Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Barth contra Bultmann via Molnar, including some thoughts on 'world-views'

Paul D. Molnar, Incarnation and Resurrection: Toward a Contemporary Understanding (Eerdmans, 2007), 20-21.
First, can the resurrection of Jesus, as an event in history, be proven to be a historical fact in the modern sense? And if it cannot, does that mean that it was not a historical event? That is of course Bultmann’s view since he rejects the idea that there was a real history of Jesus in the forty days. But Barth argues that such history “may well have happened. We may well accept as history that which good taste prevents us from calling ‘historical fact,’ and which the modern historian will call ‘saga’ or ‘legend’ on the ground that it is beyond the reach of his methods, to say nothing of his unavowed assumptions” (CD III/2, 446). Barth compares the Easter history to the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2 as history in the higher sense because, while it speaks of history, its aim is to speak of an occurrence that escapes “historical proof” and Barth contends that “It is sheer superstition to suppose that only things which are open to ‘historical’ verification can have happened in time” (CD III/2, 446).

Second, Barth asks if Bultmann is correct in suggesting (following W. Hermann) that those who accept the resurrection as historical fact have blindly accepted a piece of mythology or have committed a dishonest sacrificium intellectus and descended from faith to works. Here Barth’s objectively realistic view of the matter is in evidence:
For the New Testament at any rate the resurrection is good news in which we may believe. And this faith, as those who accepted it were gratefully aware, was made possible only by the resurrection itself. They were not able to accept it because the prevailing mythical world-view made it easier to accept it than it is supposed to be to-day. Even in those days the Easter message seems to be utterly ‘incredible.’ (CD III/2, 446-47)
Barth insists that if the resurrection is not presented as something to be joyfully accepted, then there is something wrong with the presentation.

Third, Barth wonders whether all modern thought is shaped by modern science as Bultmann contends and asks if there is a modern world-picture that is incompatible with the “mythical world-view and superior to it” (CD III/2, 447). Barth cites Bultmann’s famous statement that “It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of demons and spirits” and asks “Who can read this without a shudder?” (CD III/2, 447). Why? Because Barth astutely notes that this modern world-view may very well not be as final as the “Marburg Kantians” with their complete lack of any sense of humor seemed to think. Indeed Barth saw the decisive point, that is, that no world-view of any age can be normative for understanding the message of the New Testament. Hence he opposes to Bultmann’s view the simply observation that it may well be that contemporary people would find themselves able to give free and joyful factual assent to the resurrection and not to some “fides implicita in a world of spirits and demons” (CD III/2, 447).

Fourth, and finally, Barth wonders whether it is the job of Christianity to accept or reject world-views at all. Indeed he believes that there is no reason why we would need to accept the ancient world’s mythical world-view. Nonetheless he notes that the early church very cautiously used elements of this world-view in its witness to Jesus Christ while the world-view accepted today has either lost these elements or features or allowed them to slip into the background. Thus, in Barth’s mind, “we have every reason to make use of ‘mythical’ language in certain connections” (CD III/2, 447) without a guilty conscience. For if we go to extremes with demythologizing, then we could not bear witness to Jesus Christ at all. That is what happens to Bultmann when he dismisses the NT connection between sin and death and the relation of death and resurrection and the concept of substitution because he thinks they are offensive and obsolete. Barth notes that it makes sense to speak of the rise of faith in the disciples but that it is folly to suggest that this can be substituted for Christ’s actual resurrection and appearances. And so he decisively maintains “we must still accept the resurrection of Jesus, and His subsequent appearances to His disciples, as genuine history in its own particular time” (CD III/2, 447).

2 comments:

justthischris said...

Thanks for this. We have much to learn and appreciate from Barth on worldviews.

D.W. Congdon said...

Barth's rejection of worldviews is particularly important for evangelicals to hear today. The following comes from a document I am writing for a person dealing with the issue of worldviews and Scripture:

Some of the reasons Barth rejects a “Christian worldview” include the following: a “Christian worldview” replaces Jesus with a system; “Christian worldviews,” according to Barth, “have no use for Jesus Christ,” because the system itself is all-encompassing and self-sufficient; a “Christian worldview” creates a “lasting picture of the relationship between Creator and creature” which means that “in taking to-day the insight given him to-day man hardens himself against receiving a new and better one to-morrow”; a “Christian worldview” creates a strict dichotomy between the sacred and the secular, such that only the “sacred” perspective on the world is valid; a “Christian worldview” relies on foundational principles that “function like the law rather than the gospel, enslaving rather than freeing those who abide by them” (Anderson); and, related to this, in a “Christian worldview,” “the living God is demoted to a principle,” and conversely, the principle itself becomes “a godlike principle.”

(The "Anderson" is Clifford Anderson of Special Collections, from his excellent article in Cultural Encounters 2:2 [2006] which looks at Kuyper and Barth on worldviews.)