Although the concept of Demythologization had prior usage, Bultmann introduced it in the context of a “hermeneutic approach to religious texts to separate cosmological and historic claims from philosophical, ethical, and theological teachings,” (Wikipedia, 2021).
According to Friedrich Gogarten, (as cited in Williams, 1973, p. 2), it was a “method of interpretation, developed by Bultmann and that it was “’sometimes referred to as existential interpretation since it seeks to explain the Scriptures in the here and now, (Gogarten, 1955).
In His conclusion of “Christian Origins and Demythology,” Michael Humphries writes, “We are all in the business of mythologizing–that is, creating worlds the make sense to us…this process involves the remythologization of precursory myths whose world views no longer fit in the contemporary scheme of things, as for example in the Bultmannian existentialist reading of first century Christianity,” (Humphries, 1999).
The impact that Rudolf Bultmann made in biblical exegesis, in fact in the whole of theology, is best found in his death. For even in his death, he rustled feathers among friends, family, colleagues. Upon Bultmann’s own insistence, no sermon was to be given over his funeral. As well, there would be no “spoken tributes” (A Biography 2013).
In his Bultmann Biography, Hammann writes, “Bultmann intended to prevent any attempt to honor him as a person or as a theologian lest any boasting over his coffin might obscure the biblical promise.
At first glance, anyone who did not know of Rudolf Bultmann would first think him an atheist. He was no atheist. His theological development that would desire the Christian faith to separate the historical Jesus from the so-called mythology of Jesus, would come to spark conversation, denouncements, and debates, through the remainder of his century and well into ours, and beyond.
Moving onto Neo-Orthodoxy, Jim Greene, writing the entry for Salem Press Encyclopedia 2020, says that this Neo-orthodoxy theory brings the concept of revelation and makes it a “central point of view,” (Salem Press, 2020).
One of Karl Barth’s most famous quotes profoundly exclaimed, “The Gospel is not a truth among other truths. Rather, it sets a question mark against all truths, (Barth, 1968). One could say that Barth was the “compass” of modern Christian theology. According to Greene, Barth “taught God’s absolute sovereignty and complete freedom in initiating His revelation in Jesus Christ,” (Greene, 2020).
Greene carries on saying that Barth’s work “blossomed into a school of theology known as Neo-orthodoxy, which influenced theology for decades.” Not unlike Bultmann, the waves created by Barth’s theology of Neo-orthodoxy, were wide and reached far.
Barth not only became a headache to the liberal wing of theology, but to those in the foxhole with them. Many questioned Barth’s theory of orthodoxy because of his refusal to consider the word of God (Bible) infallible while believing that Christ Jesus was.
For myself, I am receptive to the theologies of both Bultmann and Barth, not for their extreme conclusions and beliefs, but for sparking the fireworks of theology for centuries to come. In other words, neither were afraid to put themselves and their theories “out there” to be lambasted, agreed with, and points of great contention. In my endeavor to learn, I actually seek out the opinion of others, even if I don’t agree with it. I always feel the necessity to hear opposing viewpoints and understand them.
I believe Barth and Bultmann both, in their own unique ways, flounders neon-blinking bright lights of question marks above the heads of all theologians and students., and those neon-blinking question marks are still above our heads today. The extremeness of their own personal orthodoxies are still today, challenging us to follow the words of the apostle, Paul, when he said, “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good,” (NASB 1 Thess 5:21).
©2021 Clayton Moore. All Rights Reserved! Originally written for Master of Ministry, Ohio Christian University
Anonymous (2021) Demythologization. Wikipedia
Barth, K. (1968) The Epistle to the Romans. P. 35. Oxford Retrieved from AZ Quotes.com for date only.
Gali, M. (2000) Neo-Orthodoxy: Karl Barth. Christian History Magazine. Iss. 65. Christian History Institute
Greene, J. (2020) Neo Orthodoxy. Salem Press Encyclopedia. Retrieved from OCU Library
Hammann, K. (2013) Rudolf Bultmann: A Biography. Salem, OR: Polebridge (Kindle)
Humphries, M. (1999) Christian Origins and the Language of the Kingdom of God. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University. Retrieved from OCU Library
Williams, C. (1973) The Bultmannian Enigma: An Investigation into the Concept of Demythologization. Western Evangelical Seminary