I’ve blogged before about Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar, whose original education had been in a fundamentalist Bible college, followed by post-graduate work under the famous Bruce Metzger at Princeton Theological Seminary. His religious and theological credentials, therefore, are considerable.

Nevertheless, he is today an agnostic. Merely by being an agnostic, Ehrman arouses the ire of fundamentalist Christians. Despite this he’s published a number of books elucidating how and why Biblical literalism is flawed, and continues to do so.

At any rate, CNN recently profiled him on its Web site. In a time when religiosity has permeated the media — to an often-disturbing degree — this profile is a refreshing sight:

Former fundamentalist ‘debunks’ Bible

Just so you know, Bart Ehrman says he’s not the anti-Christ.

He says he’s not trying to destroy your faith. He’s not trying to bash the Bible. And, though his mother no longer talks to him about religion, Ehrman says some of his best friends are Christian. …

In Ehrman’s latest book, “Jesus, Interrupted,” he concludes:

Doctrines such as the divinity of Jesus and heaven and hell are not based on anything Jesus or his earlier followers said.

At least 19 of the 27 books in the New Testament are forgeries.

Believing the Bible is infallible is not a condition for being a Christian.

“Christianity has never been about the Bible being the inerrant word of God,” Ehrman says. “Christianity is about the belief in Christ.”

As I blogged before, this is the crux of Ehrman’s message. If I may quibble with the title of CNN’s article, it is not true that Ehrman “debunks the Bible.” Rather, he debunks “Biblical literalism” or the idea that the Bible is Christianity and vice-versa.

I find Christian fundamentalists’ objections to his work amusing:

Some scholarly critics say Ehrman is saying nothing new.

Bishop William H. Willimon, an author and United Methodist Church bishop based in Alabama, says he doesn’t like the “breathless tone” of Ehrman’s work.

“He keeps presenting this stuff as if this is wonderful new knowledge that has been kept from you backward lay people and this is the stuff your preachers don’t have the guts to tell, and I have,” Willimon says. “There’s a touch of arrogance in it.”

It is true that much of what Ehrman has to say is not really all that new. The problems inherent in Bible texts and in their transmission and translation have been known for at least a couple of centuries — at least, to scholars and textual critics, if not to rank-&-file Christians.

But that hardly invalidates anything he says, as his critics seem to think. Ehrman has a knack for explaining things well, even to this amateur textual critic. Moreover, if the worst they can say of him is that he’s “arrogant” and that they dislike his “tone,” those also do not make him wrong. (And if I might point it out … fundamentalists themselves are extremely arrogant and have a condescending tone … they claim to know “the Truth” and are more than willing to pound it into people, as if they’re entitled to do so. If that’s not “arrogance,” I don’t know what is!)

CNN is to be congratulated for this profile, which is sure to offend Christians of the Biblical-literalist sort, which is just fine by me … they deserve to be offended!

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