Bart Ehrman and Mike Licona interview: Different pathways
Justin Brierley discusses losing and finding faith in the Bible with biblical scholars Bart Ehrman and Mike Licona
Bart Ehrman and Mike Licona have debated with each other on a number of occasions. One is an agnostic, the other a Christian. One views the Bible as a purely human book, the other as the inspired Word of God. One gave up belief in the Resurrection of Jesus years ago; the other has made it his life’s work to demonstrate that it really happened.
And yet, they are not so dissimilar. Both were converted to evangelical Christian faith as young men and went on to pursue academic careers in theology. Both have found themselves at the centre of controversies in the world of biblical scholarship. Both experienced a crisis of faith that caused them to doubt their Christian beliefs. It is here that their stories diverge – today Bart is the agnostic and Mike is the Christian.
Bart Ehrman is professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina and is renowned in his field. However, it was Ehrman’s 2007 book Misquoting Jesus that propelled him into public recognition. A layman’s guide to how the New Testament documents were transmitted over time, it became an unexpected bestseller with its provocative claim that we cannot know what parts of the original Gospel texts actually said. The book put American evangelicals on the back foot as they tried to respond to sudden public interest in whether the Bible is trustworthy.
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Enter Mike Licona. Currently associate professor in theology at Houston Baptist University, he has been at the forefront of offering both popular and academic responses to those who question the reliability of scripture. His latest hefty volume, titled The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, argues that Christ rising from the dead is not just an article of faith but the most historically-plausible explanation of the facts. Even so, he too has received a frosty reception from hardliner evangelicals in the USA, displeased at sections of the book which sail too close to a perceived “liberal” view of certain scriptural passages.
At the centre of both these disputes is the question of whether the Bible is “inerrant” – without error or contradiction – a doctrine that has occupied conservative Christianity in America for several decades. It was a belief that Ehrman abandoned during his studies and led, in his words, to “the domino effect” of his Christian faith eventually toppling also. In contrast, Licona’s own struggle with inerrancy led to an eventual conviction that the Gospels faithfully recount the events of Jesus’ life, even if they don’t agree in every detail.
Believer and agnostic, as they sit down to share their respective faith journeys with me, they both insist that one aim unites them both – the search for “truth”, wherever it may lead…
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