Crusade Against Demythologization

Rudolph Bultmann’s influence in theological circles is rising on the continent of Europe and elsewhere. A leading critic of Bultmann’s “demythologizing” of the New Testament is Karl Barth, who wrote Rudolph Bultmann: An Attempt to Understand Him (Evangelischer Verlag, 1952, 56 pp.). This volume is reviewed by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, translator of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics and currently Professor in Church History, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena.

It is known that Karl Barth has emerged as one of the strongest European opponents of the so-called “demythologization” crusade of Rudolph Bultmann. The general lines of his objection are clear enough. Not so much prominence has been given, however, to the detailed points which he makes, and both for information and instruction it may be well to pass these briefly in review.

Many passages in the Church Dogmatics are directed against Bultmann. One of the most incisive is in Volume III, 2 (pp. 531 ff.), of which the English version should be ready in the fall. The whole of Volume IV, 1, already available, is also written in quiet but massive refutation of Bultmann. In addition, Barth has devoted a special study to the problem under the title: Rudolph Bultmann: An Attempt to Understand Him (1952). This work ought also to be available in English shortly, but meantime we may briefly summarize the leading points in the argument.

Admitting the difficulty of really understanding Bultmann, Barth devotes a first section to a statement of what he takes to be his three main contentions: first, that the Word of God in its living and contemporary power is the so-called kerygma or proclamation of the Gospel; second, that this leads to the existential faith which, as the death of the old man and birth of the new, is the real event of salvation; and third, that in its original form the kerygma is clothed in the alien dress of a different world outlook, and that a change of clothes is thus required for the modern scientific and historical age. In this section already Barth suggests 1. that the real work of exegesis, dogmatics, and preaching should not be to find modern equivalents for incidental scientific statements, but to bring home in the language of our own day the real content of the Gospel (pp. 4–8).

In the second section, Barth interposes a secondary question 2. which need not detain us, namely, that of the source of this whole trend in Bultmann’s thought and activity. He himself fails to see how it develops logically or necessarily either from Bultmann’s concern for historico-critical exegesis or from his professed desire to bring about a return to Reformation teaching (pp. 9–11).

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The third section brings us to the heart of the criticism on a dogmatic rather than an exegetical level. The basic error is 3. to think that the whole Gospel can and should be stated in terms of its benefits for and application in me rather than the objective work of God for me (pp. 9–11). But this is linked 4. with an inadequate understanding of conversion itself. Sin for Bultmann seems to be primarily the making of the visible world the true reality, and salvation the rise of faith in the invisible world. The salvation event is thus committal to the existential existence of the new creature which is man’s true existence. Yet surely this is an inadequate, partial, and very formal account even of the subjective outworking of the Gospel (pp. 13–15).

Beyond this, however, the New Testament makes it plain 5. that the real content of the kerygma and event of salvation is what God in Jesus Christ has done for me (pp. 16, 17). Thus Christ may rightly be seen as the kerygma, but we cannot shift the emphasis 6. and say that the kerygma is Christ as though there were no real Christ or work of Christ apart from proclamation and its effect. Tending in this direction, Bultmann divorces salvation from the historical Jesus Christ, who remains only as a starting-point, title or marginal figure of little material importance to the real event of salvation in the believer (pp. 17 f.).

The result is 7. that the true objective work of Christ has no place except in terms of its meaning for us. Attention is thus diverted from the work of God to what is not merely a work in man but in the last resort a work of man (p. 19). This is seen 8. in relation to the crucifixion, which is significant only in relation to the kerygma and the resultant crucifixion of the believer with Christ, not in itself as the actual bearing of the penalty of sin by the Son of God and Son of Man in our place and stead (pp. 19–21). It is also seen 9. in relation to the resurrection. For Bultmann this comes to little if anything more than the rise of Easter faith, of understanding of the cross, of the kerygma, Church, sacraments, etc. But in the New Testament it is surely the rising gain of Jesus Christ himself, and the appearing of his glory in the flesh in time and space, thus giving real substance to faith, the kerygma, etc. (pp. 22, 22).

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The direct problem of demythologization is taken up in the fourth and fifth sections. Complaining of the ugliness and provocativeness of the word, Barth points out 10. that the whole conception is trivial compared with the theological perversion (p. 24 f.). It derives 11. from a purely abstract concern remote from the basic interests of the Bible itself (p. 27 f.). In detail, moreover, 12. it involves Bultmann in four serious errors: (a.) the assumption that we know in advance what is or is not intelligible; (b.) the intrusion of the alien concept of myth; (c.) the destruction of the content of the Gospel by refusing to accept the fact that God has made himself “datable” by coming to save us at a specific point and in a chosen and prepared setting; and (d.) the failure to see that this real content of the Gospel cannot in fact be put in the demythologized language which Bultmann desires (pp. 29–34).

This leads on to a sixth section in which Barth tackles the existentialism of Bultmann. Two criticisms are here made. The first is 13. that existential understanding really means a self-understanding which is in fact the core of true myth. Thus Bultmann is really retaining the substance of myth while changing the external form (p. 34 f.). But in so doing 14. he leans heavily on the philosophy of Heidegger. Yet this is only a local and passing phenomenon, and it is hard to see how it really makes the Gospel in any sense more readily understandable even to the modern man (pp. 37–39)!

The seventh section is in some sense an interpolation. But Barth cannot resist asking 15. what mantle Bultmann is taking up in this whole matter. Is he playing the role of a rationalist, or an apologist, or historian, or philosopher, or possibly quite simply a Lutheran in the sense of some of the more dangerous trends in the younger Luther (pp. 41–48)? A warning is here issued that in some aspects Lutheranism does have tendencies towards a subjective soteriology which enables such figures as Hermann, Tholuck, Ritschl, and even Kierkegaard to appear on the Lutheran scene with no real sense of disloyalty.

Finally, there is an acute criticism in the eighth section of the whole hermeneutical conception of Bultmann. Bultmann seems to begin 16. with the assumption that there is a given possibility of understanding, a normative “pre-understanding.” But Barth is not satisfied that this is the case. He thinks that it leads to a worse enslaving of Scripture than any supposed mythological reading. True understanding has to be learned from the object, that is, from the Bible itself. The first requirement is thus an abandonment of the genuine pre-Copernican attitude, namely, that the self is the measure of all understanding. This is the real mythology which constantly calls for demythologization in all of us, but which Bultmann is in fact supporting and confirming. The whole menace of Bultmann’s program on this front is that it bids fair to bring the true understanding attempted in our generation into fresh captivity to the changing misunderstandings of alien assumptions and methods (pp. 48 ff.).

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On this twofold theological and hermeneutical front, and for the sixteenth detailed reason adduced, Barth thus calls for the firmest possible resistance to this apparently liberating but in fact reactionary movement. We do not need to accept all the reasons in detail. We may wish to state some of them in different ways, or to give them new emphases.

But we can certainly concur in the conclusion. We can be grateful that Barth himself accepts this conclusion, and that he supports it with such an acute and stimulating analysis. And it may be that we can learn from him to appreciate how serious is the material as well as the formal menace of this demythologization program, and to fashion a more effective, relevant, vital, and positive evangelical answer to it.


Christ Is Unique

Jesus in His Homeland, by Sherman E. Johnson (Scribner, 1957, 177 pp., $3.75), is reviewed by Robert Winston Ross, Professor of Bible at Simpson Bible College.

A well-written book, Jesus in His Homeland is internally consistent from premise to conclusion. At most points in the discussion, conservative and evangelical scholarship will be in agreement. Yet at other points, one sees views that are wholly foreign to the conservative position. What is encouraging, however, is that these latter expressions do not detract from the thrust of the book, which is upon the uniqueness and individuality of the historical person of Jesus Christ.

Sherman E. Johnson has made a significant contribution to the literature on Christ in his contemporary world. He proceeds by way of a step by step comparison of Christ with first century institutions, parties, and religious groups (formal and informal), and shows Christ to be the unique person that he is. Johnson argues that Christ cannot be put into any of the pigeonholes of convenience that would reduce him to an ultimate humanity.

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He is a recognized New Testament scholar and an accredited archaeologist, and his pen and his spade give support to his thesis. Using refreshing translations of the New Testament text in conjunction with a professional comparison of the Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Johnson provides what is perhaps the best feature of the book, namely his conclusion that Jesus is unique.

He gives some ideas concerning the kingdom of God which are provocative. Many readers will disagree with them, but often the differing viewpoints serve to make the book more challenging and useful. The book of Daniel is given a late dating, Daniel is identified with the Hasidim, and Deutero-Isaiah is assumed.

The Q-document and Mark-theory as the basis of the Synoptic problem is also assumed. Practically no consideration is given to current studies in oral-tradition theories in relation to the Synoptics and the New Testament. In a larger discussion of faith and history, very little mention is made of Bultmann and his program of de-mythology.

Is the Christian message historical? Johnson says that it is. Based solidly upon the message of Old Testament Scriptures, the Christian message stands firm. “… Christian theology must never forget the rock from which it was hewn, … the Old Testament and first century Judaism.” Further, “the heart of the Old Testament message is expressed in the teaching of Jesus, and in his ministry we have the supreme example of the activity of God in history.” Johnson further argues that the redemptive act in Jesus Christ is like no other. “To Christians the death of Jesus is an event that transforms all history.”

The reader will find a small but useful bibliography and a good index at the back of the book.


Serious Social Problem

Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, by a Co-Founder (Harper, 1957, 333 pp., $4) is reviewed by Mariano Di Gangi, Minister of St. Enoch Presbyterian Church, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Alcoholism is a problem of serious magnitude, with notable social, economic and religious consequences. One of the means which God in his common grace has raised up for reclamation of alcoholics is Alcoholics Anonymous.

This volume, a companion work to the “Bible” of the movement (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1939), represents the official position of A.A. While primarily published for the 200,000 members and friends of A.A., it contains much material of interest to the general reader.

Here in this “inside and wide-angled view of A.A.” is the candid record of the movement’s temptations and opportunities, successes and failures. Though stressing the need of surrendering one’s life to God’s care for deliverance and restoration, A.A. does not define God in terms of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, it does speak of “the fellowship of the Spirit,” “spreading the message,” “conversion,” “sins,” “witness of God’s power,” and “peace with God.”

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It is refreshing to read of a movement in which self-righteousness and professionalism are frankly recognized and rejected. It is startling to learn that brand-new A.A.’s, sober just a short while, may be expected to sponsor alcoholics still drying up in hospitals. It is shocking to compare the sympathy of an A.A. person toward someone in need, to the relative unconcern of professing Christians toward their fellow men.

We would be richly rewarded to consider this movement honestly, and to imagine what would happen to nominal Christians if they were to realize their need of deliverance. We would feel responsibility for aiding others in distress, sponsor new converts to the Faith, and concentrate on the one purpose of “carrying the message” instead of being distracted into fruitless fields of superficial religion.


Shaft Head Of The Mine

A Bird’s Eye View of the Bible, Vol. I, Old Testament; Vol. II, New Testament, by G. R. Harding Wood (Marshall, Morgan, and Scott, London, 1957, 207 pp., and 183 pp., respectively, 10s. 6d. ea.), is reviewed by Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Lecturer of Mortlake Parish, London.

There is no more enthusiastic Bible teacher than Mr. Harding Wood whose itinerant ministry has been enjoyed and valued by so many. These two volumes will prove of real practical worth to those who desire a concise guide to the plan and the themes of Holy Scripture. They represent, the author says, “the day-to-day digging in the Bible mine, through the years of a very busy life as a Church of England minister,” and it is his hope that they will prove an incentive to others to dig in that same mine.

Each book of the Bible is briefly analyzed, and questions for study and topics for discussion are added at the end of each chapter. Mr. Harding Wood’s intention is not to provide a commentary or theological textbook, but rather to take his readers to the brink of the shaft head of the mine, as it were, so that he may have a sight of some of the treasures which are waiting to be discovered. It is for the reader himself to go down and delve in the mine.

The two volumes could be used with advantage by young or recently converted Christians and by youth groups who are studying the Bible together. Bishop J. R. S. Taylor has written a preface in which he commends the simplicity and clarity with which Mr. Harding Wood has set out his material.

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A Question Of Ethics

Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, by Sir Frederic Kenyon (Harper, revised 1958, 352 pp., $6.95), is reviewed by Meredith G. Kline, Assistant Professor of Old Testament, Westminster Theological Seminary.

Kenyon’s original popularization of the story of the transmission of the sacred text appeared over 60 years ago. The present revision is an up-to-date edition with over 100 additional pages of text plus new illustrations. An introductory biographical sketch of Kenyon is provided by G. R. Driver. A completely new chapter, “Revisions and Translations since 1881,” includes an exuberant endorsement of the RSV and an interesting description of progress on the new English version, which is not a revision but brand new translation. The relevance of the Dead Sea Scrolls is duly noted, and partiality is shown for Kahle’s textual views.

According to the jacket, “the essential character of Kenyon’s work has been kept”; but only in a formal sense does that seem to be true. Kenyon, who was famous for his roles as director of the British Museum and editor of the Chester Beatty papyri, was generally evangelical. His doctrine of Scripture, however, was not altogether satisfactory. Especially disappointing in the original of our book was Kenyon’s account of the formation of the Canon and his decision to be noncommittal on critical questions like the authorship of the Pentateuch. Elsewhere in his writings he was worse than noncommittal on that subject. He advocated a concept of progressive biblical revelation in which the progress was not from truth to more fully revealed truth but from that which was error to that which is truth.

But if Kenyon tended to be mediating, reviser A. W. Adams, dean of divinity of Magdalen College, Oxford, is militantly naturalistic and negative. Symptomatic is the rather impassioned defence offered for his rationalistic bias under the guise of a plea for “free inquiry” (pp. 62 ff.).

Is not a serious ethical question involved in this business of revising another man’s book? After all a book is uniquely its author’s own—sometimes more intimately his own than a melody is its composer’s or a painting the artist’s. A book about the Bible is a form of religious confession. And the question is whether one not thoroughly sympathetic with the theological position of the author of such a book has the moral right to revise it.

Certainly failure to apprize the reader whenever the reviser introduces elements not congenial to the original author’s thought is a failure to guard sufficiently the principles enunciated in the eighth and ninth Commandments. Such failure marks Adams’ revision of Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts. An alien spirit has taken possession of the body of this old classic.


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