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.
Cheryl offers: I began to wonder as each Olympic athlete stepped to the podium to be awarded their medal if they were using just a few bouquets of flowers and passing them around between events. They all looked the same! As it turns out, my friend in Canada, Lyn Kyneston, solved the mystery for me. Each bouquet of green spider mums with hypericum berries surrounded by leather-leaf fern, monkey grass, and aspidistra leaves, was made by Just Beginning Flowers in Surrey, B.C. This florist is much more than a florist; they are also a non-profit that teaches people with significant social barriers to be florists, provides them with experience, and then helps them find jobs. The many women who worked on these 1800 bouquets might be recently released from prison, formerly abused or recovering drug addicts. It made me remember what Marcus Buckingham wrote in his book, First Break All the Rules, which in many ways, this florist is doing. He said “Every role performed at excellence deserves respect. Every role has its own nobility.” High five to the Olympic committee that chose this extraordinary florist and bestowed not only medals to athletes, but also bestowed opportunity, confidence, and respect to these women in need.
Cheryl Offers: Sara and I were recently speaking to a colleague when we heard “People don’t change. All my thesis research proved it.” Now this person is someone I respect a great deal and admire for their accomplishments. I was shocked to hear this fall out of their mouth – with conviction. I asked a question to ensure I had heard this correctly and the answer confirmed it: people can’t and don’t change. I must admit I don’t believe this for one nanosecond. There is a growing body of research that seems to be in direct contradiction to this idea, starting with Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham. I first fell in love with the ideas in this book when I read “Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of their greatest strength.” My philosophy has always been that it is a zero sum game. If you focus on doing more of something where you are strong, competent, and resonant as a leader, then you automatically do less of what might not be effective. And I’ve seen people change, including myself. Who wouldn’t want to invest time and energy in being better at something we already love to do? That actually sounds like fun rather than work.
Sara Offers: When I work with leaders I always look for the ones who are willing to change. When those who come out with pronouncements like, “I can’t change – I’m too old” or “I can’t change…they’ll just have to take me the way I am”, I head the other way. Leaders who proudly embrace their inflexibility are not bound for success! I think an unwillingness to tackle change is taking the easy way out…wimp leadership. Unlike our colleague’s belief, people not only CAN change, they MUST. Just ask Marshall Goldsmith. In his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, he maintains that the very skills that got leaders up the company ladder will sabotage them if they don’t change by developing new skills. Think about it. A great seller is promoted to being a sales manager. Being a great seller will get in the way because the manager’s job is to develop and motivate others to become great…not revel in their own past greatness. Can’t change? Nonsense! People can change. They do change. Change is growth.