Rudolf Bultmann is very much the founder historical criticism of the bible, adding much to the works of those who would seek to understand the historical Jesus apart from the Christ of faith. To be honest, I have yet to find the interest to read Bultmann, however important he may be to others. While reading Torrance’s work on the Incarnation, I came across a few moments of interaction with Bultmann (one-sided I am sure) on the matter of historical criticism.
Before people vilify Bultmann, he was among those who spoke out against Nazism when so many German Christians were welcoming Nazi’s into the pulpits.
We must agree with Bultmann that what is presented to us in the Gospels is a kerygmatic Christ, but we must disagree with him in the way he handles this kerygma. For one thing, Bultmann works with a thoroughly pietistic notion of preaching as preaching which is wholly concentrated upon an existential decision, and therefore preaching which is to be understood from the decisive result, or the resulting decision, and not from it actions content.
The importance of that stands out when we think of Bultmann’s conception of the kerygma as bound up with the decision it requires and calls forth, in which the centre of gravity passes over from the content of the kerygma is not understood merely as a function of our own self-understanding achieved in decision, because it does have its origin in and motive power in the historical fact of the crucified Jesus. But according to Bultmann, the historical fact of Jesus cannot itself be the object of the kerygma, for it is the kerygma that declares its meaning and confers upon it its value as saving event – and therefore as a historical fact Jesus is himself ultimately irrelevant for faith…..
But why then was Jesus needed at all, for this kerygma could just as easily have been occasioned by John the Baptist, and if, as Bultmann might argue, it needed the crucifixion of Jesus to give it motive power, then why was not the execution of John the Baptist able to give it motive power?
Bultmann thus makes the fundamental mistake of abstracting decision (Entscheidung) from its objective basis in the historical Jesus Christ, but behind that mistake lies his abstraction of the historical Christ from the objective act of God in Christ. (266-267)
Irregardless of your view of the validity of historical criticism (a wise man once said that Christian has come through it because it has real substance – paraphrase), there is merit in delving past the words on the paper to see who wrote them. By ‘who’ I mean the communities which produced them, received them, treasured them, and interpreted them. I’ll post more on Torrance and Bultmann later, but I find it ‘calming’ that a man of faith like Torrance does not dismiss Bultmann out of hand by using ‘the bible told me so’ but by using other scientific methods, such as logic and even critical methods.