“The Case Against ‘The Case for Christ’”- Robert M. Price Interview
Robert M. Price- Professor, author, and scholar in religion- has published a new book as a counterargument and refutation of Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus”. As a secular journalist and author of similar topics, I secured an interview with Dr. Price in order to discuss his goals, intentions, and sentiments in his newest work. I ask him (among other things) questions about his other books, educational background, and why he deemed it necessary to create a formal response to “The Case for Christ” in order to give readers the opportunity to become familiarized with Price’s revolutionary literature.
1. As a Religious Studies scholar and author- I can relate to your work to an amazing degree. Do you mind telling us what ‘target audience’ you had in mind when you began writing “The Case Against the Case for Christ”?
Ideally, I would like it if my book could wind up in the hands of anyone who has read Strobel’s The Case for Christ! I just hate to see so many truth-hungry, well-intentioned people swindled by phony scholarship no better, really, than the drivel in The Da Vinci Code. Actually, it hardly matters whether one has read Strobel, since he is simply passing on material by numerous conservative Christian apologists. I would love it if apologists and their fans read my book and were prompted to reexamine the issues.
2. What prompted you to respond to “The Case for Christ” as opposed to the various other Christ-Centered publications?
Two reasons: first, so many people have read Strobel’s book and deserve to hear an alternative. Two, Strobel enlists such a varitey of today’s leading apologists, it made it convenient for me to engage them all in one fell swoop! It saved me from having to write a whole book on each one of them.
3. How many books have you written? Can you please tell the readers a little bit about each one?
Limiting my answer to books on religion (I don’t suppose this is the place for my Lovecraft-related ficton anthologies), my first was Beyond Born Again. It was a kind of testament, a parting shot as I abandoned evangelical Christianity: why I left. I mapped out the world of experience of born-again Christians, then laid bare the cognitive strategies for keeping it seeming like reality. I then reufted the standard arguments for gospel accuracy and the resurrection, then switched over to dissecting the theological polemics on behalf of “biblical authority” and against liberal theology. I had had it up to here with their nonsense. Yet I took care to point out where they might drop the bogus arguments, the distortions, and reformulate their faith in a more viable manner.
Next I wrote my Theology disseration, only recently published, Inerrant the Wind, where I delineated five different theories of biblical authority embraced by the many evangelical writers who had dropped inerrancy but still believed, or tried to, in inspiration.
My New Testament Dissertation, The Widow-Traditions in Luke-Acts, examined the surprisingly numerous stories in Luke and Acts dealing with consecrated women, and I traced these materials back to the groups of charismatic “widows” and “virgins” who prophesied and ministered in early Christianity. I dare say I took the ioneering wortk of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza several steps farther.
Robert W. Funk of the Jesus Seminar asked me to write The Da Vinci Fraud to counter the nonsense Dan Brown had pumped into the collective consciousness with his book The Da Vinci Code. But eleents in the Seminar apparently found some of what I said incongenial to the organization’s official positions, and Prometheus wound up publishing it instead.
Prometheus suggested I write something about the Left Behind series, and I readly agreed, widening the scope of the book to include many, many other apocalyptic novels as well as surveying the roots and evolution of apocalyptic thought in the Bible itself. Where did the ideas of the Antichrist, the Rapture, the Tribulaton, etc., come from? The result was The Paperback Apocalypse.
I wrote The Reason-Driven Life because people kept urging me to read Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life, as if it were the greatest thing since sliced bread. I was amazed at how puerile it was, and how little it added to a warmed-over fundamentalist devotionalism. I conceived my book as a chapter-by-chapter rebuttal to Warren’s, hoping to provide others with some ammunition to “fire” at friends and family who urged them, too, to read the book. “Why, ah, sure, Junior! I’ll read your book if you’ll read mine. Fair enough?”
Prometheus asked me to consider writing another book about the super-popular Joel Osteen. As I got into his book, Your Best Life Now, I realized the book was only superficially evangelical. It is really a New Thought pep talk with cosmetic Bible quotes. So I decided to discuss it along with a number of New Thought and New Age books. The result was my Top Secret, a rejoinder to the über-popular book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. I believe my book is unique in combining an unflinching critique of quacks and frauds with exposition of the genuine insights and the helpful elements of New Thought. We need to draw distinctions lest we throw the baby out with the baptismal water.
In The Pre-Nicene New Testament, I had three goals. I wanted to try my hand at rendering passages as I had come, over the years, to think they ought to be translated. Every trranslator has that urge, I guess. Also I wanted to create a new canon that would be a representative microcosm of early Christianity. I remember my professor Helmut Koester saying in class, “The best canon is the most inclusive one.” And then I wanted a vehicle for conveying the insights of the great Dutch Radical Critics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuiries, so severely neglected, even boycotted by mainstream scholarship.
In Deconstructing Jesus my intent was to build on the work of recent scholars including Burton L. Mack, Jacob Neusner, and Rene Girard, and to show how they were implicitly pointing to much more radical conclusions for the gospel tradition than even they realized. I was trying to reconstruct the roots and types of early Christianity and the particular models of Jesus each fashioned to serve its needs.
I should have written The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man first, to explain why the gospels may tell us much more about the early churches than about any historical Jesus.
Jesus Is Dead is a collection of debate statements and review essays in which I yet again dismantle apologetics. I compiled the book because I had wanted to use that title for the book eventually published as The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (an essay collection by myself and several others), but Prometheus was too timid to use the title. I was determined to use it, though, hence the collection of my own essays.
4. In the grand scheme of things, what do you hope to accomplish with this latest literary project? Do you expect to de-convert many Christians?
I couldn’t care less what anyone else believes. They can be Azteks for all the difference it makes to me, as long as I’m not on the human sacrifice list. What business is it of mine? I’m not a religion hater. I find it comical to see neurotic atheists cringing from the Cross like Dracula! What does highly irritate me, however, is to see these pseudo-scholarly hacks passing off lame apologetics arguments as if they represented historical scholarship. Then I feel I have no choice but to blow the whistle and try to set things straight. That is why I debate and write these books. I just want people to get converted from being snake oil salesmen for Jesus. There is belief in Jesus, if one wants it, that does not involve such chicanery.
5. You have an extremely interesting educational biography- please give us the highlights.
I attended Montclair State College, with a double major in History and in Philosophy and Religion, minoring in Classics. My professors were excellent and imparted to me truckloads of knowledge as well as zeal for the academic disciplines. After getting my BA degree (1976) there I went on to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for a Masters of Theological Studies, concentrated almost entirely in New Testament (something they’ll no longer let you do: too narrow a focus, they say). It is an evangelical school, and it was during my work there that I came to the end of my evangelical faith and rejected apologetics. But I learned much from my New Testament professors, conservative but genuine scholars. Gordon-Conwell was part of the Boston Theological Union with a number of other graduate institutions, and in the fall of 1977 I took a course at Boston University School of Theology with Howard Clark Kee, and another at Harvard Divinity School with Helmut Koester and Harvey Cox. This was almost an experience of rebirth, one of the most energizing times of my life. In 1978 I began my Ph.D. program in Systematic Theology at Drew University, focusing on Schleiermacher and Tillich. I received the degree in 1981. I taught for a few years and then pastored a church, Harry Emerson Fosdick’s first parish, in fact. But I was lured back to Drew (which was nearby) and studied for the Ph.D. in New Testament (awarded in 1993). My major professor and dissertation supervisor was Darrell J. Doughty, himself a student of Hans Conzelmann, in turn one of Rudolf Bultmann’s disciples. So there’s my “apostolic succession”!
6. I, as well as many of the readers, have not had a chance to read your newest work. Where is your book currently available for purchase?
One can get an autographed copy via Paypal on my website, http://robertmprice.mindvendor.com/. It should soon be available on Amazon.com, too.
7. Anything else you’d like to add?
I am humbled and grateful for the widespread interest in my work. Thanks for your interest in it!