On Facebook today I noticed a post from Bart Ehrman that linked to a blog post of his: "False Rumors (or lies?) About My Teaching." In that post, he responds to a reader's question. The reader has a friend of a friend of a friend of a sixth-cousin on her dad's side (something like this, you know how these things go) who knew someone in his class and reported the following about Bart walking into class the first day: "The first day of class he walked in and asked if there were any Christians in the room. He then told them that if they were still Christians by the end of the course that they are idiots and would probably fail."
I've never been in any of Bart's classes, but he spends the rest of the blog denying vehemently that he would ever have said such a thing and I believe him. I've been on the receiving end of this you're-trying-to-destroy-people's-faith charge numerous times myself. On the one hand, it becomes something that's easy to laugh off after you've heard it so many times and realize that, in reality, most of the people making the charge are just threatened and don't know how else to respond. On the other hand, and speaking for myself, it can be more than a little bothersome on the odd occasion. First, it's simply not true. Second, most (certainly not all) of the people who study the New Testament academically and at the level where they're scholars with college or university posts first got into this discussion for faith reasons. Whatever we think now (and there's a wide variety of thoughts in the guild), we only think it because of a path that started with sincere commitment to the text and a willingness to study it more in depth than almost anyone in our surrounding friends and family. Furthermore, almost all of us, regardless of any faith or non-faith position, believe that understanding these texts rightly is important and have dedicated our careers to it.
I thought I'd pass along an anecdote about Bart that relates to this. Several years ago I'd been invited to teach in an evening course at a church. After the session wrapped up, a guy I'd never met before and have never seen since came up to me and said, "Do you know who this guy is who teaches at North Carolina?" I said, "Do you mean Bart Ehrman?" and since I knew where this was going I didn't give him a chance to respond before saying, "Yeah, I know him. He was one of the editors who published my first book. He's been very helpful to me in my career." The guy was stunned and said, I kid you not, "Well I was going to tell you how much I hate him." I laughed and told him that, believe it or not, Bart was a really nice guy. Needless to say, this guy was really, really disappointed that I wasn't going to Bart-bash with him. He was even more disappointed to find out that, lo and behold, Bart doesn't actually have devil horns growing out of his head. Ok, the last part didn't happen, but the rest of the conversation really did.