What if Prof. Bart Ehrman hadn’t gone to Princeton?

I was just reading a very interesting blog post on Parchment and Pen (HT: TC & Joel) posted by Daniel Wallace (a dispensationalist at Dallas Theological Seminary) where there’s an excellent exchange of ideas and views.  Wallace’s beef is with liberal theologians who regard themselves as open-minded but their behavior is less than open-minded when it comes to how they treat evangelical students. His statement is a little disheartening:

Many of the mainline liberal schools routinely reject applications to their doctoral programs from evangelical students who are more qualified than their liberal counterparts—solely because they’re evangelicals. And Dallas Seminary students especially have a tough time getting into primo institutes because of the stigma of coming from, yes, I’ll say it again—a dispensational school. One of my interns was earning his second master’s degree at a mainline school, even taking doctoral courses. He was head and shoulders above most of the doctoral students there. But when he applied for the PhD at the same school, he was rejected. His Dallas Seminary degree eliminated him.

This can be very infuriating to evangelicals. I agree, I think there is still a lot of prejudice at some or many liberal seminaries; and faculty do make it harder for evangelicals to get through a program at their seminaries. At the same time, there are many liberals who are not prejudiced against evangelicals. In fact, they like the evangelical perspective because it’s fresh and new to them. Evangelicals are able to hold to orthodox theology while being open to  a critical view of biblical scholarship; while some liberals seem to have lost all their theological bearings and thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

Think about Bart Ehrman for a minute. What if his application to Princeton Theo. Seminary was rejected?  Bart Ehrman was a hardcore evangelical who did his theological degree at Moody Bible Institute but later did his PhD at Princeton. Princeton was where his view of the bible changed 180 degrees. He no longer considers himself a Christian. That’s scary. I’ve always wondered what if Prof. Bart Ehrman hadn’t gone to Princeton?

9 thoughts on “What if Prof. Bart Ehrman hadn’t gone to Princeton?

  1. Theophrastus, I don’t think the regents at Princeton are against evangelicals or evangelicalism. I think Princeton may have many evangelical professors and students. There are still a good representation of evangelicals within mainline denominations so an outright discrimination against evangelicals would be unseemly and narrow–even according to mainline standards.


  2. Scott, you are right on about Ehrman. He could have chosen the path to hold onto the faith he had, despite some of the inconsistencies he found in scripture. I like your wider definition of an evangelical. It’s actually the original view of what an evangelical really is.

    Your move from evangelicalism to Orthodox is an unorthodox move but I see what you mean by “Evangelical faith has not been conducive to this ongoing growth…” Your search and discovery of new paths is a personal thing that I can appreciate. In some ways, I’ve had a similar experience. If only Ehrman could have done the same, he wouldn’t have become a casualty. A ship that gets stuck in a sandbank doesn’t go anywhere. Our faith mustn’t get stuck in between rocks, otherwise it doesn’t go anywhere and we sink.


  3. Kevin Sam writes: Scott, you have a good point there. For Ehrman, it was all or nothing–no middle ground. That’s a setup for a downfall. I had one of Ehrman’s books as a textbook and a lot of what he said was enlightening, but I still hold to inspiration and authority of scripture.

    I see someone like Bart Ehrman, to a certain degree, as a casualty of religion, not as an enemy of Christianity. I think he’s person of integrity who faced head on questions which others live with in a state of cognitive dissonance,a problem which,when faced,one either chooses to the path he took or goes deeper into the Christian tradition and finds better solutions and lets go of inadequate views of God,Scripture,etc.

    Evangelical discource about biblical inspiration tends to be based on modernist assumptions,and tend to be separated from historical (ecclesial) moorings. To say one believes in the authority and inspiration of Scripture is not equivalent to the Evangelical definition.

    In the ’80s I attended the same church as Bart Ehrman; he would lead discussions about biblical studies in the Adult options on Sundays from time to time. At that time Dale Martin,formely of Duke but now at Yale,was a parishioner also. They would have friendly but pointed agreements about some of these matters. I could see the trajectory which led him to where he is now.If anything what I would draw from his example is that the Christian life is a journey;we have to continue to grow intellectually, spiritually, morally,psychologically and emotionallly–as whole,integrated people. In some ways Evangelical faith has not been conducive to this ongoing growth, esp. intellectually.I’ve seen this in my own life. I’m an Orthodox Christian now. I was “saved” at 17; filled with the Spirit a few years later.But at various times God led me out of the the ecclesiastical context I was so that I could have space (as I now realize in retrospect)to “grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.” In the scheme of things my exposure to critical biblical studies in seminary helped deepen my faith,as I walked with Christ through this process. There are casualties;I pray for them.


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  6. Rod, you’re right. It’s not that simple. There are conservative theologians at Princeton too (e.g., Dr. Robert Gagnon). Some of my professors could have been considered liberal too but I chose to take some of what they taught at face value and rejected some things too–perhaps to their dismay. But that was my choice.

    Scott, you have a good point there. For Ehrman, it was all or nothing–no middle ground. That’s a setup for a downfall. I had one of Ehrman’s books as a textbook and a lot of what he said was enlightening, but I still hold to inspiration and authority of scripture.


  7. In my opinion, what happened to Bart Ehrman is as much (more!) attributable to the Evangelical theology which set him up in a theological cul-de-sac had no way to find his way our without questioning his faith in God. If one’s belief in the Christian god is tied to a particular view of Scripturl inspiration, then one is bordering on idolatry.


  8. I do not think it is as simple as Bart Ehrman goes to Princeton, loses his faith, thats the story. I mean, the last time I heard a paper presentation from a student from Princeton, it was the most orthodox theology I had heard in a while. The presenter used mostly all scripture and only a few quotes from historian. It comes down to an individual choice to reject Jesus while attending a liberal theological institution. Sure, there was some peer pressure but Erhman chose to allow their subjective opinions sway him.


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