Friday 15 July 2005

Is N. T. Wright greater than Bultmann? Cast your vote!

My good friend Mike Bird from the Euangelion blog has made this clever contrast between N. T. Wright and Rudolf Bultmann: “As far as New Testament theologians go, many went to Marburg to sit at the feet of Bultmann, and behold, one greater than Bultmann is here.”

When Mike first showed me this lovely sentence, I told him that I could never agree: I found it impossible to believe that N. T. Wright is “greater than Bultmann.” Let me explain myself. And then you can decide by casting your vote.

Bultmann’s unique achievement was to ask new questions. Through profound intuition, Bultmann grasped problems which until then had not been conceived; he formulated questions which until then had never been articulated. These questions shattered existing paradigms and ushered in new ways of thinking about and practising historical research.

These were questions about the continuity between the Jewish man Jesus and the risen Lord of faith; about the relationship between faith and historical method; about the conceptual gulf between primitive and scientific worldviews. And perhaps most important of all was the question of how, in the first century, Jesus the proclaimer became Christ the proclaimed.

It was questions like these that transformed New Testament scholarship, and allowed later scholars to progress far beyond Bultmann’s own answers. For even if we disagree with all Bultmann’s answers, there is still no escaping his questions. Whether we love him or loathe him, we are all of his school.

In fact, doesn’t the significance of N. T. Wright lie, at least partly, in the fact that he has provided such gripping and compelling answers to Bultmann’s questions? Might we not even view Wright’s whole extraordinary “Christian Origins” project as a massive attempt to answer Bultmann’s question of continuity between the proclaimer and the proclaimed? And to this extent, isn’t Wright himself also of Bultmann’s school?

Don’t misunderstand me: N. T. Wright is a brilliant scholar, perhaps one of the most brilliant biblical scholars of recent times. It takes brilliance to provide compelling answers to profound questions. But it took genius to discover these questions in the first place.

Wright is a brilliant scholar—but Bultmann was a genius. And genius is above brilliance as the heavens are above the earth.

Of course I am being deliberately mischievous—just as Mike Bird is when he describes Wright as “one greater than Bultmann.” But what do you think? Is Wright greater than Bultmann? Well, let’s settle this democratically:

To cast your vote, click here (this will momentarily open a new window where you can vote). I'll announce the verdict in a couple of days.


Thomas Adams said...

I'm sure the polls have long since closed, but I would cast my vote for Bultmann, of course. You're absolutely right that he asked the hard questions that many others were content to ignore. Such fearlessness only arises from a deep faith.

Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

Yep, the polls are long since closed. But if I had a chance to vote it would be Wright all the way.

Bobby Valentine

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