Beyond Bultmann And Rome

Heil als Geschichte, by Oscar Cullmann (J. C. B. Mohr [Tübingen, Germany], 1965, 313 pp., DM. 31; an English translation is to be published in the United States by Harper and Row and in Britain by SCM Press), is reviewed by James M. Boice, graduate student. University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.

With the decline of the Bultmannian influence upon European theology, debate between exponents of historical and existential revelation has attained a significance for New Testament studies and for dogmatics that was impossible in Europe a dozen years ago. When Oscar Cullmann’s early sketch of his heilsgeschichtliche theology, Christ and Time, appeared in German bookstores in 1946, one critical review by Bultmann in the well-read Theologische Literaturzeitung was sufficient to cause many scholars to pass it by. Today Bultmann is no longer king. There is therefore no reason why Cullmann’s latest and most mature work, Heil als Geschichte (“Salvation as History”), should not capture a commanding position in the New Testament field in Germany and abroad.

No one is more aware of the marked breakup of fixed theological positions in Europe than Cullmann himself, who writes in Heil als Geschichte with deliberate attention to the rising theological banners. Cullmann regards the reaction of the Pannenburg scholars to Bultmann as a healthy one, although their renewed emphasis upon historical revelation (Offenbarung als Geschichte, Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1961) does not sufficiently delineate the relationship between revelation, sin, and salvation within general history. Similarly, according to Cullmann, the “new quest for the historical Jesus” (Käsemann, Fuchs, Bornkamm, Conzelmann, J. M. Robinson) shows promise in its interest in the question of history; but without a firm textual base this quest will succeed only in creating an existential Jesus, just as the nineteenth-century quest produced a rational one.

In order to influence such positions and to refute others, Cullmann has now presented a statement of Heilsgeschichte (“salvation-history”) that develops his principles vis-à-vis the criticism of the last twenty years and that seeks to establish beyond doubt the presence of Heilsgeschichte in all the major books of the New Testament.

In addition to his basic definition of Heilsgeschichte as a connected series of divine events, with equal emphasis being placed upon the event itself and its divinely revealed interpretation, Cullmann now places great stress upon the principles of contingency and continuity. To deny the first, a denial of the new as a basis for a reinterpretation of the past, is the error of the Judaizers. To deny the second is the error of Marcion, in whose footsteps Cullmann sees Bultmann to be walking. The significance of Heilsgeschichte for our time, affirms Cullmann in a repetition of his earlier thesis, is that the decisive event of all history has already come in Jesus Christ and that Christians now live in state of tension—between the “already” (characterized by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit within the Church) and the “not yet” (by which Cullmann speaks of an anticipated consummation of all things in terms of a temporal eschatology). In a new departure, the final section of the work seeks to develop a heilsgeschichtliche approach to the theological problems of Scripture and tradition, the doctrine of the Church, worship, preaching and exegesis, and Christian ethics. In these pages, from his chair of New Testament at the University of Basel, Cullmann glances as much south over the Alps to Rome as he does northward to the Bultmannian strongholds in Germany.

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For New Testament scholars, the most significant section of Cullmann’s work will be his detailed analysis of the New Testament (involving 100 of the book’s 300 pages). In these studies Cullmann demonstrates the presence of a heilsgeschichtliche perspective, not only within the Lukan sources (as Bultmann readily admits) but also in John, from which Bultmann draws most heavily in establishing his existential, “standing-always-in-a-state-of-decision” theology, in Paul, and more significantly in the historical teaching of Jesus himself. In reviewing the Synoptic Gospels, Cullmann does no less than establish a methodology for dealing with Christ’s sayings in the light of contemporary criticism and skeptical exegesis: by affirming Christ’s messianic self-consciousness as a nearly historical certainty—based upon Christ’s consciousness of being able to forgive sins, the teaching that in his person the Kingdom of God has already come, his conscious submission to a divinely ordained plan of life (“My hour is not yet come,” and so on)—and by arguing from this point to the general authenticity of the Synoptic account of his words and works.

In a number of interesting forays in the beginning section of the book, Cullmann further assures his position by a general castigation of the entire Bultmannian approach and exegesis. Such an approach is impossible because event and interpretation are too closely mixed in the New Testament to permit the Bultmannian applications of form criticism, illusory because the dominant ideas of the New Testament are based upon Christ’s own teaching rather than the experience of the early Church, inaccurate because it is the revelation of the event and its meaning that clarifies human existence and not an understanding of existence that clarifies the event, and unnecessary because the opportunity for existential decision so gained is already provided in the “between times” that characterizes the heilsgeschichtliche present.

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Unfortunately, Cullmann’s latest work appears at a time when a number of new criticisms of Heilsgeschichte are beginning to emerge within America, where until now “salvation-history” has found its most congenial soil. The least destructive criticism of Cullmann’s system fastens upon his curious ambiguity concerning myth as applied to events beyond the salvation line in pre-history (the Fall of Adam) and in eschatology (see, for instance, the editorial “Salvation-History and Its Meaning,” CHRISTIANITY TODAY, March 26, 1965). According to Cullmann, these events must be understood as “happenings,” even though they are enough removed from the line of historical events that it is permissible to speak of the biblical writers’ “demythologizing” them when they fail to distinguish between such myth and history.

Far more detrimental to Heilsgeschichte is the question whether salvation-history as a description of the divine revelation, even when presented in terms of event and interpretation, really does justice to the revelation found within the Old and New Testaments. Does the Bible not present something more than the God who acts? Does not God also speak? And when God also speaks does he not reveal information about his person (ontological propositions?) which go beyond the mere interpretation of his actions? From an Old Testament perspective, for instance, Princeton’s James Barr has asked whether revelation in history is even adequate to explain an event so basic to the heilsgeschichtliche perspective as the Exodus (not to mention the wisdom literature), in which, according to the Old Testament, the revelation of God’s person to Moses (“I am that I am”) clearly precedes and is indeed presupposed by the mighty act of Israel’s deliverance (New Theology No. 1, Macmillan, 1964). For Cullmann this problem becomes most acute in the theological approach to Christian ethics, in which God’s revelation of agape in Christ is taken as a foundation principle (Cullmann calls on others to produce the as yet unwritten heilsgeschichtliche ethics), but in which far too little heed is paid to the propositional imperatives of the New Testament sources.

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We Stand To Lose

The Strange Tactics of Extremism, by Harry and Bonaro Overstreet (W. W. Norton, 1964, 315 pp., $4.50), is reviewed by John J. Kiwiet, associate professor of church history, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Oakbrook, Illinois.

“The first fact to pin down with respect to the John Birch Society is that while its professed reason for existing is opposition to Communism, it is built on the pattern of the Communist party” (p. 36). This can be considered to represent the authors’ position on the methods of political extremism. On the basis of a careful analysis, the Overstreets mention as methods comparable to those of the Communist party: the worship of authoritative personal leadership, the elimination of difference of opinion, and the controlling power of front organizations.

This study of extremism evokes amazement at how strange the tactics of the extreme right are. They exploit the ignorance, fear, and confusion of many Americans. The four major targets for attack are the public school system, the PTA, the mental health movement, and the public libraries. According to the authors, these attacks are a product, not of any consistent theory, but “of anger and a will to be on top of some heap” (p. 268).

For the various extreme movements, the authors attempt to describe their origin and development, and their arguments and the refutation of these arguments. This they do on the basis of the movements’ own publications and of personal contact with them. Included are the John Birch Society, the Dan Smoot Report, the ICCC of Carl McIntire, the Circuit Riders of Myers C. Lowman, the Church League of America of Edgar C. Bundy, and the Christian Crusade of Billy James Hargis. The final chapter suggests methods of combating extremism based on the general principle that the liberal-conservative center must be strengthened if we are to be able to afford the presence of extremists in our midst.

The authors conclude: “This study has convinced us that unless we Americans get down to the task of appraising what extreme methods, of the Left or of the Right, lead to in the way of human sorrow and an erosion of the moral sense, we stand to lose the best that centuries have given us.”

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Jesus’ Own Words

The Central Message of the New Testament, by Joachim Jeremias (Scribners, 1965, 95 pp., $2.95), is reviewed by Everett F. Harrison, professor of New Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.

The author of this volume ranks among the foremost New Testament scholars in the world today, with books on a variety of subjects, including the parables and the eucharistic sayings of Jesus. In 1963 he visited the United States for a lecture tour, at which time the materials in the present volume were presented. They consist of four studies entitled “Abba,” “The Sacrificial Death,” “Justification by Faith,” and “The Revealing Word.”

In the study on Abba, which gathers up his research over many years, Professor Jeremias cites the fact that Jewish prayers fail to disclose any examples of Abba (father) as an address to God. What was so intimate as to be regarded irreverent to the Jewish mind was daringly taken by Jesus to express his own special relation to God. It was not only the ground of his communion with God but also the means of declaring his own capacity as Son to reveal the Father. Jesus, in extending to the disciples the right to use Abba, was admitting them to a unique fellowship with God. All this has a bearing on gospel criticism, especially the type that is skeptical about the trustworthiness of sayings attributed to Jesus. Here we can say with confidence that we have “an authentic and original utterance of Jesus.”

The second lecture traces the various lines of New Testament teaching dealing with the presentation of Jesus’ death, including the sayings that emanate from our Lord. The latter are of special interest, since the wide variety in form and the Semitic character of some of them clearly preclude any attempt to assign them to the Hellenistic church, and in substance, at least, go back to Jesus himself.

In the final lecture the reader is treated to a fascinating explanation of the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel, which is regarded as basically a hymn in which the Logos is celebrated as the Revealer of God and then is openly confessed by the Church in verse 14. In conclusion, revelation through the Logos is contrasted with revelation through the Law (v. 17) and also with “the whole human quest for God” (v. 18).

It is the portion on justification that provokes a measure of disagreement. Here Professor Jeremias detects a shift in the meaning of the word from its forensic sense to the equivalent of forgiveness. This may be allowable in part (Acts 13:39); but since forgiveness must of necessity be repeated, whereas justification is once-for-all, it is well to avoid confusion of the terms. The author consents to the dictum that the prominence given to justification by Paul was due to the necessity of combatting the Judaizing position. This can be pressed too far, since Romans lacks the polemical thrust of Galatians and nevertheless gives great prominence to this theme. Too much emphasis should not be laid on the thought that justification is simply an illustration of salvation derived from the law-court, for it is linked with the truth that God is the supreme Judge, and this is no mere illustration.

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The Capacity Of Reason

Religious Philosophies of the West, by George F. Thomas (Scribners, 1965, 454 pp., $7.95), is reviewed by Carl F. H. Henry, editor, CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

The professor of religion at Princeton University evaluates the influence of fifteen thinkers—from Plato to Tillich—upon Western religious philosophy. The twentieth-century names are Feuerbach and Dewey (naturalistic humanism), Whitehead (process philosophy), and Tillich (philosophical theology); they are preceded by Kierkegaard (Christian existentialism). The book is a valuable contribution to the study of thinkers influential in molding representative Western religious philosophies.

Dr. Thomas notes prevalent skepticism since World War I over the capacity of reason to arrive at a constructive religious philosophy. While neo-Thomism in Catholic circles defends traditional theism, Protestant circles have more widely reflected the departure evident in philosophical theology (which amends traditional theism), process philosophy (which reinterprets theism), and humanism (which replaces theism). But outside Protestant and Catholic institutions, the skeptical mood distrustful of metaphysics is more apparent in analytic philosophy, religious existentialism, and atheistic humanism.

Despite modern skepticism “concerning the capacity of reason to prove the Transcendent,” concludes Dr. Thomas, men are seeking “a new transcendental faith.”


With Competence

Colossians and Philemon, by William Hendriksen (Baker, 1964, 243 pp., $6.95), is reviewed by Robert H. Mounce, chairman, Department of Biblical Literature, Bethel College, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Those who have appreciated and benefited from the exegetical competence of Dr. William Hendriksen will be pleased with this latest volume of his New Testament commentary. Its pages reveal a careful investigation of the Greek text, a considerable mastery of the relevant material, and a scholar’s delight in fresh presentation of biblical truth.

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Hendriksen has furnished us with a new translation that grows out of his work with the text. Each larger unit of the commentary is preceded by an outline and followed by a summary. The two appendices treat the subjects of tactfulness and slavery. The work concludes with a select and general bibliography. Hendriksen holds that the Colossian heresy was a “weird mixture of Jewish and pagan elements”—a sort of Jewish Gnosticism. He rejects the interpretation of Knox that Onesimus was a onetime slave who became the bishop of Ephesus. The Pauline authorship of both letters is maintained.

One dominant feature of the commentary is the amount of argument and counter-argument that is carefully detailed on every debatable point. For example, on the identity of the “letter from Laodicea,” six differing views are discussed (pp. 194–97). Hendriksen concludes that the final choice must be made between its being the canonical Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians or a genuine letter of Paul addressed to the Laodiceans but now lost. (Cf. also the extended note on stoicheia, pp. 135–37, and the note on Philemon 6, pp. 214, 215.)

The minister who is about to preach or teach his way through Colossians or Philemon will find this sane and thorough treatment a dependable source of information and a stimulus to exposition that is genuinely biblical.


The Church Of Christ

The Mirror of a Movement, by William S. Banowsky (Christian Publishing, 1965, 444 pp., $4.50), is reviewed by James DeForest Murch, minister, author, and editor, Chevy Chase, Maryland.

The Church of Christ is an American communion two million and a quarter strong about which the mainstream of Protestantism knows very little. This lack of knowledge stems largely from the fact that the Churches of Christ have isolated themselves from other evangelical Christians. They became a separate body in 1906 when they withdrew from the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ). Both communions are part of the movement to “restore the New Testament Church its doctrine, ordinances and life,” a movement that in America began on the Allegheny frontier in the early years of the nineteenth century. Together these bodies have four to five million communicants and are “the largest religious movement of peculiarly American origins.”

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By an immense amount of painstaking research, Dr. Banowsky has produced the first scholarly and somewhat objective survey of the beliefs and practices of the Church of Christ. It is based upon lectures, addresses, and sermons delivered in the Abilene Christian College Annual Lectureship, which since 1913 has drawn thousands of Church of Christ ministers and leaders to the campus of this prestigious Texas institution. Since this fellowship of Christians has no written or uniformly accepted systematic theology, and no national church conventions or recognized extra-congregational authority of any sort, Abilene has become the sounding board for Church of Christ thought.

The author and compiler has studied all the 753 lectures delivered by 394 representative church leaders since the inception of the lectureship and has faithfully recorded the views expressed on such themes as the Holy Scriptures, the Godhead, Christ, salvation, the New Testament Church, the edification of the Church, the mission of the Church, evangelism, cooperation, benevolence, education, and “the Christ-centered life.” These views are presented against the background of an erudite and very revealing survey of Protestant theology and ecclesiology as it was developing during the same period. Dr. Banowsky has thus used the only feasible method of determining what the labyrinthine free Church of Christ stands for.

His study reveals this large and rapidly growing body of Christians as fully committed to the authority of the revealed Word of God and to the basic and essential doctrines of the evangelical Christian faith. They reject all human creeds, taking the Bible alone as their definitive rule of faith and practice. The study also reveals commitment to certain reactionary traditions and practices based on the opinions of men that set the Churches of Christ apart from the mainstream of evangelical Protestantism. There is, however, evidence of the abandonment of some extremist positions and of the adoption of more progressive modes of action that give promise of a day when a modicum of fellowship may be established with that great evangelical community in Protestantism of which the Church of Christ is really a part.

We are deeply indebted to Dr. Banowsky for this thesis in Christian understanding. It is a profound contribution to contemporary Protestant church history.


Book Briefs

Prelude to the Cross and Other Sermons, by Paul P. Fryhling (Baker, 1965, 149 pp., $2.50). Orthodox but lightweight sermons.

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Luther and Aquinas on Salvation, by Stephen Pfürtner, O. P. (Sheed and Ward, 1965, 160 pp., $3.50). Author traces the forgotten continuity between Aquinas and Luther and thus makes a contribution to ecumenical theology.

St. Augustine: The Trinity, edited by Charles Dollen, translated by Stephen McKenna (Daughters of St. Paul, 1965, 305 pp., $4). A condensed version of Augustine’s great work.

A Theology of Christian Experience, by Delbert R. Rose (Bethany Fellowship, 1965, 314 pp., $4.95). A very chatty and biographical presentation of theology.

The Wisdom of JFK, selected and edited by T. S. Settel (E. P. Dutton, 1965, 128 pp., $3). Just what the title says; with a chapter on religion.

A Layman’s Introduction to Religious Existentialism, by Eugene B. Borowitz (Westminster, 1965, 236 pp., $5). A needed, informative book that an intelligent layman can understand.

Understanding the New Testament, by Howard Clark kee, Franklin W. Young, and Karlfried Froehlich (Prentice-Hall, 1965, 490 pp., $11.35). By men who would have written the Bible differently.

Christ in Christian Tradition: From the Apostolic Age to Chalcedon (451), by Aloys Grillmeier, S. J. (Sheed and Ward, 1965, 528 pp., $8.50). A Roman Catholic treatment grounded in the conviction that if we are to understand the mystery of Christ in our time, we must understand what the Early Fathers understood of the mystery of Christ in their times.

Church and State in Social Welfare, by Bernard J. Coughlin (Columbia University, 1965, 189 pp., $6.95). An explorative study of church-state relations in many areas of social action, as, for example, in the acceptance of government funds by church-related welfare agencies. A valuable study.


Hanserd Knollys: Seventeenth-Century Baptist, by Pope A. Duncan (Broadman, 1965, 61 pp., $.95). A study of Knollys and his writings, showing the relation between Baptists of his time and other religious groups.

The Hermeneutics of Philo and Hebrews, by Sidney G. Sowers (John Knox, 1965, 154 pp., $2.75). A comparison of the interpretation of the Old Testament in Philo Judaeus and the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The Social Creed of the Methodist Church (Revised Edition), by A. Dudley Ward (Abingdon, 1965, 160 pp., $1.75). A very readable account of where the Methodist Church stands on a host of social problems.

The Ecumenical Movement in Bibliographical Outline, by Paul A. Crow, Jr. (National Council of Churches, 1965, 80 pp., $2).

God’s Light on Man’s Destiny, by R. A. Finlayson (Knox [Edinburgh], 1965, 79 pp., 4s. 6d.). Job’s famous question on immortality discussed in the light of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension.

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