Science in Christian Perspective



Robert D. Knudsen, Ph.D.

From: JASA 13 (June 1961):

An event worth noticing in evangelical circles is the appearance of the first volumes of a projected "Modern Thinkers Series," monographs on important modern leaders of thought, edited by David F. Freeman, of the Philosophy Department of the University of Rhode Island. The series is intended to include ". . . a critical analysis from the standpoint of the Reformed Faith of those philosophers and theologians of this century who have rendered outstanding contributions in their field." To date eight volumes of approximately fifty to seventy booklets are being published by the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Box 185, Nutley, New Jersey.

The publication of this series should fill a real need. For a considerable time it has been difficult to discover adequate material on leaders of contemporary thought to place in the hands of inquiring college and seminary students. The "Modern Thinkers Series" should to a great extent eliminate this difficulty. The monographs are written by competent men in their fields, they are attractively designed, and though the proofreading is sloppy, the writing itself is generally good.

Of the eight available titles four are on philosophers and four are on theologians. In this and succeeding columns we shall take note of these volumes and also of subsequent ones as they appear.

The first monograph we shall consider is that of the Kampen professor of New Testament, Herman Ridderbos. He writes on another New Testament scholar, Rudolf Bultmann, professor emeritus at Marburg. After a decade or two of intensive interest in Karl Barth, there are definite signs that the more radical Bultmann is about to receive more attention in evangelical circles. For one who is interested in a short introduction to an important area of theological discussion Ridderbos' Bultmann ($1.25) should be welcome.

For clarity and organization, Ridderbos' contribution is one of the best of the theological series to date. He presents in a clear and readable fashion Bultmann's famed program of demythologization and a critique from a conservative, Biblical point of view.

To be sure, the problem of myth does not occupy Bultmann only. In the development of Reinhold Niebuhr's thought, for instance, this problem has played an essential part. But Bultmann can be said to have impressed it most forcibly on the contemporary theological mind.

The problem arises because of the supposed expulsion of a naive, mythical view of the world by the enlightened scientific understanding, which desires to interpret all phenomena in ternis of immanent categories. Thinking in terms of Bultmann, Ridderbos says, "The question which one raises in connection with the New Testament is: Can a person who no longer thinks in mythological terms find divine redemption, kerygma, within the redemptive act, described in the New Testament as a mythical event, and within the person of Jesus, conceived of as a mythical divine person" (p. 20).

As Ridderbos points out, Bultmann answers affirmatively in terms of a message which he believes he can disentangle from the mythical trappings in which it comes to us in the Bible. This Biblical message, in turn, is interpreted strongly in the line of the existentialistic philosophy, particularly that of Martin Heidegger.

Ridderbos' essay is helpful in placing the contemporary theology of Bultmann with reference to the older liberalism. (Cf. p. 20.) There is also sound understanding of the existentialistic motifs in Bultmann's thought. (Cf. P. 19.)

Even though he must be respectful of Bultmann's erudition and the massiveness of his New Testament interpretation, Ridderbos concludes that Bultmann's reconstruction of the New Testament message in existentialistic terms is a failure, and itself comprises a greater unlikelihood than the supposed mythical world view that Bultmann is intent on deciphering. (p. 46.) The reading of Ridderbos' careful presentation should be of value to anyone who wants to have an introduction to a theologian who will increasingly receive attention in evangelical circles.