In previous installments, I have written two blog articles on my observations regarding an interview of Bart Ehrman by Sam Harris on What is Christianity. Bart Ehrman is an agnostic, New Testament scholar at Princeton, and Sam Harris is one of the so-called “new atheists”. In the first article, I relate portions of Ehrman’s story about his “loss of faith”, and I question whether he really had anything but a very shallow idea of faith to begin with. In the second installment, I talk about a certain wooden fundamentalism that continues to be apparent in how Ehrman sees the Bible. It’s a kind of all or nothing approach. Previously, he accepted all of it; now he accepts none of it.
Before moving on to other observations, I want to stop and raise a couple of points related to the portion of the interview already covered. First of all, I want to go back to the comment made by Ehrman about the charismatic youth leader who influenced him in a local Campus Crusade for Christ chapter. Erhman describes the “sinner’s prayer” he recited as an induction. The same youth leader urged him to go to Moody Bible Institute if he wanted to be a “serious Christian”.
Erhman was obviously influenced by this charismatic youth leader. Many of us are similarly influenced by charismatic people that we meet along the way. Some of us are influenced to do things that we might not otherwise do and which have no lasting import to us when we leave the circle of that influence.
This is a prologue to a previously published piece, Room for Doubters & Skeptics. In that original piece, I explored the fact that Jesus invited, embraced and nurtured doubters and skeptics, even in his inner circle of followers. We see this in the accounts of Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew) and Thomas (who we call “Doubting Thomas).
We meet Nathanael early on when Philip introduces him to Jesus. Nathanael was skeptical. Thomas we get to know in more detail in the middle of his time with Jesus and at the end. Even at the end of his time with Jesus, Thomas still doubted.
The stories of these two men leave us with a few important takeaways. First, honest doubt was no issue for Jesus, and should be no issue for us. This was the point of the initial piece that to which I linked above. In this piece we will see the importance of asking the critical questions and being genuinely interested in the answers. There are answers, but, more importantly, the answers lie in more than bare facts and reason; genuine faith requires a personal encounter.
Whether God exists is the most important question we can ask. Whether God exists, or not, is (or should be) the foundation for everything we do and everything we think about the world. On this point, we are either hot or cold. Lukewarm is the same as being cold because it means we haven’t’ cared or been thoughtful enough to be interested in the question.
There is no such thing as a follower of God who doesn’t seek him. There is a difference between intellectual ascent and faith (commitment) to God. Someone famously said that even Satan believes in God. Nathanael and Thomas provide us an example of the importance of persistence in getting answers to the questions that arise from our doubt and skepticism.