This last week I read a classic work of Christian theology, Rudolf Bultmann’s Jesus Christ and Mythology. Bultmann was born in 1884 and died in 1976. For thirty years he was a professor of New Testament Studies at the University of Marburg in Germany.
Bultmann notes that the New Testament is full of first century mythology. God’s abode, Heaven, is literally somewhere up in the sky among the stars. Mental illness is explained as demonic possession, and miracles happen when the laws of nature are suspended by magicians and healers.
A common myth among the Jews of this time was the expectation of a messiah who would establish God’s Kingdom on Earth. Of that end time Jesus himself is supposed to have said,
There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth,
nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and
tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive
of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will
be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming
in a cloud with power and great glory. (NIV, Luke 21)
Using Bultmann’s method of de-mythologizing the Gospels, we can eliminate the signs in the Heavens, the seething of the sea, and the appearance of a superhuman figure among the clouds. What’s left is the law of the Kingdom, the law of love. In the Kingdom people are lovingly kind and truthful. People are unfailingly good. Even non-theists can accept this version of the Kingdom of God, which now becomes a symbol that a wide range of Friends can affirm. The Christian tradition can be maintained in a meeting even if there are many non-Christians in that meeting.
May we always hope for unity as we individually search for Truth!
~ Richard Russell
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