The Challenge of Demythologizing

A quick thought. I found these quotes in the context of a discussion of Rudolf Bultmann’s theology that seemed relevant to the Mormon/Evangelical discussion.

This quote was part of an introductory essay laying out the need for demythologizing in Protestant hermeneutics and succinctly sets forth the problem of interpretation of scripture:

“There has always been a hermeneutic problem in Christianity because Christianity proceeds from a proclamation. It begins with a fundamental preaching that maintains that in Jesus Christ the kingdom has approached us in a decisive fashion. But this fundamental preaching, this word, comes to us through writings, through the Scriptures, and these must constantly be restored as the living word if the primitive word that witnessed to the fundamental and founding event is to remain contemporary. If hermeneutics in general is, in Dilthey’s phrase, the interpretation of expressions of life fixed in written texts, then Christian hermeneutics deals with the unique relation between the Scriptures and what they refer to, the “kerygma” (the proclamation).

This relation between writing and the word and between the word and the event and its meaning is the crux of the hermeneutic problem. But this relation itself appears only through a series of interpretations. These interpretations constitute the history of the hermeneutic problem and even the history of Christianity itself, to the degree that Christianity is dependent upon its successive readings of Scripture and on its capacity to reconvert this Scripture into the living word. Certain characteristics of what can be called the hermeneutic situation of Christianity have not even been perceived until our time. These traits are what makes the hermeneutic problem a modern problem.”

This qoute was written in response to Bultmann, but I think the way Protestants face the challenge of demythologizing might be similar to the process of creating a common theological language to address Mormon concepts and point out problems without so much divisiveness and confusion:

““It is the hallmark of Protestant theology and Protestant faith that it never entrenches itself in a province of its own where it can enjoy its own content untouched by outside movements and upheavals. Its weakness is that it has too often surrendered to the spirit of the age. Yet that weakness is also its strength, for despite its association with the world, it has managed to preserve the unbounded freedom of its own faith and its location by God in the here and now. This is a matter for wonder and gratitude. That is why Protestant theology cannot, as Catholic theology could and does, ignore the challenge of demythologizing. It is therefore the special vocation of Protestant theology to associate itself with all the developments in science, and to reap the fruits from all the trees of secular knowledge.

It cannot therefore ignore the challenge of demythologizing and, since that problem has a legitimate place in scientific theology, it becomes its own problem too. But believing theology engages in demythologizing with quite a different purpose — not to bring criticism to bear upon myth, nor yet to eliminate myth, but to experience in the process the purity and godliness of its own revelation and affirmations of faith. Myth can become the solid rock on which the faith is built, the place where believing theology can experience the wonder of its own faith. But it can also become the rock of offense which must be surmounted if that theology is to acquire a clearer and purer understanding of itself.This applies, however, not only to myth but, as we have seen, to every sentence in the New Testament.

Only under the pressure of doubt, doubt in everything and doubt in itself, can theology experience the triumphant power of its divine vocation. To have its faith tried and tested in the fires of doubt is of the very essence of Protestant theology. It may freely admit both its strength and its weakness, but it knows that the act of God which is the ground of its own experience is greater than myth, and that it can experience that act more genuinely the more it penetrates behind mythology to the essential core of truth. Protestant theology knows that myth is the mode in which God has chosen to reveal himself. That revelation is a treasure which we have to bear in earthen vessels, not only because we are men of earth, but because it has pleased God to place it in this vessel. It is not for us to smash the vessel, but to make proper use of it and to learn that after all it is an earthen vessel. The more sincerely we devote ourselves to the cause of demythologizing, the more surely shall we preserve the treasure God has given us.”

Mormons face the same challenge of demythologizing, and I think that Mormons and Protestants may be able to speak to each other intelligibly in the process.

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10 thoughts on “The Challenge of Demythologizing

  1. Bultmann explained:

    The cosmology of the New Testament is essentially mythical in character. The world is viewed as a three storied structure, with the earth in the center, the heaven above, and the underworld beneath. Heaven is the abode of God and of celestial beings — the angels. The underworld is hell, the place of torment. Even the earth is more than the scene of natural, everyday events, of the trivial round and common task. It is the scene of the supernatural activity of God and his angels on the one hand, and of Satan and his demons on the other. These supernatural forces intervene in the course of nature and in all that men think and will and do. Miracles are by no means rare. Man is not in control of his own life. Evil spirits may take possession of him. Satan may inspire him with evil thoughts. Alternatively, God may inspire his thought and guide his purposes. He may grant him heavenly visions. He may allow him to hear his word of succor or demand. He may give him the supernatural power of his Spirit. History does not follow a smooth unbroken course; it is set in motion and controlled by these supernatural powers. This æon is held in bondage by Satan, sin, and death (for “powers” is precisely what they are), and hastens towards its end. That end will come very soon, and will take the form of a cosmic catastrophe. It will be inaugurated by the “woes” of the last time. Then the Judge will come from heaven, the dead will rise, the last judgment will take place, and men will enter into eternal salvation or damnation.

    This then is the mythical view of the world which the New Testament presupposes when it presents the event of redemption which is the subject of its preaching. It proclaims in the language of mythology that the last time has now come. “In the fullness of time” God sent forth his Son, a pre-existent divine Being, who appears on earth as a man. (1 Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:6ff.; 2 Cor. 8:9; John 1:14, etc.) He dies the death of a sinner (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 8:3.) on the cross and makes atonement for the sins of men. (3 Rom. 3:23-26; 4:25; 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:14, 19; John 1:29; 1 John 2:2, etc.) His resurrection marks the beginning of the cosmic catastrophe. Death, the consequence of Adam’s sin, is abolished, (I Cor. 15:21f; Rom. 5:12ff.) and the demonic forces are deprived of their power. (I Cor. 2:6; Col. 2:15; Rev. 12:7ff., etc.) The risen Christ is exalted to the right hand of God in heaven (Acts 1:6f.; 2:33; Rom. 8:34, etc.) and made “Lord” and “King”. (Phil. 2:9-11; I Cor. 15:25.) He will come again on the clouds of heaven to complete the work of redemption, and the resurrection and judgment of men will follow. (I Cor. 15:23f, 50ff, etc.) Sin, suffering and death will then be finally abolished. (Rev. 21:4, etc.) All this is to happen very soon; indeed, St. Paul thinks that he himself will live to see it.(I Thess. 4:15ff.; I Cor. 15:5lf.; cf. Mark 9:1.)

    All who belong to Christ’s Church and are joined to the Lord by Baptism and the Eucharist are certain of resurrection to salvation, (Rom. 5:12ff.; I Cor. 15:21ff., 44b, ff.) unless they forfeit it by unworthy behavior. Christian believers already enjoy the first installment of salvation, for the Spirit (Rom. 8:23, II Cor. 1:22; 5:5.) is at work within them, bearing witness to their adoption as sons of God, (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6.) and guaranteeing their final resurrection. (Rom. 8:11.).

  2. As our literal creator, is that “myth”? Also, considering that we are adopted into his family, is that “myth”?

    I suppose we will have to define myth in this discussion. You’ll also have to convince Christians that their beliefs are in fact myth and not real.

    Bear in mind that Christians believe that their story is quite real, and the person of Jesus they describe is quite real, and not a made up story to define some past event.

  3. In this sense “myth” is the use of conceptual analogy or story to convey an underlying truth. Myths can be true, and remain myth.

    I think Mormons believe that we are literally part of the family of God; I don’t think most other Christians do, at least in their theology.

  4. “Mythology is the use of imagery to express the other worldly in terms of this world and the divine in terms of human life, the other side in terms of this side. . . .Myth is not used in that modern sense, according to which it is practically equivalent to ideology.”

  5. No, most Christians do believe they are literally part of the family of God, (see Eph. 1:5).

    I’ll repeat that you have to convince Christians their faith is myth. Again, God is our literal father, both in creation and spiritually. There is nothing that is necessarily mythical about that.

    I did some quick research on Bultmann, who it appears was more of a liberal theologian, and sought to reconcile faith with existential thought. He appears to pushed to take away the embellishments of the NT writers, and thus apparently does not see the NT, and probably the old, as a literal historical record.

  6. There is a lot more to say on this subject, but in the sense Bultmann uses “myth” saying that God is our Father is myth to Christians.

    Mormons believe that God is the literal father of our spirits and our bodies, i.e. that we are of the same kind as God and we were procreated by God into the things we are now.

    Traditional Christians believe that God is our father in “mythic” sense, i.e. by analogizing the relationship of father that we know in the world to a other-worldly reality that we don’t really have words to explain other than by referencing a family relationship. The reasoning is, if God is completely outside this world he cannot be the literal father of what is in this world. The phrase points to a mystery not a reality.

  7. No, Jared, I have never heard that in my life. Christians do believe in a literal family relationship.

    And I am sure there is more to the man’s theology, but I am summarizing what I read about him through a variety of sources.

  8. No, Jared, I have never heard that in my life. Christians do believe in a literal family relationship.

    I don’t think you believe you are the spiritually procreated child of a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. In my experience, the only people that actually take this relationship literally are LDS.

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