Saturday, October 20, 2007

Rudolf Bultmann Evaluated

Sean Winter writes:

"I have read enough Bultmann to agree with John Ashton's brilliant summary: '...yet over them all Rudolf Bultmann, unmatched in learning, breadth and understanding, towers like a colossus. Nevertheless, in spite of his pre-eminence, every answer that Bultmann gives to the really important questions he raises - is wrong ... if one were to try and distil the essence of Bultmann's achievement into a single word ... the best word, I think, would be penetration - the peculiar ability to see John clearly and to see him whole.' (Understanding the Fourth Gospel, 45)."

There is no doubting Bultmann's mastery of ancient sources, his pastoral concern for the human condition, his penetrating analysis of source and theological issues, but I still think he's so overrated. What I really don't like, well:
  • I find his existential Deism nauseating.
  • There is more to Romans than a diatribe.
  • His History of the Synoptic Tradition asserted more than it argued and is methodologically defunct.
  • There never was a Gnostic Redeemer myth nor was there ever any proof for it in the first place.
  • He was wrong to cordon off Christianity into Palestinian, Hellenistic, and Gentile varieties.
  • His depiction of Judaism as pure legalism is both inaccurate and has had horrendous effects in Pauline studies.
  • His best book A Theology of the New Testament gives us 30 pages about Jesus and 120 about a fictitious Hellenistic Community.

Let me say that I do however like Bultmann's TDNT articles and he found a way to momentarily stop liberal protestants from becoming atheists and post-Christian secularists. In terms of twentieth-century Germans, give me Zahn, Schlatter, Pannenberg, Stuhlmacher, and Hengel any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

I dedicate this post to my good friend Jim West!


Steven Craig Miller said...

It seems to me that Sean is criticizing Bultmann for not keeping up to date with theological trends.

Steven Craig Miller said...

I misread the blog yesterday, I should have written "Michael" instead of "Sean." said...

Do you mean the 120 pages were about a Hellenistic community that you think was fictitious and Bulmann thought was real, or that you think was real and Bultmann thought was fictitious?

Sean Winter said...

Hi Mike

Thanks for picking this up. Three things: 1. I agree with Ashton that Bultmann is wrong in many of his answers, but this is only a part of the story; 2. The quotation relates to Bultmann's interpretation of 4G (a natural home for existential interpretation of course) 3. The key point is re. the key skill of perception. Whatever you say about Bultmann as historian, exegete the key skill of perception, depth of insight, is one that should be admired and that is often conspicuous by its absence in much contemporary scholarship.

But I am not a disciple ... I'm not Jim!!! said...

Skill of perception and wrong answers cannot coexist in the same person. said...

Certainly I now think that the Gentile community of the New Testament is a complete fabrication added to original documents written for and in an entirely Jewish milieu.

Gerschi said...

As a German I like your list of twentiehth-century Germans. Good Taste! Let me just suggest a few more names for your reading list: Julius Schniewind, Otto Michel, Otto Betz, Klaus Haacker, Rainer Reisner and Roland Deines. With all probability you will like them a lot.

In Christ,