Friday, January 16, 2015

Notes on N. T. Wright, 2: On the Shadow Cast by Bultmann in Wright's Early Work

At first the ubiquity of Bultmann's presence in Part I of New Testament and the People of God surprised and confused me. My reflexive response was something like, 'Aren't we past all that? Why the feeling that Bultmann is the authority to which NT scholarship must be accountable and/or that he still has ongoing relevance for interpreting the NT?' But a couple things dawned on me.

First, I've read and heard Wright say a number of times that, in his formative school years, Bultmann was the thing that was taught; Bultmannianism was the definitive respectable position on offer, and it was omnipresent in the biblical academy.

Second, when Wright began work on NTPG in the mid- to late-1980s, Bultmann had been dead for barely a decade. By comparison to today, NTPG was published twice as long ago. It only goes to show how larger-than-life figures like Barth, Bultmann, Pannenberg, and Moltmann (still alive!), though their influence has been vast and wide, even to the point of (in some cases) being eclipsed by others' work, are nevertheless thinkers who flourished within living memory. (A guest instructor at Emory, who taught a Reformed Theology short course I took, was one of Barth's last doctoral students in Basel!)

Realizing all this is helpful in reading Wright, in at least two ways. First, it puts into context the trajectories and authorities in NT scholarship with which he was dealing at the time, however alien they might seem in the present context. Second, it reveals just how epochal a shift has taken place in the last two decades, not only in the sidelining of anything like Bultmann's project, but also in the character of NT scholarship, the assumptions one is free to make, the theological projects deemed viable (or passé), and so on. It's a different world for up-and-coming NT scholars today than it was for Wright in the 70s and 80s.

1 comment:

  1. here's the CT link