Sunday 22 January 2006

Bultmann on the resurrection: criticisms

A couple of days ago I posted an appreciation of Rudolf Bultmann’s view of the resurrection. Some very insightful criticisms were posted in the comments, and I want to add my own general criticisms here as well. I think Bultmann’s interpretation of the resurrection is immensely valuable and important—but I don’t think we should appropriate Bultmann’s view uncritically.

I outlined three main contributions of Bultmann’s view; and in each case I would also raise a specific criticism:

1. I agree with Bultmann that Jesus’ death and resurrection should be correlated—but, unlike Bultmann, I would also want to say that Jesus’ death temporally precedes his resurrection.

2. I agree with Bultmann that the resurrection is an eschatological event—but, unlike Bultmann, I would also say that this event is eschatological precisely as something that happened to the “body” (whatever that might mean) of one particular historical man.

3. I agree with Bultmann that faith and resurrection should be correlated—but I would also want to insist that this is a correlation from the direction (so to speak) of the resurrection, so that the resurrection precedes and constitutes faith.

These three criticisms by no means undermine Bultmann’s contribution. They simply indicate the need to move beyond Bultmann—and we cannot go beyond him until we have first gone through him.


Anonymous said...

Excellent critique, Ben, finding your way through, without barging your way through Bultmann. Thank you.

Another angle that Bultmann fails to give adequate attention to - very interestingly considering his pietistic background - is the disciples' experience of the Risen One and the implications of the resurrection for their praxis of faith. Three examples:

Their experience - as cowards, deniers, betrayers - of God's justice as forgiveness rather than retribution, and of Jesus' presence as peace rather than violence.

Their recognition that is is a victim that has been vindicated, a victim with whom God has identified, a victim in whom hope is to be found.

Their realisation that the Risen One appears as a stranger, and is recognised by those not only at the centre but on the fringe of the community.

I say "their". If I were preaching, I would move on to "our". That the Lord - this Lord - is risen - what does that mean now for the Christian community?
The church's biggest problem - the church's only problem really - is that it usually acts as if Jesus were rotting rather than risen.

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for these additional points, Kim. I couldn't agree more with your closing remark. But I think I'd want to expand it like this:

The church has only two problems: either it acts as though Jesus were rotting rather than risen; or it acts as though he were risen but not also crucified.

At least in some Christian circles, the second problem is just as troubling as the first (e.g. in all forms of spiritual or political triumphalism, in the ecclesial disregard of the poor and oppressed, etc).

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Your re-emphasis on the identity of the Risen One with the Crucified is exactly what I meant by "that this Lord is risen". Thanks for making it clear.

Michael F. Bird said...

Ben, well said. I would have put it something like "he is cutting the branch he's siting on" ... but that's me. Good post.

Chris Tilling said...

Kim worte: “Another angle that Bultmann fails to give adequate attention to - very interestingly considering his pietistic background - is the disciples' experience of the Risen One”

Kim, good point! In particular, it is odd that Bultmann fails to develop the notion of the experience of the risen Lord, not just because of German piety, but even more so given his association with the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule - his own approach to the experience of the risen Christ was miles away from Bousset, Gunkel, Deissmann etc. This is discussed in Gunnar Sinn’s, Christologie und Existenz: Rudolf Bultmanns Interpretation des paulinischen Christuszeugnisses.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Chris - and thanks for the reference. Has the Sinn been translated? I do not speak German. Mark Twain is my mentor. I don't want to start an international incident, but among the master wit's bon mots are these:

"In early times some sufferer had to sit up with a toothache, and he put in the time inventing the German language."

"Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of the Atlantic with his verb in his mouth."

And, finally: "German ought to be gently and reverently set aside among the dead languages, for only the dead have time to learn it."

I confess - I have Sinn-ed!


Ben Myers said...

Kim, you naughty fellow. And isn't your wife a German teacher?

Anonymous said...

Oh - I should have added: my wife is half-German and teaches German in a Welsh comprehensive school!

Chris Tilling said...

Kim, I love these quotes! When I first told my friends that I was going to learn German, they thought it a pity I couldn't have rather chosen one that sounds better!

And no, the Sinn book is not translated, and almost certainly will never be. You need to start attending some of your wife's classes ...

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