The points Ehrman is making on this particular book tour are either too obscure for a half-hour prepared talk or he’s just done a lousy job of presenting them. I mean, you can’t discuss the authorship of various New Testament books and just flatly deny the role of the amanuensis in composition of letters. Regardless, some of the question and answer section (after the half-hour point) is fascinating. To my ears the highlight is Ehrman’s defense of why he thinks a historical Jesus existed; in brief: because the Scriptural narrative is difficult and unexpected.
Also, someone from the audience asks when Ehrman will turn his historical-critical attention to the Koran (at about 53:00); he says “when I stop valuing my life that’s what I’ll do.”
I’m offline much of the week, traveling for business and pleasure. Here are a few unrelated items to fill part of the gap until I get back:
- So the Pew Forum published a report on religious knowledge in the United States, and there was much discussion. The Immanent Frame got a bunch of people who are scholars in the field of the study of religion (primarily religion as a social phenomenon; there’s arguably at most one theologian in the bunch, and no pastors or other religious professionals) to comment on the report and (mostly) what it signifies [link]. There are some insightful comments and predictions here, but this sort of thing causes me to wonder if postmodernism is an inevitable result of modernism, or whether modernism itself is fundamentally incoherent.
- Author Sara Zarr recommends a writing workshop and talks about what it means to be a Christian author but not a “Christian author” [link], in much the same way e.g. David Bazan is (was?) a Christian-not-Christian-rock singer. I really have no idea what it means to be a Christian in the arts community but not involved in “Christian art,” and my field of study isn’t even on the radar of most religious professionals, so I can’t relate to or identify with what Zarr occasionally describes as being her experience, but her comments give me pause for thought.
- James White celebrates Reformation Day on The Dividing Line [link]. As someone who is not Reformed I tend to be put off by the unreflective self-congratulation that happens once a year in Reformed circles, and most of this episode is exactly that. It’s just plain dry and dull and awful. In the last ten minutes, however, White talks about the historical elements that were in place (printing, nationalism, etc. He doesn’t mention capitalism.) at the time of the Renaissance and made conditions right for the birth and survival of the Reformation. Fascinating and fact-filled if a bit overwrought; it’s hard to find a better example of “good James White” and “bad James White” side by side. He doesn’t deal with the obvious question of why all the ingredients of the Reformation would be merely of historical interest and not the Reformation itself.
- A long debate on the premise “Resolved: that Islam is a religion of peace” [link]. I don’t really know anything about Islam, but I think I learned more in this hour-plus than I could learn from many hours of listening to oh say Ergun Caner. The fundamental question in the debate boils down to this: Which is more appropriate: to judge a religion by its teachings, or by the behavior of its adherents? By the best of each or the worst of each? Also, Martin Luther makes a surprise appearance as a foil for an argument from one side; I won’t say which one.
- Marvin Olasky resigns his position as provost at The King’s College after Dinesh D’Souza’s appointment as president [link]. Are there really no Protestant evangelicals of sufficient stature to hold high-profile at this Protestant evangelical school?
That’s it. Please enjoy with my humble blessing. It’s not much: there are better Linkathons elsewhere.
One little nugget from Ergun Caner’s appearance in Bristol really stuck out for me, I guess because unlike most everything else in the article it’s something I hadn’t heard before [link]:
Caner, who has written 17 books, including four about Islam, claims “3 of 4” Muslims in America are “running from Islam.”
“Our problem is the 1 out of 4,” Caner said. “They don’t understand religious freedom. They don’t understand freedom of speech. They say, ‘Stop saying we’re violent or we’ll kill you.’ Really? Did you just hear yourself say that?”
There are several interesting things about the “3 out of 4″ part of this quote. First of all, I’d never heard it before. I don’t know how Caner could know this; perhaps he’s done some original research on Muslims in America. I don’t know how I’d go about fact-checking something like this; I don’t know what qualifies as “running from Islam.” Second, it’s a more conciliatory position than most Christian commentators I hear take; most of them basically say there’s no such thing as a moderate Muslim, the Koran is an innately violent book, etc. I’d be surprised, for example, Robert Spencer [mp3], Pamela Geller [mp3], or Brigitte Gabriel [mp3], all fairly recent guests on Issues Etc., would agree with Caner’s characterization.
On the other hand, given that there’s no accurate number for how many Muslims there are in America [link], with counts from various usually reputable sources varying by a factor of more than 4 between the high and low over a six-year period, I’m more inclined to suspect that Ergun Caner doesn’t actually have a fact to offer here and is instead engaging in a little fact-inventing when something innocuous like “most Muslims are perfectly nice people” would have sufficed.
I mean after all, if 75% of Americas estimated 7 million Muslims were “running from Islam” (that’s 5,250,000 people, more than live in Los Angeles [link]) wouldn’t that have some impact on how the media treats domestic Islam?
The first segment deals with an ongoing post-debate discussion between James White and Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis regarding the authority of the Roman Catholic Church to interpret Scripture and decide what is and isn’t orthodox Christianity. White’s description of his disagreement with Sungenis sounds to me like what I call for lack of a better term a conversation between a premodern point of view and a modern point of view.
In the premodern point of view an authoritative source decides what is true; in a modern point of view the authoritative source agrees with (plausible, verifiable, or whatever) objective truth claims. That’s the best description I can come up with, and when I use these terms that’s more or less what I mean. In truth most Christians as best I can tell live with one foot in one world, the other in the other most of the time. I don’t think the term “premodern” here is standard, but I use it because it is sort of the natural analog to the popular “postmodern,” which holds that there’s no central narrative, only local communities, and no absolute truth, only conversations. There’s also a kind of weak form of postmodernism that says that there is such a thing as objective truth, but there isn’t nearly as much of it as we’d all like. I tend to fall into this latter category sometimes.
This episode of The Dividing Line is also interesting because White wades into what he calls “convert syndrome” or which I occasionally hear called “convert as expert:” the tendency for people in category Y to consider a convert from X to Y an expert on X, not considering that they may have converted because they were a weak or lousy X in the first place. For example: we Evangelicals should have asked more questions about Ergun Caner as an ex-Muslim before considering him an expert on Islam. This is also a question that springs unbidden to mind whenever I hear a former evangelical, now Lutheran on Issues Etc. and I simply do not recognize the Evangelicalism (theology or practice) they describe.
I still think James White is a jerk; this episode of The Dividing Line is a good example of why I listen to him closely and regularly anyway.