For as long as I’ve known the name “Rudolf Bultmann” it has been presented to me as something akin to “Darth Vader” or “Cruella De Vil”, i.e., the arch-liberal, the arch-nemesis of the drama known as “critical scholarship” of the Bible. While I am a confessing Christian it has become increasingly difficult over the years for me to trust the apologetics of my brothers and sisters. I appreciate their desire to defend orthodoxy, but I feel an ethical obligation, when possible, to make sure that I am somewhat familiar with the argument being rebutted, especially when the figure is a giant like Bultmann. (This isn’t always possible, for some theories are very fringe and there is not enough time in the day to investigate every claim made by each and every person.) So, I’ve been reading a biography on Bultmann while slowly processing some of his essays. I won’t pretend to be an expert on Bultmann by any stretch of the imagination: I’ve only been doing this here and there for a few months. I will say that Bultmann doesn’t seem to be fitting neatly into the categories I’ve heard attributed to him by others. For example, his essay “Liberal Theology and Latest Movement” in Faith and Theology, V.1 (trans. from Glauben and Verstehen I by L.P. Smith) sounds like the sort of thing my Barthian friends might say. More importantly, while Bultmann doesn’t seem to align well with the liberals of his day there are points when his understanding of encountering the proclaimed Christ makes me feel like a skeptic, like someone tied tightly to the epistemology of modernity. It has been an eye-opening experience.
You may be wondering if I mistakingly titled this post. I did not. While Bart D. Ehrman is no Rudolf Bultmann he is someone who plays the aformentioned arch-liberal, arch-nemesis role for modern Evangelicals. Bultmann tried to find a theological kernel in the midst of the husk of mythology. It doesn’t seem as if Ehrman cares to preserve even this much. So, again, Ehrman is not Bultmann, but they do play a similar role.
I’ve read several of Ehrman’s books over the years. Even when I disagree with what he is saying I find them insightful, provocative, and educational. I know people who have met Ehrman and speak very highly of him as a person. So, while I am quite sure I won’t align with Ehrman’s worldview on many issues I feel like if I am going to pay attention to the current debate over early Christology being initiated by Ehrman and embraced by Evangelical scholars it is only right and honest to read his book.
I will be receiving a copy of How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature —A Response to Bart D. Ehrman in the mail next week courtesy of Zondervan. Today I purchased the Kindle Edition of Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of the Jewish Preacher from Galilee in order to read these books side-by-side. The response volume includes essays from Mike Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon J. Gathercole, Chris Tilling, and Charles E. Hill — all respectable and respectful scholars. While I am sure there will be a lot of mud slinging and ad hominem attacks in the blogosphere I think the authors who are participating will be fair and insightful. If Ehrman is wrong about this or that point then let’s let the quality of the argument make this apparent. If he is right or insightful, then let’s maintain a posture ready to learn from him. For the patient reader the side-by-side comparison of these two books may prove to be a very educational experience.
Next week I will begin to try to blog slowly through both volumes. I have other things to do, so I can’t promise that the pace will be quick, nor do I plan on being very extensive in my comments, but I do hope to attract others who may be interested in discussing these two books, fairly and kindly. If you’re interested I invite you to join me beginning Monday. If you are blogging about either one of these books I invite you to share your thoughts/links with me so that I can dialogue with you as well.
One final word: I am aware that HarperCollins will benefit from both of these books. Harper One and Zondervan are both subsidiaries of HarperCollins. I’m not mad. If this publishing company is willing to create the space for this sort of debate, and it is a debate that interests a lot of people, then they should get paid. I must say though that this is genius marketing. You can’t lose when you root for both sides!