Saturday, 21 January 2006

Bultmann on the resurrection

Chris Tilling recently posted a nice series about the great German theologian Rudolf Bultmann. Chris expresses his appreciation for Bultmann’s contribution, but he notes (in a comment) that his greatest complaint against Bultmann is the latter’s interpretation of resurrection.

I understand what Chris means, and I agree that Bultmann’s view of resurrection is not without its problems. But it seems to me that there is also much to appreciate in Bultmann’s resurrection-theology. Let me mention three of his most important contributions:

First, Bultmann highlights the correlation between the crucified Jesus and the risen Christ. He makes it clear that the resurrection is not some kind of “extra thing” added to Jesus’ death, nor a mere reversal of the effects of death. Rather, it is precisely the Crucified One who is also the Risen One—Christ is risen not in spite of his death, but he is risen precisely as the Crucified One who died. Thus the Risen One continues always to be the Crucified One; and the cross and resurrection are not two events but one. This fundamental insight has had a profound influence on post-Bultmannian theology, and it has continued to be a central theme in the work of theologians like Jürgen Moltmann and Eberhard Jüngel.

Second, Bultmann sharply highlights the eschatological character of the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection is not merely one historical event alongside others, but it is the eschatological event—it is the event of the end of the world and the end of history. This formulation has decisively influenced later theology; most notably, it has remained the central focus of Wolfhart Pannenberg’s thought.

Third, Bultmann highlights the correlation between faith and resurrection. Only in the event of faith can we know God, since God is not an object that we can verify “objectively,” nor a psychological state that we can experience “subjectively.” There can be neither “objective” nor “subjective” knowledge of God, but only the knowledge of God which arises from our living encounter with God through the proclamation of the resurrection of the Crucified One. Faith itself, for Bultmann, is nothing other than “our resolving to trust solely in God who raises the dead.” There is therefore a close correlation between faith and resurrection: the proclamation that the Crucified One is risen awakens us to faith—and through faith we encounter the Crucified One as the Risen One. In all this, Bultmann seeks to take us beyond both “subjective” (e.g. the resurrection as an experience of the disciples) and “objective” (e.g. the resurrection as a verifiable historical event) interpretations of the resurrection.

Above all, then, Bultmann seeks to develop a theology of resurrection which does justice to the primitive Christian proclamation—that the man who was put to death now lives and acts as the world’s true Lord.

Update: See also my criticisms of Bultmann.

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