When I think of popular critics of Christianity, I think the most well known are Bart Ehrman and Richard Dawkins. They are very different. Bart Ehrman is an agnostic New Testament scholar who was once an evangelical Christian. Richard Dawkins is an atheist evolutionary biologist who has had a long standing dislike for religion. What they have in common is that both are respected scholars in their fields, both have authored books critical of biblical Christianity and both have been influential in getting Christians to lose the faith. But who is more dangerous to the Christian faith?
Many of my apologetics colleagues would point to Dawkins. It depends on where one starts an apologetic conversation. If one begins with philosophical arguments for the existence of God, one would look to Dawkins (not that he is much of a philosopher). One of the reasons that people see Dawkins as a threat is that he knows how to use the media. He says outlandish things that get noticed. He clearly states that he wants to de-convert Christians (and other religious people). He is extremely evangelistic regarding atheism. He is obviously intelligent, at least in his own field, and some assume that he has authority to pronounce the nonexistence of God. The problem with Dawkins is that some people are turned off by his angry rants. Even some atheists have walked away from Dawkins with a bad taste in their mouth. Dawkins’ bitterness and intolerance can sometimes be a barrier to his readers.
Those who begin apologetics conversations with the reliability of the Bible would see Bart Ehrman as the threat. Ehrman does not try anything so bold as to disprove the existence of God. The closest he comes is arguing against the Christian understanding of God as all-good and all-powerful. As a New Testament scholar, he mostly sticks to what he knows. He has written many books on different aspects of the New Testaments. Although he does not state his intention to de-convert as Dawkins has, Ehrman has been successful at damaging people’s confidence in the Bible. It must be said that Ehrman is a talented writer. The fact that he turned a book on textual criticism into a bestseller speaks for itself. Ehrman also writes with a more irenic tone. He does not come across as a hater of Christianity. He portrays himself as one who was forced out of Christianity by having his eyes opened to the truth. His books are not written to offend Christians but rather they are the sharing of the truth that evangelical scholars are afraid to do.
Having read from both authors, my conclusion is that Bart Ehrman is the greater threat to the Church. He is a better writer and he communicates with his audience in a way that does not turn them off. In my opinion, apologists need to pay more attention to Ehrman and be prepared to defend the Church from his critiques.