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Randy Alcorn’s Response to Some Blog Criticisms (part 2)

A few days ago I posted the first part of Randy Alcorn’s explanation of his views, in response to a number of criticisms blog members leveled at his review of my book Heaven and Hell.  In particular, a number of readers thought that he was unduly harsh and even “slandered” me.  Here he provides a response.  Feel free to make further comments, though Randy probably will not be responding directly.

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From Randy Alcorn:

I’ve changed my mind on various things, I assume Bart has too. In a few cases I wish I wouldn’t have cited info that at the time appeared accurate but turned out not to be (my publishers have sometimes cringed when I insist on another update and revision, as well as corrections that are sometimes expensive).

To your charge of slander, Truncated, I don’t consider it slander to say that I believe someone appears to think he’s 100% right in certain areas when there are many people as smart and educated as he is that disagree. I do think at times Bart speaks with an air of certainty, which, had I not read N. T. Wright or someone else taking a very different view, I might have assumed it’s the only position thinking people believe. That is often the case of others and I think it tends to be more true of pastors, teachers, philosophers, researchers, scholars, textual critics and historians.

I do not take offense at the people who say they think the same is true of me. (Trust me, I’ve had scathing book reviews from people of other worldviews, and many reading this would fully agree with them, as is your right.) I am certainly grateful Bart is open to the exchange of viewpoints and invited me here. Good for him.

Naturally he disagreed with much of my review. But spirited and opinionated book reviews are not slander. I gave my honest assessment of the book. You believe I was “annoyed at how scholarship often doesn’t come to the same conclusion as faith-based interpretations of the Bible.” There’s that “scholarship” again, which doesn’t acknowledge countless scholars, scientists and historians who are faith-based. Why? Because…they must not really be scholars? Is it only other people, not we ourselves, who filter data through our own grids? I don’t mean that as slander or insult, I just think it should be self-evident that we all have greater vested interests in our own positions than we realize.

I apologized to Bart in a comment yesterday where someone rightly pointed out I’d misrepresented something Bart said. I went back to his book, looked it up then contacted two editors to make that correction. I think Bart and I are both accustomed to people with other worldviews misunderstanding and mischaracterizing us, hopefully not deliberately. I would say this, though, and it validates some of the criticisms a number of you have made. As I told Bart, I was asked to write that review by The Gospel Coalition, an evangelical audience, and it was decidedly NOT intended for this blog. There was much that could be assumed among the intended audience readership that couldn’t or shouldn’t be assumed here (e.g. 99% believing in an inspired Bible, believing in such a thing as false doctrine that has harmful effects, agreeing that certain doctrines are indeed false and harmful, etc.)

Not only was it written for an entirely different audience (compare the blog entries in The Gospel Coalition and Bart’s Blog and you’ll see that no one would confuse the two 😊), but it was especially off-target to an audience understandably loyal to Bart. By this I  don’t just mean Bart’s views (I know there are different opinions here), but Bart as a person. Had I written something for Bart’s blog it obviously would have been very different and I would have made different points and not quoted Scripture naively believing that readers would see it like I do (that belief wasn’t naïve with the TGC audience.)

Above all, had Bart and I exchanged emails and had I known him before writing it,  I would have worded certain things differently. (No, it is not common practice for authors to develop a relationship with book reviewers, while I’ve had hundreds of book reviews not one reviewer has ever called to get to know me first; were there sufficient time in all our schedules that would be nice, but I actually will consider reaching out in the future when the views are dramatically at odds.)  When I don’t know someone and only see their words it’s easier to be insensitive to them in critiquing their work. I realize that when someone says things I believe are untrue and misleading—and with what are to me stakes of biblical proportions—it amps up the situation, and if I don’t know them, I am less likely to give them the benefit of the doubt. I was basing my impressions on the five or so of Bart’s books I’ve read and the debates I’ve seen him in. That’s perhaps an adequate sampling to form judgments on viewpoints, but not on a person.

In retrospect, despite the serious disagreements that remain between us, I spoke too adamantly and even harshly and uncharitably at points, and for that, Bart especially, and secondarily for the many others I offended, I am truly sorry.

 

 


Bart’s Latest Attack on Christianity by Randy Alcorn

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Judith  June 29, 2020

    Randy,
    Thank you for this.
    There are here on the blog some (and even believers as I am!) who think Professor Ehrman is more a Christian than any Christian they know. In Matthew 25:31-46 where the sheep and goats are divided, no doubt, Professor Ehrman would be with the sheep.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 30, 2020

      Ah you’re very kind. And if you had access to my mind as surely the Judge of All would, you would absolutely find me among the goats! And, well, that’s not false modesty. And either is the claim that it’s not false modesty. 🙂

      • Avatar
        Judith  July 1, 2020

        It can’t be comfortable perched high on that pedestal where we have you but can it hurt for critics like Randy Alcorn to know the sort of “non-Christian” you are?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 1, 2020

          My sense is that he thinks someone could be a relatively good person for a variety of reasons, but they aren’t really good and are still going to hell. I agree, at least, with the “aren’t really good” part. Though I very much think goodness is relative, and some people are better than others. Like the schmuck who lives across the street from me.

  2. Avatar
    aaron0383  June 29, 2020

    Why would he write a different book review for different audiences? The only time you should write a different book review is if you are reviewing different books. Not because you’re pandering to different audiences. Also this comment…”You believe I was ‘annoyed at how scholarship often doesn’t come to the same conclusion as faith-based interpretations of the Bible.’ There’s that ‘scholarship’ again, which doesn’t acknowledge countless scholars, scientists and historians who are faith-based.” Huh?? How is he making that leap? I think most people on this blog are very aware that the majority of biblical scholars are believers (Christian faith, Jewish faith, or some form of belief in a higher power). Perhaps that one comment could have been worded better by whoever posted it. But Mr. Acorn seems to indicate that those on this blog critiquing his review only see real scholars as unbelievers. Absolutely not true. I follow quite a few biblical scholars, & many of them are believers. They are excellent scholars. They are honest about the difficult issues that arise through real scholarship. They do not conflate biblical scholarship with apologetics. Not sure he understands the difference. But glad to see he and Ehrman are conversing.

    • Avatar
      Paramucho  June 30, 2020

      With all respect, I think Bart (sensibly) has different presentation styles for his different audiences. That doesn’t mean that the message is altered, but rather reflects a difference of context. He cushions a little more here and he pokes a bit more there. As you say, despite their radically different views they are willing talk rather than shout when the opportunity arises, and perhaps, for Bart and Randy, that comes from their shared heritage. It’s a rare gift in our polarized environment.

  3. Avatar
    justyn  June 29, 2020

    To Randy, I thank you for taking the time to write these very reasonable and gracious posts.

    To Bart, thanks for encouraging these differing viewpoints on the blog, it is I think very helpful in helping those of us with incredibly different outlooks understand each other a bit better.

  4. Avatar
    tadmania  June 29, 2020

    Again, you assume a common motive that does not exist — loyalty to Dr Ehrman. If people have come to trust in him, it is on the merits of the evidence presented, not his person. If you have contrasting evidence to present, do so. That’s what matters here.

  5. Avatar
    eminentlaw  June 29, 2020

    Randy,

    First, as a lawyer, I can reassure you that you likely did not slander Bart in your book review. A book review is generally deemed to be the writer’s opinion, not a statement of fact. As such, a reviewer cannot be guilty of slander (or, more accurately, libel) unless he/she intentionally misstates something or writes a review that “knowingly disregards the truth of the matter.” I doubt you did either in your review

    Second, I commend you for you apology.

    Last, I’m somewhat trouble by the portion of your explanation that deals with the “audience” for which your review was written. Although I agree that the audience is important with regard to the nature of the sources you may cite to support your arguments/opinions, I do not agree that the opinions expressed in a book review should vary depending upon the audience for whom the review was written. Did you really intend to make that argument?

  6. Avatar
    Truncated  June 29, 2020

    Bart, one comment by Randy that did pique my curiosity is why you devote less time to describing what heaven would be like. For example, Randy views it as a new Earth (I think). But John 14:2-4 describes a place seeming to be under construction somewhere else (in heaven?) “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4You know the way to the place where I am going.”

    My question is what do you make of this passage in terms of describing what heaven will be like and were there other topics about heaven you thought about including but for editorial or other reasons chose not to?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 30, 2020

      It’s an interesting question. I wasn’t aware that I did talk that much less about heaven then hell (I just looked in the index and there are more references to heaven, but it’s not an exhaustive index). But if I did, I suppose it’s because the texts I was dealing with almost always do as a rule; Jesus, for example, doesn’t talk about either one, nor does Paul, except obliquely, nor even teh book of Revelation; and once you get into the Christian second century, there is a lot more on hell than heaven. So too in early Jewish sources. So if it’s true that I do, that is probably why.

      • Avatar
        dankoh  July 1, 2020

        Perhaps for the same reason that everyone reads Dante’s Inferno but very few read Paradiso. Heaven is simply not as interesting as hell. As for Jewish sources, there are things like 1 Enoch, but the Talmud doesn’t say much about either one, as I recall, just tidbits and speculations here and there – though I suspect there are more tidbits about hell than heaven there, too.

  7. Avatar
    Christian David  June 29, 2020

    Randy, thank you for clarifying. I think you made a good point that did not come to mind. Your article was written for an evangelical audience and not wide-eyed liberal historically minded agnostics and atheists like us lol. However, as a distant disciple of Ehrman, I am offended whenever someone attacks him or his views lol. Seriously tho, you portrayed Bart to be an agent of the devil teaching false doctrine, and that to me is unfair. I honestly do not think he intends to deconvert people. Although I am an agnostic, I love the Bible and would even identify as a Christian culturally, and I acknowledge the importance Christianity has been for our form of civilization. I have great admiration for Jesus; he is still my hero. Bart has taught me to maintain my appreciation for Christianity despite losing my faith. I was a Christian, and losing my faith was depressing and sad. So I relate to Bart’s story, and I think from what I read, he is not like other atheists who hate Christianity, and their agenda is to attack it. So labeling him as some false teacher is insensitive, in my view.

  8. Avatar
    GeoffClifton  June 30, 2020

    While I am a huge Bart Ehrman fan, I have to say that I was impressed by Randy Alcorn’s response above. Everyone is entitled to their opinion provided that it is not deliberately aimed at causing deep offence. And we are all guilty to some extent of confirmation bias – God knows I am. It’s always a bit of a culture shock to come up against highly educated people who don’t share my views on matters which I was convinced had been pretty well resolved. I must add though that having read many of Professor Ehrman’s books, I cannot recall him ever sating things with the absolute certainty that one finds in less scholarly works.

  9. Avatar
    AstaKask  June 30, 2020

    Meh. We all make mistakes. I hope no one insulted *you* too badly, it’s the Internet and unfortunately we don’t show our best sides here. Romans 7:19

  10. Avatar
    DoubtingTom  June 30, 2020

    Randy,
    You have deep concern over Bart’s air of certainty regarding historical origins of the Bible. Neither you nor NT Wright show any indication of significant
    scholarship in the field Bart has devoted his life work to.
    You’re equally qualified to write about quantum physics as you are about the Bible origins, there’s a new book idea for you!

    No I’m not blindly loyal to Bart, I disagree with much of his political views, and the reason he’s an atheist (not that I can conclusively prove my viewpoint either). Fortunately, neither of us is obliged to follow a great commission.

    I stumbled across Barts writings in a quest to be a super Christian, a modern day defender of the faith, able to refute all doubt in the resurrected Jesus. The problem is none of the NT was written by anyone who knew Jesus before he died. (Paul’s vision did not meet any Jewish standard for being verified as legitimate.) The transition to becoming a deist in the same vein as Thomas Paine was long and painful

    Now when I l consider Christianity, to me it does not portray a just god in either Jesus or Paul’s beliefs.

  11. sschullery
    sschullery  June 30, 2020

    Hmmm, I didn’t consider the review slanderous at all; as far as criticisms of Bart go, I’m sure it was pretty low-key. My disappointment was that it didn’t approximate what I’d consider an actual review of the book, I would have a appreciated, for example, seeing a list of half a dozen or so points on which his analysis was particularly wrong headed, or his facts were wrong, or his logic fuzzy, or SOMETHING of substance,

  12. Avatar
    nichael  June 30, 2020

    > You believe I was “annoyed at how scholarship often doesn’t come to the same
    > conclusion as faith-based interpretations of the Bible.” There’s that “scholarship”
    > again, which doesn’t acknowledge countless scholars, scientists and historians
    > who are faith-based. Why? Because…they must not really be scholars?

    In a word, yes, they are not scholars.

    There’s an important distinction to be made here. Certainly there are many excellent scholars who are people of faith. No one would seriously argue with that.

    But the phrase “faith-based scholarship” is simply a contradiction in terms. If someone is studying a topic and they use their faith —their personal beliefs— as a criterion for judging facts about that topic then, simply put, what they are doing is not scholarship in any meaningful sense.

  13. Avatar
    nichael  June 30, 2020

    > it was especially off-target to an audience understandably
    > loyal to Bart. By this I don’t just mean Bart’s views (I know
    > there are different opinions here), but Bart as a person.

    I, for one, find this a bit insulting.

    I won’t assume anything about the views of other readers of the blog (although I suspect I’m not speaking only for myself) but, in short, my “loyalty”, such as it may be, is limited strictly to a serious, scholarly, factual examination of topics and issues examined by this blog.

    And while I’m sure Bart Ehrman is a fine fellow and all that, any “loyalty” I might have to him “as a person” is based exclusively on the fact that he has consistently shown himself to be an excellent (and amazingly generous) provider of reliable information and detailed discussion about those topics and issues

  14. Avatar
    dankoh  July 1, 2020

    Randy –
    As the person who pointed out your mistake about Bart and resurrection in the OT, I want to reassure you that I did not take it as slander or malice. It was a mistake. I can see how you might have read that thought into what he was saying about Job at the time (though I also think such an interpretation was a stretch) and the passage about Daniel was not in the same part of the book. I spotted it because I’m doing reading and writing about Daniel.

    Anyway, I still say Job was not about the messiah or resurrection, but if you want to argue about that, we can take it offline.

    Best,
    Dan

  15. Avatar
    jscheller  July 2, 2020

    To Randy: I agree with your interpretation of Job 19:25-27 and I would also say that I wish Bart hadn’t quoted Job 14:11-12 without addressing verses 13-14 as well – I interpret those to infer that Job might not have known, but did hope, that there was life after death. However, I respect other interpretations that don’t agree, such as Alan Segal’s (if Bart only included one Hebrew scholar, Alan was definitely the foremost to include).

    I see that you believe the bible must be upheld as inerrant for the sake of authority, but how can you do that without being very selective, which, in itself, is an inference that not all of it is authoritative? What is to keep one from using it to justify every stance a person has?(abstinence, polygamy, marriage, divorce, love of humanity, genocide, etc). I find it interesting that in John 14 Jesus didn’t say He would ask the Father and He would provide a Divine manual, but that the Father would send the Holy Spirit. Don’t you think listening to the Holy Spirit takes more personal responsibility than blindly following scriptures delivered by clergy with specific agendas?

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