Review: Rudolf Bultmann

27792023David W. Congdon is associate editor at IVP Academic. Congdon has a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary and is the author of the massive tome The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Fortress Press, 2015), and a number of articles related to Rudolf Bultmann, his thought, theology, and relationships. In many ways, Congdon has positioned himself as the ideal candidate for the present volume in the Cascade Companions series, Rudolf Bultmann: A Companion to His Theology (Cascade, 2015).

Rudolf Bultmann is arguably one of the most important theological thinkers of the nineteenth century, if not the most important. He is a notoriously perplexing intellectual, despite his influence having penetrated nearly corner of the theological globe. Still, today, Rudolf Bultmann remains negatively characterized by many. Unfortunately, as Congdon rightly articulates in his introduction, most that have formulated such characterizations about Bultmann have done so without first seeking to understand the man within his educational and theological context. In other words, while disagreement with Bultmann may be valid and significant, it is important to remember that Bultmann was an intellectual mind birth within a historical context that shaped his thought—for better or worse. It is here that Congdon rightly positions the investigation into the theology of Rudolf Bultmann.

Congdon enters into the conversation quickly and constructs a proper historical framework for the reader to better understand the later and more mature Bultmannian thought. Congdon does well in setting the stage, introducing the players, and identifying how an eschatological foundation became the launch-pad of traditionally recognized Bultmannian thought. By starting with Bultmann’s eschatological dilemma, Congdon rightly sets the pace for the reader in seeing Bulman as a man wrestling with theological issues of his day and better positions the conversation around the issue pertaining to dialectical theology, kerygma, myth, and Bultmannian hermeneutics among other themes.

It would be beyond scope here to interact with everything Congdon has done in his examination and presentation of Bultmann’s theology, but a few highlights are worth mentioning. First, as stated above, Congdon has rightly positioned the reader to better understand and interact with Bultmann. He hasn’t cleared all the mud from the water, but he has certainly made the waters more manageable and enjoyable. Second, it is clear that Congdon has spent time with Bultmann and those within his immediate circle. Congdon’s ability to synthesize and explain the development and deployment of various Bultmannian themes to the beginning student is both astounding and uncommon. Third, while reading an introductory text such as this may result in greater familiarity with the figure or topic, only the naïve will assume there is no need for further investigation. Consequently, apart from a healthy bibliography, Congdon has provided a helpful “further reading” section to point the reader in the right direction.

It is hard to think of a more qualified individual than David W. Congdon to bring the reader into the thought and theology of one of Christendom’s most controversial biblical interpreters. Congdon has provided a provocative and engaging introductory volume that is certain to be enjoyed by both the familiar and soon-to-be familiar Bultmannian enthusiasts. In a moment of personal reflection, this is likely one of the most helpful books I have read all year. Bultmann is complex, but Congdon makes him approachable. If you are in the market for a short, well-written, and thoroughly distilled volume on one of the most important figures of the modern period, then Rudolf Bultmann: A Companion to His Theology should be at the top of your wishlist.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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