Terminology Tuesday, Kerygma, Kerygmatic Theology
KERYGMA, KERYGMATIC THEOLOGY. The Gk. word kērygma is usually translated ‘proclamation’, ‘preaching’ or ‘announcement’ and, outside of the NT, it was used generally of a public notice proclaimed by a herald whereby that which was announced became effective by the act of announcing it.
The usage of the word within the NT makes no distinction between the act of proclamation and the content of that proclamation, though C. H. Dodd and others have tried to trace a single core of content in the gospel proclamation of the primitive church as recorded in the sermons and letters of the NT. Though one may presume a unanimity among the writers of the NT concerning the essential elements of the gospel message there is little evidence of any fixed or definitive ‘creed’ to which the proclamation of the primitive church invariably conformed. In this sense, the content of the kerygma as recorded in the NT must be discerned from each specific context of proclamation.
However, the word kerygma has acquired a more specific philosophical and technical significance in modern theology through its usage by Rudolf Bultmann. Bultmann suggests that the writing of the NT documents occurred within the context of the proclamation of the primitive church and therefore the documents themselves are kerygmatic in character. He then argues that it is both inappropriate and futile to probe behind this kerygma of the primitive church as recorded in the NT documents in order to discern the underlying historical data. The attempt to legitimize the kerygma in historical terms is considered by Bultmann to be symptomatic of a lack of faith; the quest to discover the ‘historical Jesus’ behind the ‘Christ of faith’ must be dismissed as invalid. Bultmann then considers that, since the kerygma of the NT is expressed in the terms of a primitive worldview, this kerygma must be demythologized (see Myth) and reinterpreted in the terms of an existentialist philosophy. This stretching of the term kerygma and the resultant wedge that is driven between the ‘Jesus of history’ and the ‘Christ of faith’ is both unhelpful and misleading. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that through this process of demythologization and an existentialist reinterpretation of the kerygma Bultmann has arrived at a ‘different gospel’ (Gal. 1:6).
Bultmann’s hermeneutic developed from the seed-bed of dialectical theology which is sometimes itself referred to as kerygmatic theology and which was characteristic of the early writings of Karl Barth. In reaction to the liberalism of 19th-century German theology, Barth proclaimed the radical discontinuity between God and man. The authentic subject of theology is not man and his religion but God and his Word: the Word that demands obedience; the Word that authenticates itself; the Word that does not therefore require historical legitimization. Though Barth in his Church Dogmatics continues to reject any authentication of God’s Word by means of historical criticism, he avoids the dualism implicit in Bultmann’s distinction between the ‘Jesus of history’ and the ‘Christ of faith’ and also rejects Bultmann’s process of demythologization: the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a real event of space and time, albeit an event which will not yield to the scrutiny of positivistic historical science.
BibliographyH. W. Bartsch (ed.), Kerygma and Myth, 2 vols. (London, 1953, 1962); Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, 2 vols. (London, 1952, 1955); C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments (London, 1936); Van A. Harvey, The Historian and the Believer (London, 1967).
Ferguson, S. B., & Packer, J. I. (2000). In New dictionary of theology (electronic ed., pp. 364–365). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.