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My Interview with Erstwhile-Evangelist-Now-Secular-Humanist Bart Campolo

Now this was an unusual interview!  By a namesake!  I’ve known about Bart Campolo for years, but mainly because of his father, Tony Campolo, a very well-known evangelical evangelist with left-leaning social and political views.  Tony, the father, has a very interesting history (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Campolo); among other things, he was a spiritual adviser to Bill Clinton.  But in some ways Bart, the son, has an even *more* interesting story.  He was raised an evangelical, and became an evangelist/missionary, but eventually left the faith and became a secular humanist — as am I.  Bart wrote a book about it, and together they helped produce a film released a few years ago, Leaving My Father’s Faith.  It’s quite a story.

Bart now has a secular ministry that  involves counseling people who are thinking about leaving the faith or who have already done so.  In addition, he has a weekly podcast, “Humanize Me.”

On May 13, 2020, he invited me to the podcast to discuss my book “Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife.”  As you will see (or at least hear), a whole lot of the interview was on matters of mutual interest other than the afterlife.

As the PR for the podcast says, “Humanize Me” is about building great relationships, cultivating wonder, and making things better for other people. Hosted by veteran community-builder Bart Campolo, Humanize Me features friendly, thoughtful conversations with a wide array of scientists, activists, artists, and oddballs [sic].

Here is the interview!

Bart Campolo’s most popular books are Why I Left, Why I Stayed: Conversations on Christianity Between an Evangelical Father and His Humanist Son and Leaving My Father’s Faith

 


Last Chance for Webinar!
A Bart Ehrman Webinar: How We Got the New Testament!

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    RickR  May 20, 2020

    Interesting interview. I always admire Bart for his erudition and humility. The other Bart, however, makes me wonder. He seems more focused on “liberating” and “nudging” (to use his own words) people away from their religious beliefs.Usually these are people who have doubts to begin with. I notice that the other Bart also has a counselling practice which is a money making endeavor. (Nothing wrong with making money, but as part of liberating and nudging doubting believers away from their faith it raises troubling questions for me). And I did notice a patina of snarkiness surrounding his comments.

    • Avatar
      Gary  May 22, 2020

      ALL money raised on the Bart Ehrman blog goes to charity. I suspect the purpose of requiring a membership to post comments is to weed out trolls, to keep the conversation civil.

  2. Avatar
    Nichrob  May 20, 2020

    Great job…!! Thanks Bart…!

  3. Avatar
    Gary  May 20, 2020

    If only other evangelical leaders could have the same insight! One such evangelical leader is scholar Michael Licona who admits that he has frequently struggled with the inconsistencies of the Bible. In December of 2019, Dr. Licona was a guest author on this blog. A reader asked him a question regarding the evangelical Christian belief that the spirit of Jesus lives inside the bodies of true Christians, communicating with them in an inaudible voice, and whether this perception of a presence within him plays a role in his belief in the resurrection. Dr. Licona responded: ” …It is not true that I believe Jesus was raised from the dead in part because I believe his Spirit lives inside my body “testifying” in some non-audible fashion, that I’m his child. Respectfully, I think you have a tendency to project your stereotypes of Christians onto me.”

    Dr. Ehrman: Would you consider asking Dr. Licona to come back as a guest and respond in more depth on this issue? Does he or does he not reject the evangelical teaching of the “testimony of the Holy Spirit” (which he appears to do in the above statement)? Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 22, 2020

      I’m not sure what you’re asking. He has explicitly said that he does not argue for the resurrection because the inner voice of the Spirit tells him it is true.

      • Avatar
        Gary  May 22, 2020

        True. But if he believes (which he says he does on his Facebook page) that he perceives the presence of the spirit of Jesus within him and that this spirit of Jesus communicates with him in some fashion (“moves him”, “leads him”) how can he possibly believe that this perception does not influence his belief in the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus?

        Does Mike Licona believe that the spirit of Jesus lives within him?

        That is the question. He never clearly answered this question even though it was asked of him multiple times during his guest posting on your blog.

        • Avatar
          ftbond  May 25, 2020

          There are many scholars who have, at some point, claimed to have had the “indwelling Holy Spirit”, yet it did not stop them from being objective – even to the point where their “objective conclusion” led them to leave the faith.

          And, there are those who were agnostic or atheist, and concluded on historical grounds that Jesus was resurrected. Getting the “indwelling Holy Spirit” was a subsequent thing.

          And there are those, like myself, who at one point became exceedingly skeptical of “the faith” – and upon realizing that Christianity is bogus if Jesus had not truly been raised from the dead – investigated the historicity of that “claim”, and became convinced that it did indeed happen. (although, I ended up throwing out a number of ideas / beliefs, such as the Gospels being “historically reliable”).

          It’s entirely possible that Licona has been objective in his research, and simply come to the same conclusion that I came to (and, different than, say, Dr Ehrman). And, as Dr Ehrman notes, “He has explicitly said that he does not argue for the resurrection because the inner voice of the Spirit tells him it is true”.

  4. Avatar
    toejam  May 21, 2020

    I have a question regarding the ‘Religion & Theology’ podcast you participated in recently. You got into a “fiery” (pun intended) conversation with one of the hosts over whether Judith 16:17 is useful for interpreting Mark 9:42-48. I think the host got himself too side-tracked on whether, and by whom and when, Judith was considered ‘holy writ’. But I do think he brought up an important verse that I was surprised to find you don’t comment on in your book. Judith is generally dated to be at least contemporary with the gospels (if not slightly earlier), and the passage seems to show that some Jews of this time were taking Isaiah 66:24’s imagery of the bodies of the unsaved being cast into a fire alongside undying worms, and re-presenting it in explicitly ‘eternal conscious torment’ terms. If so, how can we be sure Mark 9 does not have a similar idea in mind – especially given Mark’s noting the undyingness of “their worm” and the unquenchingness of the fire? In other words, even if Mark was not aware of Judith, the latter still shows contemporary precedent for interpreting (rightly or wrongly) Isaiah 66:24 in ‘eternal conscious torment’ terms, no?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 22, 2020

      You need to remind me: what passage in Judith states that there will be eternal conscious torment? (That was indeed the view in some early Jewish texts, such as 1 Enoch)

      • Avatar
        toejam  May 22, 2020

        Judith 16:17

        Woe to the nations that rise up against my people!
        The Lord Almighty will take vengeance on them in the day of judgment;
        he will send fire and worms into their flesh;
        they shall weep in pain forever.

        • Bart
          Bart  May 22, 2020

          Ah, right! Yes, that’s right. The point worth emphasizing is that this is precisely what Mark does *not* say. He is certainly referring to Isa. 66, but nothing indicates he is referring to Judith. Isaiah is quoted all over the map in the Gospels; Judith never. So to repeat, I am decidely not saying that there were no Jews who believed in eternal torment. I’m saying it was an unusual view and is not the one attested for Jesus, the Gospels, Paul, or Revelation.

          • Avatar
            ErrPhoen37  May 31, 2020

            Bart Ehrman’s charitable mission for this blog is laudable. Well done! How does Bart reconcile the academic conclusion that eternal torment is not attested by Jesus, the Gospels, and Paul with the references in Matthew 18:8, Matthew 25:41, Jude 1:7, Matthew 25:46, Hebrews 6:2, Mark 3:29 in which fire itself, chastening, and judgement are all apparently described by the Greek word “aionios” (or maybe “eonian”) which seems to mean everlasting within the mysterious realm of divine transcendence external to time? What are we to make of the Koine Greek behind Luke 16:24 in which Jesus teaches by parable of the rich man, though dead and buried, with his sentient tongue intact, being tormented in a blaze?
            Bart Ehrman’s response would be useful in view of his interesting comments (favoring the idea of destruction in preference to torment with continuance to infinity) made during recent promotions by Dan Barker and Bart Campolo of Bart Ehrman’s new book “Heaven and Hell-A history of the Afterlife”.
            Thank you.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 1, 2020

            Ah, read my book! These are the passages I obviously deal with, to explain why they are so widely misunderstrood!

  5. Avatar
    clerrance2005  May 21, 2020

    Prof Ehrman,
    Thanks again for the time and hope you and the family are all good and safe.

    Please, was there a surge in the quest for the historical Jesus upon the discovery of the Gnostic texts and the Dead Sea Scrolls? And did their discoveries bring to light any major themes about the historical Jesus?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 22, 2020

      Not so much Nag Hammadi but definitely the Dead Sea Scrolls, since they were written near the time and place of Jesus and embraced an apocalyptic view very similar to his.

  6. Avatar
    HaroldVictor  May 21, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman:

    I just finished listening to your entire interview with Bart Campolo and enjoyed it very much.

    My question now is actually on a totally different topic. It has to do with Jesus’ commandment to his disciples to “love your enemy.” I have a lot of problems with this teaching of Jesus, primarily because from what I can see in the New Testament, Jesus hated his own enemies. I’m thinking primarily of the scribes and Pharisees, for whom Jesus seems to have had very little, if any, love at all. The same with John the Baptist, in Matthew Chapter 3:7-8. The Pharisees and Sadducees come to John the Baptist to be baptized, and, rather than welcoming them and rolling out the red carpet, John the Baptist denounces them harshly. These groups of people seem to be the Amalekites of the New Testament. They can’t do anything right.

    I’ve never heard or read any discussion of this problematic aspect of Jesus’ teaching. I’d appreciate your thoughts on this. I’d especially appreciate hearing about who the Pharisees really were, i.e. any historical information on them. Thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 22, 2020

      Yeah, I know — it seems to be inconsistent. Of course Christians have always had ways to reconcile it, e.g., but saying he was using “hard love,” lambasting them in order to get them to repent. But still, he certainly is never very affectionate toward them. I suppose love doesn’t mean affection.

      • Avatar
        HaroldVictor  May 22, 2020

        Thank you. I think the way I reconcile it is the fact that, like yourself, I don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus. I think that Jesus was only human, and almost all humans have inconsistencies. I raised the issue with you because I was interested in knowing how Christian believers might respond.

  7. Avatar
    Biggles  May 21, 2020

    A very nice interview, mr. Ehrman.

    I’ve been meaning to ask you: How exactly would a person with the background of Jesus (rural country, poor) have the sort of knowledge of Jewish scripture that he apparently had? I understand there’s the possibility that most (if not all) of his references to scripture in one way or another could be additions that do not reflect his actual words, but is there a possibility that he actually was learned in such things? Is there any knowledge regarding what the general populace knew from scripture?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 22, 2020

      It’s a very big and difficult question. On one level it’s very hard to answer because we don’t actually know how much he *did* know about the Jewish scripture. We tend to assume he knew it inside-out, but that may be mainly an assumption. Nothing really indicates he did. He certainly knew some of it. How? My guess is by hearing it read and discussed in synagogue every week and in his daily life.

  8. Avatar
    clerrance2005  May 22, 2020

    Prof Ehrman,

    Please when and how did Sunday eventually become the ‘holy day’ of worship for Christians given the fact that the weekly Sabbath in Jewish reckoning was a Saturday?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 22, 2020

      The followers of Jesus began early on (before any of the New Testament writings) to commemorate Jesus’ resurrection every week, on the day it took place. And so Sunday became their day of worship.

  9. Avatar
    clerrance2005  May 22, 2020

    Prof Ehrman,
    Which of your textbooks will offer information on the social, cultural and historical backgrounds of the books of the Bible and stories that lie behind the Bible, canonization, uncanonized books and the developments in early Christianity.

    If you could kindly recommend one of your text books that deals in some ways with these because I can only afford one for now.

    Thank you

    • Bart
      Bart  May 24, 2020

      For the whole Bible: The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction.

  10. Avatar
    tadmania  May 22, 2020

    There it is again. You explained in a few sentences something that has eluded my ability to grasp: that Pauline doctrine is an amalgam of Platonic notions of the ‘soul’ in concert with the apocalyptic theme of first century Christianity. When you said that Paul may well have reflected on the prospect that he, himself, might die before the return of Jesus, and so adopted/cultivated ideas of the eternal disposition of personality, that seems just right.

    Do you think that the forged Epistles indicate that such innovations of thought were part of the theological ‘fashion’ of the immediate post-Jesus period?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 24, 2020

      I don’t think any of the deutero-Pauline epistles deal much with the afterlife…

      • Avatar
        tadmania  May 25, 2020

        Yes, at least not in the way people today think. But, 1 Corinthians does say that people ‘who sleep’ will be reanimated. Was that a widespread idea prior to his writings?

        • Bart
          Bart  May 26, 2020

          Yes, that is Paul himself, not one of the forged letters. And yes, the idea of “resurrection” was one held by a large number of Jews at the time, probably the majority (includnig Jesus)

          • Avatar
            tadmania  May 26, 2020

            Can you point to a resource explaining how that belief became popular? It seems at odds with centuries of Jewish doctrine. If it is Hellenistic influence (once again) at work, I wonder how that happened.

          • Bart
            Bart  May 27, 2020

            Yes it is. I”ve blogged on your question a number of times. Do a word search for “apocalypticism.” I also talk about it in a number of my books, e.g, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet and to a lesser extent in Heaven adn hell (that is, how the view represents a decided shift in perspective)

  11. Tuskensp
    Tuskensp  May 23, 2020

    I loved the HumanizeMe interview, and I also watched and enjoyed the Leaving my Father’s Faith movie on amazon prime. As a fellow son of a preacher who has left the faith I could relate a lot.
    I’m curious Bart about the point in the interview where you lament the fact that there aren’t many humanist alternatives to the fellowship that churches provide. Besides starting my own humanist church, what do you think most of us should do to improve the current situation?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 24, 2020

      Well, apart from that, I suppose the only options are to encourage others to start them or to attend ones that are started….

  12. Avatar
    Sadfad  May 27, 2020

    Hi Bart, i have a question and wonder if you could please answer me. Whats the consensus level among scholars for your claim; there is no hell, heaven or afterlife in early judaism and christianity? Thanks alot
    PS ive become very addicted to uour videos/interciews; very enlightening indeed. Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  May 29, 2020

      I’m not arguing that about early Judaism or early Christianity. I’m arguing it about the Old Testament, for which there is a solid consensus, and for the historical Jesus, for which there is a widespread agreement about the kingdom being on earth but not for souls in heaven, but by no means a consensus. Jesus’ views of hell are more widely debated.

      • Avatar
        Sadfad  May 29, 2020

        Thank you for the clarification, and raking tge time to reply.

  13. Avatar
    tadmania  May 27, 2020

    Dr Ehrman, Thanks for pointing me toward you previous posts. They have provided a heathy start toward answering my question.

  14. Avatar
    redingb  May 27, 2020

    I enjoyed the interview and the book Heaven and Hell. I remember hearing several evangelical preachers and teachers as I grew up who espoused a belief in a progressive revelation. This was to explain the differing beliefs advocated by the different biblical writers. Also, the idea of let scripture interpret scripture. What are your thoughts on those two ideas?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 29, 2020

      Progressive revelation is a theological claim based on teh idea that the Bible is revealed by God — so it’s not the kind of claim a historian could evaluate; so too Scripture interpreting Scripture — it assumes there is one author for all teh books, so what is said in one book must be in line with what is said in the others. That’s the view that modern scholarship since the Enlightenment has called into question, or rather, rejected.

  15. Avatar
    hairj42  May 27, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Great interview. I really enjoyed it. In the interview, Bart Campolo mentioned an episode of the Black Mirror, which is overall a very entertaining series. If you, or anyone else interested in looking at the afterlife from a different angle, have some extra quarantine-time on your hands I’d recommend the ‘San Junipero’ episode (season 3, episode 4). It deals directly with a digital life after death and I found it thought provoking.

    Thanks for all that you do!

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