Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Word and Christus Praesens

I just finished reading Melancthon's open letter to Brian McLaren concerning the latter's cursory treatment of Lutheranism in "A Generous Orthodoxy". The letter was warmly received by McLaren and deservedly so, as it's an eloquent testimonial to the uniqueness and beauty of the Lutheran faith. In particular, I enjoyed Melancthon's discussion about Lutherans' "multifaceted" view of "the Word" - a subject that has also dominated my thinking of late.

Melancthon points out that "Lutherans emphasize that the Bible is only the Word of God in as far as it makes Christ present to us." This intimate relationship between the Word of God and the presence of Christ is the subject of James F. Kay's excellent book entitled "Christus Praesens: A Reconsideration of Bultmann's Christology", which triggered my recent Bultmann binge. He states that, for Bultmann, the doctrine of the incarnation refers not to an objective claim about the mythical/historical Jesus, but to "Jesus as the Christ, whose Word is continually enfleshed as an ever new event in the act of proclamation. The paradox of faith is that a human being like myself thus speaks God's Word to me; the Logos of God incarnates Himself in him or her." Thus, it is not the historical Jesus who saves, nor the God-man construct of church doctrine- only the Christus Praesens can impart God's promising Word to me. Jesus is God's "speech act" which addresses me in the concrete present, and faith is simply my affirmation of this salvific action upon me, the answer to his Word.

Thus, despite his existentialist leanings, Bultmann has a very high estimation of the Church, which has been entrusted with the essential task of proclaiming the Word of God, thereby "delivering" Christ. Said another way, his theology is thoroughly "kerygmatic". In fact, he was accused by Barth of being solely kerymatic, because he places little emphasis on the historical Jesus. As Kay writes:

"For Barth, the transposition of the incarnation into an event of the present means that 'the real life of Jesus Christ is confined to the kerygma and to faith.' Yet, we may ask on Bultmann's behalf, where else is 'the real life of Jesus' to be found? As Bultmann replies to Barth, "Christ is the kerygma, because he is the Christ only as the Christ for me, and as such he encounters me only in the kerygma."

Put simply, to look for Christ outside of the Word and Sacraments is a fool's errand.


Andy said...

You know I've had Kay's book on my shelf for several years, having picked in up on the cheap at a going-out-of-business sale, but I've never read it.

It's an interesting idea that you present. I'm sure Luther would have agreed that we have no business looking for Christ outside the Word and Sacraments (it's a nice corrective to much of the nonsense that goes on in the search for the historical Jesus), but I wonder in what sense this can be the same Christ that is traditionally proclaimed by the Church if the connection with the historical Incarnation (i.e. uniquely, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth) is flatly denied. Does Bultmann really go that far?

Thomas Adams said...

You’re right to suggest that Bultmann is on thin ice here. There's a fine line between a fresh reformulation of ancient dogma and full-blown heresy, and Bultmann spent his entire career on that line (which is probably what makes him an exciting theologian to read).

Despite this, Bultmann is clear that "He in whom God acts in the present (Christus Praesens), through whom God has reconciled the world, is a real historical figure." Thus, he affirms that “Word was made flesh” in a specific human being, Jesus of Nazareth. However, his understanding of the phrase “made flesh” is quite different than that of the early church. For Bultmann, the incarnation is not a piece of data to be rationalized in terms of substances or natures, since such an approach only objectifies Christ and transforms him into a mythological figure. It is of little use to me that a God-man hybrid once roamed the earth, just as my knowledge of dinosaurs has no impact on my daily existence. Jesus was the “Word made flesh” not because of his two natures, but because through him God acted for the salvation of man, and God continues to act when Christ is made present to me by the Holy Spirit. This last statement makes it clear that Bultmann’s theology has an implicit Trinitarian structure, but he almost never makes this explicit (a major weakness of this thought, in my opinion). But it is only through the agency of the Holy Spirit that the “once-and-for-all” of God’s incarnation in the historical Jesus is propagated through time, which allows the crucified and risen Christ to be present to me in the Church’s proclamation.

Andy said...

It is of little use to me that a God-man hybrid once roamed the earth

The knowledge of it is of little use perhaps. Kierkegaard says somewhere that the Incarnation of God, even if no one had noticed, would still be the single most important event in history. But that's really somewhat "un-Lutheran" of him. If Christ did not become Incarnate for me then it would have just been an event. (Obviously thinking aloud here.) I think maybe I agree with your statement as it stands.

Thomas Adams said...

Yeah, writing that statement made me feel somewhat uncomfortable, as the historical Incarnation is an event of supreme significance to me. However, for the reasons you mention, I stand by it in the context of that discussion.

Anders Branderud said...

"Historical J....."!?!

The persons using that contra-historical oxymoron (demonstrated by the eminent late Oxford historian, James Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue) exposes dependancy upon 4th-century, gentile, Hellenist sources.

While scholars debate the provenance of the original accounts upon which the earliest extant (4th century, even fragments are post-135 C.E.), Roman gentile, Hellenist-redacted versions were based, there is not one fragment, not even one letter of the NT that derives DIRECTLY from the 1st-century Pharisee Jews who followed the Pharisee Ribi Yehoshua.
Historians like Parkes, et al., have demonstrated incontestably that 4th-century Roman Christianity was the 180° polar antithesis of 1st-century Judaism of ALL Pharisee Ribis. The earliest (post-135 C.E.) true Christians were viciously antinomian (ANTI-Torah), claiming to supersede and displace Torah, Judaism and ("spiritual) Israel and Jews. In soberest terms, ORIGINAL Christianity was anti-Torah from the start while DSS (viz., 4Q MMT) and ALL other Judaic documentation PROVE that ALL 1st-century Pharisees were PRO-Torah.

There is a mountain of historical Judaic information Christians have refused to deal with, at: (see, especially, their History Museum pages beginning with "30-99 C.E.").
Original Christianity = ANTI-Torah. Ribi Yehoshua and his Netzarim, like all other Pharisees, were PRO-Torah. Intractable contradiction.

Building a Roman image from Hellenist hearsay accounts, decades after the death of the 1st-century Pharisee Ribi, and after a forcible ouster, by Hellenist Roman gentiles, of his original Jewish followers (135 C.E., documented by Eusebius), based on writings of a Hellenist Jew excised as an apostate by the original Jewish followers (documented by Eusebius) is circular reasoning through gentile-Roman Hellenist lenses.

What the historical Pharisee Ribi taught is found not in the hearsay accounts of post-135 C.E. Hellenist Romans but, rather, in the Judaic descriptions of Pharisees and Pharisee Ribis of the period... in Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT (see Prof. Elisha Qimron), inter alia.

To all Christians: The question is, now that you've been informed, will you follow the authentic historical Pharisee Ribi? Or continue following the post-135 C.E. Roman-redacted antithesis—an idol?

Wayne said...

Excellent read

Patty Lunz said...

Christus Praesens : A Reconsideration of Rudolf Bultmann's Christology ... The Holy Preaching: The Sacramentaility of the Word in the Liturgical Assembly ...