Outgrowing Our Ignorance

Last week my boyfriend Jeremiah (who a few days later became my fiance!) posted a couple of articles to his new biblioblog on Luke-Acts about the recent upload of the Codex Sinaiticus to to the Internet (see his posts here and here), with the purpose of pointing out the way this happening has been exploited by those that wish to discredit the Bible, namely Bart Ehrman.

Bart Ehrman is actually a large part of why I first thought my future husband arrogant and ultra-conservative: we met at a Christmas party and ended up talking about my college New Testament professor for some time, Jeremiah attacking his character and my leaping to his defense.

My own story with Ehrman is complex, filled with doubts and questions, hopes and prayers, and a journey to seminary in California. Ehrman has caused many tears, many good discussions, and much thanksgiving in my circle, and I quickly laud him as an excellent teacher in many respects.

But I must admit that when it comes to Ehrman’s attitude toward the media, Jeremiah seems to be largely correct: Ehrman (and some others, to be sure) will talk to reporters and build up a sensationalist story, much as he does in his popular level books. Because religion reporters know nothing about religion, they believe whatever the “experts” tell them, even if the experts don’t represent a story fairly. In the case of the Codex Sinaiticus, the textual variants mentioned in the articles are nothing new or exciting to the scholarly world. Furthermore, the discipline of textual criticism helps us determine with near certainty the majority of the questionable wordings of our texts. But Ehrman didn’t tell that to CNN or the BBC, at least not as they have portrayed it.

Up to this point I have mostly just reiterated what Jeremiah has said on his blog, but I wanted to take things a step further by making a broad sweeping statement:

I think one of the greatest tragedies of the American church is the past century’s apathy toward social injustice at home and around the world, while we have become the richest country in the world, a land that supposedly stands for liberty.

The other great tragedy of the American church, I think, is our lack of a healthy corporate intellectual life. If regular Christians knew just a tiny bit more about the Bible, they wouldn’t freak out when they read these articles, and when their friends read the same articles, they would have answers and resources to point them to. Beyond this immediate application, there are simply so many ways in which a new commitment to academics–and even just thoughtfulness–would make a difference. If we were a bit more thoughtful, I hope to goodness we wouldn’t still sell Test-A-Mints in our bookstores or buy books from the Left Behind Series or Joel Osteen. If we were a bit more studious and reflective, maybe we’d be a bit more clear on the gospel and a bit more loose with cussing and alcohol. If we were just a teeny bit smarter, perhaps we’d offer at least one Sunday school class for married couples that’s more interesting than simply talking about their parenting strategies…

One of the reasons I’m really excited about seminary is the prospect of teaching regular people–be they small children, teenagers, or adults–someday in Sunday school and other community settings. I’m so excited that I will have the power to ameliorate, if only a little, a situation that has bothered me since at least high school, before I understood the problem in any meaningful way. It’s inspiring to think that I could play a small role in helping smart high schoolers that are bored or cynical become intrigued by Christianity again, that I might help average adults understand the context of the Bible in ways that excite and challenge them with new possibilities, that I might get to teach kids about a Jesus that’s a least a bit closer to the original than the average Bible storybook.

Not everyone will be a nerd like me (though I’m hoping Jer and I can at least get our kids to join the club!), but I think there’s a real chance for all of us that care about having a thoughtful faith to make a difference in our fields of interest and in our families, churches, and communities. Even if I don’t inspire people to become Bible geeks, I feel certain there is something to be gained.

I long for the day when thinking is prized among all Christians.

But in the meantime, I highly recommend the book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll. I read it when I was 17 or 18, and it blew me away, made me angry, and gave me hope.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Outgrowing Our Ignorance

  1. Stevie

    Ashleigh, thank you for putting this on fb, I may never have read it otherwise. What you say definitely reflects on certain reasons why I parted ways with Christianity several years ago and how I inextricably find myself getting in debates with the types of Christians you’re speaking about. I find it incredible that I end up knowing more about the Bible than many of them. Even though I haven’t followed the faith in almost a decade the undeniable literary and moral relevance, even to Wiccans like myself, of the Bible is astounding and I hope that you’re able to bring the true beauty of the text to life for others. While not everyone can follow Christianity in their heart they should be able to appreciate the ideas, thoughts, and paradigms associated with the nature of the belief system. I agree with your observations on how (some) Christians will freak out after reading these kinds of articles and how they generally should be more studious and thoughtful. Perhaps if this were true many people would think twice before giving into their utter lack of confidence in their faith and telling someone like myself to go burn. I appreciate the book recommendation, I am now intrigued and must go find it at the library. Thanks again!

  2. ashrebg

    Stevie,

    I’m glad you found my actual blog–since some people just see things on fb and think that’s it! It’s good to hear your thoughts–and to have reconnected with you recently, more generally! :o)

    I don’t know if your library would have the book, but here’s a link to it on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Scandal-Evangelical-Mind-Mark-Noll/dp/0802841805/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1247596886&sr=8-1.

    Peace!
    Ashleigh

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