Chapter 9: Rudolf Bultmann
However, among those who were aroused by Barth’s early work, several major thinkers remained loyal to the existentialist emphasis abandoned by their mentor. Two of the most important of these men are Friedrich Gogarten and Rudolf Bultmann. Of these, the former is a systematic theologian and the latter a New Testament scholar. Nevertheless, it has been Bultmann rather than Gogarten who has riveted the attention of the theological world upon the task of interpreting Christian faith in existential terms. In the process of defending his method of New Testament interpretation, Bultmann has dealt with many of the problems of systematic theology.
If Bultmann’s thought is to be accurately grasped, one must begin with his understanding of the relation between God and the world. (Cf. Schubert M. Ogden, "Introduction," in Rudolf Bultmann, Existence and Faith: Shorter Writings of Rudolf Bultmann, Ogden, ed. pp. 14ff. Ogden takes the infinite qualitative difference between time and eternity as the clue.) He understands the world as the totality of spatiotemporal phenomena, the whole object of human knowledge. It may be approached both externally, in an objectifying way that is appropriate to the physical sciences, and internally, in the way that is appropriate to the study of man and human history. In either case, we find a closed system of cause and effect -- objective causal relations in the former instance, subjective motivations and human decisions in the latter. In so far as our knowledge is concerned, any failure to find a cause simply means that we do not yet have adequate tools at our command. We always properly presuppose that the causes of this-worldly phenomena are this-worldly. (The closedness of the world, including the inner life of man, to the nonworldly is stressed repeatedly, especially clearly in Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology, pp. 15--16; Bultmann, "Exegesis Without Presuppositions," Existence and Faith, pp. 291--292; and Bartsch, ed., Kerygma und Mythos: ein theologisches Gespräch II, pp. 181-182.)
This means that God can never be introduced as a factor into the explanation of this-worldly events. He is radically transcendent, and his acts can never be placed alongside other causal influences in the interpretation of what occurs. From this principle there can be no exceptions, whether we are dealing with events recorded in the Scripture or with the religious experiences of mystics. These events are all subject to explanation in terms of this-worldly causes.
This does not mean that God is irrelevant to our existence. It means only that he is hidden to every eye except the eye of faith. Faith sees God’s act alike in objective events such as the healing of a child and in the unobservable happenings of personal existence. (Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology, pp. 62-63.) The eye of faith is precisely the way of seeing all nature and existence in its boundedness by and radical dependence upon that which altogether transcends it, that is, God. Through the eye of faith, events that are otherwise fully explained in terms of this-worldly causes are seen as the acts of God. But there is no transition from this faith-perception to some conclusion that supports or conflicts with this-worldly knowledge. The perception in faith is a "nevertheless" perception. (Ogden calls attention to Bultmann’s extensive use of I Cor. 7:29-3l, especially the idea of "as though not." Ogden, "Introduction," in Bultmann, Existence and Faith, p. 20. This basic orientation is largely inspired by the work of the early Barth, although Barth did not develop its demythologizing implications and has later explicitly rejected them.) By this we may understand that what in one way is fully understood, and even correctly understood, as explained in physical or historical categories, is "nevertheless" seen by faith as having an entirely different meaning. This different meaning perceived by faith must not be understood as a novel idea or general truth that may be placed alongside other ideas and truths. It is always only a truth for the believer in the moment of his apprehension of it. The event in question is for him the act of God, the place where transcendence is revealed. As such it transforms the way in which he understands his own existence. It does not give him new information about any other subject.
This fact, that an event both is and is not the act of God, is the fundamental paradox of Christian theology. From it arises the dialectical character, that is, the "yes" and "no" character, of the Christian witness. It is from this perspective that Bultmann’s specific Christological assertions and his famous advocacy of demythologizing must be understood.
In a preliminary way all religion has been seeking the transcendent. The questions implicit in man’s universal quest point toward it. But in all religion there is also a development of answers out of the legitimate questions that, while recognizing the transcendence of God, obscures and qualifies it in such a way as to darken the light that the questions seek. There is no actual way in which man can attain through his question to the faith that the question demands. (Rudolph Bultmann, "The Question of Natural Revelation," Essays: Philosophical and Theological, pp. 98 ff.)
The Christian message is that God, the wholly transcendent, has acted decisively for man’s salvation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The proclamation of God’s act is the kerygma (Hans Werner Bartsch, ed., Kerygma and Myth: A Theological D, p. 13; Rudolph Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament II, p. 239.) The task of preaching is to provide the occasion in which God makes this kerygma effective.
But the statement that God has acted is the kerygma only when it is preached. As one piece of information laid alongside of others, it is meaningless. (Cf. Bultmann, "How Does God Speak Through the Bible?" Existence and Faith, p.169) It cannot function as a theory or a hypothesis to be tested or as an affirmation of fact that demands intellectual assent. Any such understanding of the statement that God has acted in Jesus Christ translates it into the sphere of this-worldly phenomena. The affirmation that God has acted in Jesus Christ is understood properly only when it is understood as a call to the radical decision of faith, by which we mean total surrender of the self to God. For a man to believe the kerygma is at the same time for God to act in the present in that man’s death to his old self and resurrection to the life of freedom in love.
The kerygma is the proclamation of the act of God in Jesus Christ as the possibility of his act in the here and now. Faith is the authentic response to the kerygma in which God’s act becomes present. Neither kerygma nor faith is theology. (The relation of kerygma, faith, and theology is explained in the "Epilogue," Theology of the New Testament II, pp. 237-241. The distinction as developed there is much the same as that explained in Bultmann, "Kirche und Lehre im Neuen Testament," Glauben und Verstehen: Gesammelte Aufsätze I. See translation and discussion of key passages in Diem, Dogmatics, pp. 74-76, 79.)
Theology is the methodical exposition of the self-understanding that comes into being with faith. (Theology and the New Testament II, pp. 237-239.)
As such, it has to do only with human existence and may even be identified with anthropology. ("Kerygma and Myth, p. 107. That Bultmann had in mind the distinction between theology and kerygma when he identified theology with anthropology is uncertain, but it is clear that the compatibility of this equation with statements about God’s act in Christ in the same chapter depends on such a distinction.) But this is misleading if it is not understood in existential terms. Man’s existence is bound up with God and the world, and his self-understanding, therefore, includes an understanding of God and the world. (Kerygma and Myth, p. 203; Theology of the New Testament II, p. 239.)
For the kerygma the New Testament is the one authoritative source. It is there alone that we learn of the act of God in Jesus Christ. Every generation must test its preaching by that original expression of the kerygma. In so far as we are Christians at all, we must be bound by its central intention. But this does not mean that any particular proposition found in the Scriptures is identical with the kerygma. Every assertion, however simple, is already an interpretation in human language affected by the faith of the speaker and hence, couched in mythological or theological form. (Theology and the New Testament II, p. 240.) The New Testament scholar can help us to see the multiform way in which God’s act was proclaimed, and at the same time to see that it was always, as such, a call for decision.
The theology of the New Testament lacks the finality of the kerygma, by which it is determined. Christian existence was not a monopoly of the first century, and men of every century have shared in the ongoing effort to expound what this existence is. (Ibid. II, pp. 237-238.) Still, although nowhere is the ideal exposition available to us, Bultmann by profession and the Christian community by tradition have been specially interested in the exposition of self-understanding of the believer that is found in the New Testament.
The problem that we practically confront today, however, is that both the kerygma and the theology of the New Testament are couched in language that is objectionable. It is objectionable, first, because it is simply different from our own and, therefore, hard to understand. But more importantly, it is objectionable because it communicates a misapprehension of the way in which God acts. (Kerygma and Myth, pp. 11-12.) The kerygmatic affirmation that God acted in Jesus Christ was phrased in a language that places God’s actions alongside this-worldly events. In other words, even the New Testament ohjectifies in a this-worldly plane what belongs to the transcendent or otherworldly. In still other words, the New Testament language has mythologized the kerygma.
The mythology of the New Testament is expressed in both cosmological and eschatological forms. Cosmologically, it confronts us with a three-story universe in which the supraworldly and the subworldly are treated as objectively real worlds alongside our own. Eschatologically, it confronts us with a picture of a new kind of world that will in the imminent chronological future replace this one. Both forms of mythology include affirmations of the activity of otherworldly beings as influencing events in this world alongside this-worldly causes. (Jesus Christ and Mythology, pp. 11-15; and Kerygma and Myth, pp. 1-2. There are, of course, other conceptions of myth, and Bultmann is often criticized for not adopting one or another of them. But such arguments are terminological. If one agrees with Bultmann that events really visible only to faith are presented in the New Testament as if they were objectively present, his conclusions follow whether or not such objectification is taken as the defining characteristic of myth).
This mythology has always been an obstacle to the understanding of the New Testament message. But during much of Christian history it was not felt to be serious because the mythology of the New Testament continued to be effective alongside the kerygma. Today, however, the mythology of the New Testament has been decisively destroyed for the modern consciousness. ("Kerygma and Myth, p. 4. Bultmann steadfastly denies that mythological categories are really effective in our time. If we speak of the demonic, for example, we do not intend to speak of a transcendent power objectively immanent but of a power that grows up from the acts of men. [Jesus Christ and Mythology, p. 21.] The existentialist language about unobservable existence is emphatically not mythological in Bultmann’s sense. [Kerygma und Mythos II, p. 187; Bultmann, "A Chapter in the Problem of Demythologizing," in Harvey K. McArthur, ed., New Testament Sidelights: Essays in Honor of Alexander Converse Purdy, p. 4.] Neither is the language of science or modern philosophy generally. [Bartsch, ed., Kerygma and Myth, p. 103.]) Hence, special urgency has been added to what has always been an important task of the church -- the task of demythologizing so that the proclamation of the act of God may be understood for what it is and not taken as itself a bit of outdated mythology. (Kerygma and Myth, pp. 10-11, 34, 210.) The New Testament itself initiates the process of demythologizing, and in continuing that process we are profoundly loyal to its intention. (Ibid. pp. 34-35. Bultmann especially appeals to the Gospel of John as a demythologizing of the New Testament kerygma. (Jesus Christ and Mythology, pp. 33-34.) See Theology of the New Testament II, Part III.)
It is quite useless to attempt to extricate from the New Testament those passages in which mythological ideas are not explicitly present and to regard these as the gospel for our day. It is equally useless to go behind the New Testament to the teaching of Jesus, for this is no less mythological than are the New Testament writings. (Bultmann, "Jesus and Paul," Existence and Faith, p. 186.) Mythological categories of thought pervade the whole of primitive Christianity. What is required is to identify the intention of myth and to reaffirm this intention in non-mythological categories. (Kerygma and Myth, pp. 9-16.)
All myth expresses man’s awareness that the whole of the this-worldly receives its being and its limits from the transcendent. (Ibid. pp. 10-11; Kerygma und Mythos II, p. 183.) The particular myths express diversity in the manner in which the meaning of the transcendent for human existence is conceived. Hence, the demythologizing of the kerygmatic proclamation is the reformulation of the affirmation that God has acted decisively for man in Jesus Christ apart from the cosmological and eschatological mythical categories in which the New Testament speaks of this act of God.
This understanding of the intention of demythologizing must be stressed because of the continuing misinterpretation that is so prevalent. The demythologizing of the kerygmatic proclamation does not reduce it to a ddctrine of human existence. It does not reduce its mystery or question its claim that God has acted in Jesus Christ. It does not make it more reasonable or less scandalous to modern man. (Kerygma and Myth, pp. 104, 111, 117, 122-123.) It simply distinguishes the kind of claim that it takes to be the central intention of the original kerygma from any claim that a this-worldly event can be unambiguously the act of transcendent being. The claim is that in faith the Christ-event is apprehended as the decisive act of God. Any claim that any event can be apprehended as an act of God apart from faith must be rejected as mythology. But any understanding of the Christ-event that does not understand it as the decisive act of God is not the understanding of faith.
In relation to New Testament theology, the primary task is understanding the existential intention that is often embodied in mythological patterns of thought. For example, demons and the Spirit of God are viewed as this-worldly entities taking possession of human beings. These ideas must be rejected not only because they are mythological but also because they threaten the integrity and responsibility of the existent individual and thereby stand in opposition to the central intention of the New Testament itself. (Ibid. p. 120; Kerygma und Mythos II, p. 182.)
If we would understand the theology of Paul, for example, we must demythologize his expressions of his self-understanding. In order to do so, we must come to Paul with some kind of question. Nothing is learned from any document unless explicitly or implicitly some question is addressed to it. (See, for example, Kerygma and Myth, p. 191; Bultmann, "Is Exegesis Without Presuppostions Possible?" Existence and Faith, pp. 292-295.) .) Since we have already defined theology as the exposition of the self-understanding of the believer, it is clear that we are to query Paul with respect to the nature of existence in faith. But to raise such a question already involves some conceptuality, and to make the question fruitful by elaboration requires a developed conceptuality. By this we mean that we cannot speak at all without using language, and that we cannot use language without an elaborated interconnection of meanings. We may, of course, conceal from ourselves the fact that our questioning presupposes a context of thought and understanding, but thereby we only make more potent the unrecognized presuppositions. Hence, it is much better to recognize that there is no interpretation of any document, certainly not of the theological writings of Paul, without presuppositions.
Futhermore, the meanings of our terms and categories are profoundly influenced by past philosophy, and their systematic clarification is the continuing task of philosophy. (Kerygma and Myth, p. 193.) Hence, implicitly at least, our questioning is always affected by philosophy. Once again, we are both more honest and more likely to obtain fruitful results if we consciously acknowledge our dependence upon philosophy for the clarification of the categories of our thought.
This emphatically does not mean that the philosophy that we use will predetermine the results of our query. (Bultmann, "Is Exegesis Without Presuppositions Possible?" Existence and Faith, pp. 289-290, 295; "The Problem of Hermeneutics," Essays, p. 255; Jesus Christ and Mythology, p. 49.) It assists us in the formulation of questions, but only the document that we are examining can give us the answer. It is true, of course, that the answer will receive its form from the question, and that narrow and unsuitable presuppositions will limit our capacity to see what is there for us in the document. But this only emphasizes the importance of care in selection of the conceptuality with which the document is approached. For example, if we suppose that man must be understood as the union of two substances, soul and body, we will ask Paul how he understands the relation of these and what happens to each in salvation. We can then obtain some answers from Paul, but much of what he has to say to us will be unintelligible in these categories. We might instead ask what philosophical anthropology Paul employed himself. To this question, too, we could receive an interesting, if confusing, answer. But if we limited ourselves to this question, we would not be open to Paul’s theological affirmations developed within this conceptuality.
We would have only data for constructing a history of early Christian philosophical anthropology, and we would have learned nothing of theological importance for ourselves.
What we need is a philosophical anthropology that is adequate to our present self-understanding and that provides a conceptuality in which Paul’s theology can be formulated. Thereby Paul’s understanding of Christian existence becomes available to us and can be placed in vital relation to our own understanding.
We are peculiarly fortunate today in having available for our use the phenomenological ontology of human existence developed by Heidegger. (Bultmann asserts that the philosophy that is needed is one that expresses the understanding of existence given with existence. This is just what existential analysis does. [Kerygma and Myth, pp. 193-194.])
As phenomenology, it attains a kind of objectivity that gives it the widest possible use. As an ontology, it limits itself to the sphere of what is universal to human existence as such and leaves out of its purview the variety of ontic forms that human existence can take. Hence, it provides a basis for asking sensitive and important questions without prejudging the value of the answers.
The usefulness of this approach can be seen by its power to bring to Paul’s thought greater clarity and coherence than it has in the form in which Paul left it. (Macquarrie believes Bultmann meets this test. [An Existentialist Theology: A Comparison of Heidegger and Bultmann, pp. 42-46.]) In other words, it provides a better conceptuality for grasping Paul’s understanding of Christian existence than was available to Paul. Hence, through this kind of exegesis Paul’s own intention is given a freedom of self-expression that it can achieve in no other way.
Consider, for example, Paul’s antithesis of flesh and spirit. By this antithesis, Paul did not intend the distinction of body and soul or of matter and the immaterial. He was concerned about two modes of existence of the total person. But his own terminology introduced confusions, sometimes in his own mind. Heidegger, however, has distinguished for us unauthentic and authentic existence. He has shown us how unauthentic existence is a way of understanding oneself from the world of things and leads to a care for that world that prevents a man from becoming truly himself. He shows us that authentic existence is life lived in terms of the real potentialities of the existent individual. Hence, whether or not we continue to use the language of flesh and spirit, our grasp of Paul’s meaning can be informed by Heidegger’s analysis.
The question arises as to whether this does not mean that we are identifying Paul’s concept with Heidegger’s in such a way that we simply baptize the philosophy of Heidegger as Christian theology. The answer is no, and that on several counts. (Bultmann makes this point repeatedly, but its most vehement formulation is found in "The Historicity if Man and Faith," Existence and Faith, pp. 92-110.)
In the first place, Heidegger does not give us an account of what in fact constitutes authentic existence. (Bultmann often emphasizes that existential philosophy tells us only that we should exist, not how we should exist. [Kerygma and Myth, pp. 29, 193-194; Jesus Christ and Mythology, pp. 55-58; and Bultmann, The Presence of Eternity: History and Eschatology, pp. 149-151.]) Formally, it is any existence in which resolve is effective, that is, any existence in which a man lives in terms of projects that are authentically his own. But such a life may well be one of despair. Indeed, in the view of Christian faith it can be nothing but despair apart from the act of God. The freedom that it supposedly involves is not really freedom from one’s own past, which is the freedom man really needs? (Bultmann, "The Historicity of Man and Faith," Existense and Faith, p. 107.) It lacks the faith and love and hope and joy that characterize Christian existence. (Ibid. p. 110.)
These are, however, ontic or factual, and not ontological, judgments. (Ibid. pp. 94-95.) Heidegger correctly indicates the nature of the possibility inherent in human existence generally, that is, the possibility of living in terms of its own future rather than in terms of the presented realm of things. As a philosopher, he neither should nor could do anything more.
In the second place, even in so far as Heidegger describes authentic existence in a way satisfactory to a Christian, he cannot prescribe how it is to be attained. (This is the emphasis in the demythologizing debate. (Kerygma and Myth, pp. 26-29, 205. See also Jesus Christ and Mythology, pp.77 -78.) In these later writings, Bultmann seems to allow to the accounts of Heidegger and Kamlah more substantive similarity to Christian existence than the foregoing arguments, taken from "The Hisroricity of Man and Faith," suggest). He would abandon his role as a philosopher if he should appeal to acts of God. At the same time, nothing in his analysis precludes that, ontically speaking, it is only by an act of God that man is enabled to have faith. This is indeed precisely what the Christian affirms.
In the third place, Heidegger assigns "being-toward-death" a decisive place with respect to existence that Christian faith does not accord it. It is the encounter with a "Thou," and not running forward in thought to one’s death, that is decisive. At the same time, as an analysis of natural man Heidegger’s account remains valid, and it is only because the Christian dies to his old self and rises to new life that death has lost, for him, its sting. ("The Historicity of Man and Faith," pp. 109- 110.) But since the new life and the old are not, in Christian experience, separated in any simple chronological sense, even for the Christian Heidegger’s analysis of natural man has meaning.
It has been objected that the use of categories derived from the analysis of natural man is unsuited to the exposition of existence in faith. But this would be true only if Christian faith were a new supernatural replacement of human existence. (Ibid. pp. 94-95.) That is, if man became ontologically new -- something other than man -- then the categories applicable to natural man would not be applicable to him. But Protestants, at least, have never thought in these terms. Man becomes ontically new. He enters into a new kind of existence, but he remains a man, indeed the same man he was before. Ontological categories such as those of Heidegger apply to both natural existence and existence in faith precisely because they are ontological.
This relation of theology to philosophy should make it abundantly clear that theology does not look to philosophy to justify its claims. Philosophy makes possible the clarification of ontic claims. It cannot judge among them. Whether Christian existence is as theologians describe it, and whether it comes about as they say, are ontic questions. With respect to the truth or falsity of these affirmations, philosophy as such is silent. If an individual who is a philosopher speaks about these matters, he does so as a theologian -- not as a philosopher.
Furthermore, one cannot turn to some other source, such as the science of psychology, to find criteria for judging Christian theology. Theological assertions are not about objective facts that can be observed or treated experimentally. But this does not mean that Christian theology is anything unintelligible or mysterious. The same is true of any statement about the factuality of a particular mode of existence or self-understanding. In this respect, Christian theology is absolutely parallel with every other account of a particular mode of existence. Any such account may be obscurely or clearly stated so as to make itself more or less intelligible. So far as this is concerned, the greater clarity -- the less mystery -- the better. (Kerygma and Myth, p. 122; Jesus Christ and Mythology, p. 43.)
But the Bible does not simply provide man with one intelligible way of understanding his existence alongside the ways offered by other historical records. (Kerygma and Myth, p.192) In the Bible, man is personally encountered by the Word of God in a unique way. As kerygma, the message of the Bible can become for him the act of God’s offering him freedom from himself in a life of love.
Most of the analysis of Bultmann’s position in the preceding pages has been based upon a sharp distinction between kerygma and theology. However, little explicit use is made of this distinction by Bultmann himself, and few of his commentators or critics have referred to it. (Major exceptions are Diem, Dogmatics, pp. 71 if., and Fuchs, Hermeneutik, pp. 98 -- 99, quoted in Ott, Den ken und Sein, p. 172. Fuchs affirms that the distinction between revelation and preaching on the one side and theology on the other is essential to understanding Bultmann.) Hence, some attempt at justifying the central methodological role assigned it in this analysis is required.
The basic issue is not whether Bultmann’s strict definition of theology in one or two essays is consistent with his use of the term elsewhere. Quite probably it is not. The issue is whether there is in Bultmann’s actual performance and proposals a duality that can be explained consistently in these terms. Bultmann is repeatedly criticized for what seems to be a basic inconsistency in his thought. On the one hand, he proposes that the New Testament and its kerygma be demythologized in existential terms. On the other hand, he retains affirmations about the indispensability of the once-for-all act of God in Jesus Christ. (Ogden stresses the convergence of criticism on this point from the right and the left. "The Debate on ‘Demythologizing,’" The Journal of Bible and Religion, Vol. 27, 1959, pp. 23 -- 25; Christ Without Myth, pp. 95 -- 111. Ogden rightly emphasizes the importance, for understanding Bultmann, of distinguishing the two terms existential and existentiell. He keeps the distinction in the English text by retaining the two words in this spelling. Others have translated existential by "existentialistic" and existentiell by "existential." I have tried to make the distinction clear by the context, without introducing technical terms.
The German existentiell has the connotations usually associated with ‘existential" in English, that is, it refers to man’s absolutely individual situation as confronted by the demand to choose the direction of his own existence and the specific character of his individual experience as formed by that decision. The proclamation of the kerygma necessarily calls for such existentiell decision.
The German existential is a technical term used by Heidegger to refer to the phenomenologically articulated categories of existence. Theology, while expressing an existentiell concern on the part of the theologian and intending an existentiell impact on the hearer, is primarily an account of Christian self-understanding in existential terms.
The problem chiefly at issue in the text is how a once-for-all past event can be affirmed without limiting arbitrarily the process of demythologizing. The answer, sn terms of this terminology, is that a past event as presently proclaimed may have a unique existentiell importance that can be understood in existential terms.
Bultmann undoubtedly has said many confusing and conflicting things on these two points that give warrant to much of the criticism of his work. But the thesis of the present interpretation is that he has also provided us with some clues as to how these two elements in his basic intention can be held together in a consistent whole.
Bultmann’s more conservative defenders sometimes claim that he sets limits to the demythologizing proposal (John Macquarrie, The Scope of Demythologizing: Bultmann and His Critics, pp. 11, 222-223.) and thereby enables himself to make orthodox Christian affirmations that would otherwise be forbidden him. Others have agreed that he in fact fails to carry through the demythologizing program consistently but point out that he denies explicitly that any limits should be set to it. (Ogden makes this point in his criticism of John Macquarrie’s Scope of Demythologizing, in Christ Without Myth, p. 172.) What seems to be missed by both parties to this debate is that the New Testament is to be demythologized completely but that demythologizing can be applied only to what is mythological.
Furthermore, although to demythologize is always to interpret the mythology in terms of its existential meaning, it does not follow that whatever is not existential is thereby mythological. Mythology is not defined as the nonexistential but as the representation of the otherworldly as if it were objectively this-worldly. (Kerygma and Myth, p. 10, note; Kerygma und Mythos II, p. 183.) There may be affirmations in the New Testament that are neither mythological nor existential. Indeed, one would suppose that many odd bits of information about historical fact would have this character, but these are not important.
The question is whether there is any affirmation in the New Testament that is neither mythological nor existential and that is nevertheless important. By affirming that it is important, we mean that it must be existentially important; so in this sense it must necessarily be existential. But there may be an affirmation that is not itself an existential statement that yet has existential importance. Information given to a drowning man about the location of a sandbar, for example, might be of such a nature.
Now it seems that, despite certain ambiguities, this is precisely what Bultmann asserts about the New Testament kerygmatic affirmations of the act of God in Jesus Christ. These are not, as such, mythological assertions, although they are regularly associated in the New Testament with mythological ideas. (Kerygma and Myth, p. 34. Mythological language is used to bring out the meaning of the past event. [Ibid. p.37.]) These mythological ideas must be, in accordance with Bultmann’s over-all program of demythologizing, exhaustively interpreted in existential terms. But this only brings out with greater force the strangeness or scandalousness of the New Testament affirmation that God acted decisively in Jesus Christ. (See references for n. 23.)
The claim that this affirmation is of importance, indeed of supreme importance, is the claim that it is existentially decisive for every man. Hence, its existential meaning must be explained in existential terms. This is an essential part of the intention of the affirmation, apart from which it is not kerygmatic at all. But this does not imply that the intention of the affirmation is exhausted by its existential meaning. On the contrary, the affirmation intends the past act of God just as essentially as it intends its present existential meaning for the hearer. (Kerygma and Myth, pp. 22,27, 110-111, 207-209.)
Those who argue that so far as the kerygma is concerned only existential affirmations can be existentially important will point out immediately the limitation in the analogy of the drowning man and the sandbar. The information there provided consists of objective facts about the objective world, whereas the kerygma gives no such facts at all. The kerygma can be proclaimed only by the believer, for its truth is apprehended only by the eyes of faith. Hence, the affirmation of the kerygma is always already involved with theology as the interpretation of faith, and we have recognized above that theology is exhaustively existential. There may be some theological statements that have little or no kerygmatic import, but there are no kerygmatic statements that do not involve theological interpretation.
Does this mean that there is, after all, no nonexistential element in the intention of the kerygma? This does not follow. It means that the kerygma always intends its existential meaning for the hearer and that it always expresses the self-understanding of the speaker. But there seems to be no inconsistency in affirming that the proclamation of the kerygma always also intends an existentially experienced nonexistential object -- the act of God in Jesus Christ. And surely the overwhelming majority of Bultmann’s discussions of the kerygma and the Christ-event requires this interpretation.
If the foregoing account of Bultmann is generally accurate, the misunderstanding that underlies many of the usual criticisms of his position should be clear. Conservatives have regarded Bultmann as destroying the supernatural character of Christian faith. (Most of the criticisms of Bultmann in the Kerygma und Mythos series are from the conservative side.) But unless this supernatural element is understood necessarily to mean that the otherworldly is unambiguously manifest in this-worldly forms, that is, in such a way as to lend itself to scientific and historiographical verification, this criticism is erroneous. Bultmann emphatically retains, and insists, upon the act of God in Jesus Christ as in radical discontinuity with all natural and historical causes. And by this he certainly means that the transcendent, otherworldly, and in this sense supernatural, has appeared in this world -- only it has so appeared as to remain hidden to all but the eyes of faith. If this is to be attacked from the side of supernaturalist orthodoxy, it must be in terms of a view of miracle as an occurrence observable apart from faith and explicable only in terms of supernatural suspension of natural law. Certainly Bultmann rejects this eighteenth-century conception, and he denies with some warrant that it is central to the intention of the New Testament.
Orthodoxy may also attack Bultmann on the grounds of his denial of final authority to the theology of the New Testament. But Bultmann can reply as a New Testament scholar that there is a plurality of New Testament theologies and that all of them are human accounts of how men have come to understand themselves in the life of faith. He himself in no way depreciates their central importance for the Christian community. Quite the contrary, his whole effort is to make them come alive for our generation. When we speak of the final authority for Christian faith, we must point to the act of God, and not to the human response to that act. (Theology of the New Testament II, p. 240.) As a witness to the decisive act of God, the Christian has no other appeal than the New Testament.
More serious is the question that must be raised about Bultmann’s Christology. What is the relation of Jesus, the existing individual, to the act of God? Bultmann seems to make the faith that God acted in Jesus irrelevant to the understanding of Jesus. Jesus was a Jewish prophet of the imminent eschatological consummation. (Cf. Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus and the Word; Theology of the New Testament I, Part I, Ch. 1; Primitive Christianity in Its Contemporary Setting, pp. 71-77, 86-93; Jesus Christ and Mythology, pp. 12-14.) The Christian faith is grounded in the belief that God acted in him, but it is essentially indifferent to what Jesus did or said or how he understood himself. (Theology of the New Testament I, p. 26; Kerygma and Myth, p.117.) Therefore, in reconstructing Jesus’ message and deeds the historian is perfectly free to ignore the Christian claim that God acted in him. Whether Jesus believed himself to be the Messiah or not is quite irrelevant. Indeed, the truth or falsity of his opinions in general is quite irrelevant to faith. Hence, the objection may be raised that Bultmann separates the Jesus of history so radically from the Christ of faith that the Christian teaching of the incarnation is destroyed,
This criticism has much justification, but at the same time it loses its sting when it is set in the context of Bultmann’s own thought. It is because the acts of God are always and necessarily hidden to all eyes but the eyes of faith that the historical Jesus is irrelevant to faith. For by the historical Jesus we mean precisely that Jesus who is accessible to investigation apart from faith. Faith knows that what is seen apart from faith is always explicable in categories that make no reference to the act of God and that no kind of historical event points more clearly to God than any other. But faith sees that nevertheless precisely these events are the act of God for the believer. Hence, for faith, the events that for the historian are the historical Jesus are the act of God. Faith connects the act of God to the historical event, not on the basis of historical evidence that such a connection is warranted, but precisely by faith in spite of the lack of objective reason of any kind.
This whole debate with orthodoxy points to the fact that the basic issue is that of the fundamental understanding of the relation of God and the world sketched in the beginning of this chapter. If the transcendent is related to the this-worldly as Bultmann says, then the consequences that he derives from this conception seem to follow, and his Christology can hardly be challenged. Since many of Bultmann’s orthodox critics have shared this understanding, although they have generally been less clear and consistent, most of their criticisms have missed their mark.
The liberal criticism of Bultmann takes an opposite line, although it converges with the orthodox criticism at some points. (Among liberal critics may be listed Karl Jaspers, Fritz Bun, and Schubert Ogden. The following works may be consulted: Jaspers and Bultmann, Myth and Christianity: An Inquiry Into the Possibility of Religion Without Myth; Ogden, Christ Without Myth; Ogden, "Bultmann’s Project of Demythologizing," The Journal of Religion, Vol. 37, 1957, pp. 156-173; Ogden, "The Debate on Demythologizing," op. cit., pp. 17-27; Buri, "Theologie und Philosophie," Theologisehe Zeitschrift, Vol. 8, 1952, pp. 116-134; Buri, "Entmythologisierung oder Entkerygmatisierung der Theologie," in Bartsch, ed., Kerygma und Mythos II. Buri’s position is summarized by Ogden in Christ Without Myth, pp. 105-110, and in "The Debate on Demythologizing," p. 24.) The liberal, too, must point out the dependence of Bultmann’s theology upon a philosophical pre-understanding of the relation of God and the world, but even if that pre-understanding is accepted, it seems to the liberal that the orthodox elements in Bultmann’s theology do not follow.
First of all, is it really the case that the Christian self-understanding is achieved only by an act of God? Bultmann himself frequently stresses that the existent individual is free to choose for himself. When we are confronted by any particular possibility for self-understanding, we are put into decision. That is, in so far as we apprehend self-understanding as really a possibility for us and different from that by which we have lived, we are placed in the position of accepting or rejecting it. Is this not also our situation with respect to the Christian self-understanding? What, then, is added when we call this particular human, existential decision, by which we die to our old selves and rise to new life in faith, an act of God?
Bultmann’s answer is that as Christians we do in fact apprehend it as an act of God. What is added thereby is the destruction of any claim, on our part, upon God or of any grounds of boasting in our achievement. (Bultmann, "Grace and Freedom," Essays, p. 170.) The self-understanding of faith is precisely the understanding of ourselves as living from God’s grace; hence, it clearly cannot be attributed by us to our own decision except as that decision is at the same time understood precisely as an act of God.
Assuming that this is an adequate answer, we may press the argument a step further. Granting that the decision for Christian existence is understood by faith as the act of God, why should we claim that a necessary relation exists between this act of God and the act of God in Christ? We may grant that, factually, we have had the Christian self-understanding presented to us in conj unction with the message that God acted in Christ. We may further grant that, historically, Christian existence came into being in conjunction with the belief that God has acted in Christ. We may even recognize that the message of God’s act in Christ adds efficacy to the challenge to decide for Christian existence. But should we not also recognize that God has acted and can act for men in bringing them into Christian existence (whether they call it by this name or not) quite apart from any belief about Christ? (Even a relatively conservative interpreter like Macquarrie seeks for this openness in Bultmann. Macquarrie, The Scope of Demythologizing, p. 152.) Should we not be concerned primarily that this existence become more readily available as a live option to men everywhere regardless of whether they are willing to acknowledge a unique act of God in history? Is not, therefore, the scandal of the Christian claim to absolute uniqueness an unnecessary obstacle to the real work of preaching the gospel?
The issue here is that of the content of the gospel. Is the gospel essentially that God offers man a life of faith and love that he may freely choose, or is the gospel that God has acted in Jesus Christ for man’s salvation? The two ways of understanding what the gospel fundamentally is overlap extensively. The former recognizes its historical rootage in the event Jesus Christ, but it regards the factual relationship as existentially inessential. The latter recognizes that God’s act in Jesus Christ is nothing other than the offer to man of a life of faith and love that he may freely choose, but it holds that this offer is made in the Christ-event and nowhere else.
Bultmann as a historian seems to give much color to the liberal’s argument. His reconstruction of Judaeo-Christian history traces the emergence of the Christian self-understanding as a phenomenon of history. (Bultmann, The Presence of Eternity, p. 149 and passim; also, Primitive Christianity.) It shows how the eschatological message of Jesus and the early church precipitated a decision for radical faith in God in a way essentially similar to that in which the church’s message about God’s act in Jesus called for such faith. Historically speaking, it seems that the radical intensification of the prophetico-eschatological message is sufficient to account for the emergence of Christian existence.
But Bultmann as a theologian simply denies that faith can accept as final the picture that Bultmann as a historian has constructed. For faith, the historical explanation is essentially irrelevant. For faith, it is the act of God in Jesus Christ made newly effective for us in its repeated proclamation that alone places us in the position of deciding for or against faith. To the question why God should have arranged matters in this way there is no answer. But that this is the situation in which we find ourselves is believed by faith as the presupposition of faith. To decide for Christian existence is to decide for precisely this faith. And to decide for Christian existence apart from this faith is delusion.
The gulf here is simply unbridgeable. Bultmann can give no reasons for his position except by showing that this is the intention of the New Testament and the self-understanding of faith. From the point of view of his position, the requirement of reasons is a false demand. One must decide for or against the acceptance of God’s gift, and man cannot determine the grounds on which it is to be accepted.
This does not mean that the leap of faith is itself arbitrary. In fact, an apologetic for making the leap lies on the surface of Bultmann’s writings. Philosophical analysis can point to the ideal possibility of authentic existence, but man’s effort to realize it on his own terms leads to despair. The kerygma offers man the only possibility of understanding his existence. (Kerygma and Myth, p. 41.) It offers him also the realization of that which he already, as a human being, somehow wants. (Ibid. p. 192.) Hence, it seems clear that there is reason for acceptance of God’s gift.
The point, however, is that man must respect the freedom of God to offer us life on any terms he chooses. Furthermore, Bultmann holds that what is offered is so different from what natural man supposes that he seeks, that the decision to accept cannot be motivated simply by his natural desire. ("Grace and Freedom," Essays, esp. pp. 180-181.) Decision is made in sheer freedom. It is a leap.
The liberal may protest that if the offer of Christian existence is tied thus to a particular event in time, then men who have not heard of this event are not responsible for having failed to choose it. (Ogden, Christ Without Myth, pp. 118-119.) This would seem to conflict with the emphasis on man’s responsibility for himself that Bultmann shares with Heidegger. But this objection fails to recognize the nonidentity of Christian existence as defined by Bultmann and authentic existence as defined by Heidegger. Authentic existence in some form may be a real option for every man, but to Bultmann the choice of authentic existence apart from Christ is the choice of despair and even expresses that self-assertion which in faith is perceived as sin. (Kerygma and Myth, pp. 29-30.) Man apart from Christ is guilt-ridden and responsible for his own existence. But in the eyes of faith, man’s effort to save himself rather than surrender himself to God is visible as sin. ("The Historicity of Man and Faith," Existence and Faith, pp. 96-97.)
Bultmann’s theology is a remarkable combination of strict Lutheranism and absolute scholarly openness. On the one hand, faith can affirm nothing that enters into the sphere of consideration of science or history. On the other hand, science and history can say nothing that gives any evidence for or against faith. Therefore, the option of faith is absolutely open to modern man as it has been open to every generation. At the same time, any quest for support for the decision of faith, any argument for its plausibility, is strictly excluded. God confronts man in the message of God’s act in Jesus Christ as an act for man that can be reactualized in him through his response. The decision is his. The scholar and the theologian clear away every obstacle to that decision not intrinsic to the decision itself. By the same token they clear away every pretense that there is any objective justification for making the decision extraneous to the decision itself. Thus, the absolute freedom of the decision is made inescapably clear.
In every other decision, even in decisions as to how one shall understand oneself, man’s past is brought with him into the decision. ("Grace and Freedom," Essays, p. 180.) Hence, there is no real freedom from the past. But confronted by the kerygmatic demand and promise, man is offered freedom from his past. His decision cannot be motivated by his past hopes and fears. It is made absolutely in the now. It is an abandonment of every security and a total trust in God. (Kerygma and Myth, pp. 19-20.)
Clearly, there is no self-evidence about all these affirmations, and clearly they can and must be disputed by many liberals. But it is also clear that the issues involved are purely ontic in character. Either Christian faith does understand itself as Bultmann says or it does not. The question might appear to be terminological in that Bultmann seems at times simply to define Christian faith in this way and thereby to deny to those who understand themselves in any other way the label "Christian." But Bultmann’s appeal is to the preaching of primitive Christianity and to the self-understanding of the believer as evoked by that preaching. Hence, responsible historical inquiry is relevant to, if not decisive for, the resolution of this issue. In so far as this is the case, discussion of this problem lies outside the scope of this book.
However, what is found in primitive Christianity depends in part, as Bultmann is the first to recognize, on the pre-understanding that is brought to it. Hence, the issue is not simply historico-exegetical. The liberal may agree with Bultmann that the New Testament must be demythologized and yet reject Bultmann’s way of carrying out the program. He may, for example, assert that the literal truth about the relation of the believer to God, expressed in the myths, is different from the relation of one who stands in a closed, this-worldly system to transcendence. If so, he will dispute with Bultmann, not so much in his capacity as a historian reconstructing the beliefs and self-understanding of primitive Christians, but in terms of the fundamental understanding of God and the world that determines Bultmann’s definition of myth and hence also his whole exegetical method. Hence, this analysis of the liberal discussion with Bultmann leads to the same conclusion as the analysis of the orthodox critique, namely, that the fundamental understanding of the relation of God and the world is decisive for Bultmann’s whole position.
At this juncture I turn from a presentation of Bultmann’s position in relation to typical orthodox and liberal critics to a statement of my own systematic criticism. The criticism has two major parts. First, we must ask what clear meaning can be given to Bultmann’s crucial concept of an act of God. Second, we inquire as to whether any sort of natural theology is assumed or implied by Bultmann’s theological method, or by his understanding of the fundamental relation of God and the world. The next few pages are devoted to a consideration of the former question.
Bultmann clearly affirms that every objectively observable event must be understood in scientific and historical investigations as a part of a causal nexus that makes no reference to God. Nevertheless, he insists that some events are properly understood in faith as acts of God. How can this be? Is this understanding possible with respect to objectively observable events that are apprehended by science? Or is it appropriate only to the unobjective, unobservable events of human existence as such?
When Bultmann gives examples of the kinds of events that may be seen in faith as acts of God, he cites as one the healing of a child. (Jesus Christ and Mythology, p. 62.) This raises acute questions as to the intelligibility of the concept. He affirms that the healing process belongs to the natural world, from which he excludes freedom. Hence, an event that follows necessarily from the preceding natural situation is also seen as an act of God, that is, as being grounded in transcendence. This would pose no problem if Bultmann meant that the whole sequence of natural events expressed God’s will or simply that in so far as they occur at all they are given their being by God. But Bultmann explicitly rejects these interpretations. (Kerygma and Myth, pp. 197-198.) Specific events, not the course of nature as a whole, are seen in faith as acts of God.
Probably Bultmann does not mean that the child’s recovery of health as such is an act of God but specifically that in the believer’s apprehension of its meaning for him it becomes an act of God. Thereby it is differentiated from the act of God in Christ in its relation to the believer. Whereas in the relation of God’s act in the believer’s existence to his act in Christ the priority stands with the act in Christ, in the relation of the child’s recovery to the believer, it stands with the believer.
The entire following analysis assumes this interpretation of Bultmann’s meaning. If it is erroneous, if Bultmann means that God has specific causal efficacy for the healing of the child that is not identical with the natural processes that effect the healing, then I cannot see how he can avoid the conclusion that on its own terms the scientific-deterministic account is incomplete. It must omit essential factors in the actual healing process. But Bultmann’s whole point is that God’s act is not one force alongside others that with them effects a conclusion. God’s act lies in a radically different dimension and leaves the objective account entirely unaffected at its own level. Faith does not perceive a causal factor in the objective event to which science is blind. Faith sees the events as a whole as an act of God, and that means as having for the believer the significance of an act of God. Nothing is said thereby about the causes of the objective event.
I am arguing that, with respect to such objective observable events as the healing of the child or a historical occurrence in the life of Israel, we can speak of an act of God only in terms of the existential meaning of the event for us. (Bultmann asserts that Jesus is not to be understood after the analogy of men like Abraham or Moses, who were decisive for Israel’s history. Their importance was mediated through a national history that functioned for Israel as a history of revelation. For us, this history is not revelation. "The Significance of the Old Testament for the Christian Faith," unpublished trans. By B.W. Anderson, pp. 20-21.) If this were the basic meaning of "act of God" in Bultmann’s thought, he could hardly escape the charge of subjectivism. But the possibility of speaking this way at all depends upon the decisive act of God by which a man enters into the existence of faith. This event occurs in the unobjective, unobservable sphere of human existence. As a free act it is not necessitated by its past, and hence it seems to be a more hopeful arena in which to grasp what Bultmann means. But can we intelligibly speak of one event as simultaneously an act of radical freedom on the part of man and an act of God?
This leads us to an aspect of Bultmann’s thought that he has inadequately clarified, namely, the relation of the human self to the closed system of the this-worldly and to the transcendence of God. Two basic patterns of thought are in some tension within Bultmann’s theology. Sometimes he sets God as radically transcendent over against the whole of spatiotemporal phenomena and includes man in this latter category. Sometimes he stresses that the transcendence of God over the world is paralleled by the transcendence of the human self over the world. In this case, God and human selves belong together in the realm of the transcendent. (Ogden interprets Bultmann in this sense. "Introduction," in Bultmann, Existence and Faith, pp. 15-16.)
The former position is implied by Bultmann when he stresses the complete incapacity of philosophy to speak of God. Clearly, philosophy is not incapable of speaking of the human self in its transcendence of the world, but it is just God’s transcendence that precludes philosophy from speaking of him. Hence, God’s transcendence must be of a radically different kind from man’s transcendence.
This position also seems involved in the fundamental insistence that the acts of God do not have causal efficacy in the observable world. For example, it seems that a man’s free decision to give up a life of social conformity in favor of basic convictions and purposes does have an effect upon both the inner and the outer course of events, and that the historian has the responsibility to explain certain aspects of these events in terms of the man’s free decision. Bultmann insists, however, that the historian must interpret the course of events without reference to acts of God. Presumably then, these acts are essentially unlike human acts.
This second argument would not apply if we adopted a philosophical position that denied that events in the realm of human freedom have causal efficacy in the sphere of physical and psychological occurrences. Perhaps Bultmann has some such metaphysics in view in some of his utterances, but if so he must not only involve himself in some very dubious philosophical speculations but also encounter the firm objection of common sense. If we allow human freedom at all, we can deny that it has causal efficacy in the physical and psychological spheres only by an extreme a priori judgment entirely alien to most of Bultmann’s thought.
Therefore, we must conclude that much of Bultmann’s thought depends on a radical difference between the transcendence of the world by God and by human selves. At the same time, much of his thought equally depends upon the claim that there is a real analogy between these two relations. Frequently, he explains the Christian understanding of the man-God relation by analogous relations among men. And, decisively, he affirms that the language about the acts of God must be understood by analogy with human acts. (Kerygma and Myth, p. 197; Jesus Christ and Mythology, p. 68. To explain what he means by analogy he refers to Frank, Philosophical Understanding and Religious Truth, pp. 44, 161-164, 179, etc.)
This duality in Bultmann leads to a serious dilemma. If we take seriously the radical difference between God and the human self and so preserve the view that God’s acts never operate as causes of events in either the inner or the outer sphere, we can hardly understand these acts by analogy with human acts. If, on the other hand, we take this analogy seriously, there seems no reason for denying either that philosophy can talk about God or that God’s acts have observable, causal consequences.
A clue as to how Bultmann may partly escape this difficulty is provided in his use of the category of encounter. In the believing hearing of the kerygma we encounter God. Faith is equally a free decision and an act of his grace, because it is only in this encounter with God that we become radically free. ("Grace and Freedom," Essays, p. 180.) We may then see that the historian will attribute to free decision what the believer attributes to the act of God in encountering him. Thus the believer perceives a real efficacy in the act of God, but this is adequately explained for the nonbeliever by reference to freedom. Although not all of Bultmann’s assertions about acts of God lend themselves readily to this interpretation, it does seem to be the clearest expression of his thought. Here we may see how God’s encounter with us may be understood after the analogy of the encounter of persons without thereby allowing for independent causal efficacy or philosophical accessibility.
One difficulty remains, and this one is acute. Bultmann does not identify God’s act in Jesus Christ with an encounter relationship between God and Jesus. This act of God by which he brought in the new age was of a different order.
The affirmation that God acted in Jesus Christ can be understood analogically only if that action resembles either man’s act in encountering another man or man’s act upon the world. To press the former analogy is to make God’s act in Jesus Christ an existential event in the life of the historical Jesus. This would lead Bultmann to follow some of his own students in a new quest of the historical Jesus. (See James McConkey Robinson, A New Quest for the Historical Jesus.) To press the latter analogy is to affirm that the course of events in the world is causally modified by God’s acting in such a way that the events are erroneously interpreted if other causality is assigned to them. This would lead Bultmann toward an orthodox supernaturalism and force him to abandon much of his argument against his conservative critics.
Since Bultmann rejects both sets of consequences, it seems that he must deny the analogy of God’s act to human acts. But to deny this analogy would leave the central kerygmatic affirmation unintelligible except in its existential import. Then Bultmann’s whole basis for rejecting the liberal criticism of his position collapses.
One escape from this difficulty appears to be open. Bultmann may affirm that God’s act in Jesus Christ occurred actually in God’s encounter with the disciples. Thereby he can locate God’s act in the encounter relationship without locating it in Jesus’ historical existence. The encounter then is understood as occurring on Easter Day.
The difficulty with this position is that it reduces even the crucifixion of Jesus to a historical condition of God’s act in the disciples, whereas the New Testament places God’s primary act in Jesus and regards the awakening of faith as a secondary act of God. Furthermore, it is difficult to see how God’s encounter with a number of disciples could be, as such, the indispensable object of faith. Nevertheless, if we are to dare to identify any one position as that of Bultmann, we must choose this one. It is on this basis that he places the historical Jesus entirely within Judaism and begins Christianity with the rise of the Easter faith. ("See Bultmann’s treatment of Jesus in relation to Christianity in Theology of the New Testament I and Primitive Christianity).
We now turn to the second of the two major criticisms of Bultmann’s theological method. Does Bultmann employ a natural theology? Bultmann s systematic theology develops from key concepts that he finds in the New Testament. He insists that the New Testament can be intelligently studied only if we approach it with a fruitful philosophical preunderstanding. To this degree he acknowledges an autonomous role of philosophy in theological work.
However, Bultmann can correctly distinguish the preunderstanding that he employs from a natural theology. He wishes to limit the preunderstanding to a phenomenological account of the universal structures of human existence. Furthermore, he does not intend to employ this preunderstanding as a basis for establishing particular articles of belief. Its use is only to make possible the clearer understanding of the New Testament.
In addition to the phenomenological analysis of human existence, Bultmann seems to employ a definite world view in his theological work. He believes that God is real and effective in relation to human existence, that the objective world is closed to God’s causal efficacy, and that man has or can have real freedom. Such beliefs might well constitute a natural theology, but Bultmann does not intend to employ them in that way. Such beliefs might also be affirmed as a Christian natural theology, that is, as a philosophical account of the implications of distinctively Christian data, but this also seems contrary to Bultmann’s intention. If we are to form a clear judgment of Bultmann’s success in avoiding dependence upon natural theology, we must consider how each of these three elements in his thought is systematically justified. They are treated below in the order listed.
Bultmann can speak of a universal sense of relatedness to transcendence at the basis of all region and myth. (The awareness of the transcendent as the ground and limit of existence is the intention of all myth. (Kerygma and Myth, pp. 10-11.) The hunger for God is expressed in all religion. (Bultmann, "The Question of Natural Revelation," Essays, pp. 90-118.) All men consciously or unconsciously search for God. [Jesus Christ and Mythology, pp. 52-53.]) If, however, he intends to justify belief in the reality of God on this basis, a difficulty arises. Any important universal aspect of man’s existence should be included in a phenomenological ontology of existence such as that of Heidegger, but in fact Heidegger knows nothing of a universal relatedness to God. If the reality of God is to be maintained on the basis of phenomenology, the argument might take two forms.
First, one might argue that Heidegger’s phenomenology is incomplete, that there are additional categories of existence that he has failed to see. Such an argument would require, however, a kind of exposition that neither Bultmann nor his pupils have provided or proposed. (Karl Jaspers would give much more support to Bultmann here than does Heidegger, but to follow Jaspers might lead to a quite different theological position, such as that of Fritz Buri.)
Second, one might identify some aspect of what Heidegger does describe phenomenologically with man’s relatedness to transcendence, or God. Specifically, one might identify authentic existence as Heidegger presents it with the universal quest for God. (Bultmann asserts that the questions about God and about oneself are identical. [Jesus Christ and Mythology, p. 53]) The problem here is that this procedure presupposes what we are presently concerned to justify. If we have other grounds for affirming the reality of God, then we may see some aspect of Heidegger’s phenomenological account of human existence as in fact determined by man’s relatedness to God. But if we limit ourselves to a phenomenological approach, we must also limit ourselves to Heidegger’s conclusions or supplement his account phenomenologically. In any case, Bultmann explicitly affirms that existential analysis as such should disregard man’s relation to God as it disregards all concrete encounters. (Kerygma and Myth, p. 195.)
We will assume, therefore, that Bultmann does not affirm the reality of God on general phenomenological grounds. Rather, he holds that the event of faith is the basis of such affirmation. (Bultmann, " A Chapter in the Problem of Demythologizing," in McArthur, op. cit., p. 6.) Faith understands itself as given by God. Existence in faith is living out of transcendence. The reality of God, although presumably an ontological truth, is affirmed on ontic rather than on philosophical grounds. (The fact that God can only be known in faith and that we cannot speak of what he is in himself does not imply that he does not exist apart from faith. [Jesus Christ and Mythology pp. 72-73.]) Furthermore, since the only acceptable assertions about God are those which express the existential relation between God and man, no philosophical conclusions can be drawn from the belief in God’s reality. (Ibid. p.69. See also "What Sense is there in speaking to God," The Christian Scholar, Vol. 43, 1960, pp. 213-222.)
From the perspective given in faith, one may see all religion as conditioned by relatedness to the transcendent and all myth as expressive of man s apprehension of it. (Christian Faith illuminates the fact that the question of the meaning of existence is in fact the question about God. [Kerygma and Myth, pp. 195-196.]) By this approach, Bultmann gains a principle of understanding the intention of all myth. Most important, he achieves the possibility of interpreting New Testament mythology in terms of its intention.
We see, therefore, that if Bultmann is willing to throw the whole weight upon faith, he can assert the reality of God independently of any philosophical pre-understanding. Since faith understands itself as a gift of God, theology must assume the reality of God, and the Christian student of religion can be guided by this principle.
Here it is important to note that this kind of weight can be placed upon faith only because faith is understood as given in an act of God. This means that its occurrence is not conditioned by prior readiness or decision on man’s part. If it were so conditioned, some supposition of the reality of God would be necessary before the human contribution to the occurrence of faith could be made. Bultmann does not always eschew the support of humanly understandable reasons for a human decision for faith, but I assume that he is always prepared to abandon this support in the interest of maintaining methodological freedom from speculative philosophy.
Bultmann is able to deny not only that belief in God’s reality rests on natural theology but also that what is known of God in faith can be the basis of speculative elaboration on the order of a Christian natural theology. However, the belief in the reality of transcendence does function for Bultmann as a principle of interpreting religion and myth in general. It seems, therefore, that at this one point the truth grasped in faith does affect the work of the scholar as a scholar and leads in a rudimentary way to a Christian natural theology.
Whether or not one factually agrees that belief in God is sustained by the act of God in and for us without supporting considerations, the claim that this is true is an intelligible one that can operate legitimately as a decisive theological principle. We turn, then, to the second and more difficult principle, namely, that the objective world is closed to God’s causal efficacy. On what basis is this affirmed?
Although other answers are also suggested in Bultmann’s writings, his central conviction seems to be that once again it is faith itself that is decisive. (See, for example, his assertion that demythologizing follows from radical application of the principle of justification by faith. [Jesus Christ and Mythology, pp. 72-73.]) Faith understands itself as pure risk grounded in God’s act of grace. It does not understand itself as based upon any objective evidence or calculus of probabilities. Hence, any idea of a miraculous intervention by God in the world is alien to faith. Interest in such ideas reflects a desire to achieve objective security of belief that is antagonistic to the essence of faith.
Bultmann believes that this understanding of faith is found in the New Testament itself. In the writings of Paul and especially of John it functions to begin the process of demythologizing that he himself wishes to carry through to completion. This demythologizing consists of deobjectifying the acts of God in the interest of the pure freedom and risk of faith. This means that the world can be left to be understood in terms of its immanent causal order, whereas God’s relationship to man in grace and faith is understood as present in an entirely different dimension.
Bultmann’s interpretation of the thrust and intention of the New Testament writers may be disputed by other students. One may grant that faith as understood in the New Testament is independent of objective support without agreeing that it is antagonistic to such support.
Bultmann’s view, of course, is not that Paul or John denied the occurrence of miracles or saw the need of doing so in the interest of faith. His conviction is that when the nature of faith as they grasped it is more thoroughly understood, a further development of their thought leads to these conclusions. (Ibid. Bultmann urges that the principle of justification applied by Paul against seeking security in good works be applied also against seeking security in objective knowledge.
Hence, the debate must center around the nature of faith as such rather than around the conclusions explicitly drawn in the New Testament.
David Hume made an important distinction between the occurrence of miracles and the evidential value of miracles. Although he undoubtedly disbelieved in their occurrence, he recognized the impossibility of making negative assertions on this point. He did argue very convincingly against the evidential value of miracles. (See above, Ch. 1, pp. 22-23.)
Bultmann’s perspective is remote from Hume’s, but the Humean distinction is relevant to a questioning of Bultmann. In Bultmann’s terms, faith clearly refuses the support of a supposed causal efficacy of God for this-worldly events. But can we affirm also on the grounds of faith that God never exercises such causal efficacy? The rejection of the support of the miraculous, whether one agrees or not, is clearly defensible. But that faith itself provides adequate grounds for denying the occurrence of miracles is very doubtful indeed. Furthermore, to make this negative assertion on the grounds of faith is to make faith the basis of a particular world view. This would lead to the development of a Christian natural theology. We may safely assume this is not Bultmann’s intention.
Faith knows itself as the gift of God’s grace through free decision. What seems to follow from this is that faith understands itself as wholly unaffected by beliefs about the causality of objective, this-worldly events. In this case, faith can be the basis neither of affirming nor of denying that God has causal efficacy for such events.
The intention of the foregoing argument is to show that acceptance of Bultmann’s understanding may entail the consequence that world views are irrelevant to faith but does not entail the particular world view that sees the world as closed to transcendence. If this view is to be maintained, some other basis must be offered.
We are now prepared to understand what Bultmann means when he asserts that he takes the modern world view as a criterion. (Jesus Christ and Mythology, p. 35; " A Chapter in the Problem of Demythologizing," in McArthur, op. cit. pp. 2-3.) He emphatically does not mean that this world view has any essential relation to faith. However, once we see the indifference of faith to such questions, we can be quite open to whatever world view the most reliable contemporary thinking offers. We do not demythologize in order to harmonize with that world view; our motivation is to do justice to faith itself. But in carrying out our demythologizing with respect to matters that are theologically indifferent, we can be guided by contemporary nontheological thought.
In this context the modern world view plays a role in Bultmann’s work. It is this world view which demands the doctrine that the world is closed to transcendence. All scientific and philosophical thought, he affirms, agrees on this point. On the authority of modern thought, therefore, it is properly accepted by theology.
Against Bultmann, we may argue that no such unanimity exists among serious contemporary thinkers. Major philosophical traditions in the English-speaking world have found it necessary to attribute to God a causal role in natural and historical processes.
Bultmann is aware that some philosophers have regarded God as in interaction with the world and that this tradition cannot be rejected simply on the basis of a negative consensus among many modern thinkers. To do this would be to enter into a philosophic debate for the purpose of establishing a principle of his theology, and Bultmann wishes to avoid such a procedure. Hence, he states that the philosophical idea of God as Arché is irrelevant for theology and has no bearing on what he means when he affirms the closedness of the this-worldly to the transcendent. (Kerygma and Myth, pp. 103-104)
My criticism of Bultmann here is not that his doctrine of the closedness of the world is false but that it cannot be taken as axiomatic on the basis of philosophic consensus. Some philosophers do not understand God as limited, in his relations to the world, to the function of the Greek Arché. We saw in Chapter 3 that it is possible to argue that the idea of cosmic mind in personal interaction with its creatures is the best philosophical explanation of what we have learned from science and personal experience. Such a claim may be erroneous, but it is not self-evidently so. If it is to be rejected, philosophic arguments are necessary.
Even if one finds it possible simply to ignore the philosophical tradition of cosmic theism as anachronistic, one must still acknowledge serious philosophical difficulties with the doctrine of the closedness of the world. This doctrine assumes that the closedness is constituted by a system of causal relations that are impervious to causal influences from without. But the very idea of causality has been in difficulty since the time of Hume and has been abandoned by many leading physicists as well as philosophers. Although it is still commonly employed in the life sciences and by historians, to the extent that they take their conceptual models and world view from physics, they are having to learn to do without it. If the idea of causality is abandoned in favor of sheer phenomenal descriptions based upon statistical procedures, then assertions about the closedness, or about the openness, of the world to transcendence become simply meaningless.
The point of all this is that the doctrine that the world is closed to God cannot be vindicated apart from philosophical discussion and particular philosophical commitments. If the doctrine is crucial to Bultmann’s theological method, then the conclusion must be that a philosophical conviction plays a role in his thought parallel to that which natural theology plays in the thought of the theologians treated in Part I. This would, of course, be diametrically in conflict with his intention.
Before judging Bultmann in this way, we must re-examine the importance of the doctrine of the closedness of the world for his whole procedure. We have assumed thus far that this doctrine is methodologically crucial to Bultmann’s theology. However, it may be that most if not all of what follows from this philosophical doctrine can follow also from the theological doctrine that the world view is a matter of indifference to faith. If so, substantial reconstruction of Bultmann’s argument would be required, but his basic position would remain intact. (Bultmann has moved away from emphasis on the modern world view toward emphasis on the indifference of faith to all world views. Hence, such a reconstruction of his argument might well be demanded by his present theological position. Note the last sentence of Jesus Christ and Mythology, p. 85. See also "The Problem of Miracle," Religion in Life, Vol. 27, 1957-1958, pp. 63-75.)
This possibility is so important that some exposition of its implications is needed. Demythologizing would be carried out in purely theological terms. That is, the expositor would make no judgment whatever with regard to the factual occurrence of New Testament miracles or even the existence of such spheres of reality as heaven and hell and the spirits that inhabit them. His private credulity or incredulity would be simply set aside. He would not deny that spirits may invade this world and that objective events may be affected by God’s acts. But all this would simply be affirmed as theologically irrelevant. Theologically, only existence in faith matters, and this would be so expounded as to show precisely the irrelevance of everything else.
Such a program would necessarily have a tone and content quite different from that of Bultmann’s actual writings, and this difference would be a good measure of the extent to which his acceptance of what he regards as the modern world view actually affects his work. Still, if by this alteration Bultmann can carry out his intention of avoiding dependence on speculative philosophy, we must regard such a program as the fulfillment of his own purposes. The conclusion is that, although many of Bultmann’s own statements presuppose a definite cosmology, world view, or philosophy that he cannot derive from faith, his basic program could be carried out apart from these presuppositions.
It is clear that Bultmann has been strengthened in his conviction of the irrelevance to faith of natural theology and divine activity in the world, as objectively known, by his confidence that these things do not exist. If this support to the doctrine of irrelevance is removed by the abandonment of commitment to the world view that is presupposed, then the doctrine may prove difficult to sustain. That it remains a systematic, if largely unexplored, possibility, however, this does not deny.
The theological method at which we have now arrived would make faith central in every sense. It would show that faith is the ground not only for the Christian’s own self-understanding and Christology but also for his belief in the reality of God. Faith is also the basis for ruling out as irrelevant every world view, ancient and modern, and for accepting a phenomenology of human existence as a pre-understanding for its comprehension. Since the faith in question is that to which the New Testament witnesses, everything will depend on the accuracy of the apprehension of the deepest meaning of faith in the New Testament. If New Testament faith is, as it is claimed, neutral and indifferent with respect to all possible world views (e.g., materialism, idealism, personalism) and to all possible acts of God in the objective course of events (e.g., the visible appearance of the resurrected Jesus), then a theological method should be possible that is loyal to Christian faith and indifferent to all else that is not phenomenologically established.
Serious criticism of this procedure must await its embodiment, but a crucial test is apparent when we turn to the third of the elements of wider philosophic import that Bultmann includes in his theology, that is, human freedom. Presumably, no Christian theology that could be considered Bultmannian could dispense with the idea that man in faith is free.
In Bultmann’s own work, the idea of freedom appears within the phenomenological preunderstanding and is confirmed and actualized in New Testament faith. This procedure acknowledges dependence upon philosophy but only provisionally and in its nonspeculative form. However, we must ask whether the provisional acceptance and confirmation of this preunderstanding does not involve the abandonment of neutrality with respect to speculative philosophies and world views. Can we say that the theologicophenomenological affirmation of freedom is neutral with respect to a reductionistic-deterministic philosophy that understands mind and spirit as epiphenomenal manifestations of matter in motion? I assume that here Christian faith is radically incompatible with some philosophies, that it does, therefore, have implications for the choice of philosophy.
A theology based on faith alone can avoid this conclusion only if it asserts that its affirmation about freedom is at a level of discourse wholly different from that at which speculative philosophy operates. (Bultmann sometimes expresses this sense of faith’s transcending all world views and philosohical accounts of being. See, for example, Jesus Christ and Mythology, pp. 64-65.) Then it must abandon the support or even the use of a phenomenological analysis of human existence or else assert that it, too, operates at a level alien to all speculative philosophy. But such assertions would not only involve extensive and highly disputable judgments about the whole history of philosophy but also imply a profound duality in being, which view could itself not escape speculative philosophical consequences.
If this is correct, then in a Bultmannian context it is possible to escape dependence on a natural theology in the sense of an autonomous world view or speculative philosophy only if some elements of such a philosophy are affirmed on the basis of faith. This would mean that a Christian natural theology, however circumscribed, would in principle be accepted.
The critical conclusion of this over-all analysis of Bultmann’s theological method is twofold. First, we must raise serious questions as to the intelligibility of his central affirmation as to the act of God in Jesus Christ. We have attempted a variety of interpretations of this affirmation only to find that each, when consistently developed, leads to consequences that Bultmann has been unwilling to adopt. As a result we have been forced to understand him as saying that the decisive act of God took place in the disciples rather than in Jesus. Thereby Bultmann may attain to internal consistency but only at the sacrifice of full faithfulness to the New Testament kerygma.
Second, Bultmann himself makes use of the modern world view in a way that causes it to function, albeit negatively, as a natural theology. This is a serious inconsistency in his position as it stands. However, his basic hermeneutical and theological program could be carried out without making such use of the modern world view. The only objection to this procedure is that it places a very heavy burden, both positively and negatively, upon the precise accuracy of a particular apprehension of the deepest New Testament meaning of faith. Furthermore, it cannot escape affirmations that are not neutral among speculative philosophies, and hence, it leads in principle to the formulation of a Christian natural theology.
It is not surprising that those who have been most influenced by Bultmann have moved in quite divergent directions. It is not surprising that so many of Bultmann’s critics have agreed on the fundamental inconsistency of his kerygmatic affirmation of God’s act in Jesus Christ and his basic existentialist commitments. But it is also not surprising that Bultmann s brilliant and daring theological proposals have become the focus for much of the most creative theological work of our time.