This post concludes our series on demythologizing by giving Austin Farrer as an English reader the opportunity to respond to the German Debate, between Bultmann (initial essay, response) and his German critics: Lohmeyer, Schniewind, Thielicke.
Farrar approaches the problem by cataloging the "refusals of the modern mind" (p.214), distinguishing between necessary ("sun stood physically still for Joshua"), accidental ("blind eye for imagery based on the procedures of pre-scientific agriculture"), lamentable ("atrophy of ... the sense of poetry"), factitious ("Communism, physical materialism, economic utilitarianism") (p.214).
The different refusals require different addresses (p.215): Farrer considers factitious refusal akin to a disease and suggests to work to abolish them. The response to accidental and lamentable refusal is cultivation and imparting of information. But the necessary refusal must be accepted.
If, therefore, man cannot understand a "mythical" language because they are dogmatic materialists, it is a case of factitious error, and the direct target of our attack. If because they have lost their sense for poetical expression and living metaphor, it is lamentable and we ought to sustain and augment whatever rudiments of poetic sense remain. If because the Biblical images draw on unfamiliar fields of experience, it is accidental and must be met largely by the substitution of familiar images, not (if you like to say so) by demythicization but by remythicization. But if it is because of a real conflict with the way in which any decent modern man is bound to think, then indeed it is time to talk about removing the offensive element from the Biblical story by radical translation into harmless terms. (p.215)The biggest problem is how to deal with poetic symbols vs literal facts (p.215). Farrer argues that in the NT, the relationship is often left undecided. St Luke probably thought that Jesus' genealogy was roughly correct (p.215), while John probably did not consider his sketch of the Heavenly Jerusalem correct to the extent a vista is (p.216).
But the middle cases ... are the more typical; if we ask with Bultmann ... whether spirits good and evil were really thought to be breaths of subtle and potent air physically invading the human person, we run into a mist of ambiguities. (p.216)Farrer thinks Bultmann is making it too easy on himself by pretending to know that "the Word never becomes flesh by making physical fact as immediately pliable to his [i.e. God's, RCK] expression as spoken symbols are" (p.216). Farrer leaves the possibility open that God could make a symbolic expression into physical fact (p.216). Farrer sides with Lohmeyer that the symbolic dereferencing of religious expressions need not terminate (p.217), because there is no literal description that can terminate the recourse (pp.216f).
The techniques of historical scholarship cannot establish that God lived in man, but only that certain things were done and certain words were said. (p.219)[[RCK: I would say that "certain words were written" is probably the strongest one can go.]]
Farrer then goes Catholic on his readers (p.222) before pointing to an inherent need for demythologizing in Christianity, realized in prayer.
The crucifixion of the images in which God is first shown to us is a necessity of prayer because it is a necessity of life. (p.222)
Rudolf BULTMANN, Ernst LOHMEYER, Julius SCHNIEWIND, Helmuth THIELICKE, Austin FARRER, Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate, edited by Hans Werner BARTSCH, translated by Reginald HORACE, New York -- Evanston (Harper and Row), 1961.