Bultmann – Right in what he affirmed, Wrong in what he denied?

Wrestling with Bultmann’s affirmation of “decision” as the main goal of the teachings of Jesus, I wonder if he is not mostly right in this observation. He did tack on the whole “therefore getting back to the Jesus of historie is not important nor obtainable” thing, but do we have to have all or nothing? Hardly anyone denies that Jesus’s teaching did bring some sort of bifurcating process (e.g. “You are either for me or against me”, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword, dividing…”, “you cannot serve God and money”), it often brought people to a point of decision.

I realize that Bultmann brings with his idea of “decision” a whole car full of baggage of theological existentialism and realized eschatology but I am also struck by Ridderbos’s words in The Coming of the Kingdom, “Jesus’ commandments not only place man in the crisis but also beyond it. The Sermon on the Mount especially, mentions, not only a continually repeated decisive moment of conversion, but even more, a continuous and persevering life proceeding from such a decision…” (248). So maybe we can’t agree with Bultmann’s end, but it seems that it can be a part of our process in obtaining the full nature of the Jesus’ proclomation of the Kingdom.

One more thing. Talking about this with fellow students one critique of Bultmann, viz., his focus on the individual’s relationship to God being ultimate as opposed to a community of faith, was well grounded. However, I think we also cannot go too far the other way but must have a balance. I think we should affirm the individual’s responsibility before God while also not negating the equally important relationship of the individual in community. This fundamentally brings us back to the two great commandments, Love God and Love Neighbor. It must be both.

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2 responses to “Bultmann – Right in what he affirmed, Wrong in what he denied?

  1. Hey Jared,
    I’m curious as to whether Bultmann was thinking of decision in such a way as to be able to make a single solitary, one-time decision, have one isolated existential experience and then just get on with life as usual. Was he really thinking of decision in such a way as to exclude a “persevering life proceeding from such a decision”?

    It would seem to me that his conception of decision is different from that of the Biblical concept on a number of scores. For one thing Jesus wasn’t calling for one to simply seek authentic existence by removing oneself from the herd but was calling for people to transfer themselves from the herd to the flock. Nor was Jesus calling for us to simply come to grips with the threat of non-being, but He was rather calling us to follow Him everywhere that we might go through non-being and out the other side.

  2. I definitely agree and I think my problem comes from imposing my biblical structure onto an existential system but I just can’t seem to get away from thinking that there is something right about it all, I just can’t put my finger on what it is.

    I definitely like your “from the herd to the flock” comment, I certainly never thought of that before. But in what sense does the individual decision come into play then? I think Jesus does make it clear that the individual does have to make a decision (ordo salutis) in order to become “one of the flock” and if we focus so much on redemptive history we can overlook this element in our own personal lives, since Christ does call us to die DAILY.

    “Certainly there must be great decisions, but even in connection with them the important thing is to get underway with your decision. Do not fly so high with your decisions that you forget that a decision is but a beginning” -S.K.

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