JAMES  ADETORO MINISTRY        

"Keeping the Faith, Sharing the Faith and Praying for Harvests"

 THE SPIRIT OF THE DISCIPLINES (1990) by Dallas Willard tells us how to get back to Holy Spirit empowered spiritual life. His discourse on human nature falls in line with what I uphold biblically. He asked a mind-boggling question: "Why are we here?" As he succinctly puts it: "Without an understanding of our nature and purpose, we cannot have a proper understanding of redemption (45)." In the past, before my conversion experience, I was paranoiac with these questions: Why am I in this planet earth?  Why was I created as a man and not a woman, as a human being and not an animal, as a person with this particular color that majority of world population call "black" (which I tag `brown or chocolate') and not the other color call "white", as a black African and not a white African (Afrikaneers, as they call themselves in South Africa)? What was the reason behind my coming into this world through this particular woman and not any other woman? Why should I speak this particular language and not any other? Why should I have the opportunity of having the best education and the best of what life can offer in my community and others languish in poverty. The questions are endless but after I have become a Christian, I am no longer disturbed with my "being-ness" but praising God for everything I am and will become.        

             In this chapter, Willard reminds us that we are of the dust but sometimes forget we are!   I think he is right that "we must in some measure forget it in order to carry on (47)."

            At the very beginning of Chapter Four Willard quoted Psalm 8:3-6 and Genesis 1:26-27 to emphasize that  humans are "Little Less Than a God."

            Humanity is the climax of creation. That notwithstanding, humanity is a creature totally dependent on the benevolence of God, Maker of heaven and earth. However, Willard focuses our attention on the dual nature of humankind - our creatureliness and earthiness as well as our God-like qualities. The awesome power at the command of human beings and the starkness of their utter insignificance as compared to God Almighty are the subject matter of this book.  According to Willard, "We were not designed just to live in mystic communion with our Maker, as so often suggested. Rather, we were created to govern the earth with all its living things - and to that specific end we were made in the divine likeness (48)."

            In order to show us further what it means to be made in the image of God, the author asserts that humankind was given "the ability to live in right relationship to God and to other human beings.  Only in those relationships, in the communication needed to keep those relationships healthy and thriving, could everything be found that was required to succeed at the work assigned (49-50)."  In light of this, human beings are to enjoy a unique relationship to God, who communicates with them alone and who shares with them the custody and administration of this world.  According to Willard, "God rules by speaking" and it is "by speaking, by communicating - we are to rule our `subjects' (50)."

            Another dimension of human uniqueness, of being made in the image of God, is human freedom, that is, the capacity to choose between obedience and disobedience, between good and evil. In the words of Willard, "God gives us a measure of independent power.   Without such power, we are absolutely could not resemble God in the close manner he intended, nor could we be God's co-workers (53)."   Willard, however, pinpoints that the location of this power is the human body.   "That body is our primary area of power, freedom, and - therefore - responsibility (53)."

            Another chapter that I found very educative for me is chapter six where the author discusses "The Nature of Life".   I concur with the author's assertion that "We must have a firm grasp upon the general nature of life to understand spirituality and the spiritual life (58)."    Thus, he defines "life" as "inner power to reach and live `beyond'. . . an inner power to relate to other things in certain specific ways (56-57)."

            However, it is disparaging, or somewhat intimidating reading that "to treat one person as replaceable by another is not to treat them as persons at all.   It denies the inner source, the originative power that is a human life (60)."   That assumption is very polemical.   I wonder how many people reading this would not ponder that this assertion is pregnant with many interpretations or meanings.   Going into details would open sore wounds in the fabrics of all human societies.  Human beings are constantly being treated as "throw-aways" in the industries, corporations, national establishments, and church organizations.   The situation is pathetic in African countries. For instance, when one does not agree with the "power-that-be" you are not only treated replaceable you are exterminated.     

            Apostle Paul tells us that Christians should not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.   If you were not a believer you would enjoy the company of unbelievers like yourself.   Now you are a Christian, definitely you would not like the company you kept before.   You would not like to go to pornographic parties, alcohol-drinking-and-smoking party. You would have new friends because you have become "a new creation", which was the way with me.   In First Corinthians 15:33 Apostle Paul cautions: "Do not be deceived: `Bad company ruins good morals'".   Is that not replacing a group of persons with another group?   Does that deny "the inner source, the originative power" inherent in the "life" of the bad company you are no longer associating with?

            If we all subscribe to the fact that human beings are made in the image of God, "a little less than a god" and they "can draw upon the infinite resources of God (55)", replacing a person, on the long run, does not deny "the inner source, the originative power of that is a human life."   We have a saying in Yoruba culture that "if you want to leave, please leave and do not `trouble' me" or, it may be in this form: "if you say you cannot do this job, others would be glad to do it."   Thus, persons will eventually behave in a manner that calls for their replacement.   Moses was replaced by Joshua. Moses' anger could not allow him to reach the Promised Land.   Saul was replaced by David because he was disobedient.  Samuel replaced the children of Eli because of their reckless and wanton behavior regarding the things of God.

            However, on the other hand, if the word "replaceable" connotes `having no deep commitment in human relationship' then I would agree with Willard on that line of thought.  Treating humans in that sense may be the cause of high rate of divorce in the United States of America. The bitterness of divorce actually "denies the inner source, the originative power that is a human life" and also "dehumanizing (60)."

            But what shall we say with the "Ellen Show", the pro-gay TV sit-com on ABC Network?  The ABC management decided to discontinue the program because of Ellen's incessant display of lesbian/gay lifestyle on her show. This is a replaceable phenomenon, and, in my own view, it is the best decision to discontinue showing this deviant behavior nationwide.  No doubt, the discontinuation actually "denies the (devilish?) inner source, the originative power" of Ellen and her cohorts.   But in my own judgment, this should not be "regarded as dehumanizing (60)."   In fact, if it is anything, that is humanizing. Ellen has become too paranoia with her lesbianism.  

            Connie Chung is also a good example why I am of the opinion that people we act `replaceable' one way or the other. This is part of human life.

            In conclusion, I enjoy reading the book. I have put to practice nearly all the disciplines for spirituality stipulated in the book, amongst which are fasting, solitude, prayer, silence, study, worship, and service. My problem with this book   is that the author makes broad statements that are never qualified. Another example is his discussion on chastity. While discussing the "suffering" of human sexuality, he writes that  much of  the suffering "also comes from improper abstinence (171)."  He never explains what he meant by "improper abstinence".

NOTE: I reviewed this book for a class in 1998 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The author, Dr Willard, who died in 2013, was a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California.

 

 

 

 

 

 


JESUS AND THE WORD (1958) by Rudolf Bultmann. Translated by L.  P. Smith & Erminie H. Lantero.

Rudolf Bultmann in Jesus and the Word focuses on the problem of historiography and historicism.  Historiography is defined as “the writing of history based on the critical examination of sources”[1] and “historicism is a name given to that view which regards any person, event, culture, institution. . . as capable of being explained solely in terms of its historical antecedents.”[2]  Bultmann’s main purpose is that, with his “weapon” of demythologization, he would get to the exact words and authentic message of Jesus by his rigorous “water-down” of the three synoptic gospels.  Pitching his tent with Albert Schweitzer, Bultmann categorically asserts that no one can get to the real, historical Jesus because all accounts and stories ascertaining the life and personality of Jesus “are moreover fragmentary and legendary” (p.14).

Martin Kaehler’s The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic biblical Christ greatly influenced Bultmann’s program of demythologization.  Kaehler, in his book, debunked the whole notion that we can know the inner life of Jesus through the Gospels. He averred that the Gospels are not biographical accounts of Jesus.[3]  Thus Kaehler’s book emboldened Bultmann into a radical surgery of the three synoptic gospels, rejecting the Johanine Gospel as an unreliable source.

Bultmann’s approach is both exegetical and hermeneutical.  As an existentialist theologian, he exegetes the three gospels from the focal point of Martin Heidegger’s existential philosophy.  And his hermeneutical stance is embedded with suspicion.

This book is an independent study in the area of New Testament scholarship.  The author’s critical presuppositions are, first, that most of the words and sayings of Jesus are a projections of the early Christian community as well as a caricature of Hellenistic Christianity; second, that these “exact words” must be interpreted existentially, and, third, that Jesus did not think of himself as the Messiah, or the fact that the messianic title was accepted by him is not a historical fact but “a prophecy after the fact.”

In writing the book, Bultmann employs both Form and Redaction critical methods.  Briefly stated, form criticism is a method of biblical study that seeks to interpret the Bible in the context of the life and culture of the people who did the writings, while redaction criticism, in a nutshell, compares a periscope with its parallels in the other Gospels in order to have a better assessment of the message.  These are the premises in which the book was written.  (Bultmann was a student of Johannes Weiss, a pioneer of from criticism.)

CONTENT ANALYSIS

Bultmann, in Jesus and the Word, interpreted the three synoptic gospels in existential terms.  He regards the teaching and message of Jesus in these gospels as kerygmatic, which is “a call to decision” (p. 31).  According to Bultmann, the kingdom of God is “eschatological deliverance which ends everything earthly” (p. 33).  It is not the “highest value” since it is incomparable with anything of human value. Bultmann tells us that Jesus never calls humanity to “inner life” but a life of radical obedience, total submission to the will of God.

Bultmann maintains that the world is not evil but human beings are evil.  He also notes that since the kingdom of God determines the present reality therefore God’s kingdom is genuinely future.  However, it is present only when human beings acknowledge the claim made upon human existence by God.  Bultmann asserts that humanity is in “a crisis of decision before God” (p. 44) and people can only overcome the evil situation the moment they fulfil the requirements of God.  It is either humankind decides to do the will of God or continue in disobedience.  It is “Either-Or between two possibilities” (p. 96).  There is no neutral stance.

The author also acknowledges the fact that Jesus never taught asceticism as a way of fulfilling the requirements of God.  No “technique is necessary to approach God” (p. 77).  Thus, Jesus’ God does not require fasting, celibacy, virginity, or sexual purity and poverty as conditions necessary for holiness.  According to Bultmann, Jesus radicalizes the Torah observance and proclaims the righteousness of God as God’s grace.  This is evidently shown in Jesus’ parables, miracles and in his forgiveness of sins. 

Suffice it to say here that Bultmann focuses on the kingdom of God teaching of Jesus, the will of God which includes the command to love the neighbour (enemy) unconditionally.

EVALUATION AND COMPARISON

The ideas expressed in the book are well articulated, allowing the reader to gain vital information through the author’s historical allusions and extra-biblical excerpts.  Each sentence germinates an idea and is mind-boggling.  The most striking is that in his introduction, Bultmann affirms that no one can present historically objective analysis of any event but, to the chagrin of all and sundry, he avers that his own account of Jesus is “more objective, for it refrains from pronouncing value judgments” (p. 13).  This is balderdash—for throughout this book Bultmann makes value judgments.

I agree with Bultmann that the synoptic gospels are kerygmatic, that is, the announcement of the works of God in and through Jesus.  The most encouraging aspect of Bultmann’s critical analysis of the three synoptic gospels is his insistence on the radical obedience of the will of God.  “Radical obedience exists only when a man inwardly asserts to what is required of him, when the thing commanded is seen as intrinsically God’s command. . . “ (p. 61).

Much as I agree with Bultmann that the message of Jesus must be preached to impact our present life, there is no message left since Bultmann considers all accounts of Jesus as ‘legend’ not factual, historical documents.  The most damaging criticism of Bultmann is the claim that Jesus has no messianic consciousness.  I also find it disturbing his view that Jesus “is not interested in character building, personality values and the like” (p. 79).

Bultmann discusses Jesus’ miracles with levity.  He considers them “ordinary events,” “astonishing events” and therefore not extra-ordinary events which depend on divine intervention.  I regard this “existential interpretation” of Jesus’ miracles as double-talk and a figment of his own imagination.  I affirm that Jesus’ miracles and healings are signs of Jesus’ authority over demon and sickness—physical and spiritual.

Bultmann considers eschatological message of Jesus as realized eschatology.  The future kingdom of God is realized the moment a person takes a decision to obey the will of God (p. 96). I consider the kingdom of God present but not static, and it will be consummated in future according to Otto, Jeremias, and matured Dodd.

An overview of the book reveals that Bultmann is very selective in the theological concepts he wishes to extricate from the three synoptic gospels.  Bultmann is characteristically Pelagian.  He believes that Jesus “evolves no theory that we are sinners, no theory of original sin” (p. 140).  Much as I agree with his discussion on prayer I flatly disagree with is assertion that we cannot speak of Jesus as “the greatest man of prayer in history” (p. 134).

Bultmann’s greatest error of fallacy is his assumption that “Jesus did not speak of his death and resurrection as redemptive acts” (p. 151).  He has no slightest compunction in making this value judgment.  This book cannot be “a continuous dialogue with history” (p. 11) since the author was a discontinuous personality.

In sum, Bultman’s Jesus and the Word attempts to shatter the Christian faith by accentuating that the tenets of faith have no foundations in Jesus.  His approach and method are self-serving and myopic.  His demythologization of the Gospels is a mystification, a hoax of the bogus mind.

 

This book was reviewed for a New Testament class at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in November 1996.

 

 

 



[1] Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, 1991), 573.

[2] Van A. Harvey, A Handbook of Theological Terms (New York: Collier Books, 1964), 119.

[3] Ralp P. Martin, New Testament Foundations: A Guide for Christian Students, Vol. I  (Grand Rapid: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975), 36