Jesus Christ and mythology

by Rudolf Bultmann

Hardcover, 1958




Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey : Prentice Hall, 1958.


Library of Liberal Arts title.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jburlinson
A series of lectures delivered at Yale, Vanderbilt and a number of other American divinity schools in the early 1950's and an outstanding introduction to Bultmann's theology. In a very short book, he covers de-mythologizing of the New Testament, reinterpreting mythological eschatology, integrating the Christian message and the modern, i.e. scientific, world view, and correlating biblical interpretation with existentialist philosophy. When the reader finishes with the last chapter, it would be a good idea to start right back at the beginning and re-read immediately, because, while the early parts of the book are perfectly comprehensible the first time around, they are much more meaningful when read in light of the entire book. Kind of like the Bible itself, I suppose.… (more)
LibraryThing member Iacobus
To pretend that I can begin to adequately summarise what Bultmann says in this book would be foolish. Bultmann expresses his faith very differently that I do. I would need to immerse myself much more into his writings (and criticism of them) to begin to grasp him. Bultmann can be elusive at times, to the point of being, at times, mystical. Yet, if I do not interact with this book, I can hardly justify the time spent reading it.

The basic questions he poses in this book are two-fold: can New Testament Christianity make any sense to “modern man” (educated people formed in the scientific world view of the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century)? And, secondly, is existentialism the best way to clothe Christianity for modern man?

Bultmann answers the first question by proposing that the biblical world view, which he calls “mythological” (ie anything that smacks of miracle or narrative), needs to be stripped away, to leave an inner meaning, a kerygma, that addresses us. He answers the second question in the affirmative, seeing in existentialism a philosophy that speaks to modern man, and that also one that can faithfully capture the essence of the New Testament message.

Because I answer these two questions very differently, it is clear that I can have little sympathy with Bultmann’s agenda. Cultural movements since the 1950s have exposed the emptiness of the modernist agenda in meeting the spiritual needs of people (this cultural realisation is what causes Dawkins to squeak so loudly). Our postmodern culture yearns for spiritual depth and meaning.

Demythologization is. therefore, both unnecessary and, I would think, indefensible in terms of exegesis. Sure, we need to move away from pictures of a devil with horns and a pitchfork (not a biblical picture anyhow), or from thinking that heaven is literally a place up there, as hell is down there, just as we have moved beyond an uneasy acceptance of slavery. But can the New Testament message remain Christian without narrative and the miraculous. I would argue not.

Questions of existence still need to be addressed. They were not asked by the biblical authors, but need to be asked by contemporary theology. I think they can be adequately answered, with integrity, by the biblical message.

Is there any value in reading this book? I think that there is. Firstly, one is confronted by the need the address the concerns of our society, and not just bludgeon believers and unbelievers with Christian dogma. Christianity may have to wear radically different clothes. Secondly, there is a real sense in which God does confront me in the “here and now”, and in which I must decide to engage with the future. However, to limit god to the “existential problem” seems far too narrow to me.

It may be apparent to some that I have failed to grasp Bultmann’s real meaning or value. Unfortunately, his proposals seem to be to be a relic of a world view which is itself disappearing (if it ever existed beyond a university-educated elite).
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