Gospel Determinism Cases: Paul G. Bretscher — Bultmann Supplement

Since writing “Gospel Determinism Cases: Paul G. Bretscher,” which has been published in a five-part series here on Brothers of John the Steadfast, further study has revealed the significant impact of Rudolph Bultmann on Bretscher’s theology. That impact is presented in this supplement to the series.

Bultmann: Methods and Trajectory

Bretscher wrote a set of “Propositions on Scripture” dated October 29, 1959. The ninth and final proposition was from his father, Professor Paul M. Bretscher.

As a final point, may I acknowledge my indebtedness to my father by quoting from a recent letter:

9. “It is not easy to take Scripture for what it says of itself. There are, as Cullmann points out, many ‘skandals’ connected with interpreting Scripture. Here are some: the text itself, the canon, the cruxes of exegesis, interpretation itself, translations, the differing accounts of witnesses in the NT. Every interpreter is aware of these ‘skandals’ and would like to remove them in some fashion, whether by allegory, or by assuming interpolations (Bultmann), or by existential interpretations. In short, every interpreter would so much like to fashion Scripture according to his own mental image.”[1]

Bretscher’s father recognized the temptation to Rudolph Bultmann’s existentialism, form criticism, and demythologization. How did Bretscher Sr., at least as of 1959, stand regarding the temptation? He continues:

“The Christian interpreter suffers under these ‘skandals’ more so than the non-Christian interpreter. But he lets them stand. He realizes that Scripture as we have it is nevertheless the Word of God. He is intent to glorify God for the fact that in spite of the ‘skandals’ God still speaks to His children in all the words of Scripture. Therefore he keeps on reading and meditating on thc Word of Scripture. and feeds the hungry flock on that Word. For only that Word is able to cast down the proud and haughty but also to raise up the truly repentant to the glories of heaven.”[2]

Marquart in “Opinion of the Faculty” commends the senior Bretscher’s teaching and pleads with the junior Bretscher to return to the teaching of his father. Sadly, as we have seen already, that was not to happen.

Bretscher’s Christianity’s Unknown Gospel is Bultmannian. It teaches Bultmann’s view of the Word which is not the Word until it has existential effect in man. It presents a laborious Bultmannian form criticism, particularly in the New Testament. It thoroughly demythologizes both testaments. It assumes, a la Bultmann as his father said, hundreds of interpolations. After punching holes in the text by removing those interpolations, it relies again and again on metaphorical-existential interpretations to putty in the holes that form criticism punched.

In Anatomy of an Explosion, Marquart (crediting W. Kuenneth) says the spirit of historical criticism (of which form criticism is a type) “has reached ‘completion (Zuendefuehrung) and perfection’ in Bultmann.”[3] Having said this, Marquart proceeds immediately to say:

Yet Missouri’s “moderate” party did not hesitate to follow historical criticism even into this deeply anti-incarnational tearing asunder of what God has joined together. Consider Dr. Paul G. Bretscher’s forthright pronouncement: [extended quotation of Bretscher omitted][4]

In another place, Marquart says:

According to Missouri “moderate” Paul G. Bretscher even Bultmann, who rejected the whole Christian faith, was one of “us Lutherans” and submitted “altogether to the authority of the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God.”[5]

Marquart there cites Bretscher’s The Baptism of Jesus Critically Considered. It is significant that Bretscher brings Bultmann to bear upon the Baptism of Jesus. Recall that Bretscher’s Barthian experience happened as he struggled with the text for Epiphany in 1957, which was the Baptism of Jesus. Suddenly the words, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” were addressed existentially to Bretscher. The methods of Bultmann — form criticism and demythologization — run rampant and yield Bretcher’s Christianity’s Unknown Gospel. The result is a thoroughly anti-creedal gospel of covenant-sonship and this-worldly salvation. Theologians can distinguish this from theological Liberalism, but for the layman, it might as well be Liberalism’s fatherhood of God, brotherhood of man, and social gospel. How will you hyper-nuancing theologians ever write a catechism for 12 year olds using Barth, Bultmann, and Bretscher that does not land the children squarely in faithless Liberalism?

In Baptism of Jesus,

“Moderate” spokesman Paul Bretscher illustrated historical criticism by interpreting the dove and the opened heavens at our Lord’s Baptism simply as “a graphic literary imagery.” In the same essay Bretscher said of Bultmann, who rejected all Christian dogma as so much myth and legend, including the Trinity, the Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection, and Ascension: “. . . as a Lutheran preacher Bultmann submits altogether to the authority of the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God. . . . It is not Bultman’s intention to detach the Gospel from the history of Jesus.”[6]

That type of double-speak is what you would have to do in your catechism. First, detach the Gospel from the history of Jesus, and second, claim you are not detaching it. If you are honest in making these claims, this is evidence that your theology is so advanced that you have out-nuanced reality.

Bultmann — and Bretcher, along with other Lutheran “moderates” — hold that John “while making use of the tradition created the figure of Jesus entirely from faith.”[7] In existentialism, the Word does not create faith. Faith creates the Word. Faith creates Jesus. We are the creators.

The “moderates” rob ordinary Christians of the extra nos assurance Baptism delivers by making Baptism into intra nos existentialism both for Jesus and for us. They call this Lutheran!

The methods of Bultmann yield in Bretscher the trajectory of Bultmann ending in immanent Liberalism.


[1] As quoted in Marquart, “Opinion,” 336-337.

[2] As quoted in Marquart, “Opinion,” 337.

[3] Kurt E. Marquart, Anatomy of an Explosion: Missouri in Lutheran Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), 119.

[4] Marquart, Anatomy, 119.

[5] Marquart, Anatomy, 112-113, n. 367, citing Paul G. Bretscher, The Baptism of Jesus, Critically Considered, CTCR Biblical Studies Series, no. 5, May 1973, p. 5.

[6] Marquart, Anatomy, 122-123, citing Bretscher, The Baptism of Jesus, 8 and 5.

[7] Marquart, Anatomy, 123, citing Sten H. Stenson, Sense and Nonsense in Religion (Nashville: Abingdon, 1969), 153.

2 thoughts on “Gospel Determinism Cases: Paul G. Bretscher — Bultmann Supplement

  1. How will you hyper-nuancing theologians ever write a catechism for 12 year olds using Barth, Bultmann, and Bretscher that does not land the children squarely in faithless Liberalism?

    That type of double-speak is what you would have to do in your catechism. First, detach the Gospel from the history of Jesus, and second, claim you are not detaching it. If you are honest in making these claims, this is evidence that your theology is so advanced that you have out-nuanced reality.

    The methods of Bultmann yield in Bretscher the trajectory of Bultmann ending in immanent Liberalism.

    Fair warnings and sorely needed admonition. To be forearmed is to be forewarned.

  2. Thank you very much for this whole series. It was enlightening and made me think differently about the liberal theology I see in the Christianity today. You can see Gospel determinism in so many Bible teachers today.

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