Friday, 3 October 2008

Bultmann on his critics II

Following on from the Bultmann post below, a few aspects call for reflection:

-Whatever else this tells us, it tells us that if we are going to criticise people, we need to do it carefully and thoroughly. To give a related example, I have heard a number of people (myself included!) who simply reject Barth's position on Scripture as 'Scripture contains the Word of God'. This is not an accurate summary at all. Not only is it discourteous to the person you are criticising, it will never win over them or anyone who has embraced their teaching. If you are going to reject someone’s teaching - you need to make sure that you are rejecting what they actually teach and not a caricature. (So, for a more accurate criticism of Barth’s view of Scripture, see Mark Thompson’s essay in this volume).

-It is interesting that Bultmann’s concern is to make the gospel understandable to those outside the church. This, on one level is commendable, but - as we will see when we actually read some of his writing (carefully!) ­ - can also produce instability in that the centre of your theological reflection becomes not the Scriptures themselves but your audience. It would seem that a number of modern distortions of the gospel follow this path.

-What are we to make of Bultmann’s call for what we might label ‘epistemic humility’. ‘

They cannot imagine that they themselves could possibly be in error. They cannot listen any longer to another opinion or feel challenged to re-examine their own position. They do not know that Christian insight has to be won in inner wrestling and in brotherly discussion, and that this must proceed step by step.’

As Christians, must we remain permanently in a state of uncertainty about what we believe or have been taught? Is there nothing that we can be absolutely sure about? It seems that actually the NT breathes an air of confidence. Christians are expected to be able to grasp and hold onto the teaching of the apostles. So, Paul tells Timothy to ‘ guard the good deposit entrusted to you’ (2 Tim 1:14); Paul can be so certain that the Galatians understand the gospel that he can warn them that if anyone preaches a different gospel they are under a curse (Galatians 1:9). These two examples - and we could add many more- show that the tenor of the NT is not ‘epistemic humility’ but ‘humble certainty’. Humble in that we continue to depend on God - Timothy is told to guard the deposit ‘by the Holy Spirit’. But certain in that the Bible is clear .

Bultmann raises interesting questions, and hopefully in the next few posts we can look at what he actually said, so that we can engage with him fairly and accurately.

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