Gerd Lüdemann's Homepage
Recent Interviews/Press Releases
Reprinted with permission from Lingua Franca, July/August
2000, pp. 9-11.
Should a professor who has publicly stated "I am no longer a
Christian" be allowed to teach theology?
For the last two years, the German theologian Gerd Lüdemann has
been quarreling with his university and his church over this question.
Lüdemann sparked the controversy in 1998, when he published a
shockingly frank "Letter to Jesus" in the German weekly Der
Spiegel. Addressing the Savior himself, Lüdemann wrote: "You
weren't without sin and you aren't God's son. You did not return
because your resurrection did not even take place but was only a pious
wish. That is certain, because your body rotted in the tomb-that is,
if it was put in a tomb at all and was not devoured by vultures and
jackals." A month after "Letter to Jesus" appeared,
Lüdemann's fellow theologians at the University of Göttingen issued a
statement urging his removal from their department. They found him
"in flagrant conflict with the character and tasks of a
theological faculty." In response, Göttingen's president, Horst
Kern, recommended that Lüdemann be moved out of the theological
faculty into the Institute for Special Research; that his chair be
renamed "Professor of the History and Literature of Early
Christianity"; and that he lose the assistant professorship tied
to his chair and all rights to administer exams or supervise
dissertations. Although he would still be allowed to teach, students
would not receive credit for his courses. And if Lüdemann rejected his
reassignment and insisted on remaining with the theology faculty, his
research funds (more than fifteen thousand dollars per year) would be
cut nearly in half. Outraged, Lüdemann took the case to court.
Since 1983, when his tenure began at Göttingen, Lüdemann has been
adept at stirring up controversy. Although he follows a venerable
scholarly tradition of trying to locate a credible, historical Jesus,
Lüdemann has met with considerable resistance from his peers. In 1996,
after speaking to Der Spiegel about abolishing the confessional
element in theology, he lost the right to administer theological exams
for those wishing to be ordained by the Evangelical (Protestant)
Church–an umbrella group of Protestant denominations. Since
then, Lüdemann has written a number of books in which he sets out to
provoke: Heretics, The Unholy in Holy Scripture, and The Great
Deception. (His next book, Jesus After 2000 Years, will be published
by Prometheus this fall.) All of these works dwell on inconsistencies
among biblical witnesses, power struggles between early Christian
leaders, and the contrast between the person of Jesus and the figure
of Christ. Lüdemann consistently aims to replace a theology based on
faith with one based on historical knowledge. As he states flatly in
Heretics, "The Bible is the word of human beings."
Does Lüdemann's daring brand of theology warrant removal from his
department? Since theology departments at state universities in
Germany work under negotiated treaties with the Evangelical and
Catholic churches, it just may. Under these treaties, the universities
agree to perform educational functions for the Church–such as
administering exams and conferring degrees–and the Church gets a
say in the hiring process of professors. In its treaty, the Catholic
Church retains an explicit right to fire Catholic theology professors.
(In 1980, the theologian Hans Küng lost his university post at
Tübingen after challenging the doctrine of papal infallibility.)
Although the Evangelical Church does not enjoy this right, it can make
recommendations to the university regarding such matters. Indeed, in
January of this year, a paper issued by the university made it clear
that the Evangelical Church was demanding Lüdemann's dismissal.
And for Lüdemann, this was bad news. In a series of preliminary
hearings last fall, the courts came down against him, stating that if
the Church recommended his dismissal, the university could comply
without violating his rights as a civil servant. It is, the court
continued, "an affair of the Church alone–not of the
religiously and philosophically neutral institutions of the state of
Lower Saxony–to judge [whether Lüdemann] is authorized to
represent the theology of this confession." Lüdemann appealed,
but in February Lower Saxony's higher regional court rebuffed him. In
effect, the court ruled that Lüdemann had altered the basic elements
of his contract by renouncing his faith in Christianity.
What happens next? Lüdemann says that he must wait for the courts
to make their final rulings, which could take up to four years. But
because the courts have already ruled against him in preliminary
hearings, he concedes, "the cards don't look so good."
Nonetheless, Lüdemann's intention to take his case before the
German equivalent of the Supreme Court may stir up a national debate.
As Gerhard Besier, a professor of church history at the University of
Heidelberg, wrote in the German newspaper Die Welt, "The case of
Lüdemann could become the case of theology," with the intimate
partnership of church and state forced to undergo an uncomfortable
reexamination. Meanwhile, Americans may be corning to the rescue. At
the end of March, Die Welt published an open letter of protest by the
Jesus Seminar, a group of mostly American fellows (Lüdemann is among
them) dedicated to "renewing the quest for the historical
Jesus." "The task of western culture," wrote the
fellows, "is to critically engage our Christian past. To exclude
this challenge completely from the theological curriculum would make a
farce of the discipline."
Letter of Concern from American Friends
Article from 1998 Internet Infidels Newsletter
© Copyright 2000 by the Society of Biblical Literature, Decatur,
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