Bultmann forgets about Christ

Bultmann forgets about Christ.  Rudolf Bultmann is probably the twentieth-century’s leading Protestant theologian, though some would give that title to Karl Barth.  It hardly matters.  The point is that Bultmann has been remarkably influential.

Perhaps his greatest influence has been on how to think about the kerygma (κήρυγμα),  the message of the gospels.  Bultmann is not subtle. 

We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modem medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament.  (New Testament and Myth, loc 107)

Miracle healings, walking on water, lots of bread and fish, heaven as up there—all that is part of the myth. How to distinguish the myth from the message without adopting Thomas Jefferson’s Deism, in which God becomes a distant watchmaker, someone who created the world, and has since stepped away? *  How can kerygma still live?

Kerygma: the experience and the message

What remains is faith, and faith begins in wonder.  Not in miracles, but in the experience of the sublime, “the beginning of terror that we are still just able to bear.” (Rilke)  Kerygma is not just, or even primarily, about the message of the gospels.  It is an encounter with God.  Not with Christ, for Christ is a historical reality (Ladd, p 96). Kerygma is a pre-verbal encounter with the wholly other (Congdon, pp 23-24, 74).  It can happen in an encounter with beauty, or in the experience of being alive after a close encounter with death.  Boundary or limit experiences they are often called. 

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The Resurrection

The Resurrection.  Many liberal Protestants seem slightly embarrassed about the resurrection, as if it were part of the magical mystery world of the New Testament.  Or at least this is what Wikipedia says.  For most Christians, however, resurrection remains the central doctrine of Christianity (Evans, p 29).  Believing in the resurrection is tantamount to being a Christian.  I suppose I come closer to being a liberal Protestant, but the resurrection is more complicated than reflected by these two categories.

Resurrection in the time of Jesus

Among the elite at the time of Jesus, physical resurrection was abhorrent.  The elite, mostly Sadducees, were Hellenistic (Greek) in their attitude toward the body: that it was the prison of the soul.  Death meant the liberation of the soul from the body, as Socrates and Plato taught.

Among the less cultured Greeks, as well as the Philistines, belief in the resurrection of the body, today’s official belief among most Christians, was more common (Vermes, loc 612).  During the years (forty of them) during which I taught Plato, I thought the Platonists were right.  If there is an afterlife, the soul would be free of the burden, demands, and desires of the body.  Physical resurrection seemed weird.  But the more Christian theology I read, the more sense physical resurrection makes to me.  Not as a statement of fact (I don’t know what the facts are), but as a statement about how humans are fundamentally embodied creatures.  Life without the body would be less, not more, than it is on earth.  Jürgen Moltmann’s argument is particularly persuasive.

Paul states the theological significance of resurrection

It is in Paul that the central theological significance of the resurrection was laid out.  Many readers of the New Testament will be familiar with this passage.

If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. . . . If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:14-19)

Evidence for the resurrection

The search for historical evidence of the resurrection seems misguided.  The historical evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ and his crucifixion is sound. However, it  puzzles me that such a brilliant scholar as N. T. Wright could conclude that the evidence for the resurrection provided by two far from certain facts, the empty tomb, and the posthumous appearances of the risen Jesus, make the resurrection as historically certain as the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, or the death of Augustus in 14 AD (p 710).

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