Why we shouldn’t be afraid of the enemy

Earlier today, I encountered someone linking Justin Taylor, who noted that Ehrman’s new book was out, and included a long excerpt from his introduction, along with a link + graphic for the book. The commentary with that link basically said that this was something bad, that Justin shouldn’t be promoting Ehrman’s book, and that doing so was “shameful”. Further, he offered the following comments: “It undermines Christian apologetic work that has shown that Erhman is anti-Christian and deeply prejudice (sic) in his writing. Not to mention that he is promoting Ehrman’s errant method of doing history. Taylor is in the book promotion business and that is what you do when you want to promote a book. Further, It conveys to me that Taylor wants people to read the book! To (sic) bad Taylor does not promote books by Christian authors that respond to Ehrman. There is a difference between reading a book from the other side, and promoting a book because it is a good read.”

Rhetoric aside, I find it quite interesting that so much motivation is assumed from the 3 sentences Taylor pens in his post. Additionally, I find it quite amazing that linking to the book, and letting Ehrman speak for himself does all of the things our objector says that it does, especially given that the commenter in question is none other than Alan Kurshner, a contributor to the AOMin blog. He commented to me personally, after a short exchange, “if you are ok with Taylor promoting an anti-Christian bigot, I have to wonder.” My response, of course, was “wonder away”. Further, I was informed that I was “naive,” and that I should “learn to discern.” Interesting phraseology, surely, but nonetheless, quite a charge to give someone. The point in question, of course, is not Justin’s motives, or Alan’s opinion of them – or mine. The point is a problematic emphasis being placed ad hominem. My problems with his comments had less to do with his opinion with me, or with Justin Taylor, as it had to do with what it seemed to be saying about “enemy” scholarship. Apparently, linking to the enemy with no commentary in a single post is somehow “shameful”. We are not told, however, why this is so – and his assertions concerning JT’s actions do not bear the light of examination.

First, let me point out immediately that I don’t think that the attitude expressed above is typical of AOMin. In fact, the atypical nature of it is what caught my eye. Dr. White is famous (or infamous) for giving quite a bit of air time to his opponents. He links to their work constantly, and encourages folks engaged in apologetic work to read the material of the opposition. Carefully, of course, with the understanding that it does not come from a “neutral” basis, surely – but linking to the material can hardly be problematic, given that Dr. White does so quite frequently. There is, of course, even more to this story, specifically concerning Ehrman. We’ve known for quite some time that this book was coming out. In fact, just about every Ehrman book published recently has had some sort of notice given concerning it on AOMin, at very least, given Dr. White’s debate with Ehrman several years previously. Seemingly, the issue for Alan was that there was “promotion” of the book being done. Arguably, I could say the same about every notice given to the readers of Alpha and Omega over the past years concerning new book releases. Alan may disagree, but I don’t see how there’s much appreciable difference between posting 1) The image of a book cover 2) A bit about the book is not “promoting” it in some sense, even from a hostile viewpoint.

Let’s examine Justin’s 3 sentence lead-in, and break it down.

Below is an interesting introduction to Bart Ehrman’s new Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. As a New Testament scholar who has specialized in the gospels and early Christianity and also as a skeptic, he was confused by the regular stream of questions about the existence of Jesus and was largely unaware of the internet skeptics who spill an enormous amount of pixels writing on this issue.

Here’s how he opens the book:

That’s it. This is what the entire body of Alan’s complaint centered around. That, and the fact that the graphic he used was “big”. (It is, a bit – 300×460 – but the previous book post had a graphic 300×450, too.) I mean, if we want to argue that we should make atheist book images smaller than Christian book images, be my guest, but I don’t see how that could possibly make sense as an argument. Is it that Justin doesn’t go on and on about how Ehrman is a hostile witness? He says that Ehrman is a skeptic, folks. It’s not under his hat, or “hidden in the wings”. Justin spends much of his intro giving a brief overview of who Ehrman is. The rest of the intro is given over to why the book is important. It is important because it militates against using Ehrman as a source for “Jesus myth” argumentation. That’s why he recommends the book – so we can have Ehrman’s own words about the subject, in contradiction to how his material is often used.

However; that being said, I’m not advocating that this is a book for everyone. I don’t think anyone has, or would. To do so is absurd. To recommend a book by Ehrman, further, is not to endorse everything Ehrman believes, even in that book – any more than me recommending one of Alan’s posts means that I agree with his every theological position, either, or with everything in the post, for that matter! It doesn’t mean that Paul was agreeing with the Greek philosophers on every point when he quoted them in Acts 17. Paul didn’t provide a point by point refutation of the rest of their worldview when he cited them. It doesn’t mean that Gill agrees with Jewish theologians in every respect when he cites them in his commentaries or systematic work, either, when he refrains from giving a point by point refutation. However, it remains the case that in order to refute the non-Christian worldview, you have to know what it is. Further, in order to refute it, you have to show where it contradicts itself. For Ehrman, this is a major point of self-contradiction. His view of history CANNOT give him a knowledge of this subject – yet, here he is saying, in this book, that his view CAN give him a knowledge of this subject. We have a book-length study in self-contradiction to place alongside of Jesus, Interrupted for comparison and contrast.

Is the problem that Ehrman was linked at all? Apparently not. Is the problem that Ehrman was linked with a BIG image? At one point, he wrote: “What if John Piper wrote a blog post saying ‘this is interesting’ referring to an excerpt from one of Rob Bell’s books along with a huge picture of the book and a link to amazon to buy the book.” I don’t see why it being “big” is an issue, unless using an image of equal size with a Christian book’s image is somehow problematic. I’d love to see an argument for that. Secondly, what is Rob Bell being quoted as denying that he is actually affirming? I don’t see the corollary there without it, sorry. Is the problem that Ehrman is quoted without their being a specific response to the book? I don’t see why JT is obligated to offer a response for all of Ehrman’s worldview problems when he himself says what the focus of his promotion is: “he [Ehrman] was confused by the regular stream of questions about the existence of Jesus and was largely unaware of the internet skeptics who spill an enormous amount of pixels writing on this issue.” It’s pretty obvious – JT knows Ehrman is a skeptic. He is hardly unaware of Ehrman’s proclivities, or his arguments. One if left wondering – does one have to deal with every issue in every post to meet these seemingly subjective criteria of “acceptable” promotion? What section of the intro does JT post, to further our argument? The section dealing with Ehrman’s confusion in regards to the internet atheists misquoting him, or using him as ammunition for Jesus-myth argumentation. Dr. White dealt with this very subject previously, in his comments on Ehrman’s appearance on “The Infidel Guy”. So, what is the problem? It isn’t as if JT hasn’t dealt with Ehrman. It’s not that the reason for the link isn’t clearly outlined.

Let me try to make the delineation clear for you, here. I don’t think it was even possible for Alan to ascribe motives to JT, as to do so would require some amazing telepathic powers I don’t believe Alan can possess. Further, to do so amounts to somewhat of a problematic response in and of itself. I don’t think it can even be argued that JT’s intent was to “agree” with Ehrman – methodologically or otherwise, given the massive amount of Ehrman-related material JT has linked to, and spoken on in the past. It can’t be argued that JT’s image size was problematic, as he used practically the same size in the previous book-related post, and I hardly think that image size can be argued to be “bad” when it comes to anything, to be frank. It can’t be that the lack of commentary was the problem, as the context of TGC, and of JT’s previous posts rather militates against that idea, yet again, and JT’s blog, on the whole, is a “link and go” format. It also cannot be simply that Ehrman is an apostate writer which is problematic, given that it’s fairly probable that Alan himself will read that book. Additionally, in Alan’s own field, it wouldn’t be acceptable to take a single comment in isolation, apart from the wider context in which it is made – so I don’t think that consistently, Alan can argue as he has been arguing. There is one objection that Alan considers to be more important than the rest: “I see Ehrman as a very dangerous man, I am averse when I see someone such as Taylor linking to his material without any criticism at all”

I don’t believe that it can be successfully argued, however, that JT must make particular criticisms in order to “promote” the book in question “properly”. What Alan did not do is say why this is problematic, or why we should believe this is the case, or what standard we should be using to do so. It is not obviously the case that JT’s actions are “shameful”, that his link to Ehrman’s book “undermines Christian apologetic work”, or that his excerpt “promotes Ehrman’s errant method of doing history”, or that ‘Taylor does not promote books by Christian authors that respond to Ehrman”. On the contrary, there are multiple and frequent citations by JT to the contrary of Alan’s claim. These all seem to be naked assertions, and devoid of argumentative force. It’s unfortunate that such a response was made, and that it was made in such a manner. I’m also disappointed in the response I was given prior to posting this; but it is by no means personal, but methodological.

I’m not advocating that everyone go out and buy a copy of Ehrman’s work. Posting the Amazon link to his work is not doing so, either. I find the entire exchange mildly distasteful, to be honest, but I hope that it serves the purpose of providing an example of what to do, and what not to do when engaging with citations/links to “enemy” writers.

We have nothing to fear from these authors, granted that we stand firmly on Scripture when we read them. I’m not scared of Ehrman’s arguments. They are awful. They are inconsistent, and they are arrogant. I feel no shame in linking to authors I disagree with, either, apostate, or not. If I link to them, it is typically to showcase some inadequacy of their worldview, even without commentary. I trust our readers enough to expect them to put my link into context with the rest of my writing. I try not to link to authors I’ve never discussed before without any commentary. By the same token, however, if I linked to something by William Lane Craig, Bart Ehrman, Pope Benedict, or Alan Kuschner, I have a body of writing already in place that should be considered when I do so. Nothing lacks a context. Since this is the case, making a “big deal” out of a single link sans commentary, when the body of work surrounding it is sound, tends to be a fairly unbalanced response.


4 Comments

Jared O.

I’m with you. Head-in-the-sand approaches that see engagement as automatically in error are nothing but ineffective and biblically unsupportable.

C.L. Bolt
RazorsKiss

Just for a lesson for the sake of consistency, note this, which went unmentioned by Alan in his comments today in channel – and which I left until now just to see if he’d bring it up, or whether I’d have to. Were Steve’s actions “shameful”, did they “undermine Christian apologetic work”, do they “promote Ehrman’s errant method of doing history”?

Sure, Steve didn’t link directly to the book – but he linked 1) directly to Ehrman’s op-ed in HuffPo, and then 2) to the same excerpt Justin uses. Something tells me that he isn’t going to jump on Steve for doing so. If Ehrman is so dangerous, and linking to him/promoting him is so dangerous, why wasn’t Steve’s doing so included in his critique?

Inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument.

Nextor

There is something that goes on in Christendom that is akin to the problem we are having with people who have malfunctioning immune systems…

In this culture we have been going nuts with keeping everything ‘clean’ and sanitised, using antibiotics way too much and going overdose on antibacterial soaps and cleaning agents – the result? We have more people with allergies and other immune dysfunctions than ever before. Where am i going with this?

I think this is similar to a mindset I have seen in as much as people try to insulate themselves away from anything that contradicts their belief system for fear that they will ‘get sick’. The unfortunate result is that they never actually develop as they should, and when a problem does arise its head, the person is TOTALLY unequipped to deal with it with devastating results. Furthermore, if they meet someone who disagrees with them within Christendom, then the result can be aggressive and divisive within the body of Christ, as they have never learned to deal with things in a good fashion. I sometimes think this is true of the ‘discernment’ ministries that obsess over minutia and call heretic every two seconds – if they focused their efforts on external attacks on Christendom, they might be a bit more balanced… (think IFB KJV Onlyist and the like)

What might be a solution? Controlled exposure therapy, which is what I think AOMin does very well. We don’t shy away from the critics, but we also show how to analyse and show the failures in the opposite argument and help the new folks to learn how to think these things through…


Leave a Comment