Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Collecting Manna: Rudolf Bultmann

The proliferation of Collecting Manna posts, along with their focus on obscure German Lutheran theologians, means that the waves of paper writing loom high above my head, casting a shadow over the time I might otherwise be able to devote to blogging. In lieu of potential posts in the pipe-line, here's one of the fruits I've gleaned from engaging with the infamous and oft-misunderstood mid-20th century Lutheran New Testament theologian Rudolf Bultmann (a co-signer with Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer of the Barmen Declaration of 1934, which declared theological opposition to the pro-Nazi Christianity of Hitler's Germany). In his 1950 essay "The Problem of Hermeneutics," Bultmann throws down the gauntlet (not unprobelematically, to be sure) against any attempt to interpret Scripture that seeks to stand apart from the authoritative claims of the text, and thus, to evade personal implication in the claims the Word itself makes on one's existence:

"The true" is made visible in literature and in art, and it is to be appropriated there only by participatory understanding...the demand that the interpreter has to silence his or her subjectivity and quench any individuality in order to achieve objective knowledge could not be more absurd. It makes sense and is justified only insofar as it means the interpreter must silence his or her personal wishes with respect to the results of interpretation...for the rest, however, this demand completely misjudges the nature of genuine understanding, which presupposes the utmost liveliness of the understanding subject and the richest possible unfolding of his or her individuality. Just as we succeed in interpreting a work of art or literature only by allowing it to grip us, so we can understand a political or sociological text only insofar as we ourselves are concerned with the problems of social and political life...Here, the "most subjective" interpretation is the "most objective," because the only person who is able to hear the claim of the text is the person who is moved by the question of his or her own existence...

Unless our existence were moved (consciously or unconsciously) by the question about God in the sense of Augustine's 'thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it rests in thee,' we would not be able to recognize God in any revelation...(New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings. trans. Ogden, Schubert. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1984, 85,87)

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