Well-known theological and philosophical scholar John Macquarrie attempts the daunting task of assessing the effectiveness and relevance of twentieth century existential thought in elucidating the New Testament for the modern world. He accepts Martin Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit (1927; Being and Time, 1962) as a representative statement of existential beliefs, with emphasis on human existence as a phenomenological fact without explanation or justification. Under this view, humans are free to accept their freedom of choice and their responsibility for those choices and live authentically, with attendant anxiety (existential angst) but with conscience prompting them to live as a microcosm of how the world should be, given no outside controls. Likewise, people are free to deny choice and live inauthentically by escaping to the world and avoiding thought and the overriding consciousness of death (nothingness), which paradoxically gives life its meaning and creates the urgency for authentic, complete, self-aware living.
Macquarrie effectively explains how this belief system underlies and informs Rudolf Bultmann’s Theologie des Neuen Testaments (1948-1953; Theology of the New Testament, 1951-1955) and insightfully elucidates the similarities between existential beliefs and New Testament teachings particularly as reflected in the writings of Saint Paul. Those significant similarities include the individual and experiential emphases in both, as the individual must confront life and experiences and choose either authentic life (existential) or Christian life (New Testament) or else choose thoughtlessness and the world and retreat into mindless worldly activity (existential) or worldly pleasures and sins (New Testament). Macquarrie also persuasively notes the specificity and lack of generalization characteristic of both existentialism and the New Testament, as opposed to the abstract generalization of ancient Greek philosophy and most Western philosophy since that time. He sees further similarity in Jesus’ opposition to mindless traditions and group rituals and existentialism’s emphasis on unique, isolated individual decisions and actions free of precedent or imitation. Macquarrie notes further illuminative similarities: Existentialists such as Jean-Paul Sartre write with an individual emphasis in their novels, plays, and other writings, and this emphasis is like that of the New Testament on individually focused historical narrative, poetry, and myth. Existential angst over...
(The entire section is 1027 words.)