Theological Significance of Bultmann

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  • Topic: Christian theology, Rudolf Bultmann, Johannes Weiss
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Philipps-Universität, Marburg

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fundamental unity in topics which range from source criticism, the history of religion, literary criticism, classical philology, technical exegesis, Gnostic studies, existential philosophy, and hermeneutics to the Gifford Lectures, the theological essay, popular and literate dialogue about the Church, demythologizing, and the relation of the New Testament to daily life?3 If the theological significance is judged in terms of intellectual climate, moral force, and scholarly style or by the more tangible but subtle influence on several generations of scholars, then the theological significance seems almost as elusive as it is palpable. Fortunately, diversity of form and subject is more apparent than real. The theological atmosphere and problematic shaped by Bultmann may be traced to concepts and procedures available to any critical reader. While it is quite correct to note, as did Hans Jonas on the Feiertag celebrated in honor of Bultmann in Marburg, November 16,1976, that it is impossible to separate the man from his writings, for he lived as he wrote,4 we are not here primarily concerned with Bultmann's personal psychological integrity, striking as it is. It may, however, be accurate to say that this escalating unity of life and work is grounded in the one objective to which Bultmann committed himself: the mediation of the Christian tradition, the attempt to make a particular religious vision and its theological interpretation fruitful for the present and future. 1 Rudolf Bultmann, "Der literarische Character der neutestamentlichen Schriften," Christliche Welt 22 (1908) 378 (two paragraphs). 2 His last commentary, Der Zweite Brief an die Korinther (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1976) was transcribed from class lectures given in Bultmann's last semester at Philipps-Universität, 1951, by Erich Dinkier. Some shorter articles will be appearing shortly. Apart from the sermons, Bultmann's unpublished material is slight. 3 A bibliography of Bultmann's own writings may be found in Rudolf Bultmann, Eocegetica (ed. Erich Dinkier; Tübingen: Mohr, 1967) 483-507. I have assembled another bibliography including books, articles, and reviews emerging directly from the work of Bultmann. 4 Interviews with some of Bultmann's colleagues, friends, and students are spontaneously unanimous in this judgment.




While aspects of Bultmann's theological significance are impressively conspicuous in his personal religious synthesis available to research, for the larger literate public his theological significance resides in the clarity and consistency with which he perceived the enterprise of mediating the Christian tradition and in the comprehensiveness with which he executed the venture. Even here, his theological significance is not simply the exhaustive scope and symmetrical integrity of his conceptual and operational framework, but as much the heuristic nature of that structure. The intention to mediate the Christian religious and theological tradition proceeds first as ontological process, as motion toward a term, as intentionality oriented to understanding. The process creates, apprehends, and expects progressive epigenetic differentiations of consciousness. This unity is dynamic and corresponds to life primarily and to reflection secondarily. When accomplished, the intentionality appears as a logical terminus, as quiescence, as systematized acts of judgment and decision. Epigenetically differentiated consciousness appears as finished and synthetic. This unity is logical and corresponds to reflection primarily and to life secondarily. To the first process corresponds a genetic or historical analysis,...
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