Over the years, I have read several of Bart Ehrman‘s books. If you are not familiar with him, Ehrman is a New Testament scholar, and now holds the chair as the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has written 25 books, three of which are collegiate texts, and five of which became New York Times best-sellers. There are three topics he focuses upon in his writing: the Historical Jesus, the development of early Christianity, and textual authenticity of the Bible.
Ehrman is agnostic. He didn’t start that way. He went through seminary, but could not reconcile the contradictions and inconsistencies in translations of the Bible. However, that is not why he left the faith. He is an agnostic because he could not handle suffering. He could not answer how a loving God could allow evil and suffering. That became the subject of God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer (New York: Harper One, 2009). It is quite a book!
His newest is entitled How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (New York: Harper One, 2014). From his own web site, Ehrman describes this book:
Ehrman sketches Jesus’s transformation from a human prophet to the Son of God exalted to divine status at his resurrection. Only when some of Jesus’s followers had visions of him after his death—alive again—did anyone come to think that he, the prophet from Galilee, had become God. And what they meant by that was not at all what people mean today.
As a historian—not a believer—Ehrman answers the questions: How did this transformation of Jesus occur? How did he move from being a Jewish prophet to being God? The dramatic shifts throughout history reveal not only why Jesus’s followers began to claim he was God, but also how they came to understand this claim in so many different ways.
Ehrman’s career as a writer is distinguished. You may be interested in this one if you believe that we got the Bible from divinely sent bolts of lightning carving words on rock or paper – Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (New York: Harper One, 2011).
Others include Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them), and Misquoting Jesus. All of his books are still in print and readily available.
I am not an agnostic. I am a believer. So, why am I reading these books? Because I believe that you strengthen your faith by questioning it. Why do I want to read books that just reinforce what I already think? I grow, as you do, by reading books and exposing myself to presentations and information that differ from what I already believe or know. That is true of a lot of things in life. I read the conspiracy theories on the JFK assassination because they are different from what we know from the Warren Report, Case Closed, and other books. I read Marcus Buckingham’s views on “leaders are born” because that is different from experts who tell us that “leaders are made.” And, Ehrman’s books are different. These are not what most Sunday School leaflets and lessons contain. In fact, do you know that I have NEVER heard a sermon or sat through a lesson on how we got the Bible? It is the greatest secret that churches keep from their congregations. Even reflecting on his ministerial days, Randy Mayeux said he would never have touched it in a class or service. and he did not do so for his twenty-plus years of preaching.
I think our fuel is questions, not answers. For everyone who has it all figured out, I am very happy for you. But, by exposing yourself to contradictory information, you grow. I like to leave events with more questions than when I entered. That’s what inspired one of my keynote presentations: “When the Best Answer is the Next Question.”
It doesn’t matter what you think about these topics. And, you can enter them open-minded or closed-minded. But, why not read them. And these books will get you thinking. Ask questions. Leave with more questions. Learn. Grow.
Let’s wait just a few moments before we christen Kindle as the force that did away with traditional books. Although this technology will continue to add available titles, and as sales for the product through Amazon.com will continue to rise, the chances that it will eliminate books with hard covers, paper, jackets, and traditional marking devices are simply not too high.
I believe that one reason for this is that books are symbols. Books on Kindle cannot be symbols. First, books do not have to be read to serve as a symbol. Many people fill the shelves in their homes and offices with books that they have never read in order to symbolize their interest in, or affilitation with, a particular subject. A great example of this is Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline,” which is a terrific-looking book on any shelf, but one that many people profess to have never read. If I want to show visitors to my home or office that management is important to me, there is no better way than to display many books on the subject. The same is true for deep-sea fishing, religion, cooking, or anything else. The display of books symbolizes one’s purported interest or expertise in a given topic. I’m sorry, but you can’t do that the same way with Kindle.
Second, carrying books symbolizes an active approach to life. When I see someone with a book, I know that he or she always has something to do. The book serves as an avenue to fill unfilled time, such as waiting for an appointment, riding to a destination, sitting before a presentation begins, or waiting for co-workers to arrive back in a meeting after a break. The book is a symbol that this person values time and makes the most of the time available to him or her. It’s not the same with Kindle.
Third, and finally, books are symbols because they represent another part of life for the person who carries them. Books are escapes. Novels such as John Grisham’s “The Associate” or non-fiction works such as Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” take the reader out of the here-and-now and to a place that allows him or her to get away.
You may have more difficulty seeing why can’t books on Kindle cannot fulfill my second and third reasons. It is simple. They are perceptual, not actual. Strange as it seems, there are people who carry around books so that others will notice them doing so. They have not read, nor have any intention of reading the book they carry. Do you really believe that EVERYONE who carries the Holy Bible does so because it is a source of inspiration for them whenever they have a chance to glance at it? Surely that is true for some, maybe even many – but true for everyone? Hardly.
Books are symbols. People ask “what are you reading?” “How do you like that book?” Or, walking into your study, they say, “I see you enjoy birdwatching.” Those comments are not going to come about with Kindle.
Traditional books will continue to sell – and sell well, because to many people, they are symbols. Am I right? Let’s talk about it!