Topic 2: The Revolt Against Immanence: Neo-Orthodoxy of Barth, Brunner, Bultmann, and Niebuhr
Write an essay (1,250-1,500 words) evaluating the theologies of each of the four theologians discussed in this module (i.e., Barth, Brunner, Bultmann, and Niebuhr). Your analysis should explore each theology and how each can be considered neo-orthodox. Determine what is distinctive about each theology, and the positives and negatives for each.
The Revolt Against Immanence: Neo-Orthodoxy of Barth, Brunner, Bultmann, and Niebuhr
Neo-orthodoxy also known as called theology of crisis, was a theological movement that occurred between first and second world war as a result of aftermath of the first world war. Bromiley (2000) and Busch (1976) concur that this theological movement was a reaction against the 19th century liberal theology. Neo-orthodoxy was marked by four major theologians: Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Rudolf Bultmann, and Reinhold Niebuhr. As a result of different perspectives from which the theologians argued, the individualization and contextualization of the idea, the theologians were split in arguments and isolated streams of thoughts. This resulted to ethnic, gender based and economic based theologies. This essay explores the four theologies and how each can be regarded as neo-orthodox. The distinctiveness of each theory, the positive and negative aspects are also discussed.
Karl Barth (1886-1968)
According to Karl Barth, there is no truth in and about the gospel. In this theologian’s hoax argument, he saw the revelation of God through reason and empirical study. The theologian spent his time marking questions about religion against all the beliefs and biblical facts. As a result, he changed the course of the modern theology thus becoming neo-orthodox. According to Karl Barth, God does not meet man anywhere except through the Bible, even though he argued that Bible was written in sinful humanity.
He criticized the orthodox belief further by stating that the Bible itself, written in humanity is incapable of revealing the truth about God. One of the drawbacks of Karl Barth was that his argument was based on finding void in Orthodox Christianity. The arguments were tailored toward the negatives of theology and the truth within that left untouched. This theologian’s strength in relation to teaching of theology as that he constantly cited Jesus Christ as the only revelator on whom God is. He argued that though the Scripture may not be accurate in some aspect, yet it points to the man Christ, revealer of truth about God. Barth unique identifies God as having relation with humanity through nature only.
Emil Brunner (1889-1966)
Like his fellow theologian, Karl Barth, Emil Brunner insisted that God can only be revealed through the revelation of nature. That is sot say, any truth about God and His divinity can only be known through His works of creation. According to Emil, God could access and punish humanity through nature suppose they failed to meet a given natural standard. This was neo-orthodox as it tended to thwart and suppress the biblical truth that the Lord shall judge everyone at the end of the age. Brunner appeared to follow the saying by Apostle Paul in Romans 4:15, ‘where there is no law, there also is no violation’. For the theologian, Brunner, this quote was never correct and to orthodox, denying this revelation makes void the notion of meaning of creation. like Barth, he rejected underpinnings of both orthodoxy and liberalism. He is of the same opinion like Barth that God cannot reveal himself to humanity through the Bible. He also believed that the truth about God is only revealed through the man Christ. The uniqueness of this theology is that revelation is a personal correspondence between humanity and God. He also states that God does not make known Himself to through any other means but by communicating Himself (Hesselink, I John).
The strength of Brunner in support to Orthodox religion was seen in His quote of Biblical scripture John 1:1 (NIV): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This theologian believed that God reveals Himself to those He has chosen and not through theological ideology. He personalized relation between God and humanity. The other strength was that Brunner’s knowledge of God and divinity was expansive and differed from Barth’s on various aspects. As a matter of fact, he denied Barth’s analysis of God and His revelation to man.
Rudolf Bultmann (1884 − 1976)
Bultmann’s theological argument commences with Barth’s assertions. Having the foundation of Barth’s theology, he extended his theology from existentialism. He insisted that major part of the New Testament was mythical and not historical. However, he could not refuse that Christ is the Lord. The theologian’s commitment to conscience above conformity made him seem to support the church. Bultmann’s most important and contentious work was positioned on demythologization of the Bible and this stood as the uniqueness of this theological argument.
Developing from Barth’s arguments, Bultmann did not believe that all accounts in the Bible were historically accurate. According to Erickson, the scriptural objective was to inform the humanity and transform their lives and not to add information to them, but to impact on their lives and existences (2000, p. 910). An essential point about this demythologization can be seen how Bultmann views and argues Galatians 2:20, ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” According to this theologian, the humanity does not have to literally take this verse as they read it. Bultmann argues that the man Christ was not crucified on the cross as means of paying sins of humanity, and this was a myth. According to him, this verse could be properly interpreted as the need for humanity to kill its own evil desires.
Arguing from orthodoxy’s perspective, Bultmann had a positive perspective as he started by stating that Christ was God, a theology taught and practiced by the orthodox church. However, the assertions that part of the scripture was myth was hurtful to the orthodox church.
Reinhold Niebuhr (1893-1971)
Contrary to other theologians, Niebuhr openly confessed the authenticity of Apostles Paul’s writing in Romans 1:19-20. He supported the planetary exists of God and argued that since the Earth is not self-sufficient, self-explanatory, its existence is beyond what humanity can think or perceive. Humanity cannot tackle ass the mystical happenings in the universe and attempt to results in endless confrontations with something beyond their ability and capability and this explains the existence of someone greater.
The inability to solve all their problems explains why God exists and has wo major impressions. First, there is a sense of reverence and reliance on greater source of power and authority beyond human nature. Second, there is a sense of responsibility laid on humanity by someone beyond their understanding and subsequent sense of moral unfitness and quiet before someone who judges over humanity. According to Niebuhr, the bible is a writing with no authority of human surroundings like social, political or economic, rather is a written word of God that contains the ultimate facts than everything else.
This theologian asserted that Bible gives meaningful disclosures of whom God is through symbols or myths. The myths as in the bible help the humanity to comprehend the life meaning by pointing them to divinity. These myths however cannot be validated through scientific or logical means. One of the positive of Reinhold Niebuhr’s theology is that he recognized the biblical facts.
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