"Why didn’t my Pastor tell me that?"

The beginning of my deconversion from Christianity began when I took up a challenge from a former Christian, now atheist blogger to read Bart Ehrman.  That was his requirement to continue our online conversation regarding the existence of God.  (It was my intent to help this “lost soul” and bring him back to Christ.)

I had barely started reading the first book, Misquoting Jesus, when my jaw dropped to the floor.  I asked myself:

 “Why has no Christian pastor in my entire life ever told me this stuff?”

The fundamentalist Baptists didn’t tell me.
The non-denominational evangelicals didn’t tell me.
The liberal Lutherans didn’t tell me.
The liberal Episcopalians didn’t tell me.
And the confessional (orthodox) Lutherans did not tell me.

From Bart Ehrman’s book, How Jesus Became God:

When I deliver talks like this (lectures/debates in Christian universities and churches) I regularly and consistently get two questions from members of the audience.  The first is,

“If this is the view widely held among scholars (that Jesus is best understood as an apocalyptic prophet who was anticipating that God was soon to intervene in human affairs to overthrow the forces of evil and set up a good kingdom here on earth, not that Jesus believed himself to be God), why have I never heard it before?”

I am afraid that this question has an easy but troubling answer.  In most instances the view of Jesus that I have is similar to that taught—with variations here or there, of course—to ministerial candidates in  the mainline denominational seminaries (Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, and so on.)  So why have their parishioners never heard it before?  Because their pastors haven’t told them.  And why haven’t their pastors told them?  I don’t know for sure, but from my conversations with former seminarians, I think that many pastors don’t want to make waves; or they don’t think their congregations are “ready” to hear what scholars are saying; or they don’t think that their congregations want to hear it.  So they don’t tell them.  –Bart Ehrman

Gary adds:  Or for conservative/orthodox pastors, they are afraid to lose their jobs if they do not preach the “party line”.


19 thoughts on “"Why didn’t my Pastor tell me that?"

  1. “Or for conservative/orthodox pastors, they are afraid to lose their jobs if they do not preach the “party line”.”

    Why would they want to keep a job like that? Wouldn't they want to move, and be with, more like-minded people if they indeed believed what they are teaching is false? There are a lot of churches elsewhere that would be more comfortable with their beliefs aren't there?

    Have a good day, Gary.


  2. Hmmm, fascinating when you consider that Bart Ehrman himself now admits that the Gospels proclaim Jesus was God. Ehrman has to spin it to downplay this admittance though. So Ehrman now admits they (Matthew, Mark and Luke) portray Jesus as God but in a way in which he feels comfortable defining. Might want to update your post to reflect his latest scholarly expertise…

    “So yes, now I agree that Jesus is portrayed as a divine being, a God-man, in all the Gospels. But in very different ways, depending on which Gospel you read.” – Bart Ehrman

    Source: http://ehrmanblog.org/jesus-as-god-in-the-synoptics-for-members/


  3. Abby,
    I was a conservative pastor for many years. My de-conversion took years, yet I continued to preach the party line. It was (and still is) difficult to embrace the fact that what I believed and taught for so many years is not true. For years I thought my doubts came from either a sinful/small mind or from the devil itself. Primarily, however, I thought I was either doing something wrong that God would ignore me (or didn't know the code or procedure, or I wasn't sufficiently faithful, etc.) Pastors do not have anyone with whom they can discuss such things, at least not without risk of suddenly losing everything. I tried to discuss this with other pastors, and they thought I was “going through” some emotional issues or purposely being obtuse. For most pastors, de-conversion (or even serious doubts about one's faith) is a moral question. Being born, raised, acquiring 3 advanced degrees in the Christian faith, it is exceedingly difficult to find yourself without a job, without God, without friends (they run like you have the plague once you've deconverted) and without solid epistemological mooring. The church does not know how to help the recently deconverted, and I seriously doubt they would think it's their job to worry about their next career. From the church's point of view, we're apostates from the faith; persona-non-Grata. I finally found a way out, but had to do that on my own. What work does one do when all they ever knew was pastoral ministry? (I know there's a lot of opportunities, but this is more than changing careers, it feel as though I had to change identities as well.)

    There's more to it, of course. I hope this helps. Thanks to all who participate with this blog. It helps to dialog about this.



  4. There is a very big difference between a divine being, a god, and God Almighty, Lord of Heaven and Earth.

    Ehrman discusses this in “How Jesus became God.”

    We Christians living in the 21st have a concept of a very strict separation between man and the divine. According to Ehrman, that was not the case in first century (and earlier) Judaism. In fact, in the Hebrew Bible, the king and angels are referred to as god.

    So when reading the Gospels, when we see the term “God”, we cannot just assume that “God” means the Lord Creator.


  5. Here is Ehrman's comment in context from the link you provided:

    Sometimes students, audience members, or readers would object, that even if the other Gospels do not flat-out *call* Jesus God, his divinity is implied in other ways. For example, he does amazing miracles that surely only a divine figure could do; and he forgives people’s sins, which surely is a prerogative of God alone; and he receives worship as people bow down before him, which surely indicates that he welcomes divine honors.

    I would typically respond to these comments by arguing that all of these things are completely compatible with human, not just divine, authority. (I still hold to this view, even though I have a different conclusion now about the Christology of Matthew, Mark, and Luke).

    With respect to Jesus’ ability to do miracles: in the Hebrew Bible the prophets Elijah and Elisha did fantastic miracles through the power of God – including healing the sick and raising the dead – and in the New Testament so did the apostles Peter and Paul; but that did not make any of them divine. They were humans.

    With respect to the forgiveness of sins: when Jesus forgives sins, he never says “I forgive you,” as God might say, but “your sins are forgiven,” which means that God has forgiven your sins. This prerogative for pronouncing sins forgiven was otherwise reserved for Jewish priests in honor of sacrifices worshipers made at the temple. Jesus may be claiming a priestly, not a divine prerogrative.

    With respect to people bowing down to him in worship: kings were worshiped – even in the Bible (Matt. 18:26) — by veneration and obeisance, just as God was. Here Jesus may be accepting the worship due to him as the future king.

    As a result, none of these things, in and of itself, indicates clearly that Jesus is divine. One could argue that the three things taken together as a group makes a stronger case for Jesus’ divinity: Jesus has the role of prophet, priest, and king – not just one thing or the other. And together these things suggest he is something more than human.

    But more than that, in doing my research and thinking harder and harder about the issue, when I (a) came to realize that the Gospels not only attributed these things to him, but also understood him to be adopted as the Son of God at his baptism (Mark 1:9-11), or to have been made the son of God by virtue of the fact that God was literally his father, in that it was the Spirit of God that made the virgin Mary pregnant (Luke 1:35), and (b) realized what “adoption” meant to people in the Roman world (as indicated in a previous post), I finally yielded. These Gospels do indeed think of Jesus as divine. Being made the very Son of God who can heal, cast out demons, raise the dead, pronounce divine forgiveness, receive worship together suggests that even for these Gospels Jesus was a divine being, not merely a human.

    But in a different sense from John. (And in a different sense from one another.)

    In some ways, much of my book is predicated on the idea that when someone says that Jesus is God, you always have to ask “in what sense?” John’s sense is different from Mark’s and Mark’s is different from Luke’s and Luke’s is different from Paul’s and so on.

    For Mark, Jesus was adopted to be God’s son at his baptism. Before that, he was a mere mortal. For Luke, Jesus was conceived by God and so was literally God’s son, from the point of his conception. (In Luke Jesus did not exist *prior* to that conception to the virgin – his conception is when he came into existence). For John, Jesus was a pre-existent divine being – the Word of God who was both with God and was God at the beginning of all things – who became a human. Here he is not born of a virgin and he is not adopted by God at the baptism (neither event is narrated in John – and could not be, given, John’s Christology).

    So yes, now I agree that Jesus is portrayed as a divine being, a God-man, in all the Gospels. But in very different ways, depending on which Gospel you read.


  6. Did you even read his blog entry I posted? This post was written AFTER that book came out and his view has changed since that book. Do you ever read anything anyone ever shares with you or just block it out because you don't want to hear the other side? What a waste of time…


  7. Yeah you posted that after I wrote my last comment. You're missing a lot if you can't see what he just admitted to. His book was called “How Jesus became God”… His post which I linked to and which you quoted above pretty much explains how Jesus became a God. In his typical fashion he gives with one hand and takes with the other but he clearly admits “How Jesus became God”, the Bible teaches He was God. You don't see this?

    “I finally yielded. These Gospels do indeed think of Jesus as divine. Being made the very Son of God who can heal, cast out demons, raise the dead, pronounce divine forgiveness, receive worship together suggests that even for these Gospels Jesus was a divine being, not merely a human.” – Bart Ehrman


  8. I don't need to read his book. I read his comment about the book which came after the book correcting the book. You just refuse to acknowledge what he just admitted. I'm done, that's all I wanted to share and have no need of talking to a wall.


  9. in the original article: “… the view widely held among scholars (that Jesus is best understood as an apocalyptic prophet …. not that Jesus believed himself to be God)”

    in slave's article: “… Bart Ehrman himself now admits that the Gospels proclaim Jesus was God”

    slave, i think the point that you may be missing is that even tho ehrman now thinks the gospels proclaim jesus as divine (altho each in a different sense), it doesn't mean ehrman thinks that jesus himself thought that (altho he might, he didn't say in that excerpt).

    those gospels were still written decades after jesus died, by unknown authors. so just because those gospels say jesus was god, that doesn't mean that scholars agree that jesus actually thought he was, only that the people who later wrote the gospels thought so.

    also, bart is only one scholar, so even if he did change his mind on the issue of what jesus believed himself to be, he may be one of the few scholars that have changed his opinion on this particular topic, i don't know.

    lastly, the whole “why didn't they tell me” isn't related solely a single issue, but the entire range of issues that scholars have investigated, ie, the whole range of issues that gary's blog has hightlighted over the last couple months. so even tho ehrman changed his mind on this one issue you pointed out, so far as i know, he is still an atheist.

    so, rather than getting mad at gary for not understanding your point, i think the issue is that erhman changing his mind on this one point is relatively minor related to the entire range of issues related to all the discrepancies in the bible, and why ministers don't raise these issues with the congregations.


  10. Gary,
    There wasn't a single trigger. My deconversion was a slow process, a growing awareness. For years I studied Mormonism and wondered how intelligent people could possibly believe such nonsense. I never even considered that Mormonism was anything but foolishness yet some very smart people were Mormons. This confused me. After the 9-11-2001 event, like many people, Islam became a focus of study. In a similar way to Mormonism, Islam is obviously severely flawed. Yet, there are some smart people who ascribe to Islam. How could this be?

    Ultimately, it's religion in general that I began to evaluate. I had to answer for myself “What makes me think what I believe is true?” Many Mormons are very sincere in their faith, they tithe, send their kids on 2 year missions, etc. But their religion is based on the testimony of a known (and documented) thief and con-artist. Islam is founded by a terrorist and they send their kids into crowds strapped with bombs. What makes me think my religion is true? Historical Christianity has had its own dark history. Is what I believe about God and Jesus true?

    Over time, I discovered that it did not matter whether I prayed or didn't pray, my life had good times and tough times. It didn't matter, ultimately, whether I would meditate on bible readings or the comic books, my life was the same. Christians are statistically no different from any other group of people regarding morals, values, overall goodness, divorce, raising children, etc. Christians, including denominational leaders, make the same excuses as anyone and they lead lives just as “normal” as anyone.

    Yet, according to the Bible and according to my own denomination, the lives of Christians ought to be exemplary and ought to differentiate the life of the Christian vis-a-vis the life of a non-believer (if the story is true). Although a lot is said about this differentiation inside the church (it helps to rally the troops), it is certainly not obvious that there is any difference between the Christian and a sampling of the general population.

    As time went on, the “primary historical documents” became the “primary party line.” Nothing in Christianity is first-hand information, everything has been passed down — filtered — through many minds, cultures, and ideologies. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? How could I possibly know? Warm feelings? Autocratic demand? Historical evidence?

    If God wants me to believe in him, he will need to make himself more clear and obvious than the pure chance of being born in a Christian family in a Christian-favored nation and grow up in a Christian setting where it's considered immoral to sincerely doubt and where we're threatened with eternal hell-fire if we deviate from the current religious norm.


  11. Anonymous, You answered why you would keep the job and continue to preach falsely (in your view). You didn't really answer why you didn't or couldn't move where more like-minded people would be. Once you had made up your mind, why did it matter what other people think? For instance, I cannot imagine Bart Ehrman continuing to stay in, and work in the “party line” — say, of the LCMS — once he made up his mind to become an atheist.

    “I finally found a way out, but had to do that on my own. What work does one do when all they ever knew was pastoral ministry? (I know there's a lot of opportunities, but this is more than changing careers, it feel as though I had to change identities as well.)”

    Is not that as it should be?

    I heard a pastor say that he might go take a job at Home Depot. Anything to get away from anything like the pastoral ministry.

    Is it not a matter of honesty? How were you still performing the functions and leading people who were there to worship God and be ministered to in sickness and death? How could you preach at anyone's funeral? How could you teach Bible class? I would think you would want to run as fast as you can away from these things.

    I am not arguing with you. I don't understand. I left a company once for differences of ethical philosophy — and went out into the unknown. And did not look back.



  12. Very interesting, PM

    It is truly amazing how fundamentalist and orthodox Christians will snicker and scoff at the idea that God would send an angel to give Joseph Smith the Golden Tablets in the early 1800's, but yet the same people will not bat an eye when asked how they know that a middle-eastern man 2,000 years ago rose from the dead three days after his body began decomposing, with actually much less evidence for their belief than the belief held by the “silly” Mormons.


  13. I am very lucky that at 53 years of age, I am not deconverting as a conservative/orthodox pastor. What a heart-wrenching decision.

    Pastors who go to seminary incur a very large debt. Their salaries when they begin with their first parish is usually very low, and I doubt it ever gets up into what would be considered the upper middle class. They have no job training in anything else. They have a family to support, bills to pay. “Being intellectually honest” may seem like the appropriate thing to do, but when you are faced with putting your family out on the street, “honesty” becomes a matter of definition.


  14. “honesty” becomes a matter of definition”

    That is the crux of the matter, isn't it? As everything comes under someone's interpretation and definition.

    Bart Ehrman, and everything else that is wrong, WILL be proved wrong one day. And all definitions will be made clear.



  15. Which is worse:

    A pastor that doesn't not believe what he preaches but preaches the teachings of his denomination, or a pastor who believes but preaches teachings that are contrary to the denomination?

    I think PM should be commended for not trying to use his pastoral office to subvert the teachings of his denomination. He stayed only because he had no financial choice.

    According to the Lutheran Confessions, the validity of the Sacraments do not depend on the spiritual status of the pastor conducting the Sacrament, but only on the Word.

    Therefore, no one was harmed.


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