Günther Bornkamm's treasures

Can I just say that Günther Bornkamm's books on Jesus of Nazareth and Paul are brilliant. I am no theologian and thereby not someone properly able to contextualise them in terms of their theological scholarship. Having said that I can not but appreciate them as excellent all-around expositions of the central politico-theological commitments of both Jesus and Paul. I found Bornkamm via an almost flattering citation by Alan Badiou in his Saint Paul.

While one of the purposes of the book on Jesus is to make his message as powerful and relevant today as it was two thousand years ago, Bornkamm acknowledges that messianism often gets hijacked in our secular age. He points his finger at

the front of fanatics who wish to claim Jesus for their own as the great revolutionary, as the prophet of a new world order, as the bringer of a new era, to which must be sacrificed all that is gone before, the word of God in the law and prophets. [...] This movement rushes towards a dreamed-of future, right past the law of God and heedless of it. We have met this tendency in many different forms in the course of a long and changing history. More than that! Its threat is still with us. (JON, 101.)

Writing in the late 1950s he is talking about revolutionary marxism, of course. Fifty years have passed and the threat of secular messianism is still with us, would you not agree?

The book on Paul is the best one I have read thus far on the man. It is a book of two halves: one on the historical Paul, his background, dramatic conversion, and apostolic credentials. I can tell most of the arguments made here are far from conventional. I can also tell where Bornkamm's reading inspired Badiou. Saint Paul reads almost like an unbeliever's ending to Paul: one that writes him off as a politician rather than an apostle.

The second half is on the theology of Paul's letters. One of the things I found interesting here was how Bornkamm distances pietism from pauline theology. Paul's view of the human condition does not make the presumption that man experiences his lost state, from which the Law is powerless to deliver him:

Paul's thought and preaching do not therefore follow the logic of the preaching and practice of repentance as seen especially in pietism. There, in disregard of the gospel, men are shown the depth of their sin, and every effort is made to bring them to despair of themselves [...] When Paul expounds the saving good news, it is generally in statements summarily characterizing man's state as lost; and this is not an evolutionary stage now left behind, on which he can look back with a sigh of relief. (P, 121, emphasis in original.)

It will be interesting to learn how laestadian theologians read Paul in this context.



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