Rudolf Bultmann: The Man of Faith

There’s a very fine essay here which once appeared in The Christian Century titled Rudolf Bultmann: Scholar of Faith.

Rudolf Bultmann — who died on July 30, 1976 at the advanced age of 91–was the last of the theological giants who grew up in the universities of the Kaiser’s Germany (he began to study theology in 1903at 19),and the last of the prophets who struggled to hear the word of the Christians’ Lord after what had happened in 1914.Teaching New Testament at Marburg University from 1921to 1951, Bultmann exerted all his many talents in order to recover the highest tradition of German biblical scholarship after the interruption of the war. Giving his acute and well-stored mind to the problems of biblical interpretation, or hermeneutics, he developed the science of form criticism with Martin Dibelius. However, he also took very seriously the world around him — the postwar world of the Weimar Republic, groping for financial as well as spiritual stability (in the end, its gospel was Mein Kampf).


In his volume of wartime Marburg sermons, translated as This World and the Beyond (Scribner’s, 1960),he did not supply a commentary on the news. Instead — and with as much success as any Christian preacher could expect — he addressed the fears which gripped young and old. It was a traditional and individualist message, and he would say much the same thing to Sheffield industrial workers in time of peace (reprinted in The Honest to God Debate). It was not colloquial; it was not sociological. But in point of fact Bultmann’s theology helped to keep many individuals within the great tradition of faith in the eternal God, the God revealed in the crisis of the gospel of Christ; for in the jargon, although his work was to “demythologize,” he refused to “dekerygmatize.”

Bultmann, and von Rad, helped me come to terms with Christian faith and its meaning for today as no one else ever has, or did, during those formative years in Graduate School.  Others may scorn them and turn their noses up at them, but the two of them did more to see to the continuation of real Christian faith in Germany than anyone else.  Indeed, they were to biblical studies what Brunner and Barth were to theological studies.  All four are blessed men of sacred memory.

The simpletons today who scorn Bultmann are, in a word, ignorant of both his work and his contributions.  To be sure, some of his ideas have been superseded and others advanced.  But when it comes to the man himself, the giant of New Testament scholarship, the breadth of his knowledge and the mass of his publications, no one else even comes close.

From time to time someone will ask me where they should begin if they wish to learn the real Bultmann- and not the Bultmann of his opponents.  I always reply, read his sermons.  That’s the place to start.  There, the man of sincere, meaningful, real Christian faith is found.  Everything else is preparatory.

About Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.
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1 Response to Rudolf Bultmann: The Man of Faith

  1. Acidri says:

    Hmm….interesting. Wish I had known of this guy before.


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