What is the storm over Bultmann’s demythologizing of the New Testament? Hailed by friends as the monumental genius who has made Christianity meaningful to modern man, he has been charged by critics with both subjectivism and Docetism. He has been investigated for heresy, and he has had the honor of delivering the much coveted Gifford Lectures. What is the reason for the heated controversy raging about this man, not only on the continent of Europe and in England but now also in America?
Bultmann’s chief concern is to make the Christian message relevant to the present generation. A discerning student of history of the early Christian period, he tries to understand the Gospel in its primitive milieu so that he can divest it of all unnecessary accoutrements and present the original message in all its purity.
While his intentions may be good, Bultmann does not let this original Gospel speak to him. Coming to the scriptural record with a preconceived existential philosophy, he finds everything supernatural or other worldly to be unhistorical and mythological. Thus he declares that from the beginning the Christian message was couched in mythological thought patterns of the ancient world.
There were two mythical patterns prevalent in Jesus’ day—the Jewish apocalyptic notion of a final day of the Lord when the earth would melt and the redemption of Israel would be realized, and the Gnostic myth of the Greeks which promised redemption through the coming of a pre-existent Lord who humbles himself to save others. The preaching of the early Christians, Bultmann asserts, combined both of these so-called myths and thereby presented Jesus to use both as the pre-existent Lord sent to die on the Cross and the expected Son of Man who will come ...1
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