|A rare-ish picture of middle-aged Bultmann.|
“Calvin is a cataract, a primeval forest, a demonic power, something directly down from Himalaya, absolutely Chinese, strange, mythological; I lack completely the means, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, not to speak of presenting it adequately. What I receive is only a thin little stream and what I can then give out again is only a yet thinner extract of this little stream. I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life just with Calvin.”I could say the same of Rudolf Bultmann. He is a giant. A mountain that all theologians will one day have to ascend. Whether we make it will depend on our willingness to climb. But what we find when we arrive at the pinnacle is a German, wrongly demonized by those who have not scaled the whole mountain and, commonly, those who have not even come close to it.
I could continue to lay my praise at Bultmann's feet, but it's only a little over an hour away from midnight as I write this and so I have little time to discuss the great Marburger's life and legacy. But I do have time to discuss what I've read (briefly) and give my recommendations on where to start with Bultmann as all of my readers should, even if it's just a little.
Jesus Christ and Mythology is where I started with Bultmann. It was recommended by my friend Vincent while we were both in Israel and so I ordered it and began reading it immediately when I arrived home. This book helped me through a difficult time in locating the value of Scripture and the Gospel in the face of historical-criticism (along with Peter Enns) while coming from the general evangelical understanding of the Bible. Bultmann's book here is essentially an expanded version of his essay The New Testament & Mythology, which is why I'm glad I started here rather than with the essay itself. He explores many of the questions I (would have) had with the essay alone. In fact, unless I'm mistaken, I think that the lectures contained in this volume were composed in order to answer many of those questions. His purpose is simple: to clarify the Christian message for the world of today. That means, for Bultmann, demythologizing the text. This doesn't mean getting rid of the text that contains myth, rather interpreting it. If you can, start here.
This next volume, New Testament & Mythology and Other Basic Writings, is by far the best collection of Bultmann's most basic and most important theological insights. If you want to understand basic Bultmannism, go here. Read it in order. Take notes. Read for understanding, not to argue with Bultmann and show why he was such a God hating liberal (which he wasn't). Many a quotation from this essay have been ripped right out of their context and done great damage to Bultmann's reputation. This is a valuable volume and one I have returned to frequently.
Bultmann's TNT is arguably the most important work of NT theology of the twentieth century, and one of the most important works of NT theology for all time. What Bultmann did in this work is remarkable. Vincent (the same one mentioned above) and I worked our way through a fair bit of this last semester in our small (it was just us, haha) Bultmann reading group. I worked my way through the rest of it on my own time later, and I'm so glad I did. It's a treasure. This book, beside Beale and Goppelt, marks the most important bookshelf in my library. Crazy useful. No one who is a serious scholar has avoided this work.
I've included these two together because I don't have enough time to speak of both on each's own. These books are essential reading for students of the NT and the history of NT criticism. In HST, Bultmann, along with Dibelius, helps pioneer the use of form criticism in the study of the NT. He views the NT documents as documents recounting the person of Jesus from the perspective of faith. That much cannot be denied, that the writers of the NT were writing from the perspective of faith. But Bultmann is saying that they viewed Jesus consciously from the perspective of faith and so that is brush with which they are painting. This is why the historical Jesus is irrelevant, even apart from the mythological language with which he is coated in the NT. The Jesus of history has nothing to do with the Christ of faith, Bultmann says, because it is not κατα σαρκα (according to the flesh) that we believe but κατα πνευμα (according to the spirit). We do not believe in Jesus kata sarka because the NT speaks nothing of him. We believe in the risen Christ who encounters us in the now. These works do not so much build up that idea, but rather build upon it. JW is a historical study of the life and preaching of Jesus, although far less a study of his life than his preaching. He draws upon existentialist philosophy to interpret the value of his preaching today. In HST, Bultmann delivers one of the most influential books in all NT study. Dealing with almost every single passage in the Synoptic Gospels, Bultmann aims at determining the original form and the community behind such a form. It's required reading. Incredibly dry at times but always informative, even if a bit over the top and dated at times.
Finally. FaU is the first volume in a four volume series by Bultmann which contains a series of theological articles which helps to understand Bultmann's theology per se. The chapters/articles on liberal theology, the problem of hermeneutics, theological exegesis, the use of the OT for Christians (though it is best to read Primitive Christianity in Its Contemporary Setting on this topic, I think), dialectical theology, and Christology are among the most important ones. The things he said in these have genuinely surprised me at times and at (most) others they illumined what he had said in another place. I think my favorite of those, however, is his essay on liberal theology and why he had to depart from it. It accounts for his rejection of the historical Jesus and it is all but perfectly persuasive. Definitely get ahold of this volume, after, of course, you have read the others.
That's all the time I have for the late, great theologian Rudolf Bultmann. Here are some pictures of him so you all can recognize him on the great day of resurrection and thank him for being such a beast.