Well, I was this close (imagine thumb and forefinger held up really close together) to dropping Modern Christology and opting for something like Homiletics. 150 pages of Schleiermacher just about did my head in and I was seriously thinking of finding something less burdensome. So, last Monday morning I happened to bump into the lecturer and told him what I was thinking of doing. He told me that I wouldn’t ‘get’ Schleiermacher until the end of the course and not to worry about it. To cut a long story short, he persuaded me to stick with it (and not be a dropout like the other 15 out of 35 who did quit). If I’m being honest, I probably didn’t need much persuasion. And now I’m quite glad I stayed.
I’ve just about finished a couple of Bultmann readings and very challenging they are too. One of them was his lecture on ‘Demythologizing the New Testament Proclamation as Task’. This is basically saying the the ‘myth’ thought-world of the New Testament is no longer something modern society can deal with effectively and so it is necessary to strip out the ‘mythical’ aspects of what we read in scripture and look for the bits that we can still directly relate to. It’s not that these aspects are irrelevant, rather we just don’t ‘get them’ with our rational thought processes and so we should dispense with them. So a lot of the ‘magic stuff’ disappears – demon possession, virgin births, miracles, etc. We ‘accept’ them in faith, but only because others before us did and now they are no longer necessary for our faith.
I just happen to be reading Moltmann at the moment as well and coincidentally got to a chapter on much the same thing. The virgin birth, for example, is really of no interest to us and should be irrelevant to our faith. It’s a gynaecological issue, not a ‘make or break’ basis for our faith. Its import comes through the projection, backwards, of what the ‘origins’ of the Messiah might be expected to be (based on cultural myth and past prophecy). In essence – Jesus is the Messiah so He must have had a virgin birth.
As I say, quite challenging stuff and it really forces you to strip away the layers of your own faith and see whether what’s left will withstand scrutiny.
I do wonder though if things aren’t changing again. Bultmann’s lecture was written in 1941. I think that, since then, society has become less ‘rational’ in thought-world. I think there is more of a search for the spiritual and that what was once dismissed as myth (as in just a made-up story) is now becoming more acceptable as myth (a way of expressing a spiritual truth that is beyond our ability to properly describe). Post-modernism is, I think, rediscovering a sense of the ‘greater’. Theologians (and more pointedly, those who put it into direct application, in the pulpit) perhaps need to (re)discover an appropriate language that connects with that spiritual searching.