Tuesday, 13 December 2005

Speaking up for Bultmann

Mike Bird and I don’t quite see eye to eye when it comes to Rudolf Bultmann. Once before I have chided him for his opinions about Bultmann, and yesterday, over at Jim West’s blog, Mike again commented disapprovingly about the great Marburg scholar. Of course, Bultmann hardly needs me to defend him (does a mouse defend a lion?), but I couldn’t help replying with a list of reasons why Bultmann is still important. Here’s what I said:

Even those who disagree with Bultmann’s specific exegetical conclusions would tend to agree that his commentary on John is one of the greatest biblical commentaries ever written—this commentary is his magnum opus, and it’s impossible to understand and appreciate Bultmann without reading it.

Bultmann’s essay on the New Testament and mythology roused a generation of scholars from their dogmatics slumbers; it transformed the landscape of biblical and theological studies and set the scholarly agenda for decades to come. Bultmann’s conception of “faith” is one of the great material achievements of twentieth-century theology. His work on hermeneutics, interpretation and understanding was of the highest importance in the development of modern hermeneutics (don’t forget that even Gadamer himself was one of Bultmann’s pupils!).

Bultmann’s little book Jesus has been described as one of the finest and most important books on the historical Jesus. And among his numerous essays are many miniature biblical and theological masterpieces—Bultmann was one of the century’s great essayists.

Finally, more than anyone else in the past century, Bultmann united both exegete and theologian in a single person. At a time when the theological disciplines were drifting further and further apart, he modelled a biblical scholarship that is deeply oriented to the concerns of theology, preaching, and the life of faith.

So before speaking badly of Bultmann, just try to think of someone else who has achieved even half of what he achieved!


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