Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bultmann on NT Christology

'What is Christology, then? It is not the theoretical exponent of practical piety*. It is not speculation and teaching about the divinity of Christ. Rather, it is proclamation, address. It is the "teaching" that through Christ our righteousness is won, that he is crucified and risen on our behalf' (Rudolf Bultmann, Glauben und Verstehen, 1.260, "Die Christologie des Neuen Testaments")

For Bultmann, New Testament Christology is first and foremost proclamation of the Christ event (that proclamation itself caught up in this event as Christ is present in the Word). It is essentially the work of divine love and judgement in Jesus, that God is involved and met in this Jesus (who is himself the event of revelation). New Testament Christology thus boils down to the proclamation of the activity of God in Christ as he justifies sinners. The second level of Christology is faith's response to this proclamation, namely the explication of faith's understanding of its new self in light of the divine address (Anrede). This means that New Testament Christology is not an idea, it is not about the religious personality of Christ, not about metaphysical speculation over Christ as a heavenly being, nor an exponent of Christ-devotion. Christology is the divine address, the proclamation of the event of Christ as it is accepted by faith.

What is more, and something sure to get the Evangelical in plenty of us squirming, the early merely Christians used, Bultmann argues, contingent mythical and mystical categories to express this Christology (such as Christ's preexistence as a heavenly being, Jesus as 'Messiah' etc.), but these were only Jewish (or later Jewish-Hellenistic**)-bound ways of expressing the truth concerning Jesus, namely that God is met in this Jesus. As Jewish language and manners of thinking, they are not binding on modern people, who need to find different ways of proclaiming and reflecting in faith on the Christ-event.

While all of this is very clever, I tend to think that Bultmann has perpetuated the problematic (though understandable) dissolution of Christology into soteriology, and I'm pretty sure he overstretches the appropriateness of the significance of 'proclamation'. This is not to mention the huge problem of pretending to sift an eternal truth from its original form (hence Hart's searing rhetoric in my post a couple of days ago). I would also argue that his argumentation cannot account for the nature of Christology as it is found in Paul's letters - a decisive problem for me. Yet Bultmann's critique of the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule and liberal Protestantism in this essay is witheringly powerful, and his scope of intellectual vision is simply a delight to take in.

BTW, I intend to show in my doctoral work that there is another way of thinking about NT Christology, particularly of the Pauline variety, and a correspondingly fruitful way of thinking about Christology today. But that is a story for another day.

*this in contradistinction to the claims of the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule with which Bultmann had an interesting relation (cf. Sinn, Christologie und Existenz).
** Bultmann adopted the historical development scheme famously promoted by W. Bousset, a model that modern scholarship has all but entirely rejected. Cullmann was the first to raise his finger up and ask what this model did with 1 Cor 16:22. Hengel firmly hit the nail into its overdue coffin.



At 10/24/2007 12:21 AM, Anonymous Nick Norelli said...


Maybe you can help me with this, but it seems as if Bultmann's position here might lead one to believe that the idea of Christ is more necessary than the person of Christ.

These Germans confuse me... HELP!!!

At 10/24/2007 12:38 PM, Anonymous Phil Sumpter said...

I think I would agree with Nick.

Also, a weakness with Bultmann's approach would seem to be his failure to grasp the "accorded nature" of Christian faith, namely that everything we understand about Jesus is and should be done in terms of God's prior revelation of himself to his chosen people Israel (in possesion of the 'oracles of God', into whose family Christ has opened a way, whose blessings we share, not abrogate). I think Bultmann would need to come to terms with the problem of election, particularity and adpoption as central Christian tenets. Seitz (in the presense of whose writings my heart burns within me) has written on this in his essay, "God as Other, God as Holy: Election and Disclosure in Christian Scripture" (1998).

In a different way, Childs critiques Bultmann's approach to the Adam-Christ typology in his Biblical Theology (1992: 588 - 589), not on a textual level but on a biblical theological level. He believes Barth makes the correct theological move of not only "focussing on the verbal sense of Paul's original argument", but also seeking "to pursuse Paul's witness beyond the text itself to reflect theologically on the substance (res) which called forth the witness".

I have thread going on this topic called "in accordance with the scriptures".

At 10/25/2007 7:18 PM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...


Glad to hear a bit about where the Tilling Train is headed. For a while there I thought you were pursuing a comedy show with the BBC, not doing a dissertation (I for one can see plenty of potential for a comedy series revolving around a PhD student in NT, particularly if you set it in Germany and add some charismania and a mail-order ministry to the mix...I want to help co-write the episode where Anja prophesies to the neighbors, then asks for money, seeing as how the ox shouldn't be muzzled)


I really think Gorman may be on to something here--have you read the first few chapters of Cruciformity, where he argues that theology can't be torn from spirituality, especially in Paul? Given the goal of Paul's letters, facts are not the telos; they are part of the means (along with autobiographical reflection) for driving audiences toward praxis/"spiritual formation".

Quite important stuff for Paul's "Christology," and against Bultmann, it has everything to do (apparently) with practical piety.

At 10/25/2007 10:32 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Nick,
for Bultmann it is not the idea of Christ but the event of Christ that is so central. It is God meeting sinners in Christ.

Hi Phil,
I must admit that I have still not read Seitz :-( - and these are important points that you raise against Bultmann.

JB, thank you for your comments about the Tilling Train! What Gorman has seen has sharpened what has long been acknowledged in the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule. I end to differ from Gorman in sbstance, even if not in approach - but more on that another time perhaps. I am writing a chapter on your very last point at the moment


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