Because God is "utterly other", God can't
be analysed or grasped by the human mind. Reason can take us so far and no
further. We know God only through revelation. That comes to us through the
Bible. We can analyse the structure and origins of the Bible using our
reason. But in the final analysis it is "faith" which takes us through
appearances into wisdom and salvation. There are no rational grounds for
choosing Christianity. We choose through faith.
with Barth was Rudolf Bultmann. His aim was to advance Christian
understanding through critical analysis of the New Testament. The latter
was, he thought, built upon pre-scientific cosmology. It is our task to
extract from this the kernel of the gospel.
The shell of the
gospel is made up of myths, the preferred way of conveying the truths of
existence in Jesus' time. Bultmann wrote, "The historical person of Jesus
was very soon turned into a myth in primitive Christianity." We can't
recover the Jesus of history, but we can find the kerygma or divine
message to humankind.
Merely to swallow whole the mythical
Jesus is to avoid the angst of existential choice, said Bultmann. The
alternative is authentic existence in which we can decide for ourselves
about the divine message.
An example of authentic choice is
when we face death. The New Testament is dominated by the eschatological
idea that God will one day send Jesus to establish his earthly kingdom.
Through this we will, it is told, either avoid death or be brought back to
life. This is clearly a myth. Only when we accept that it is so are we freed
to face up to the angst of our inevitable end.
Barth, Bultmann thought that we can't know God and God's purposes directly.
Only through revelation can God come to us. He differed from Barth in
proposing that revelation isn't confined to any one point or several points
in history. Rather, "In every moment slumbers the possibility of being the
eschatological moment. You must awaken to it" .
Paul Tillich became famous for the way in which he adapted existentialism to
explore how theology deals with questions of being. He spoke of attempting
to "correlate" the existential situation of humanity with Christian
revelation. He tried to "... correlate the questions implied in the
situation with the answers implied in the message" .
God or "being-itself", he thought, represents our existence when we overcome
the angst and doubt which arises when we confront existential
nothingness. "After this has been said, nothing else can be said about God
as God which is not symbolic," he wrote. The traditional God of theism (that
God is a person or entity separate from the universe) does not exist.
If reality appears meaningless to us we are called to adopt a way of
regarding reality which gives it meaning. For example, to recognise our
finitude is to also recognise the necessity of the infinite.
Man's ultimate concern, therefore, is to seek in life for the ultimate
ground of being. This is, of course, a symbol. But, said Tillich, we mustn't
think that symbols are weak. On the contrary they are powerful conveyers of
truth. For example, we can speak of God as a "person" who loves us. But
that's only a symbol. When we mistakenly make any symbol ultimate, it
immediately becomes demonic. Myths are symbolic and, unlike Bultmann,
Tillich argues for their retention.
Because of its pervading and profound effect on 20th century thought, some
general comments on existentialism in relation to the larger picture occur
The potential devaluation of metaphysics detected by many in
existentialism has proved temporary. It seems to me that, far from
being downgraded, metaphysical thought has been strengthened. New
theological and philosophical systems will always be devised on the
basis of axioms. But consciousness of the inadequacy or relativity of
all axiomatic systems has been immeasurably heightened. We are, I
think, now more able than before to [a] appreciate the value of such
systems while [b] recognising their inherent limitations.
In tandem with the above has arisen an increasing awareness that we
create reality. Entire cultures sometimes adopt unique social
perceptions. Each person perceives the world differently.
Postmodernism is an extreme form of this conclusion. In effect, each
postmodern person experiences his or her unique personal world. There
is no such thing as "the meaning" of a text or painting. The viewer's
is the only valid meaning. In consequence meaning can't be verified,
but only reported on..
There has been a return to reason. Postmodernism's central thesis
has been widely admitted in the West. But refuge of a sort has been
found in the idea of sufficient consensus. That is, we take something
to "really exist" when enough people concur that it "is there". If
nine out of ten say a colour is red, then the pink vote takes a
mandatory back seat - though the "reality" of the pink perception
isn't necessarily denied. Nor is it necessarily true that the nine are
"correct" in any absolute sense.
What is broadly termed the scientific method has in turn become
more rigorous. This is because science has been found out in its claim
to be objective. There is wide acceptance that scientific explanations
are themselves creations of our perceptions. These are often termed
paradigms. They are, in essence, metaphorical ways of rendering the
results of experiment. Scientific revolutions occur when a new
paradigm replaces an old. The resulting uncertainty about scientific
"truth" has forced attention more onto method and technique than ever
The Barthian refuge in "faith beyond reason" halted historical
research into the New Testament in the 20th century for decades. If
reason took one only so far, and faith then delivered God's
revelation, why fret too much about the historical Jesus? While not
denying the value of taking commitment beyond reason, scholars have
renewed the search for the Jesus of history. It has been recognised -
though perhaps only by a minority as yet - that the Jesus of the first
century cannot be fully recovered. At the same time, the Jesus of
history we can discover delimits Christianity without specifying what
it is. Jesus as pioneer replaces Jesus as archetype. When that
happens, the way is open to reinterpret the faith.
 Twentieth-Century Religious Thought, SCM
 The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1967
 The Perennial Scope of Philosophy, quoted by Macquarrie
 Kerygma and Myth, 1941
 Systematic Theology, 1957