Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A talk on Bultmann

bultmannI've just started preparing for a shortish (1hr) talk on Rudolf Bultmann, for a series entitled "theologians you should know about" at the HTB church week away. So, things of course have to remain pretty basic, but here is the basic outline and the intro I've just dictated. Let me know if you think I'm missing anything important, as I don't have all of my Bultmann books around me at the moment.


In many ways, Bultmann has become a figure that many modern theologians love to hate. His understanding of Paul's language of "works of law" seems erroneously to suggest that Judaism is a religion of legalism. His close association with existentialist philosophy has been criticised not only for co-opting the task of theology into a modern, and now dated, philosophical discourse, but also because of the resultant and unhealthy individualism. As we shall see shortly, he was one of the founders of what became known as "form criticism", an approach to reading the Gospels that has fallen out of favour in many circles. What is more, his views about the nature of miracles, and particularly the resurrection of Jesus, have labelled him a heretic. So why on earth is Rudolf Bultmann included in a list of "theologians you should know about"? To answer this question, and to clear up some misunderstandings regarding his theology, I will first summarise the theological, intellectual and political context out of which he grew. This will help us to better grasp his most important contributions, and particularly those that arguably remain of abiding significance.


  • Liberal theology
  • The philosophy of Heidegger
  • Dialectical theology

Key aspects of Bultmann's theology

  • The nature of faith
  • Demythologising
  • The historical Jesus
  • The apostle Paul
  • John's gospel

Remaining problems with Bultmann's theology

What have we got to learn from Bultmann?


At 6/27/2012 4:48 PM, Blogger Jim said...

Bultmann and Barth - The Whale and the Elephant

At 6/27/2012 4:59 PM, Blogger Todd Brewer said...

A discussion of Bultmann would be remiss without a discussion of the kerygma. De-mythologizing, historical Jesus, Form Criticism, Heidegger etc. are all interesting, but dealt with individually they tend to ignore Bultmann's kerygmatic center.

At 6/27/2012 10:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm no Bultmann expert, but given your audience, I wonder if there's some mileage in asking whether for Bultmann faith = gospel and history = law in a fairly strong Lutheran way. Evangelical and charismatic theology tends to be rather like Bultmann in its downgrading of history – You ask me how I know he lives?

At 6/29/2012 1:45 AM, Anonymous Douglas Campbell said...

Yes, I agree with dougchaplin. Bultmann was trying to rescue "faith" from the vicissitudes of historical investigation, running an essentially Kantian schema. Faith had to be part of the "necessary truths of reason." History belonged with "works" (and Jews and Catholics) outside in the murk and muck of data processed by way of the senses. So he illustrates beautifully how the western Protestant reading of Paul (etc.) dovetails with modernity's Liberal individualist agenda. In so doing, however, he also "rescued" biblical work from Barth and the theologians--so the elephant failing to communicate with the whale. This is of course a rather more problematic aspect of his work (at least IMHO), but his genius in responding to these twin challenges so elegantly has to be acknowledged.

At 7/02/2012 12:17 AM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Yes, thanks guys, all very helpful. The whole Kantian agenda is one I shall touch upon. Gotta think about making this understandable to an interested lay audience!

My thesis in a nutshell:
What Bultmann got Wrong, he certainly blundered. But what he got right, was both beautiful and important for us to grasp


Post a Comment

<< Home