Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bultmann on why Theology = Anthropology

Bultmann is much maligned for reducing Theology to anthropology.  Which is worrying because I find him hard to disagree with about this issue.  I think the key text in which he does this is in his Theology of the New Testament, vol 1, p190-191.

. . . Pauline theology is not a speculative system. It deals with God not as He is in Himself but only with God as He is significant for man, for man’s responsibility and man’s salvation. Correspondingly, it does not deal with the world and man as they are in themselves, but constantly sees the world and man in their relation to God. Every assertion about God is simultaneously an assertion about man and vice versa. For this reason and in this sense Paul’s theology is, at the same time, anthropology. But since God’s relation to the world and man is not regarded by Paul as a cosmic process oscillating in eternally even rhythm, but is regarded as constituted by God’s acting in history and by man’s reaction to God’s doing, therefore every assertion about God speaks of what He does with man and what He demands of him. And, the other way around, every assertion about man speaks of God’s deed and demand — or about man as he is qualified by the divine deed and demand and by his attitude toward them. The christology of Paul likewise is governed by this point of view. In it, Paul does not speculatively discuss the metaphysical essence of Christ, or his relation to God, or his “natures,” but speaks of him as the one through whom God is working for the salvation of the world and man. Thus, every assertion about Christ is also an assertion about man and vice versa; and Paul’s christology is simultaneously soteriology.

Of course he is not really "reducing" theology to anthropology but arguing that meaningful theology is anthropological, and therefore does not just say something about God in the abstract but also realtes it to human reality and human response.  I'm sure Bultmann had his sins, but I'm not sure this is one of them.


  1. Another fine quote. I have decidedly limited familiarity with Bultmann, but this acknowledgment of the anthropological dimension of theology is one aspect of his thought that I have found attractive.

    I wouldn't worry too much about its unpopularity: more conservative forms of Christian theology in particular would prefer to have a better understanding of God-as-He-really-is, if for no other reason than the understandable apprehension that anthropological begets anthropocentric, but it seems we're stuck with what we've got.

  2. Thanks Steve, agreed.

    One thing (of the many) that I would like to find more tme for is reading those like Bultmann and Kasemann, who though somewhat outdated are so much more interesting to read than most modern biblical scholars, and i think it is because they write theology as well as commentary. they push an agenda beyond just debating scholarly minutia. Bultmann especially has become a punching bag for later scholars, which is probably their loss, he has much to offer.

  3. Enjoyed the quote too, and glad to have dropped into the JR Blog after a long spell away. I read 'theology as anthropology' and thought you'd gone all Feuerbach on me. Happily not. Looking forward to the unveiling (!) of your Feminist agenda too! Cheers, Steve

  4. My world is full of wonderful Steves! :-D

    Any sign of that book yet Riley?

  5. Hmmmmmm. There's a textbook nearing completion that no-one will print and some articles on human dignity waiting for polish and spit. I'm very good at planning books....