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.
Continue reading Bultmann forgets about Christ
Atheism or God as other. My original idea for this post was to review a book defending atheism and promoting humanism. As I said in a previous post, on some days I think I’m an agnostic, and I’m open to a good argument against theism.
The book I chose, after looking at several, is The God Argument, by A. C. Grayling. It is so bad it’s hardly worth reviewing. Still, I’ll briefly summarize it before going on to explain the position shared by a number of theologians: that God is completely other. This isn’t the term used by most theologians, but I think it captures their position.
The reason the “God is other” argument is important is because most critics of religion criticize a version of Biblical literalism, showing almost no awareness of theology.
Grayling,The God Argument
The justifications offered by religious people for their beliefs very often turn out to be . . . rationalisations for something that is in its deepest depths is non-rational. (p 4)
Well of course religious people don’t base their arguments on reason; they base their arguments on faith. If you don’t understand this, then you don’t understand religion. Elsewhere Graying argues that religion hasn’t “passed the test of reason.” (pp 49-50) But of course that’s the wrong test.
Continue reading Atheism or God as other
Gospel of John: Christ’s return is now
This post covers a number of different aspects of John’s gospel. I especially like what is called John’s realized eschatology, his theory of the end time. We should not and need not wait for Advent. It appeared when Christ appeared. If we have faith in Christ and follow his commandments then we have already been saved. I’ll cover some other topics as well
Almost everyone agrees that John is unique among the gospels. While the other three gospels indirectly refer to each other or a common source, often using almost identical language, John doesn’t. For this reason, the gospels are often divided into the three synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke), and John. The opening of John’s gospel resembles none of the other gospels. Nor does John’s Jesus speak in parables. There are other differences.
John’s gospel was written no later than 90 AD, and possibly a decade or two before. It is sometimes argued that the apostle John was the author, but while this is possible (Christ was crucified around 30 AD), the main argument against it is that there is an intellectual complexity to John that seems unlikely in a fisherman with no formal education, even if he had learned to read and write Greek. John’s Greek is simple, but his story is not.
It is also argued that the Gospel was written in layers, often called form criticism. It’s probably true, but I’m not going to go into that.
God’s relationship with Jesus
God is identical with Jesus, but Jesus stands in a relationship to God. In which case they can’t be identical. I think this summarizes chapter 1, verses 1-14 pretty well. And it’s confusing.
Continue reading Gospel of John: Christ’s return is now
A Christmas message, or does it matter if the Bible is myth? Ask Rudolf Bultmann.
We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament.
Who wrote this about the wonder world of the New Testament? One of the many aggressive atheists who contend with religion these days? No, one of the most distinguished theologians of the twentieth-century, Rudolf Bultmann (1984, p 4). The mythological world of the New Testament was the everyday world of men and women over two thousand years ago. Demons were everywhere, and heaven and hell were real places. Many Christians no longer believe in this magical world. The result is to question the relevance of the gospel. Needed, says Bultmann (1984), is a demythologizing interpretation that retains the truth of the kerygma.
What sense does it make to confess today ‘he descended into hell’ or ‘he ascended into heaven,’ if the confessor no longer shares the underlying mythical world picture of a three-story world? (p 4)
Kerygma (κῆρυγμα) means preaching, and it refers to the message of the gospels. Whatever that is, it’s not the Apostle’s Creed or Nicene Creed; both refer to the three-story world. For Bultmann (1984, p 12), the kerygma refers to God’s decisive act in Christ, above all his death and resurrection. The question of course is why isn’t this just as mythical as a three-story world filled with angels and demons?
Continue reading A Christmas message, or does it matter if the Bible is myth?
I teach ancient Greek political philosophy for a living. Plato and Aristotle are the main characters. Along the way I point out that the classical Greek virtues, wisdom, courage, self-discipline, and justice, are only half the story of Western civilization. The other half comes from the Judeo-Christian tradition: justice is necessary, but the Western tradition is also about love. The Western tradition needs both Athens (reason) and Jerusalem (love) to be complete. This is Christ’s great contribution.
According to Harold Bloom in Jesus and Yahweh, “Yahweh’s love is Covenant-keeping, no more and no less.” (p. 164) This does not seem a fair account of The Hebrew Bible (Tanakh). It is not much of a stretch to read The Song of Solomon as an account of a love affair between God and His people. What Jesus adds is the idea that God would allow himself to become man, suffer, and die in order to share in humanity’s suffering.
Yet, something about Christ’s love is frightening. If Jesus is God, then it makes no sense to think of His love as comparable to human love. I’ve never thought it made any sense to talk about taking Jesus Christ as my personal savior. There is something terrifyingly stark and other about Jesus. And there should be. He is man, and not man. Many Christians prefer the Gospel of Luke because in it Christ seems most “humane.” But if one thinks about Christ seriously, that is a category mistake. Christ is not humane because He is not human. One does not have to be a Docetist (representing the view that Jesus only appeared to be human) to believe that.
Continue reading The loving Jesus is often angry. Why?