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The Mission of Demythologizing

The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann's Dialectical Theology

David W. Congdon
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    The Mission of Demythologizing
    Book Description:

    Since 1941, Rudolf Bultmann’s program of demythologizing has been the subject of constant debate, widely held to indicate Bultmann’s departure from the dialectical theology he once shared with Karl Barth. In the 1950s, Barth referred to their relationship as that of a whale and an elephant: incapable of meaningful communication. This study proposes a contrary reading of demythologizing as the hermeneutical fulfillment of dialectical theology on the basis of a reinterpretation of Barth’s theological project. As such, the volume argues that dialectical theology is fundamentally governed by a missionary logic. Bultmann’s hermeneutical theology extends this dialectical, missionary theology into the field of interpretation. Contrary to many critics, the message of God’s saving work in Christ, and not modern science, funds Bultmann’s hermeneutical program. Like Barth’s own revolution, Bultmann’s program addresses a false relation between gospel and culture. Negatively, demythologizing is a program of deconstantinizing, opposing the objectifying conflation of kerygma and culture that he calls “myth.” Positively, demythologizing is a form of intercultural hermeneutics, composed of preunderstanding and self-understanding. Demythologizing is therefore a missionary hermeneutic of intercultural translation.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-9657-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: Bultmann—Missionary to Modernity
    (pp. xvii-xxxiv)

    What is the condition of possibility for amoderntheology? In pursuing this question, we are not asking what it is that makes a theology modern as opposed to, say, premodern. We are rather asking, in typical transcendental form: Given that there is such a thing as modern theology, what must be the case in order to make such a theology possible? What must be true about the Christian faith to make sense, for example, of Karl Barth’s “reconstruction of Christian orthodoxy” under the conditions of modernity?¹ At a minimum, an answer to this problem must be thatChristianity is...

  2. Part I: The Myth of the Whale and the Elephant

    • 1 The Problem: The Mythical Picture of Bultmann
      (pp. 3-74)

      On March 2, 1964, Karl Barth met a group of theology students from Tubingen at the Bruderholz Restaurant for a lengthy conversation. The group consisted of forty Protestants and five Catholics. Their recorded conversation ranged across a wide spectrum of theological topics, including the meaning of Christ’s resurrection, the doctrine of analogy, the distinction between “noetic” and “ontic,” recent developments in Roman Catholicism, and the history of dialectical theology and the Confessing Church. At one point an unknown student raised the topic of Eberhard Jungel’s recent interpretation of Barth’sanalogia fidei.³ The student wished to know whether Jungel’s understanding accorded...

    • 2 Reinterpreting the Myth: A Periodization of the Barth-Bultmann Relationship
      (pp. 75-234)

      “EinBildhielt uns gefangen”—apictureheld us captive. So wrote Ludwig Wittgenstein in §115 of hisPhilosophische Untersuchungen.³ When it comes to Rudolf Bultmann, a certain picture of his theology has held people captive for many years. I have called this picture the myth of the whale and the elephant. We have looked at two of the best attempts to overcome this picture, but these efforts, as important as they are, remain unsatisfactory and insufficient.

      Bultmann spent most of his career freeing people from false pictures of God and the Christian faith. In order to do so he...

  3. Part II: The Mission of Dialectical Theology

    • 3 The Missionary Essence of Dialectical Theology
      (pp. 237-304)

      It is widely acknowledged that Barth inaugurated what we might call adialectical revolutionin modern theology. To call it a revolution does not mean it was wholly novel or that it was a complete break from the past. As others have argued—Christophe Chalamet most forcefully—many of the elements of dialectical theology were already established in the work of forebears such as Wilhelm Herrmann, Martin Kahler, Soren Kierkegaard, G. W. F. Hegel, and, of course, Martin Luther.² Certain ideas made prominent in dialectical theology, such as the distinction between Historie and Geschichte, are rooted in the German liberal...

    • 4 The Mission of Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology
      (pp. 305-436)

      Rudolf Bultmann was born into a family concerned with the question of mission. His paternal grandparents, Fritz and Elise Bultmann, were missionaries in the West African colony of Sierra Leone.⁴ His father, Arthur Kennedy Bultmann, was born in the mission field and later, while serving as a Lutheran pastor, wrote an article on mission in relation to modern theology in 1906.⁵ It was a concern that stayed with him throughout his life. In 1962 he wrote to a Lutheran missionary in New Guinea: “I appreciate it especially that you try to join theology and mission work.”⁶ Such a statement is...

  4. Part III: The Mission of Demythologizing

    • 5 The Truth of Myth and the Necessity of Demythologizing
      (pp. 439-502)

      Scholars have spilled a lot of ink criticizing Bultmann’s program of demythologizing on the grounds that it ignores the truths that myths, particularly those associated with Christian faith, are uniquely able to communicate. The truth of myth is played off against demythologizing as if the latter rejects mythsimpliciter. One often hears that demythologizing is merely the extrication of the kerygma from the shackles of myth on the assumption that Bultmann views everything associated with the label of myth as primitive falsehood. Many suppose that demythologizing carries out its hermeneutical procedure by shucking the husk of what is ancient or...

    • 6 Toward a Dialectical Intercultural Hermeneutic
      (pp. 503-568)

      We have establishedwhywe need to read Bultmann with fresh eyes; the question now ishow. If Eberhard Jungel has provided us with the hermeneutical key for a new interpretation, this chapter offers a new conceptuality for carrying out this hermeneutical inquiry into Rudolf Bultmann’s program of demythologizing.

      The key to a new perspective on demythologizing comes from the burgeoning field ofintercultural hermeneutics. The work in this field is the result of an interdisciplinary (and increasingly also interreligious) dialogue among scholars in the areas of missiology, cultural anthropology, and biblical studies. The issues and questions raised by scholars...

    • 7 The Problem of Myth and the Program of Deconstantinizing
      (pp. 569-686)

      We come now to the climax of our study: the constructive reinterpretation of Bultmann’s program of demythologizing as the hermeneutic that fulfills the missionary origins of dialectical theology. This chapter will initiate the reinterpretation by looking at Bultmann’s criticism of myth. The final chapter will complete our analysis by examining the eschatological essence of existentialist interpretation.

      In the conclusion to his 1952 essay, “Zum Problem der Entmythologisierung,” Rudolf Bultmann argued that “radical demythologizing is the parallel to the Pauline-Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith alone without the works of the law. Or, rather, it is the consistent application of this...

    • 8 Eschatological Existence and Existentialist Translation
      (pp. 687-828)

      We noted in the previous chapter Bultmann’s claim that radical demythologizing is “the consistent application [of the doctrine of justification by faith alone] to the field of knowledge.”² This application has both a negative and a positive dimension. Negatively it is criticism of objectifying thinking within theWeltbildof mythology, which I suggest we can restate ascriticism of constantinianism. Demythologizing is a critical epistemology in the sense that it subverts every attempt to interpret the kerygma in the form of aWeltanschauung. It is thus an antimythological and antimetaphysical—i.e., deconstantinizing—hermeneutic.

      The present chapter will now develop the...

  5. Conclusion: The Future of Demythologizing
    (pp. 829-836)

    Martin Heidegger expressed his hope to Bultmann in 1964 that “your whole work might not remain entirely obscured by the label ‘demythologizing.’”² In one sense it is deeply unfortunate that Heidegger’s wish was unfulfilled. Bultmann’s name is forever associated with that controversial label, to such an extent that many are unable to read him without assuming that every writing of his is a threat to the church and harmful to the faith. In another and more important sense, however, we can begratefulthat Heidegger’s wish was unfulfilled, for demythologizing remains Bultmann’s greatest gift to the church. In the words...

  6. Appendix A: Appeal of German Churchmen and Professors to Protestant Christians in Foreign Lands (1914)
    (pp. 837-844)
  7. Appendix B: The Christian Meaning of Faith, Love, Hope (1925)
    (pp. 845-850)
    R. Bultmann
  8. Appendix C: Leitsätze of Rudolf Bultmann (1925)
    (pp. 851-852)
  9. Appendix D: On the Concept of “Myth” (1942–1952)
    (pp. 853-864)