A Christian turned atheist vs. atheist turned Christian
Could two highly intelligent men with two entirely different perspectives possibly help you come to your own personal conclusion concerning the central figure of history? Perhaps. Let’s find out.
History’s central figure, of course, is Jesus Christ. And the two men I have in mind are American New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman and Canadian astrophysicist Hugh Ross.
Ehrman professed faith in Christ as a teenager but is now an atheist; whereas Ross grew up in a non-religious home but is now a Christian. One man abandoned Christianity, while the other embraced it.
Ross said, “I didn’t know any Christians or serious followers of any religion while growing up.” Ehrman, on the other hand, said, “For most of my life I was a devout and committed Christian.”
At age 17, Hugh Ross became the youngest person yet to serve as director of observations for Vancouver’s Royal Astronomical Society. And Bart Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Ross came to faith in Christ after first investigating the world’s major religions. Ross said, “I reasoned that if man invented a religion, it would reflect human error. But, if God communicated, His message would be error free and as consistent as the facts of nature. So, I used the facts of history and science to test each of the ‘holy’ books.”
He stated, “One by one each book failed the factuality test, and I gained confidence that my initial skepticism would be affirmed — until I picked up a Bible.” He found that the Bible “described the 4 fundamental features of big bang cosmology."
- The beginning of space and time coincident with the beginning of matter and energy.
- Continual expansion of the universe from the cosmic beginning.
- The constancy of physical laws, and
- The pervasiveness of entropy (decay).
After much personal Bible study, Ross said, “I clearly understood that Jesus Christ was the Creator of the universe, that He paid the price only a sinless person could pay for all of my offenses against God, and that eternal life would be mine if I received his pardon and gave Him His rightful place of authority over my life.”
Bart Ehrman, on the other hand, reversed course from his earlier profession of faith. Ehrman said, “I had solid Christian credentials and knew about the Christian faith from the inside out … but then … I started to lose my faith. I now have lost it altogether. I no longer go to church, no longer believe, no longer consider myself a Christian.”
In my recent CP op-ed titled, “When Textual Variants are a Convenient Excuse,” I quoted Bart Ehrman in explaining what led him to walk away from Christ: “It wasn’t problems in the Bible I was wrestling with. It was why is there so much suffering in the world? That’s why I left the faith.”
Ehrman’s attitude toward Jesus became darkened, separating him from the One who said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Ehrman thinks the Bible misquoted Jesus. Hugh Ross disagrees, and says, “The fact that there is no historical record of called-out mistakes or corrections to the four Gospels by contemporaries of the gospel writers testifies to the accuracy of Jesus’ quotes within them.”
Bart Ehrman no longer believes Christ rose from the dead. Hugh Ross said, “Ehrman is also wrong about the evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus being based on visions alone. There is the empty tomb. The powerful enemies of the emergent Christian faith, the Jewish religious leaders and the Romans, were unable to produce the body of Jesus. Also, it would take more than visions to persuade the 10,000+ Jews living in Jerusalem at that time — more than a third of the total population — to become Christians in the few days that followed Jesus’ death on the cross.”
Bart Ehrman's unanswered questions about suffering in the world spawned his atheism, whereas Hugh Ross discovered that God’s book of nature is in alignment with God’s revelation in Scripture. This remarkable realization led Ross straight into the arms of our Creator.
Dr. John Lennox is a Northern Irish mathematician, bioethicist, and Christian apologist. Lennox said, “Faith is not a leap in the dark; it’s the exact opposite. It’s a commitment based on evidence … It is irrational to reduce all faith to blind faith and then subject it to ridicule. That provides a very anti-intellectual and convenient way of avoiding intelligent discussion.”
English theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking said, “Heaven is a fairy tale for people who are afraid of the dark.” John Lennox responded, “Atheism is a fairy story for those who are afraid of the light."
Hugh Ross has witnessed time and time again how the evidence in nature is fully consistent with the message of the Bible. Dr. Ross established Reasons to Believe in 1986. This ministry helps people “discover how scientific research and clear thinking consistently affirm the truth of the Bible and of the Good News it reveals.”
Bart Ehrman and Hugh Ross are heading in opposite directions. Jesus identified the wide road to Hell and the narrow road to Heaven in Matthew 7:14,13. You can either believe what Jesus said about these eternal destinations, or what Bart Ehrman says about them.
But know this: Your personal beliefs will not change God’s book of nature, Scripture, the good news of the Gospel, reality, truth, Heaven, Hell, etc. Your beliefs will only change your heart and your eternal destiny.
Bart Ehrman and Hugh Ross provide some context as you investigate the book of nature, the message of Scripture, and the historical facts of Christianity. Thankfully, there is still time for you to base your faith upon the breathtaking evidence God has graciously provided.
(In addition to Dr. Ross’s website, you could explore even more reasons to believe in Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell.)
Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska.