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From zealous atheist to Christian scholar

Dr Michael Bird used to mock the Church, but now he lectures in theology and defends Christianity. Joel Furches explains what happened

In 2014, Dr. Bart Ehrman launched his book How Jesus Became God. Ehrman declared that the book would explain away how those early Christians might have puzzled up the notion that Jesus could have been God incarnate. Ehrman, being the heavy hitter that he is in the field of Biblical scholarship, caused the evangelicals to respond with their own heavy hitter: Dr. Michael Bird. 

As a seasoned theologian with countless journal articles and essays, and a hefty batch of books under his belt, Dr Michael Bird was a natural choice. But Bird was not always the dedicated defender of Christian truth he claims to be today. Echoing the Apostle Paul’s own confession of anti-Christian zeal, Bird describes himself thusly: “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.” 

Bird was born and raised in Australia – where church attendance is low, and political powers have very much washed their hands of any association with religion. From birth, Bird was flatly informed that religious people were simpletons and fools, and his mother lay in wait to abuse any evangelisers unlucky enough to knock at the door. The experience was profound enough for Bird, that he found himself composing poetry in mockery of religion as a child. 

When Bird matured, he joined the paratroopers and served in the military, eventually becoming an intelligence operator. During this time, Bird came to read scripture himself for the very first time. He says: “The Jesus I encountered was far different from the deluded radical, even mythical character described to me. This Jesus—the Jesus of history—was real. He touched upon things that cut close to my heart, especially as I pondered the meaning of human existence. I was struck by the early church's testimony to Jesus: In Christ's death God has vanquished evil, and by his resurrection he has brought life and hope to all.” 

This had a profound effect on Bird’s worldview. Formerly, he had had no reference point for “transcendent” ideas, which he knew to exist, but could not allow within his worldview. Ethics, for instance, was no longer a matter of “like” or “dislike,” but a real, concrete thing which could be grounded in the reality of a moral law-giver. The Christian worldview was freeing, rather than constricting. Bird came to faith, and began to serve as the military chaplain’s assistant. It was during this time that he felt a call to ministry himself. 

The Jesus I encountered was far different from the deluded radical, even mythical character described to me

Leaving the military, Bird pursued academia. He received an Honours and PhD from the University of Queensland. He went on to teach New Testament at the Highland Theological College in Scotland, then on to lecture on Theology at Crossway College in Brisbane, and finally settled at Ridley Melbourne College of Mission and Ministry. 

Bird’s list of publications is impressive, as is his response to Ehrman’s book (co-authored with other notable scholars), which he appropriately titled How God Became Jesus 

Bird describes himself as being, in many ways, the anti-Bart Ehrman. Ehrman being a man who was raised as a Christian in a predominantly Christian culture, who became an agnostic and now works to discredit the Bible; Bird being a man who was raised in a predominantly secular culture as an atheist, who became a Christian and now works to support the Bible. 

Bird remains a coveted lecturer and writer, and a popular blogger, chiefly in the areas of theology and Biblical scholarship. 

Joel Furches is the author of Christ-Centred Apologetics: Sharing the Gospel with Evidence

Click here to request a free copy of Premier Christianity magazine

Click here to hear Dr Michael Bird in debate with James Crossley on Premier Christian Radio's Unbelievable?

About this blog

Unbelievable? presenter Justin Brierley blogs on all things theology, apologetics and ethics.

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