Ah, these Germans, what they have not cost us! Futility—that has always been the work of the Germans.—The Reformation; Leibnitz; Kant and so-called German philosophy; the war of “liberation”; the empire—every time a futile substitute for something that once existed, for something irrecoverable.... These Germans, I confess, are my enemies: (Nietzsche, The Antichrist, 62).
"Among Germans I am immediately understood when I say that theological blood is the ruin of philosophy. The Protestant pastor is the grandfather of German philosophy; Protestantism itself is its peccatum originale. Definition of Protestantism: hemiplegic paralysis of Christianity—and of reason.... One need only utter the words “Tübingen School” to get an understanding of what German philosophy is at bottom—a very artful form of theology.... The Suabians are the best liars in Germany; they lie innocently.... Why all the rejoicing over the appearance of Kant that went through the learned world of Germany, three-fourths of which is made up of the sons of preachers and teachers—why the German conviction still echoing, that with Kant came a change for the better? The theological instinct of German scholars made them see clearly just what had become possible again.... A backstairs leading to the old ideal stood open; the concept of the “true world,” the concept of morality as the essence of the world (—the two most vicious errors that ever existed!), were once more, thanks to a subtle and wily scepticism, if not actually demonstrable, then at least no longer refutable.... Reason, the prerogative of reason, does not go so far.... Out of reality there had been made “appearance”; an absolutely false world, that of being, had been turned into reality.... The success of Kant is merely a theological success; he was, like Luther and Leibnitz, but one more impediment to German integrity, already far from steady.—"(Nietzsche, The Antichrist, 10).
"I forbid myself to say what I think of the Germans...."(Nietzsche, The Antichrist, 11).
What Nietzsche affirms of Christians, I argue, Christians ought to affirm of those who go by the unfortunate name, "neo-orthodox."
What is interesting about these passages from Nietzsche's "The Antichrist" is how simultaneously right and wrong he is. He is right that a great bulk of the historical important figures of German philosophers, after they were no longer strict "Peoples of the Book", still attempted to try and create a kind of ersatz Christianity. And yet it is ironic that hardly anyone but the Germans have been more instrumental in destroying orthodox Christianity within the academia, first with the Higher Criticism movement, and then with the what was supposedly intended to be a response to it, yet participated of its very essence, the neo-orthodox movement.
It is common among some of the more liberal seminary professors to claim that the strictures of Protestant orthodoxy, particularly with respect to our 'high' bibliology, is the result of the imposition of distinctly Western, rationalistic patterns of thought upon the Christian religion. What is needed, it is argued, is a return to more "Jewish" or "Eastern" thought categories. One of the most popular as well as most annoying proponents of this faux-historical approach is Rob Bell:
"Bell typically focuses his attention on being sensitive to the Eastern/Jewish worldview [not really] from which the Christian Scriptures emerged. He understands, as many biblical scholars have come to recognize, that we cannot extract the Bible or Jesus from the Hebraic worldview."
For Bell, being "Jewish" or "Eastern"(whatever that means) entails lacking any sort of standard for objectivity or rationality (all of which is distinctly Western, because Easterners have never historically been ontological materialists, foundationalists, essentialists, made advances in mathematics or science, engaged in any sort of reductionism, etc.) being deliberately evasive and vague when asked controversial questions in a straightforward manner before finally providing a straightforward answer to a question that is not being asked, so on and so forth. He seems to think that speaking in parables is a distinctly Jewish thing to do because Jesus did it, ignoring the fact that Jesus' switch from straightforward dialogue to parabolic speech was an act of judgment:
"10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
15 For this people's heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it(Matt. 13:10-17).
A perhaps greater irony is that the cultural context of Rob Bell's apparent aversion to clarity, straightforwardness is genealogically traceable to a distinctly Western intellectual movement in philosophy and theology known as "neo-orthodoxy." Philosophically, probably the most important single influence on neo-orthodoxy is the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. Though one of the most important thinkers in the modern world in general, and especially the 20th century, Martin Heidegger is particularly infamous for having supported Nazism and even for even having refused to retract his former Nazism when the regime collapsed.
It is important, of course, not to rely on ad hominem tactics in our polemics, and this is not my intention. Heidegger's philosophy and the theology it helped to produce within nominally Christian circles is demonstrably unworthy of acceptance, and this doesn't necessarily have anything to do with his political positions. But let's take a moment to meditate on the richness of this irony: many of those who sympathize with Rob Bell, while claiming to advocate a distinctly and authentically Hebraic worldview and hermeneutics, have as one of their most important intellectual forefathers a Westerner who, apart from being philosophically and theologically degenerate from a Christian perspective, was a supporter of a regime that single-handedly wiped out more Jewish people than any other in history.
Surely if there were ever a time to use an Reductio ad Hitlerum argument, even just for laughs, this is it.
To be fair, Heidegger did critique "Western" thought. And though he disliked the foundationlistic and essentialist Platonist metaphysics that came to dominate Western thought, his alternative was no better. Modernism makes its authority autonomous human reason. Neo-orthodoxy makes its authority autonomous human experience. It fares no better than its opponent in refusing to make its authority the Bible.
It ought to be pointed out as well that Neoplatonist metaphysics as well as probably epistemology, has a great deal more in common with the Judeo-Christian worldview than anything found in Heidegger, though I would argue that it is commonly caricatured in academia today. But that is beyond the scope of this article.
The neo-orthodox theologians:
That neo-orthodoxy fares no better than its ostensible modernist opponents is perhaps nowhere better illustrated than in the theology of Rudolf Bultmann, who himself affirms that he holds to a "modern" worldview: Indeed, in this respect he is no different than the modernists:
"Proponents of Bultmannian psychoanalysis of the Biblical text are fond of comparing every word in the Synoptic Gospels and hypothesizing all manner of psychological motives for the differences. They also often claim that Mark, Luke and Matthew were ideological enemies that subtly altered words and phrases to attack each others' points of view."
This is just higher criticism. We see quite blatantly how the two are bad for the same reason, whatever their other differences.
Bultmann is quite clear that he accepts the same worldview as that of the modernists:
Bultmann was also famous, of course, for his dismissal of the miraculous. His famous notions that we who today use electricity to flick on a light switch cannot believe in miracles is often repeated as a microcosm as his thought. Elsewhere he implies that to believe in the miraculous is ridiculous, for we do not read in our newspapers about how demons affect the political or economic scene. [Bult.JM, 37]
Well, of course we don't: Demons tend not to grant interviews, and if their presence were that obvious, we might want to do something about it; apparently Bultmann thought that belief in demons required that demons be painfully obvious about their activities.
In fact, the implication of the Biblical record is that most such activity is rarely conspicuous. (And beyond that, if we accept a pretrist eschatology, Satan and his cohorts are now bound and out of the picture anyway.)
Of course, we may ask: Since Bultmann found the idea of a physical resurrection unbelievable, how did he maintain that he was still a Christian? Through the process of existential demythologizing and re-personalizing the event, making a new myth out of it.
Having renounced physical resurrection as impossible, the Resurrection now became, for Bultmann, "something here and now...entering into a new dimension of existence, a being set free from the past and from guilt and from care and being made open to one's fellow-man in love." [Hen.RB, 35]
Needless to say, this is a far cry from Paul's insistence that if Christ is not raised, our faith is in vain. Bultmann's Christ is a myth for our age, and his purpose was to make Christian faith "meaningful" to modern, skeptical man: he openly admits that his hermeneutic "takes the modern world-view as a criterion." [Bult.JM, 35](Holding)
Unlike many other neo-orthodox theologians, who not only attempt to prove that their philosophies are compatible with the Christian religion, but even attempt to argue (without blushing) that their theological positions and biblical hermeneutics are authentically Hebraic, Bultmann was guilty of no such pretense.
The classic example of this is Bultmann's attempt to define the soma ("body") described by Paul as "the objective aspect of the self." [Hen.RB, 29] As Gundry has shown, this definition is far away from that of the ancient Greeks; yet Bultmann found it convenient for his purposes to assume this definition--for it made it much easier for him to dismiss the Resurrection of Christ. The Resurrection of "the objective aspect of a self" isn't the sort of thing were we would have to worry about evidence.
Where it suited his purposes, Bultmann freely anachronized: The most famous example is his analysis of the Gospel of John as a document influenced by a Gnostic redeemer myth. It took years of arguing, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, to break Biblical scholarship out of this false dichotomy. Bultmann, interestingly, was aware of his own anachronizing presuppositions, but excused it by saying that everyone did the same thing [Bult.JM, 40](Holding)
Bultmann, then, even by his own admission, imposes modern Western thought categories onto the biblical text. At least he is honest about being intellectually responsible, which is more than can be said of someone like Rob Bell.
Bultmann is quite explicit that his biblical hermeneutics are derived from the existential-phenomenological philosophy of Martin Heidegger. It is within the context of
discussion with Heidegger that Bultmann developed his own theological position—namely, that Christian faith is, and should be, comparatively uninterested in the historical Jesus and centred instead on the transcendent Christ. Christian faith, he asserted, is faith in the kērygma (“proclamation”) of the church, into which Jesus may be said to be risen (Bultmann’s understanding of the Resurrection), and not faith in the historical Jesus. This view found its earliest expression in two essays, “Der Begriff der Offenbarung im Neuen Testament” (“The Concept of Revelation in the New Testament”), written in 1929, and “Die Geschichtlichkeit des Daseins und der Glaube” (“The Historicity of Man and Faith”), written in 1930. Bultmann’s position was to remain constant thereafter, and all his subsequent work, including his demythologizing proposal made in 1941, developed consistently out of it.
Bultmann "insisted that the Christian message, though based in large part on myth, was still valid." Indeed, "Bultmann rejected the historicity of the Resurrection, but not its spiritual significance" on the grounds that "An historical fact which involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable." Christians need to know how to refute this sort of statement. The Judeo-Christian religion is one not merely of abstract principles but of historical facts. Apart from these historical indicatives, its theological indicatives as well as its imperatives are utterly meaningless. That is, it is oftentimes the case that theological indicatives and the imperatives which flow from it themselves flow from antecedent historical indicatives. For example, the fact that God is faithful to His promises on the grounds that He never lies is demonstrated in His objective fulfillment of the objective promise to the objectively historical person of Abraham, to whom the promise that his offspring would bless the nations was made. It is because this was objectively and historically fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ that we can believe Heb. 6:17-18. Paul makes a similar point through his appeal to the objective reality and historicity of Christ's ministry, death and resurrection:
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
Paul's reasoning is roughly as follows: If Christ did not literally die and rise from the dead, then the theological indicatives or facts upon which the preaching of the Gospel are based are utterly null and void, because the theological facts of the Christian religion are based on concrete, literal, historical events. Paul then affirms in vv. 20-28 that Christ has indeed risen from the dead, and his Corinthian audience can therefore have a confident expectation that they will literally enjoy an eternity of bliss in their glorified bodies and in the presence of God. The historical reality of the Resurrection and of whatever event whose objective historicity the Bible either explicitly affirms or assumes, therefore, is most definitely "the point." To say that its historicity "isn't the point" and that it is simply a pious fraud whose purpose is to spur us to moral action or inspire us with spiritual trutuh is precisely to miss the point in about as fundamental a way as possible. The point of historicity is the essential point, and the point of the theological indicative that flows from a redemptive-historical event's historicity is null and void without it.
It is Bultmann who graced us with the distinction between Historie and Geschichte, to which roughly correspond the English "historical" and "historic"; a distinction emphatically affirmed by another neo-orthodox theologian we will look at, namely, Paul Tillich. The "historical" is that which is objectively true, whereas the "historic" is that which "transcends" historical fact and whose purpose is to set forth a kind of mythology with the aim of encouraging an audience to act on the text's spiritual or moral truth. It is with this distinction that many of the neo-orthodox seek to reject the essential historicity of many biblical texts whose actual historical veracity is essential to the propositional truth of the very theological point in question, as we have just discussed.
This point was unfortunately lost on Bultmann, whose project is most commonly understood as an attempt at 'demythologizing' the Bible:
In his view the "final judgment" it is not an event in history, but an event which takes place within the heart of each person as he or she responds to the call of God in each existential moment. Humans experience either Heaven or Hell in each moment, and faith means radical obedience to God in the present.
For Bultmann, to be "saved" is not a matter of sacraments and creedal formulas so much as it is to base our existence on God, rather than merely getting by in the world. True Christian freedom means following one's inner conscience, rather than conforming to oppressive or corrupt social order.
Now for some more irony: The hermeneutical strategies typical of the neo-orthodox is not only radically anti-"Jewish", but has a great deal more in common with the hermeneutical strategies of the Gnostics:
Indeed, while the receptive hermeneutical method implies that we have something to learn from a text, the method employed by the Gnostics, which we may call the “revelatory” method, was founded upon the idea that they (the Gnostics) had received a supra-cosmic revelation, either in the form of a “call,” or a vision, or even, perhaps, through the exercise of philosophical dialectic.
Likewise, the Jewish Encyclopedia:
While Barnabas exhibits a not insignificant Hellenic bias, his methods were applied by Gnostics to the New Testament writings. Although they disclaimed any depreciation of the historical value of the Old Testament, they became the chief exponents in their time of that Alexandrian allegorism which made of the Biblical narrative nothing else than anaccount of the emancipation of reason from the domination of passion.
It is clear that the authors of the New Testament interpret the fulfillment of prophecies in manner that is contrary to the grammatical-historical meaning of the original Old Testament text. They do not, however, reject the historicity of the Old Testament texts from which they draw theological significance that may have been foreign to the original text(see Paul's allegorization in Gal. 4:21-31). In this respect, they differ from the Gnostics and from the neo-orthodox.
To his credit "Karl Barth, criticized Bultmann for excessive skepticism regarding the historical reliability of the Gospel narratives. Others said he did not go far enough, because he insisted that the Christian message, though based in large part on myth, was still valid." It is to the theology of Karl Barth to which we turn in our next article.
To reiterate: What Nietzsche affirms of Christians, Christians ought to affirm of the neo-orthodox. Just as Kant was an avowed philosopher whom Nietzsche identifies as a degenerate theologian attempting to hide his theology behind the veil of philosophy, so also the neo-orthodox are avowed theologians whom we ought to identify as degenerate philosophers, seeking to veil their philosophies with the veil of theology. They are German philosophers, not only by virtue of their geographical origins but because of the particularly German spirit which drives their philosophies(I use "German" here in a Nietzschean sense).
They have already abandoned their faith and would do better in becoming Nietzscheans than Kantians. They stop just short of openly rejecting Christ, and instead seek a kind of "backstairs leading to an old ideal" these "calamitous spinner[s] of cobwebs."
One might summarize this series by saying that it is typically those whose hobby-horse is insisting that our hermeneutics or our theology is inordinately Western who are themselves inordinately Western. It is unfortunate that these people cause so much embarrassment to the West, when so many Westerners have done some of the most valuable exegetical and theological work in the history of the Church in a way that really is faithful to the "Jewish roots" of Christianity(I am thinking primarily of the Reformers and the Puritans, imperfect though their work often was).