The other day I decided that I should choose one theologian whose writing corpus would be my “casual” reading for 2014. Several people came to mind, but I’ve decided to familiarize myself with Rudolf Bultmann for the following reasons:
(1) It has been said that he was the “greatest,” or at least the most influential (depending on the person and their estimation of the value of his work), theologian and scholar of the twentieth century. Now, I know for many others this should be said of Karl Barth. I’m not interesting in arguing in favor of either, but I must say that I’ve seen Bultmann cited far more often than Barth by those in the field of biblical literature. Since this is more my leaning I need to be acquainted with Bultmann more than Barth.
(2) That leads to my second point: Bultmann is omnipresent in the paragraphs and footnotes of scholars to this day. You can’t escape him when you engage historical Jesus studies, early Christianity, early Judaism (often in reaction to him here), the Gospels, memory studies, etc. It would be unwise of me to try to navigate this field ignorant of one of the most influential participants (if not the most).
(3) While Barth and Bonhoeffer are beloved by Evangelicals (although I imagine that much like C.S. Lewis if they were a contemporary of modern Evangelicals they’d be shunned by most of our institutions and disbarred from the Evangelical Theological Society for compromising on inerrancy, the historicity of Adam and Eve, and a variety of other divisive topics for our day) there are few Evangelicals who appreciate Bultmann. In fact, I think it is fair to say as someone who considers myself E/evangelical, and who has studied with Evangelicals for some time now, that Bultmann is outright demonized in some circles. I feel like I ought to get to know this person for myself.
(4) More often than not when I hear people speak about Bultmann who have not read him he is presented as the enemy of Christendom. Yet when I ask myself the questions Bultmann faced I recognize that he was attempting to address some very pressing matters while preserving some semblance of Christianity in a hostile age. Personally, I don’t have much of an opinion on Bultmann because I haven’t given him a fair audience (which, for you Barthians, I admit is true of Barth to a lesser extent). That needs to change.
(5) Bultmann is a pragmatic choice. Currently, I am trying to gain my footing with German. Hopefully by late December or early January I will be able to waddle my way around a German article and maybe later in the year I’ll be able to read some larger works. If all goes well maybe I’ll be able to read a bit of Bultmann in German!
I plan on purchasing Konrad Hamman’s Rudolf Bultmann: a Biography soon (it is only $9.99 on Kindle) to give myself a bit of context for his life and writings. If there is another preferred biography let me know. Then around Christmas or in early January I’d like to begin reading. I have two questions for those who are familiar with Bultmann: (1) Where would you start? Is there a particular work that is the best? Are there a series of two or three works you’d recommend in order to begin? (2) If and when I try to read Bultmann in German where do you order these books? Is there a trustworthy seller you’d recommend?