Re: Liberals & Science

From: Joel Cannon (
Date: Mon May 19 2003 - 10:31:23 EDT

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    George Murphy posted a useful analysis of Bultmann (which my
    evangelical background taught me to regard as wearing an absolutely
    black hat--no gray or slight areas of white).

    In comparing (my impression of) Bultmann's existential viewpoint to
    what I observe in my congregation and have observed in groups such as
    InterVarsity, not to mention televangelists, it seems to me that one
    might say that Bultmann has "won," or at the least has significant
    commonality with the vast majority of today's protestants in terms of
    how we understand God acting in the world, and what it means to be a
    Christian. While North American protestants get upset about
    Bultmann's view of history, resurrection, Jesus' mighty works, etc.,
    North American protestants' understanding of conversion, piety, the
    sphere of God's action are right at home with Bultmann's existential

    In particular, two implicit strands of Bultmann's existential focus
    that seem to be intrinsic to modern evangelicalism in the United
    States are psychology and individualism. We tend to understand
    conversion as an internal event, a change in our understanding of the
    world (psychology) that delivers us from a guilty conscience. When
    discussing what Jesus does for us, we prefer "forgiveness of sins,"
    the more psychological term to justification, the term that Paul
    habitually used (and used in different sense than we do). We (like
    Bultmann) are spiritual descendents of Martin Luther, a man who was
    obsessed by a guilty conscience (in contrast to Paul who showed no
    signs of such). Similarly our piety is predominantly introspective
    (e.g. on a recent men's retreat, we were to answer a question
    something like, "What would God see if he looked at your heart?"), and
    primary strand of our understanding of God acting is internal (and
    perhaps in manipulating seemingly chance events for ours or someone
    else's favor).

    This observation does not mean that Bultmann and North American
    evangelicals are right or wrong about this. But the fact that two
    groups who start from such stunningly different foundations can end up
    at the same point does invite the question of how well the
    psychological and individualistic understanding is connected to the

    > One of the best expressions of this is what he says about the
    > doctrine of creation in _Jesus Christ and Mythology_:

    > "First, only such statements about God are legitimate as express the
    > existential relation between God and man.

    Joel W. Cannon | (724)223-6146
    Physics Department |
    Washington and Jefferson College |
    Washington, PA 15301 |

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