Originally done in 2006 for the Green Triangle e-zine.
C. Derick Varn: In your recent book, The Reason Driven Life, you take Rick Warren to task for not only being unreasonable, but for being sort of theologically miseducated. Why do you think this sort of thing is so powerful among Christians who, if they knew there own scriptures, should know better?
Dr. Robert Price: Given Warren’s hyper-pragmatic, Madison Avenue approach to church growth, which even many fundamentalists repudiate, his once-over-lightly use of the Bible is just what we ought to expect from him. This is why he opportunistically quotes loose Bible paraphrases retooled from the Evangelical point of view. He regards the Bible simply as propaganda for getting people saved, i.e., recruited for his evangelistic AmWay scheme. Theology and biblical studies seem to matter as little to megachurch evangelicals these days as it does to social-gospel, Politically Correct liberals. Both are interested only in what is “useful” for priorities they bring to the text. I believe I am more interested in both biblical studies and theology for their own sake, and I am an atheist.
C.D.V.: You have written two books on the problems of the historical Jesus and various models for him… why do you think the ideas is so hard to shake despite the lack of contemporary historic references, even amongst secular scholars?
R.P: On the one hand, such an opinion as the Christ Myth theory is dangerous to espouse both institutionally and academically. If you advocate it, you will be dismissed as a nut, or on the fringe. I don’t mind being on the fringe re biblical studies, because I believe that’s where the truth is. This implies, though, that many in the scholarly guild simply cannot bring themselves to consider the position. It is just not on the table, because their “plausibility structure” defines the terms and parameters of acceptable theorizing. It is not exactly intellectually dishonest. I know how it feels. One naturally internalizes the assumptions and opinions dominant in one’s social grouping. But on the other hand, it is not as if the Christ Myth theory is the only game in town. There are certainly other viable Jesus theories that make more or less sense of the evidence. I have at length found them unconvincing, but I admit it is a question of a nuanced judgment on many, many bits of evidence and competing paradigms. There is plenty of room for difference of honest and informed opinion.
C.D.V.: Do you have a favorite Christian thinker? If you do, who and why?
R.P: In terms of traditional Christianity, my choice would have to be Clark H. Pinnock, a wise and judicious evangelical (Baptist) theologian. He sees most things very differently from me, but he has reasons for what he thinks, and I have found him to be open-minded on all issues and ever willing to revise his conclusions.
C.D.V.: Do you find what do you think of the “Historical Jesus” movement and the variety of opinions in it? How does a Christ myth person handle Crossan’s debate with, say, Bishop N. T. Wright?
R.P.: I take the “Third Quest” movement to be nothing but thinly-veiled apologetics for conservative supernaturalism. N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington III, and the rest are merely apologists. There is nothing new for them to contribute to NT scholarship. Their whole goal is to turn back the clock and undo the gains of genuine NT critics like F.C. Baur, D.F. Strauss, and Rudolf Bultmann. They wish the Higher Criticism had never dawned. They pose as critics only to obfuscate and retard the whole process. I find Wright to be absolutely Wrong.
Crossan, though diametrically opposed to the kind of faith Wright espouses, is just a spin doctor of a different color. It couldn’t be more obvious that he is simply “modernizing Jesus” as Henry Cadbury and Albert Schweitzer warned us not to do. Crossan is building a Frankenstein monster, his allegedly historical Jesus, to do his bidding in influencing the opinions of his Catholic readers in his leftist political direction. I find Crossan, albeit a mine of information, to have no original suggestions that are not patently absurd. For him the essence of Jesus’ ministry was to be the broker of an “unbrokered kingdom” which meant holding a series of potluck suppers with any and all riffraff, assuring them of God’s approval.
If there was a historical Jesus, I can’t believe either Wright or Crossan knows the first thing about him.
C.D.V.: Do you think some of the “Christ myth” people get “used” by conspiracy theorists and that is part of why they are still considered so “fringe”?
R.P.: Yes, that is natural and inevitable, albeit regrettable since I dislike having my opinions tarred with the same brush as people who believe in UFOs and Lost Continents. But that downside is always going to exist once people are open enough to consider that one of the ruling assumptions of their culture may be wrong. Then they begin to question everything, as they should. The trouble in all such cases, though, is that having a worthwhile judgment on many of these issues requires a studied competence in historical and/or scientific fields that many just do not have. They have not had the resources and the critical feedback that an “official” education allows one. The self-educated are often miseducated, no matter how admirable their native genius and independence of mind may be. So they tend to jump the gun and get mired in crazy conspiracy theories they cannot support. And if they happen to like my theories, they invite their readers to think mine are as groundless as some of the others they espouse. But what are you going to do? I’d rather people be suspicious and ask questions than take anything (including my views) for granted.
C.D.V.: Thanks for the honor of the interview!