Greer-Heard to focus on when and why early church recognized Jesus’ divinity

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By Marilyn Stewart

When it comes to “deconverting,” Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint speaker Michael Bird, lecturer in theology at Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia, says his story is a “match” for Bart Ehrman’s, a well-known evangelical-turned-agnostic. Once a skeptic, Bird is a committed follower of Christ.

Bird and Ehrman will dialogue Feb. 12, 7 p.m., in the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum, “How Did Jesus Become God?”  The follow day presentation, Feb. 13, with additional guest speakers, begins at 9 a.m. 

The Greer-Heard Forum is a program of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary that provides a venue in which respected scholars of differing opinions discuss critical issues in religion, science, philosophy, or culture from differing perspectives.

Dr. Robert Stewart, Greer-Heard director, said the title of this year’s forum is a play on words taken from the titles of Ehrman’s book, How Jesus Became God, and the book Bird edited, How God Became Jesus.

The books were released on the same day more than a year ago.

“Nobody is saying that Jesus ‘became God’ in the sense that at one point in time he was merely human and then at some other point in time he became divine.  In other words, nobody is affirming adoptionism—not Bart Ehrman, not Michael Bird, and certainly not NOBTS,” Stewart said. “It’s a question of when, how, and why early Christians came to believe that Jesus was divine.”

Stewart said that this year’s forum name was selected as “a bit of a compromise title” as neither speaker wanted to use the other speaker’s book title for the 2016 Greer-Heard Forum.

“Ehrman believes that Jesus was an apocalyptic Jewish prophet who was killed by the Romans for crimes against the state and that Jesus eventually became seen as equal to the Jewish God. In his book he puts forward a theory as to how this unlikely event came to happen. Michael and others disagree,” Stewart said. “This year’s Greer-Heard Forum will highlight those points of disagreement.”

NOBTS students, faculty, staff, spouses and children attend free of charge if pre-registered at www.greerheard.com. Visit the site for information on speakers and other admission packets.

Free childcare for the Friday, Feb. 12 event is available for NOBTS families only by emailing childcare@nobts.edu. The deadline is Feb. 5.

In an April 16, 2014 Christianity Today (CT) article, Bird told of being raised in a secular home and of his own former “mocking” attitude toward the Christian faith. Read the full story here.

“The real story of Jesus Christ is good news, and it transformed my life,” Bird wrote.  

In the article, Bird said Ehrman slights Christians by suggesting that the typical believer is uneducated.  Bird calls himself an “anti-type” to Ehrman and points to his education at a secular university and his expertise in early Christian history.

Bird’s ability to hold the ear of the audience is evident as he reworks Philippians 3 to tell his own story:  

“Some have great confidence in skeptical scholarship, and I once did, perhaps more than anyone else. If anyone thinks they are assured in their unbelief, I was more committed: born of unbelieving parents, never baptized or dedicated; on scholarly credentials, a PhD from a secular university; as to zeal, mocking the church; as to ideological righteousness, totally radicalized. But whatever intellectual superiority I thought I had over Christians, I now count it as sheer ignorance. Indeed, I count everything in my former life as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing the historical Jesus who is also the risen Lord. For his sake, I have given up trying to be a hipster atheist. I consider that old chestnut pure filth, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a CV that will gain me tenure at an Ivy League school, but knowing that I’ve bound myself to Jesus—and where he is, there I shall also be.”

Bird is the author and editor of several books including the award-winning The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus; Jesus is the Christ: the Messianic Testimony of the Gospels, and others.

Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of numerous books including the bestselling How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher From Galilee; Misquoting Jesus; and Did Jesus Exist?

The Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum is made possible by the generosity of William and Carolyn Heard.