Friday, 3 October 2008

Bultmann on his critics

Having recovered from my first encounter with Bultmann, I decided to start by actually reading a brief introduction that Bultmann wrote to a collection of essays discussing his theology. Bultmann is famous for his idea that we need to 'demythologize' the NT. That is, we need to strip it of its mythical elements - so that we can get to the heart, the kerygma. I will hopefully post more on this later, but the introduction is fascinating to read in terms of how he received the criticism that came his way. I have included some pretty big chunks of text below - but they are worth reading...

He begins:

Apart from purely personal correspondence the daily mail arriving in recent years on my desk can be divided into four groups: 1, book catalogues; 2, advertisements for wine and cigars; 3, East German propaganda; and 4, letters on the subject of demythologizing.

It is the 4th group that he is concerned about:

It is incredible how many people assume the right to sit in judgement on me when they have never read a single word of mine. I could not possibly reply to all of them. In certain cases I have replied, especially when they have attacked my person with special severity. Some, for example, have prophesied that I would come to a dreadful end like Voltaire or Nietzsche. In that case I inquired on what grounds the -writer based this, and which of my writings he had read. The reply came without fail: he had read none of my writings! He had simply lathered from some Sunday paper or parish magazine that I am a teacher of false doctrines.

Bultmann is then scathing about the publishers:

I consider it irresponsible that Sunday papers or parish magazines should bring the topic - I almost said the slogan - of demythologizing before the laity at all, a topic of which they understand nothing, and which they are bound to misinterpret because it needs a theological education to understand it.

He then gets to the heart of the matter:

What is especially shattering is the inability of such writers of articles, and the correspondents they have misled, to face up to the question. With unflinching pharisaism they condemn an opinion different from their own as false doctrine, in the certain conviction that their own opinion alone represents the truth. 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. Thus they show that they are deaf to questions which nowadays trouble many people - young and old - in the Church, and hat by closing their ears to such questions they also deprive themselves of the opportunity of helping those who ask these questions. Thus it is their fault as much a much as anyone’s many people turn their backs on the Church. They are like the scribes and Pharisees who stop others from entering the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 23.13; Luke 11.52). Some of my correspondents try to lecture me in a way which I can only call conceited. They point to biblical passages without stopping to link that I have been familiar with those passages for years and without giving me the benefit of the doubt that in the course of my profession I have had reason to reflect on their meaning. Thus they do not credit me with any conscientious work, but reproach me for being irresponsible ad superficial. I consider that impertinent as well as conceited. And although it is touching that some of my correspondents assure me that they are praying for my conversion the same conceited attitude lies behind this.

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