You’ll recall last time we heard from Rock Star Theologian Bart Ehrman the moving, logical story of how he lost his faith by pondering suffering. In a world where a child starves to death every five seconds, Ehrman wonders, where is God?
In the other corner, feisty Bishop N. T. “Tom” Wright of the pro-God party has been listening patiently. How does he respond?
“Our culture,” says Wright, “has fallen prey to emotivism, leading people to say ‘I feel’ when they mean ‘I think.'” And how!
His point is that Ehrman’s starving-child statistics are emotional and not rational appeals that are beside the point. Even Southern-style evangelicals and ex-Anglican bishops accept the existence of evil — or Evil.
“There are of course multiple miseries in the world,” says Wright, “and for many (most?) of them it’s impossible to say, ‘There, look, some good came out of it.'”
There was an earthquake in Lisbon on All Saints Day, 1755, that is widely cited as inspiring Enlightenment Deism and agnosticism — a horrifying natural disaster that challenged Christian platitudes about God’s providence. Any faith that can’t make rational peace with such horrors isn’t faith at all.
So basically, Wright accuses Ehrman of trying to shock people of watery faith into agnosticism.
Wright’s second thrust is that Ehrman misreads the Hebrew Bible. It’s not a treadmill of sin and punishment but the story of God’s “long-range plan to rescue the world from its misery.”
And he misreads the New Testament. To Wright, Jesus is the key: the cross and resurrection “was precisely his [i.e., God’s] answer to the question ‘what does it look like when God is running the world.'”
Now, Ehrman will have none of this kind of gentle slap at his scholarship (which Wright calls “out of date”). Their tone turns sharper.