There’s a brief excerpt from theologian and agnostic Bart Ehrmann’s latest book God’s Problem at the Fresh Air web site where he was recently interviewed. Take a look at what Ehrmann has to say about faith:
“The problem of suffering became for me the problem of faith. After many years of grappling with the problem, trying to explain it, thinking through the explanations that others have offered—some of them pat answers charming for their simplicity, others highly sophisticated and nuanced reflections of serious philosophers and theologians—after thinking about the alleged answers and continuing to wrestle with the problem, about nine or ten years ago I finally admitted defeat, came to realize that I could no longer believe in the God of my tradition, and acknowledged that I was an agnostic: I don’t “know” if there is a God; but I think that if there is one, he certainly isn’t the one proclaimed by the Judeo-Christian tradition, the one who is actively and powerfully involved in this world. And so I stopped going to church.”
Do you catch anything a bit odd here?
The words “think” and “know” come up a lot. And yet he lost his faith. Theology is faith seeking understanding or better yet, faith thinking. But thinking does not equal faith.
Remember Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
Faith does not mean we turn our brains off or discard logic or evidence completely. Nevertheless, faith implies hope, the unseen, the uncertain. Ehrmann tried to figure out suffering, could not think it through logically, and claims to have lost his faith.
Here is my question, in what did he place his faith? In scripture making perfect sense? Definitely–see his book Misquoting Jesus. In life having a clear meaning we can parse out? Definitely again–see his latest book.
I don’t see a former follower of Jesus here who says that God failed him: he doesn’t say that God ignored his prayers, he doesn’t get into the personal relationship end with God. His focus is theology: places where God doesn’t line up, the facts did not line up with his faith–wherever he placed his faith. This is the failure of theology, the failure of an intellectual to put his faith in a neat box where all of the loose ends tie up. I don’t see faith at all. Ehrmann did not lose his faith in God because he doesn’t seem to have had all that much faith in God. He placed his faith in theology. Even if he had a personal conversion experience, at some point he placed his faith in something other than God.
Perhaps I’m being a little rough on him. And I admit, I have a lot of compassion for him. It breaks my heart to see him struggling to figure all of this out. Nevertheless, he’s opening himself up and sharing his bones of contention with God. In doing that, I think he’s inviting scrutiny, and that’s where I’m coming from. I think he’s placing the blame in the wrong place, though of course I have not stood squarely in his shoes. I’m merely basing my assessment on his interviews and books.
Christianity is about something terrifying and hard to believe. Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” That means we have to take that huge step of faith–and I mean this is the biggest leap we could ever take–and opening the door.
Will there be anyone or anything there?
We can’t know for sure.
But we can open the door in faith, leaving all theology and doctrines behind until later. Because our hope is first and foremost in God, not in theology or doctrines or theories or philosophy. We believe first in God, and then we seek to know God, even if we can’t expect everything to line up. Faith has to be enough.
God is knocking. We can open the door and have that supernatural encounter or we can turn up our theology and drown out the God who wants to know us.