While the works of Rudolf Bultmann are probably the best known source for the position that little can be known about the historical Jesus, other critics have also held this view as well, including a number of his disciples. But as we said in Chapter 1, several reasons have accounted for the decline in the influence of this postion over the last thirty years. We will emphasize four important problems.
1.Historical grounding needed
As already mentioned, Bultmann’s own disciples noted the initial problem with their mentor’s approach. By de-emphasizing the historical basis for the life of Jesus, Bultmann failed to provide both early and modern Christians with the grounding that is indispensable for the founding and present existence of the Christian faith. If no such factual support exists, then this critique is not entirely effective. But if Bultmann’s position was due more to a philosophical bias, which many thought was the case, and if there is a historical foundation, then he was mistaken to proclaim otherwise.
The New Testament often claims to be based on historically accurate accounts.^7 Paul reminds us that, apart from a historical Gospel, there is no basis for faith whatsoever, since it would be vain and groundless (1 Cor. 15:1–20). The point here is that, without a historical core of knowledge concerning Jesus, Christianity would have little initial impetus to encourage faith in an otherwise unknown person.
This criticism was probably the single most influential contribution to the dissatisfaction with Bultmann’s thought. John Macquarrie, while supporting Bultmann in a number of areas, takes issue with him here: It is very doubtful whether the Christian faith could have been built upon the foundation of a historic Jesus who, as Bultmann presents him, was little more than a teacher of a practical philosophy with certain resemblances to existentialism, and who is stripped of the numinous characteristics which the Gospels attribute to him.^8