return to religion-online

Searchlights on Contemporary Theology by Nels F. S. Ferré


Dr. Ferré was for many years Abbot Professor of Christian Theology at Andover Newton Theological School. Copyright 1961 by Nels F.S. Ferré. Published by Harper & Brothers, New York. All rights reserved by Harper & Brothers. This material has been prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


Chapter 10: The Meaning and Power of Neonaturalism and Existentialism


In the previous chapter we considered neo-orthodoxy. In an earlier chapter we called this school the theology of authority. In contrast to this school of transcendence on the right we then described in brief the theology of autonomy on the left. Our task now is to elaborate this position more fully, especially with regard to its two leading representatives, Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich. The title of this chapter should be explained. Bultmann is an existentialist outright, but Tillich is one only halfway. Indeed, Tillich claims that the fundamental intellectual problem of our day is the proper synthesis of the existential and the rational approaches. He combines the existential judgment with the logos, or with the meaningfulness of experience as a whole. Because of these two aspects of Tillich’s theology, I could not call this chapter simply existentialism. On the other hand, the positions of both of these men are so deeply interpenetrated with existentialist thinking that the term could not be left out of the title.

Then again, from the point of view of classical Christian transcendence, possibly now misnamed supernaturalism, Bultmann and Tillich both are complete naturalists. The transcendence they accept is never that of the personal God who is literally the creator, controller, and completer of the world. In the light of what naturalism has come to mean on the American scene, however -- objectivistic scientism which rejects as unreal whatever cannot be dealt with by its own limited method -- neither of these men is a naturalist. Both of them fervently disavow, however, the classical Christian transcendence as primitive superstructure -- as almost superstition! The objective world-view of the disciples, out of which came the New Testament writings, was not, according to them, the heart and reality of the original faith. Both of them, therefore, reject a God beyond experience and beyond our world who is the prime originator of it, but especially they reject an actually living, personal God who, from beyond the world, acts in history and in the world. Bultmann and Tillich both explicitly reject such classical Christian transcendence as outmoded thinking for modern man.

I

Rudolf Bultmann is right now at the forefront as a theological thinker, or at least he is a front-thinker who is deeply challenging and influencing theological thought. He has spent most of his life lecturing at Marburg University in Germany. At the start, he was deeply influenced by Karl Barth, and has continued a dynamic, antiliberal thinker. But whereas Barth had espoused, heart and spirit, the transcendence of classical Christianity and carried it, along with SØren Kierkegaard, to its most radical extreme, Bultmann, while granting the right of Barth’s antiliberal crusade, went in the opposite direction with equal Kierkegaardian passion and conviction. At his side was Paul Tillich who for a while was his colleague at Marburg. Emil Brunner, in Eternal Hope, has suggested that Bultmann turned from Barth’s complete objectivism to entire subjectivism. No term, of course, cuts quite clean with regard to these men, but there is a real truth in Brunner’s suggestion.

It seems almost as though Bultmann had said to himself: "All right! Barth’s transcendence is both unprovable and irrelevant [by his own claim] as dependable knowledge for this world. Then why should we keep it? Why not be honest, real, and accept the modern world of science and critical thinking? After all, Jesus found his victory in this world. His peace and power we need. He was authentic. In him, whatever is real and right took place once for all. What we must do is to analyze both our experience and the New Testament message to find this original good news for our day." Bultmann continues to ponder aloud, "I shall let everything go that is not consistent with hard thinking and competent knowledge. Supernaturalism is dead for modern man. The modern world, too, in that sense, is post-Christian. Why not release the saving truth of Christianity by radically disassociating it from all outworn thinking?"

The fact that Bultmann dared thus to think and to begin his radical demythologizing of the Bible is surely a most significant event in the history of Christian thought, and I believe, since Christ is the truth, that it is of immense importance to world history. We owe an inestimable debt of gratitude as a whole to Bultmann for what he dared to do. For me, Rudolf Bultmann represents our greatest hope and our biggest danger among modern Christian thinkers. Before I try to explain these superlatives, we should take a closer look at what Bultmann teaches.

There are many sides to Bultmann. No one pattern fits him. For one thing, he is a devout Lutheran churchman. Long ago, John Baillie distinguished between religion at the top of the head and at the bottom of the heart. Sometimes we are intellectually caught in positions where, to be honest, we cannot see how we can keep the faith in the same way that we once held it, and therefore we take over the position that by now has come to be the most honest and real for us. At the same time, deep down in our lives, we may dwell in a persistent affirmation of the God whom we still know on a far more profound level than mere intellectual understanding. For this reason we can affirm that whatever else Bultmann may be or say, he is a great Christian who can proclaim the essence of the New Testament message in sermons that stir the heart and move the will. Both he and Tillich are great preachers of the Word of God who communicate far more and far more profoundly than their actual, final analysis of reality.

Second, Bultmann is a keen, critical scholar of the Bible, and even of the history of historical criticism. He may not continue the most radical line of Bruno Bauer in his denial of the historical Jesus, in the ordinary sense of history, but his application of existential ontology to the historical Jesus, whereby Incarnation in terms of classical Christian transcendence is denied, is almost equally startling for those who can really take in what that signifies for Christian faith. In any case, Bultmann continues the vigorous critical line of Ferdinand Christian Baur. The sheer vigor and rigor of his immense scholarship should be gratefully acknowledged and taken into full account.

In the third place, Bultmann is, foremost, a disciple of Martin Heidegger, one of the greatest existentialist philosophers of Germany, who has structured modern philosophy by his existentialist interpretation of experience. Bultmann’s devotion to Kierkegaard and his respect for modern science, plus his liberating stimulus from Barth, contributed to his collapse into Heidegger’s existentialism

Beyond his deeply pious Lutheranism and beyond his immense, technical, biblical scholarship, Bultmann is overwhelmingly, in any case, the man who has equated Heidegger’s philosophy with New Testament theology. Basically, Bultmann cannot be understood as anything so much as the grateful captive of a nonmetaphysical philosophy that equated existentialism with man’s only honest and authentic road to truth, which is in effect the knowledge of his own self. All attempts to claim that Bultmann has done away merely with an outworn cosmology, leaving the ontology of the Gospel undisturbed, are stuff and nonsense. Bultmann is no liberal who is bringing Christianity up-to-date by differentiating between outworn and indestructible elements of the Christian faith. He is the pioneer of the most radical possible retranslation and transvaluation of the faith itself into existentialist categories.

Rudolf Bultmann is an antiliberal, antisupernatural demythologizer of the Christian faith. For Bultmann, myth is "the use of imagery to express the other worldly in terms of this world and the divine in terms of human life, the other side in terms of this side.’’5Kerygma and Myth, H.W. Bartsch, ed.[S.P.C.K.,1960], p.10). By myth we understand, if I may interpret Bultmann, the conviction that the origin, meaning, control, and destiny of life and this world are from outside this world. He writes: "Myth is an expression of man’s conviction that the origin and purpose of the world in which he lives are to be sought not within it but beyond it."(Ibid.) It is the conception that there is a realm of being which affects man from outside this world. Thus, any change in this world described by science as caused by a power or powers not of or beyond this world would be myth. Therefore, for example, God’s sending his Son to the earth to die for man and to rise from the grave is the kind of primitive, superstitious myth that Bultmann resolutely rejects as intellectually unworthy and, indeed, impossible for honest and completely educated modern man. Equally mythical would be any account of answer to prayer by a God who hears from beyond this world and then "interferes" with this world order.

Myth, to be sure, shows that man is not master in his own house. He seeks for explanation and help from beyond this world. The real purpose of myth is therefore, according to Bultmann, to indicate transcendence. Man is not master, and he needs help. Such help is to be found, Bultmann holds, but not in terms of primitive superstition. God is real and Jesus is Lord, yes; but in different senses from classical Christianity. There is transcendence, or else man is lost, but the transcendence that is real cannot be had within the framework of the old, outworn, objectivistic superstructure of classical Christianity.

This is the heart of Bultmann’s theological thrust. This basic rejection of classical objectivity and this radical acceptance of Kierkegaardian subjectivity, minus Kierkegaard’s supernatural ontology, is the reason for Bultmann’s enormous significance for contemporary Christian thought and for his heading the list of those whose positions are violently rejected or passionately accepted. For this reason, we repeat, he is either at the forefront of the destroyers of the Christian faith or else a giant pioneer in its retranslation. Personally, I believe that we can learn unspeakably much from Bultmann, notwithstanding the fact that his main assumption is the complete denial of Christian reality in the Christian Gospel.

As stated before, Bultmann took over, in general, Heidegger’s existentialist philosophy.(John Macquarrie’s An Existentialist Theology, in spite of its careful distinctions, well illustrates this fact. On reading Heidegger in the original after years of reading Bultmann, I was particularly struck by the general sameness of approach.) Bultmann’s key to the Scriptures is Sein und Zeit. Karl Jaspers complains that, in fact, Bultmann knows only one book, Sein und Zeit, and that he actually misunderstands it. In any case, Bultmann believes in philosophy in a sense impossible to Barth. Interestingly enough, Brunner and Tillich both come close to Bultmann’s position, which is that philosophy can ask but not answer man’s basic questions. Philosophy can analyze the nature of man’s existence, Bultmann asserts, and thus clarify the issues, but the answers must come from the decisions themselves. Man finds his answers in his acts, not in his abstract thinking.

The real intention of the Gospel, according to Bultmann, is decision for the Kingdom of God. This is what Jesus preached. But since there is no Kingdom beyond this world for which to decide, man decides for what is basic in this world, namely, for his own existence. The Gospel has to do with authentic existence. Man is sinful, lost’ full of anxiety. What these affirmations amount to is that man has failed to find self-realization. He is suffering from a "fallen" existence.

Man cannot be understood in terms of his possibility or his facticity apart from passivity. Decision for the Kingdom helps man find himself, to be sure. But man does not decide in the self-assertive way of the philosophers. Rather, he accepts salvation passively. He is saved, not by works, but by grace and faith. To be free from anxiety is to be saved. To be rid of the state of guilt and its entailed anxiety is to be "in Christ" or "in faith." Thus, the Gospel instead of being otherworldly is really the direct answer to man’s basic need as he truly knows himself by correct existentialist philosophy. The New Testament analysis and Heidegger’s both happen to coincide, Bultmann believes, because both are true! Therefore, in his Theology of the New Testament, Bultman speaks of Paul’s writings as being basically concerned with anthropology! Of course in his system they have to be. And when Bultmann writes in the name of Paul he means the verity of the Gospel.

Nor should we think that existentialism is all individualistic, because, with Heidegger, Bultmann distinguishes between the existentiell (individual) and the existential (common human experience).(For discussions of these terms see Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, p. 13, De Waelkens, La Philosophie de Martin Heidegger, p. 3; and Macquarrie, An Existentialist Theology, p. 34. The terms also have different spellings. In his Gifford Lectures, The Presence of Eternity, Bultmann treats human history. There he finds that "the subject of history is man. Secondly, the relativity of every historical situation is understood as having a positive meaning."(Harper & Brothers,1957 p. 143.) "Humanity is always a whole in each epoch and in each human being."(Ibid., p.144) Knowledge of history is self-knowledge. Self-knowledge gives rise to numerous Weltanschauungen, relative to, and reflective of, the human situation. Christian self-knowledge is through Jesus Christ as the eschatological event, "the action by which God has set an end to the old world."(Ibid., p.157) This event becomes present over and over again in faith. Eschatology is no final cosmic catastrophe, but decision. This decision is not, first of all, for responsible action, but for a new understanding of man as free from himself by the grace of God. Then responsible action becomes possible because only he who is free from himself can be born of love and truly love his neighbor.

As a matter of fact, the heart of Bultmann’s gospel can be summarized in his own words: the Lordship of Jesus Christ, for Bultmann, means just what follows: "In principle, the future always offers the man the gift of freedom; Christian faith is the power to grasp this gift. The freedom of man from himself is always realized in the freedom of historical decisions."(Ibid., p.152) "Christ is an historical event which happened ‘once’ in the past; it is. at the same time, an eternal event which occurs again and again in the soul of any Christian in whose soul Christ is born, suffers, dies, and is raised up to eternal life. In his faith the Christian is a contemporary of Christ, and time and the world’s history are overcome "(Ibid., p. 153) Thus, however, even man’s collective history is reduced to a common human nature, ever facing individual existential decisions.

Bultmann claims that we know little about the human, historic Jesus. At this point he is at once vividly with Kierkegaard and Barth. The Gospels are the result of a mixture of influences: the mystery religions, Jewish legalism, and Stoicism. Bultmann’s book Primitive Christianity is a shocker to an orthodox scholar. Later theology, in every sense of Weltanschauung, however expressed, even in creed, is the importation of Stoicism into Christianity. It is the ruining of Christianity by a denial of its nature as faith. It is making an existence-communication into an objective situation. That will never do. Even to ask if Jesus rose from the grave, for instance, is to show oneself alien to the nature of the faith which is subjective, immediate, existential.

Instead, we must start where the Church started, with preaching. The Scriptures, he holds, have a clear order: the death of Christ, the resurrection, and preaching. Preaching, therefore, to be biblical must start with the death and the resurrection. The death is a concrete or public event. The resurrection is a concrete event only as preached. Preaching does not destroy or eliminate myth, but rather gives it an existential interpretation. The central Christian myths are the death and resurrection which mean the dying of the old self and the rising to the new self, the free self, the authentic self. Resurrection is God’s saying "yes" to Jesus. The resurrection is the Cross of Christ proclaimed. To believe in Easter is to have faith in the preached word.

God did something once for all in Jesus, in the central events of the Cross and the resurrection. Such a claim does not require that a personal God acted in history. A lonely affirmation of God as "a personal being" may be found in Jesus Christ and Mythology.(Bultmann, Scribner, 1938, p. 70.) If correct exegesis could take this literally or nonmythologically as God having self-existent, supernatural being, Bultmann’s whole impact would be altered. Nevertheless, for the record, the expression appears in the following sentence: "The so-called images which describe God as acting are legitimate only if they mean that God is a personal being acting on persons." The discussion that follows seems to give the context of God acting as a basic factor of the total existential involvement of persons. It means, as Bultmann writes in his Essays in Philosophy and Theology, that the stream of reality manifested its nature; it showed man how to gain authentic existence. What such a once-for-all act by God in Jesus means is that what happened in him when he became authentic can happen to all men. But it can happen only existentially, only for man’s passive acceptance of authentic existence the way Jesus acquired it. The hearers of preaching are to die and rise, to open themselves freely to the future; they are to find their real selves.

All of time is in the present. What happened objectively is historical. What happened in such a way that it can be accepted by all in the present is what Bultmann calls Geschichte, or real and relevant history. Without such contemporary involvement, what happened is merely historical, but not timeful in the fullest meaning of that term. As I have said before, to ask if something really happened is to destroy faith, it is to choose unreality, it is to seek security in externals. The Gospel is the great, good news, and what God "did" once for all in Jesus, "he" can now "do" for us, delivering us from our guilt and "fallenness" and setting us free for fulfillment in forgiveness, whereby we become more than victors over sin, law and death, and rise to eternal life in our freedom for the future as authentic selves.

This is no place for a full appraisal of Bultmann’s position separately. Nor is one needed. At the end of the chapter however, I shall give an over-all appraisal of neonaturalism and existentialism in which the theology of both Bultmann and Tillich will be included.

II

The most profound and far-ranging among contemporary theologians is Paul Tillich. (For a fuller discussion of Tillich’s thought see Chapter 11.) During the later years of his teaching career he has poured forth a vigorous and full stream of theological writings. It seems likely that he and Barth will leave behind well-fashioned theological positions to represent our day; and yet Tillich, in many senses, is beyond our day -- the voice of the theological ages.

Tillich was born in Germany in 1886, the son of a Lutheran clergyman. When he was fourteen years old, young Paul moved to Berlin. He was trained in both public and private schools and, being typically German, he went to several universities in order to hear such men as Bornhausen, Haupt, Kahler, Kattenbusch, and Loofs. His own characterization of his life is that he has always lived on the boundary: between city and country, between religion and art, between church and politics, between theology and philosophy, between the religious and the secular, for example.(For a most insightful autobiographical account see Tillich, The Interpretation of History.) In 1935, he went to Union Theological Seminary in New York. During the nineteen-fifties, his influence in America and throughout the world has catapulted, especially with the publication of his Gifford Lectures, Systematic Theology. At present, he is University Professor at Harvard University (a position of highest honor at that institution) where he pursues vigorously his teaching, lecturing, and writing.

Tillich’s thought has deep roots. One root is in Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling on whose work Tillich wrote his doctoral dissertation, and to whom, in his Lowell Lectures of 1958, he attributed his main indebtedness. Boehme and Schelling, with their focus on the deep, dark abyss and with their understanding of man’s going out from himself and returning to himself, have sired a large part of Tillich’s thinking and have affected the remainder. The neoplatonic stress on the ultimately unqualified one of Jakob Boehme runs at the bottom of all Tillich’s understanding of ultimates. In his book Biblical Faith and the Search for Ultimate Reality, Tillich simply assumes this unconditional, ultimate unity of being as true ontology. Ultimate reality is beyond all qualifications and descriptions. Even Being itself, which formerly could be ascribed literally to God, has now in the second volume of Systematic Theology become symbolic. A still later pronouncement is to the effect that he now holds Being itself to be both symbolic and nonsymbolic. Ultimate reality, in any case, never "stays put" within any subject-object relation.

The second root is in the biblical faith itself. Tillich has brilliantly understood and described the nature and history of the Christian faith. No one can understand him who does not see how deeply into his own being the Christian faith has penetrated. He is a great preacher, as can be judged by his books of sermons, The Shaking of the Foundations and The New Being. As a churchman, too, Tillich has understood and cherished the holiness and power of the Christian faith.

A third strong root is in Immanuel Kant’s general critique of knowledge. Kant granted, in effect, that as far as knowledge goes, David Hume had shown the inadmissibility of dealing with the transcendent or the supernatural. Kant advocated instead our dealing with the universal necessities in and for experience that were analytically true of any and all experience, or of experience in general, forms for experience as real as experience itself and logically necessary for it in such a way that experience itself could not be conceived of apart from these forms. The scene became thus changed with regard to knowledge from a realm of ultimate reality to principles of validity for and within experience, from the supernatural to this world, from the transcendent to the transcendental. Kant lives in Tillich more than most interpreters see.

A fourth root of Tillich’s theology is in existentialism. SØren Kierkegaard, of course, has affected Tillich profoundly, but so have the contemporary existentialists, especially men like Karl Jaspers. A recent reading of Martin Heidegger in the German has convinced me that Tillich also stands far closer to him than I had ever thought before.

For our purposes now, it will be necessary to confine our dealings with Tillich to his central category of history in its relation to the Kingdom of God. I have often felt that Tillich’s thought could be best approached by the light that his God is the ground of being. He is the power for being and the one who makes for unity and harmony of being in history. History is the creation of meaning by freedom. The source of such meaning ultimately is God; and heaven is the unification and purification of meaning. God does not exist as a person or being outside of this world of history and experience. Such existence would make him limited, conditioned, localized. Nor does the unconditional as such ever enter experience or history, for then it would become conditioned, relative, and finite. There is, therefore, no such God as is assumed naively by biblical myth. God is, rather, the power for being and for harmony of being dynamically present for history and represented in experience and in history by partial embodiment.

Creation as a cosmic coming-to-be out of nothing by divine fiat is symbolic thinking. To accept this doctrine literally would be to deny the source of the creature.(Systematic Theology, Vol. I. pp. 253-254.) Creation is, rather, the dependence of everything conditioned on the unconditional meaning and the power for being in the ground of being. Providence is not God’s active, personal activity, the interference in this world from some fanciful other level of reality, but is, rather, man’s capacity to adjust to the ground of being and to unconditioned meaning, and thereby to know himself accepted by God, rightly adjusted to the ground of being.(For Tillich’s view of providence cf. Ibid., pp. 266-267.

Tillich’s view of providence is easy to understand only if the reader observes rigorous distinction between symbolic and ontological language. The classical Christian view of God’s actual participation in human history through special providence becomes, in Tillich, "Providence is not interference." There is no "additional factor," and no "miraculous physical or mental interference in terms of supranaturalism." But "it is the quality of inner directedness in every situation." Prayer, according to Tillich, means not that "God is expected to acquiesce in interfering with existential conditions," but "the surrender of a fragment of existence to God." Prayers are powerful elements as "a condition of God’s directing activity," but this directing activity is nothing but the "drive" or ‘lure" of the power for being and for harmony. There is no special or personal providence as God’s initiative of concrete action or as concrete "over-ruling" of human history. What matters concretely in Tillich is, rather, man’s adjustment to God’s providence as a "quality of inner directedness in every situation.)

History moves forward in epochs called kairoi. Chronos is clock time, or empty time, which when filled by human decisions becomes kairos, thus constituting a basic structure of relevance for individual and group decisions. The standard for historic decisions is Jesus as the Christ, the right time, the fullness of time, the logos of God. He is unique and nonrecurring, for in him essence became transparent to existence. To put it another way, in him the full ultimate meaning of existence can be seen by the daring eyes of faith. It cannot be seen abstractly, however, but only within the conditions of its original appearance and from within the perspective of the present kairos. All such general kairoi are ambiguous and never transparent to essence, for they are permeated by the demonic element of existence. This comes out of the abyss. All finite acts as soon as they become creative partake of a possession by the conditioned order to things which in fact denies the unconditional order of ultimate meaning.

Possibly the best way to describe Tillich’s theology is by an illustration. History is like a sandy river bed. On this river bed men are living. The meaning of their lives is to build an edifice. This structure and the community engendered by the task of building it is the meaning of existence. The edifice is constantly being reared. It cannot ever be fully destroyed because of the drive within the whole situation, in material and men alike, to construct something meaningful. This drive is God who both maintains the situation reliably and urges material and men alike to meaningful fulfillment.

Individuals cannot start their own little buildings apart from the main edifice of their time. They live in the edifice, and whatever they do relates to that building. The building can never be finished, can never be perfect. If the building were ever finished the reason for existence would be gone. History itself would be finished. All men come from the ground of being and return to it -- the totality of the situation in its ideal meaning and drive -- when their own individuality is over forever. But since they come from this ground, they always feel within themselves the pull of its perfection, its infinity and unity.

Therefore, they spend their lives in trying to make their edifice embody their perfection, but unfortunately they never can. They never can do so because they, in becoming individuals, have become estranged from their true selves, which alone are perfectly united with the ground of being. But they spend their lives trying to return to it by living and working, in terms of their community and their edifice. Once upon a time, in one part of the edifice, one came who remembered and envisaged perfectly the true nature of the edifice and built perfectly, but his construction became so commingled with the building of others that it cannot be seen apart from the imperfections of the other building in and around it, and it cannot now be isolated and built over again separately by anyone or by any group.

The second reason the builders cannot build a perfect edifice or finish it is that water from the river bed is peculiarly and continually seeping into every material and into every part of the building, causing settling, erosions, washouts, and cave-ins. The edifice is a constant problem to the builders because of this evil that seeps into the building. Furthermore, it is not true that such destruction results primarily from the poor work of the ignorant and the lazy builders. No, on the contrary, the more creative and imaginative the construction, the more likely it is to be mixed with such evil seepage.

There is also a community of people who have made it their mission to see the building as envisaged by the perfect builder. They live in a constant attempt to live his kind of life and to build his kind of edifice. They help history the most by keeping ever fresh his vision and by seeking the power that came in this unrepeatable life. But they, too, all too often, grow vain and proud, and seek to build after him without partaking of the spirit of him who so forgot himself and his task as an individual that the vision and the power of the original ground of being came through in him. All people are related to him, however. Often some who do not confess to be his followers build better because they are more critical of themselves and of their work than are those who have a false feeling of superiority because they are the disciples of the perfect builder.

To build according to the pattern and the power of the perfect builder is life’s best experience and history’s highest meaning. Deepest down, all men are free so to build. This freedom is the essential reason for their existence, but they become bogged down in and by the actual situation of their existence. Some, however, cherish beyond the frustration of not finding entire fulfillment of their purpose or of their life, the vision of what they essentially are and most meaningfully are doing. Therefore, they find joy even within and beyond their frustration -- in the very depths of their being where true joy alone resides -- by looking to an end which is not the finish of the building but the realization of the true meaning in the building.

Such is Tillich’s system in an illustration. No parable walks on all fours, but in the main this concrete presentation gets at the heart of Tillich’s theology. In a world where science and semantic philosophy have reduced men to objects and where existentialism has returned to a real, free and responsible self, but not to the full overarching meaning of man’s creation by God and man’s final fulfillment in him, Tillich’s analysis of experience reaches out with much more hope than any other analysis’ offering a meaning to the whole of historic existence.

Those, however, who have found the Christian Gospel good and true, no matter how much they may respect and admire Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich, cannot substitute these theologies for their own faith in God the Father who has made us for himself and who will use the whole of life to prepare us for, and prepare for us, the indescribable realities and joys of his eternal life beyond this earthly preparatory school. Our Gospel centers in Christ who came to us from the Father, God transcendent, to save us by his own self-giving love, and who rose from death to throw open the gates to eternal life, now and beyond death. For sorrowing mankind, caught in the horrors of its own construction, no lesser Gospel will do.

The intellectual problems of `’supernaturalism" are, of course, demanding. The word, too, is unfortunate. No one can merely bypass Hume, Kant, Bultmann, or Tillich. In Faith and Reason, in Christian Faith and Higher Education, and in our next chapter, "Three Critical Issues in Tillich’s Philosophical Theology," I come to grips with the main assumptions of Bultmann and Tillich, and show explicitly that no way of looking at knowledge is more adequate than the classical Christian way and that Hume and Kant have not themselves faced in their antisupernatural analysis of knowledge the basic approaches,problems, or evidence now at hand.

Neither neo-orthodoxy nor neonaturalism can win the final day because their positions do not face the full evidence or build on the full meaning of the power of Christ. However much reinterpretation of historic Christian theology admittedly needs to be done, the Christian faith stands or falls with its indelible classical Christian transcendence: its faith in God the creator, in Christ -- God become historical -- in God the ruler and God the Judge, in God the completer of history and the bestower of life eternal beyond the narrow horizons of physical death. Such explicit focusing of the issue of transcendence is the only adequate way to appraise succinctly the works of Bultmann and Tillich.

Our existentialist neonaturalists, by whatever name, have helped us by a magnificent analysis of our human predicament and by their insistence that we face the problems of the mind of the modern postcritical age. We owe a deep debt of gratitude to both Bultmann and Tillich. They have also helped us by refusing the arbitrariness of the neo-orthodox, but they have not proceeded to that constructive center of the Christian faith where and whence alone lies and proceeds man’s true hope. In order to see Tillich, perhaps the most disputed thinker of our day, in greater detail, I am including a special treatment of his thought in the next chapter. My own attempt at constructive theology follows that chapter.

Viewed 95665 times.