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How God Became Jesus—and How I Came to Faith in Him
Image: The Bridgeman Art Library
"The Way of the Cross, Jesus Dies upon the Cross," Eric Gill (1917)

Bart Ehrman, a professor of religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is something of a celebrity skeptic. He's written a number of bestsellers exposing the alleged errors in traditional accounts of early Christianity. His book Misquoting Jesus (2007) asserts that the manuscripts used to compile the New Testament are corrupted and unreliable, deviant from original autographs. His book Forged (2011) claims that many of the New Testament writings were counterfeits written pseudonymously under the names of the apostles.

In his latest book, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, Ehrman argues that belief in Jesus' divinity evolved over the first few centuries and eventually crystallized into what we know today. Jesus didn't claim to be God; rather, his followers thought he was divine because they believed he rose from the dead. But even then, the understanding of Jesus' divinity was incredibly elastic, ranging from a man exalted to be God's vice-regent to a pre-existent person who was equal with God. Only much later was Jesus identified as the Almighty. You can read Ehrman's own summary of his book at The Huffington Post.

Ehrman has a famous de-conversion, turning from an evangelical Christian to an agnostic. And he loves to tell his story. Ehrman is a gifted communicator, never short of a provocative quote. He knows how to stir a crowd, and he does well in talk shows, conferences, presentations, and debates.

But I've got my own de-conversion story to match his.

From Skepticism to Faith

I grew up in a secular home in suburban Australia, where religion was categorically rejected—it was seen as a crutch, and people of faith were derided as morally deviant hypocrites. Rates for church attendance in Australia are some of the lowest in the Western world, and the country's political leaders feel no need to feign religious devotion. In fact, they think it's better to avoid religion altogether.

As a teenager, I wrote poetry mocking belief in God. My mother threw enough profanity at religious door knockers to make even a sailor blush.

Many years later, however, I read the New Testament for myself. The Jesus I encountered was far different from the deluded radical, even mythical character described to me. This Jesus—the Jesus of history—was real. He touched upon things that cut close to my heart, especially as I pondered the meaning of human existence. I was struck by the early church's testimony to Jesus: In Christ's death God has vanquished evil, and by his resurrection he has brought life and hope to all.

When I crossed from unbelief to belief, all the pieces suddenly began to fit together. I had always felt a strange unease about my disbelief. I had an acute suspicion that there might be something more, something transcendent, but I also knew that I was told not to think that. I "knew" that ethics were nothing more than aesthetics, a mere word game for things I liked and disliked. I felt conflicted when my heart ached over the injustice and cruelty in the world.

Faith grew from seeds of doubt, and I came upon a whole new world that, for the first time, actually made sense to me. To this day, I do not find faith stifling or constricting. Rather, faith has been liberating and transformative for me. It has opened a constellation of meaning, beauty, hope, and life that I had been indoctrinated to deny. And so began a lifelong quest to know, study, and teach about the one whom Christians called Lord.

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How God Became Jesus—and How I Came to Faith in Him