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Randy Alcorn Explains His Review In Light of Readers’ Comments

Some of you have expressed dismay that comments/questions you submitted on Randy Alcorn’s book review of my book Heaven and Hell (from June 21) did not get posted.  So sorry.  There were some technical difficulties and problems on this end, and when they were resolved Randy found himself confronted with about a hundred comments, some of them with multiple points / questions, and it was more than a mere mortal could handle.

Moreover, a number of the comments / questions were along the same lines.  So, instead of responding to each comment / question individually he has written two additional posts to explain himself and his position.  I will post these separately, though they are related to each other, the first one here today.

I will also go ahead now and post your comments / questions that have come in from the beginning.  Randy will not be able to respond directly to them, but he appreciates very much your concerns and questions.  If you have questions / comments for me, instead of him, feel free to submit them.  I’ll post and answer them as usual.  I ain’t goin’ anywhere….

Here’s his first post:


A large number of commenters alluded to me being unfair to Bart and accusing him of an air of certainty when obviously I am guilty of the same and worse. So I am going to give two longer replies here covering a number of interrelated concerns different ones of you raised and hope others see it, as I can’t repeat it to everyone one by one. (If I were more familiar with commenting on this blog maybe I’d know a better way.) Given my belief that Scripture is God-breathed, provided that I’m interpreting it well (I hope usually I do, sometimes I’m sure I don’t, though I always seek to), I can have confidence in believing something even when it’s not my preference. I can believe it not because I think I’m smarter than everyone, but because I think God is smarter than I am and yes, smarter than others too.

Even if you think supernaturalism is a faulty worldview, I think I’m being consistent with it. IMO  materialists/naturalists act consistently with their worldview when they don’t believe in an afterlife, as Bart doesn’t, though he shows some openness to Heaven while stating he doesn’t believe in it. I look to the Bible as a higher authority, and I think I have good reasons for that (of course, many of you don’t).

But I’m struck when people who don’t believe in a higher authority seem to be absolutely certain about so many things. For instance that an apostle couldn’t have written the particular NT books that bears his name. They are as certain about this as the most adamant fundamentalist is certain about the virgin birth (I am not a fundamentalist but I do believe the Bible, Mary’s supernatural conception included). When such people read my books it’s not surprising they are positive I’m wrong despite the evidence I present and the scholars I cite. (There are thousands of pages with IMO cogent arguments written by scholars who believe apostles wrote certain books which other scholars believe they didn’t.) I often have a marvel when someone declares something with certainly because “scholars say” and “educated people believe” and “in my studies I have found.”

I don’t think Bart always does that, as I said I did see occasional admissions of uncertainty in his book, I am just saying sometimes I think he declares something to be true because, well, he’s a smart guy and that’s his opinion, it makes most sense to him, that’s what the books and journal articles he reads say, and maybe what the teachers he sat under taught. EXACTLY the same is true of evangelicals, who went to Trinity, Fuller, Reformed or whatever instead of Princeton, Harvard, Stanford or whatever. And many of those going to the evangelical seminaries went to secular universities first, while Bart went to Moody and Wheaton.

We all have our vested interests in some opinions because of our intuition, preferences, upbringing, training and sometimes wonderful or terrible experiences. But “scholars say” and “there is a firm consensus among scholars” always leaves out the scholars who do not say that but something very different, and who are part of a consensus of scholars themselves that are unpopular with the other group of scholars. When I write my books, I’m prone to cite scholars I agree with, except when I cite those I disagree with and cite others who think they’re wrong. Based on the books by Bart I’ve read, I think he does the same. At the end of the day, my impression is Bart believes he’s right (don’t we all?), I get that, as I believe I’m right, and we both cite our sources.

That’s the way of things, hard as we try to self-correct we are subjective. I read broadly, books by atheists and theological liberals as well as many kinds of evangelicals. I am currently reading three books advocating universalism, just finishing one of them, not to write a book or even an article refuting them, but just because I want to better understand their position (actually positions, as they think differently, just as evangelicals and agnostics and atheists think differently). They are good writers who make good points along the way, even though I still don’t agree with their conclusions, no surprise there.

OK, I will come back finally to address the belief that I have slandered Bart.

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  1. Avatar
    janmaru  June 26, 2020

    Dealing with over 180 posts at one time is a big challenge for anyone. The risk is to browse the questions and don’t give them a read, sometimes answering them from the door.
    It’s like planning to go to Rome and instead fly from the chair.

  2. Avatar
    Chad Stuart  June 26, 2020

    The problem with the ‘most scholars believe’ argument (regardless of who uses it) is that ultimately the specific number of scholars do not matter. There could be one million fundamentalist scholars who believe something and can come up with creative arguments to make their case, but that does not mean their analysis is correct.

    Yes, I’m biased because I’m an agnostic atheist on Dr. Ehrman’s blog, but I have intentionally looked for logical flaws in Dr. Ehrman’s analyses and have not found any.

    On the other hand, when I read books from scholars who clearly believe most (if not all) of the New Testament is historical truth, it’s easy for me to see where they are attempting to pull the wool over the reader’s eyes.

    • Avatar
      bravetoaster  June 28, 2020

      Chad: it’s with good reason that appealing to authority is a type of logical fallacy; merely *being* an expert/authority does not make one’s claims or arguments true or sound. Claims and arguments have to hold up on their own merit, regardless of who makes them.

  3. Avatar
    bravetoaster  June 27, 2020

    There’s some badly flawed argument happening, here.

    I’ve only read 3 of Bart’s books (Forged, Did Jesus Exist?, and How Jesus Became God), so someone please correct me if this doesn’t apply broadly, but, from my reading, he fundamentally writes like a good scientist. He’ll present information, critically analyze the information and use tools that rely on logic and reason (e.g., the criterion of dissimilarity), and presents his conclusion(s) based on his critical analyses of the information. On occasions when he steps well beyond what is directly supported by the available information, he’s 1) made it clear that that was the case and 2) explained the logical thread that led him to that conclusion.

    He writes about his conclusions (and sometimes further hypotheses) based on a rational evaluation of the information he presents, which allows critics to (validly) identify and dissect any weak links in the reasoning that supports his conclusion. I’m not saying that Bart’s conclusions are correct–the best scientists are still often wrong–but that the notion that he is simply writing his “opinion” or “belief” (or that subjectivity invalidates reason) is an invalid (or, worse, misleading) claim.

  4. Avatar
    Matt2239  June 27, 2020

    If science has all the answers, then what lies beyond the edge of the known universe? Once you get there, the children’s song, “He’s got the whole world in His hands” is just as applicable as any other untestable idea. Science is quite the juggernaut when held up against those who say the earth was created 4,000 years ago. But not so much when it comes to 1 divided by 0.

  5. Avatar
    AJ  June 27, 2020

    “Given my belief that Scripture is God-breathed…”

    But what do you make of the places where there are obvious contradictions, errors, manipulations, and faked authorship? For instance, the two nativity stories have serious problems….the holy family cannot simultaneously be hiding out in Egyypt and returning home to Nazareth….a world-wide census that makes no sense….a killing of babies that is equally problematic. Why would God inspire confusion when there is a much simpler less convoluted explanation? As humans we love and need stories and Matthew and Luke wanted to provide these back stories that few…if any… at the time could test or verify.

    The same goes for my earlier question about the resurrected saints from Matthew 27. Why would such an extraordinary event not be reported any where else inside or outside of the Bible? How is it conceivable that history would not have recorded a mass resurrection or recorded their…and for that matter Lazarus’……testimonials of what is was like and what they thought it meant? How do we separate God-inspired from man-inspired? Having a bunch of men slap a title “Bible” on it…and framing opposition as heresy… doesn’t provide an intellectually satisfying answer…

  6. epicurus
    epicurus  June 27, 2020

    We need a snappy sounding name for the idea that there are opposing camps of religious scholars who are equally qualified but love to include only their own group when they say scholars agree on this or that. Each side tends to think the other is reaching conclusions determined by its religious belief, or its lack of belief and hardness of heart.

  7. tompicard
    tompicard  June 27, 2020


    I am glad you are reading books on universalism and hope you will seriously consider that hypothesis.

    Certainly those books must present compelling arguments, more than I am able.

    I will merely cite that the story of the prodigal son Luke 15:11–32. (But this parable is really about his father) + Matt 7:11. (also about the Father, who must be more loving and patient than the father in Luke 15 )

  8. Avatar
    Stephen  June 27, 2020

    Mr Alcorn when are you going to allow Prof Ehrman to post an article on your website?

  9. Avatar
    eminentlaw  June 27, 2020

    With all due respect, this post is nothing more than a generalized ad hominem attack on Bart and the scholars with whom Bart is generally aligned (I’ll call them “Bart’s Scholars”). Mr. Alcorn did not even attempt to identify a single factual assertion from any one of Bart’s books, and attempt to demonstrate why Bart was wrong. We all know that evangelical scholars are going to disagree with Bart’s Scholars. However, it is not helpful to us non-scholars who are searching for truth, to simply acknowledge the existence of the two groups and criticize one group because its member “believe they are correct.” If the other side is wrong, tell us where and persuade us why.

  10. Avatar
    ksgm34  June 28, 2020

    Bart, have any scholars refuted the arguments made in your book since its publication?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2020

      I’m not aware of any scholarly reviews, but scholars normally don’t review books written for a general audience.

  11. Avatar
    thaumkid  June 28, 2020

    I really appreciate Randy and Bart doing this. Y’all are setting good examples.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2020

      It’s better to be friendly with people you disagree with than bitter enemies.

  12. Avatar
    tadmania  June 28, 2020

    Dr Ehrman speaks in accordance with the evidence and his applicable expertise. He has opinions, but they are informed opinions.

    If you can offer evidence that God exists, please do so. And no, a book won’t do. A book that says God exists is only evidence of itself.

  13. Avatar
    josephpatterson82  June 28, 2020

    If the full time praying and committed Christian scholars can’t agree on what interpretation of the Bible is the one God intended then how are the everyday people who have full time jobs and a family to raise supposed to figure it out?

  14. Avatar
    rezubler  June 28, 2020

    The good historical researchers all know how difficult it is to produce quality works. They also know that their research and data is very easily compromised by researcher bias. An open forum to intelligently discuss weakness in one’s data and arguments is EXACTLY what helps to identify and cleanse any unintended researcher biases and help improve the end results of the research and recommended next steps. One’s opinions, or biases, are allowed if they are dutifully recognized and accounted for in the analysis. The phrase: “what does not kill you makes you stronger” can certainly apply to the larger context of criticism of historical research. I appreciate the openness to ‘civil’ disagreement in this forum. We can all promote alternate views and still be respectful of the hard work and quality of the research process by the authors. It is pretty evident that weak, unsubstantiated arguments do not survive very long in discussion threads in this forum – which is a big commendation to the readers and posters here.

  15. Tuskensp
    Tuskensp  June 29, 2020

    Hi Bart,
    In light of this situation, I’m wondering if a “like” button or a way to upvote questions from others might be helpful for some blog posts. I’m not sure how difficult it is for you to add this functionality, and how it would work with the fact that you read and moderate all comments, but it might be something you could use as a way to see which questions blog members are most interested in.

  16. Avatar
    Gary  June 29, 2020

    I see I’m late to the party… I would have posed two short questions to Mr. Alcorn:

    “Do you perceive the presence of Jesus within you?”

    His answer would have to be “yes” to be consistent with evangelical teaching. I would then ask:

    “Who is being more rational in their evaluation of the reality of heaven and hell: Bart Ehrman by using reason and logic or you by relying on your subjective perception that the ghost of a person who died 20 centuries has taken up residence somewhere in your body?”

    No matter how much “evidence” evangelicals try to throw around for their beliefs, the bottom line is that their belief is based on their subjective perception of a “presence” within them—the testimony of the Holy Spirit. This irrational, unsound thinking needs to be pointed out to them over and over every time they attempt to debate the “evidence” for their beliefs. They know it makes them look ridiculous and they HATE IT (that is why Mike Licona refused to honestly answer this question under his guest posts on this blog).

  17. Avatar
    Thespologian  July 1, 2020

    To some degree I think removing the affirmation of anyone’s “sources” can be helpful in distinguishing between where the weight of plausibility is. I don’t believe it’s quite equal that a theist believes due to sources and atheists do not due to their sources. Human life observations and experiences in general lean toward an atheist’s favor. If Trump edited the New Testament and five hundred years passed, theists would consider those notations inspired by God. We can’t revere everything in antiquity as sacred simply because it’s ancient.

  18. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 2, 2020

    Randy: I am a HUGE Bart fan, but he is more than capable of taking care of himself and does not need my help doing that. However, since I am now old enough to be a serious presidential candidate and, hence, am running out of time, I have two questions of ultimate concern:
    1. What is your case for God?
    2. What is your case for Christianity?


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