Remembering Rudolf Bultmann

Remembering Rudolf Bultmann July 30, 2012

Two bloggers I read regularly posted about Rudolf Bultmann today, the anniversary of his death on July 30th, 1976. One offered appreciations, the other posted a rather ridiculous denigration that made me suspect the person writing it has never read Bultmann for himself.

Bultmann is famous – and in some circles infamous – for his writings about demythologization, i.e. the view that the New Testament writings reflect a mythological (that is, pre-scientific) view of the world, and that since no one today can simply adopt that ancient worldview, the only way to express the Christian message today is to find a way of translating from that mythical language into something that can challenge us today in an equivalent way within the framework of our scientific view of the world. Bultmann is viewed by some as an enemy of the faith when it is arguable that he has helped more people to remain Christians and navigate these troubled waters than any other 20th century writer.

And so let me share a quote from Bultmann which I chose as a motto for an interview I did with a Romanian journalist five years ago:

Man’s knowledge and mastery of the world have advanced to such an extent through science and technology that it is no longer possible for anyone seriously to hold the New Testament view of the world – in fact, there is no one who does…it is impossible to revive an obsolete view of the world by a mere fiat, and certainly not a mythical view. For all our thinking today is shaped irrevocably by modern science. A blind acceptance of the New Testament mythology would be arbitrary, and to press for its acceptance as an article of faith would be to reduce faith to works.

Since the entire piece by Bultmann from which the quote is taken, Kerygma and Myth, is available for free online, I encourage you to click through and read it. Many in conservative circles still use Bultmann as a bugbear that they take pleasure in denigrating. But unless you believe that Jesus literally rose skyward heading towards a heaven that is literally upwards, then you have engaged in demythologization of the New Testament. In which case Bultmann deserves gratitude for helping you preserve your faith, rather than treatment as though he were hostile to it.

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