“The Nature of the Church in Theological Interpretation of Scripture.” Journal of Theological Interpretation. 11, no. 1 (2017): 101–17. [Download]
Abstract: In a 2012 article on Bultmann and Augustine, R. W. L. Moberly argued that the church should be understood as a “plausibility structure” for faith and thus a presupposition for the interpretation of Scripture. My response to him in 2014 addressed misinterpretations of Bultmann but did not speak to the central issue of the church as a presupposition. The present article rectifies this omission by interrogating the meaning of the church in the present discussion of “theological interpretation of Scripture” (TIS), which largely views the church as a distinct culture. The church-as-culture model bears an important resemblance to the church-as-Volk model that was dominant during the period of the church struggle in Germany in the 1930s. Bultmann developed his concept of the church as an eschatological community in direct contrast to the church-as-Volk idea. If the church is in some sense a presupposition for theological interpretation, then we first have to ask what we mean by “church,” and some answers to that question may be theologically problematic.
Abstract: Ever since the 1920s, Rudolf Bultmann has been charged with confining theology to philosophy and reducing talk of God to talk of the human person. The source of this problem, so the claim goes, is Bultmann’s naïve adoption of Martin Heidegger’s existentialist ontology. Bultmann’s personal friendship with Heidegger is well-known, and the presence of Heideggerian concepts throughout his work is impossible to miss. But there is a great deal of confusion over the details of this relationship, and scholars differ widely over what conclusions we ought to draw regarding the nature of Bultmann’s work. Critics on the ‘left’ claim that Bultmann was not Heideggerian enough, while critics on the ‘right’ claim that his theology is confined within a philosophical straitjacket. Some even condemn Bultmann’s work with the charge of racism, because of its association with Heidegger, who is notorious for his pro-Nazi views. This article reassesses the Bultmann-Heidegger relationship from three angles. First, I show that the essential elements of Bultmann’s theology are already in place before meeting or learning from Heidegger. Second, I argue that Bultmann circumscribes Heidegger’s philosophy within a theology of revelation. Heideggerian analysis has access neither to the problem nor to the solution of human existence before God. Third, I demonstrate that his theological program is, in principle, open to other conceptualities. Nothing material rests on the appropriation of Heidegger. For these reasons, one cannot accurately call Bultmann a Heideggerian theologian.
Summary: Though still widely regarded as the most significant New Testament scholar of the twentieth century, Rudolf Bultmann’s reputation has suffered a precipitous decline since the 1970s as postmodern and postliberal approaches to Christian theology supplanted interpretations associated with the Enlightenment and modernity. For those only familiar with Bultmann’s most popular texts, such as the famous 1941 lecture that announced his program of demythologizing, it is easy to see Bultmann as the quintessential representative of modern, liberal theology. Demythologizing appears to be a program designed to make Christianity acceptable to modern audiences, which seems confirmed by Bultmann’s claim that we cannot use lights and radios and believe in the wonder world of the New Testament. On top of all this, the main English-speaking authorities on his work in the mid-twentieth century reinforced this reading in their scholarship and criticized Bultmann for not being consistently modern and liberal.
With the ongoing publication of documents from Bultmann’s archive, the flaws in the standard reading of Bultmann are becoming more and more apparent. Perhaps the most significant flaw concerns Bultmann’s concept of myth, a source of much confusion in the secondary literature. Sometime between 1942 and 1952, Bultmann wrote an essay responding to Wilhelm Nestle’s 1940 work, From Mythos to Logos, under the title, “On the Concept of ‘Myth.’” In this essay, which was not published until 2012 when it was included as an appendix in the volume of his correspondence with Paul Althaus, Bultmann provides his most extensive clarification of the concept. He rejects the criticism of myth advanced by modern scholars who see myth as something to be outgrown as humanity moves into the age of science. Instead, Bultmann argues that myth has an existential meaning that is qualitatively other than and superior to science. The problem with myth is not its difference from but rather its similarity to science. Demythologizing criticizes myth’s proximity to scientific thinking—namely, where it objectifies God and tends toward a general worldview—and thereby affirms myth’s existential truth.
Once we liberate Bultmann’s thought from the box of “modern liberalism” into which he is so frequently put, we can begin to recognize his hermeneutical program as genuinely theological in nature. Bultmann’s work is governed by his interest in the revelation and saving power of God, not by extratheological commitments to modern philosophy or liberal historical criticism. Whereas the old readings had to settle for the claim that Bultmann was simply inconsistent or even incoherent, this new reading is able to do justice to the entirety of his life and work. Contrary to widely held assumptions, demythologizing is a consistently theological hermeneutic.
“Emancipatory Intercultural Hermeneutics: Interpreting Theo Sundermeier’s Differenzhermeneutik.” Mission Studies 33, no. 2 (2016): 127–146. [Download]
Abstract: This article introduces and assesses Sundermeier’s “hermeneutic of difference” (Differenzhermeneutik). Though he is not well-known in English-speaking circles, the pioneering work of Theo Sundermeier has contributed to a hermeneutical and intercultural turn within the field of missiology, as well as a missiological and practical turn within hermeneutics. He criticizes the western hermeneutical tradition for being text-centric and egocentric, and he replaces the standard hermeneutical models with one that is focused on the practical problem of understanding the stranger. I summarize the four-step process he provides for learning how to understand and coexist with another person, reflect on its missiological implications, and offer a constructive critique in the direction of a distinctively emancipatory intercultural hermeneutic.
“Is There a Kerygma in This Text? A Review Article.” Journal of Theological Interpretation 9, no. 2 (2015): 299–311. [Download]
Review of: Beyond Bultmann: Reckoning a New Testament Theology. Edited by Bruce W. Longenecker and Mikeal C. Parsons. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014. 382 pp. ISBN 978-1-4813-0041-4. $59.95.
“Apokatastasis and Apostolicity: A Response to Oliver Crisp on the Question of Barth’s Universalism.” Scottish Journal of Theology 67, no. 4 (2014): 464–480. [Download]
Abstract: Oliver Crisp argues that Karl Barth is incoherent on the question of universal salvation. Making use of a modal distinction between contingent and necessary universalism, Crisp claims that Barth’s theology leads to the view that all people must be saved, yet Barth denies this conclusion. Most defenses of Barth reject the view that his theology logically requires the salvation of all people; they try to defend him by appealing, as Barth himself seems to do at times, to divine freedom. This paper argues that even though his theology does lead necessarily to the conclusion of universal salvation, it is still coherent for him to deny universalism on his own methodological grounds, since the necessity and the denial operate at different levels. Barth has other commitments in his theology than mere logical consistency. To support this claim, I argue that the necessity that belongs to God’s reconciling work in Christ coincides with a double contingency: (a) the ‘objective’ contingency of Christ’s particular history and (b) the ‘subjective’ contingency with which this reconciliation confronts particular human beings and calls them to participate in the apostolic mission of Jesus. In each case, necessity coincides paradoxically with a kind of contingency, such that, within Barth’s theology, we can speak of what Kevin Hector calls ‘contingent necessity’ or what Eberhard Jüngel calls ‘eschatological necessity’. Most debates over universalism focus on the objective side. There the question is whether the necessity of Christ’s universally effective work compromises divine freedom. But Barth’s concern on this point is whether the necessity is ‘transcendent’ or ‘immanent’, that is, whether it is determined by God or the creature, and since God can indeed will the salvation of all, this poses no problem in principle for affirming universal salvation. Barth’s central concern has to do with the issue of ‘subjective’ necessity. Barth denies that theology is ever a matter of describing what is objectively or generally the case regarding God and the world. On the contrary, he situates theology within the existential determination and subjective participation of the one called to bear witness to Jesus Christ. For this reason, he rejects all worldviews, including universalism. The rejection of universalism is the affirmation of apostolicity.
“Dialectical Theology as Theology of Mission: Investigating the Origins of Karl Barth’s Break with Liberalism.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 16, no. 4 (2014): 390–413. [Download]
Abstract: Based on a thorough investigation of Karl Barth’s early writings, this article proposes a new interpretation of dialectical theology as fundamentally concerned with the issue of mission. Documents from 1914 and 1915 show that the turning point in Barth’s thinking about mission – and about Christian theology in general – occurred, at least in part, in response to a largely forgotten manifesto published in September 1914. This manifesto appealed to Protestants around the world to support Germany’s cause in the war on the grounds that they would be supporting the work of the Great Commission. Barth’s reaction to this document sheds light on the missionary nature of dialectical theology, which pursues an understanding of God and God-talk that does not conflate the mission of the church with the diffusion of culture.
“Kerygma and Community: A Response to R. W. L. Moberly’s Revisiting of Bultmann.” Journal of Theological Interpretation 8, no. 1 (2014): 1–23. [Download]
Abstract: In a 2012 article, R. W. L. Moberly brought Bultmann into conversation with Augustine around the question of hermeneutical presuppositions. The article affirmed Bultmann’s emphasis on “existential openness,” but criticized his apparent disregard for the church as the primary presupposition for biblical interpretation. Moberly’s article misreads Bultmann, however, and misses the deeper logic at work in Bultmann’s apparent lack of attention to ecclesiology. The community, as the bearer of the kerygma, is included within the event that it proclaims. Ecclesiology is therefore indirectly present, so that, as Bultmann states regarding John, “one may not conclude from this that interest in the church-community is completely absent. On the contrary, there is a very lively interest in it.”
“Bonhoeffer and Bultmann: Toward an Apocalyptic Rapprochement.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 15, no. 2 (2013): 172–195. [Download]
Abstract: In the 1950s and 1960s, the relation between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Rudolf Bultmann was a topic of much dispute, with Gerhard Krause declaring the apparent opposition between them ‘resolved’ in 1964. Recent apocalyptic theology has reopened the divide between them by claiming Bonhoeffer as an apocalyptic thinker over against Bultmann. This paper disputes that reading by arguing that the very conditions under which Bonhoeffer is rightly understood as apocalyptic open up the door for a new interpretation of Bultmann. The question of their relationship reveals the ambiguity surrounding the notion of apocalyptic. There is a pressing need for greater clarity regarding this notion as well as greater charity in relation to Bultmann.
“Reconsidering Apocalyptic Cinema: Pauline Apocalyptic and Paul Thomas Anderson.” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 24, no. 3 (2012): 405–418. [Download]
Abstract: Apocalypticism has been a consistent theme in modern culture. In recent religious studies, the definition of “apocalyptic” has undergone extensive revision and expansion, resulting in the articulation of a distinctively “Pauline” apocalyptic theology. This new conception of apocalypticism offers a new way to interpret works of popular culture, especially film. This paper argues that Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 movie, Magnolia, is properly viewed as an apocalyptic film in this revised Pauline sense. Viewing it from this perspective helps to make better sense of its key themes and plot developments. The goal of the paper is to initiate a broader conversation regarding the field of apocalyptic cinema in light of the latest theological research.
“Creatio Continua ex Electione: A Post-Barthian Revision of the Doctrine of Creatio ex Nihilo.” Koinonia 22 (2010): 33–53. [Download]
“‘A Beautiful Anarchy’: Religion, Fascism, and Violence in the Theopolitical Imagination of Guillermo del Toro” [Download] and “Secular Parables of the Truth: A Reply to Jenson and Lubeck.” [Download] Cultural Encounters 6, no. 2 (2010): 43–67, 77–83.
Abstract: According to director Guillermo del Toro, “the entire world we live in is fabricated,” and within this fabricated cosmos, there are two kinds of imaginations, two ways of living: one which favors the present world—the “Establishment”—and another which stands opposed to it. One kind uncritically affirms our present reality; the other, the one he prefers, rebels against it with “a beautiful anarchy.” Del Toro thus sees film as the medium for the imaginative and anarchic reinterpretation of the horrors of fascism. Film narrates a “spiritual reality” which funds a subversive counter-politics. In this essay, I bring del Toro into conversation with the theopolitical work of William Cavanaugh. I argue that despite del Toro’s rejection of his former Catholic faith, in two of his films, The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, he displays a distinctly theopolitical cinematic imagination.
“Jesus and Faith: The Doctrine of Faith in Scripture and the Reformed Confessions.” Journal of Reformed Theology 3 (2009): 321–344. [Download]
Abstract: This article examines the complicated relationship between church confession and Holy Scripture as it manifests itself in the doctrine of faith expounded in the Reformed confessions of the sixteenth century. I first locate the problem historically in the conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism. I then summarize the New Testament witness to faith, examine whether the Reformed confessions do justice to this witness, and conclude by suggesting some theological possibilities for a fresh doctrine of faith within the context of a confessional and biblical Reformed theology. Along the way, I raise questions about the relationships between divine action and human action and between Son and Spirit in the event of faith.
“The Trinitarian Shape of ΠΙΣΤΙΣ: A Theological Exegesis of Galatians.” Journal of Theological Interpretation 2, no. 2 (2008): 231–258. [Download]
Abstract: This article is a theological contribution to the debate over the contested Pauline expression πίστις ᾽Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ. I begin by assessing Karl Barth’s christological conception of faith in his Church Dogmatics, focusing on the themes of history, obedience, and imitation. Except for a significant passage in CD II/2, Barth consistently employs the objective genitive, but his christocentric pisteology enables it to do the same work accomplished by the subjective genitive argued for by Richard Hays. Barth, however, does not connect his trinitarian theology to the text of Galatians, and Hays does not give sufficient attention to the life of Christ or to the agency of the Spirit. In the bulk of the paper, therefore, I explore the missional-trinitarian shape of faith through a theological exegesis of Galatians in order to supplement the insights of Barth and Hays. I argue that Paul presents a missional narrative in which Father, Son, and Spirit are each involved in actualizing the faith of the community. We can thus speak of the faithfulness of the Father, the faith of the Son, and the faith-producing Holy Spirit. A trinitarian interpretation of Galatians is able to ground the distinction between the objective and subjective dimensions of faith in the mission of the triune God.
“Three Things Conservatives Can Learn from Rudolf Bultmann.” Reformed Report. [Link]
“The Most Misunderstood Quote in Modern Theology.” Unsystematic Theology (Patheos). [Link]
“David W. Congdon Interview: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology.” Amateur Theologians. [Link]
“Interview with Tripp Fuller.”Homebrewed Christianity. [Link]