now?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 12, 2015

      I tried to explain in my post: I committed my life to Christ and came to see that the Bible was the inspired word of God. I explain them now as natural psychological processes.

      • Avatar
        Matt7  May 13, 2015

        Do you have any books that you could recommend on the psychology of religious conversion?

        • Bart
          Bart  May 13, 2015

          You should start with the Classic, William James The Varieties of Religious Experience!

  18. Avatar
    paul c  May 12, 2015

    I have heard Episcopalians use the terms “high”, “broad” and “low” to describe the character of particular local Episcopal churches. How do you think most of your fellow church members in your youth would have described your local church?? I have read that some Anglican local churches have gone off lock, stock and chalice to join the Catholics.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 12, 2015

      It was fairly low. No smells and bells. And a lot of “social Christians” who were not overly invested in the religious component.

      • Avatar
        Scott  May 12, 2015

        Smells and Bells!


      • Avatar
        donkeyring  May 13, 2015

        “smells and bells”- love it, as a former Episcopal acolyte turned fundy as a teen (why does that sound familiar…).

        Just a tangential remark: I find that I miss the pageantry of the liturgical church, even as I feel like it’s impossible to return, with any kind of genuineness. I’m still a Christian–I think–but I have the deepest respect for what you do, Bart. Cheers!

  19. Avatar
    fahd  May 12, 2015

    It might be selfish of me but a Bart Ehrman like you is better for my life then a Business executive Bart Ehrman or a Sports Star Bart Ehrman, so i thank MBI for this. you have literately changed my life. I thank you for this.

  20. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 12, 2015

    I think your best posts are your more personal ones. Keep going.

    I had a very similar friend but, unfortunately, he ended our relationship when my religious beliefs changed. I don’t think he thinks it is appropriate to associate with those who do not believe as he does. The ending of the friendship hurt me a great deal.

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