The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Emil Brunner, Dogmatics

Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of God, Dogmatics vol. 1 (1949).

I’ve found that I enjoy the theology books written in the 1940’s and 50’s.
Brunner, Tillich, Langdon Gilkey, Gilson, Balthasar, Kung, Nygren and others really resonate.
Currently I’m reading the Brunner book, above. When I get home and have a full-sized keyboard I plan on excerpting a few things and posting here for comments/edification.
Right now I’m in Sierra Vista Arizona enjoying wide open skies and some stunningly beautiful days and nights.

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Hello, DaveB2.0 Are you the new and improved - DaveB version?

And is the 2.0 version, a good guy - wearing a white hat?

We will have to see if ‘improved’ is the right word, but it’s the target!

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Well, it’s a good start.

Glad to have you back. It’s so hard to fill your shoes that I probably failed miserably.

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I’m old enough to enjoy books from that era too. Paul Jewett, Fuller’s theology prof in the 60’s had us read Brunner’s Dogmatics, and Roger Olson, a pretty evangelical theology prof at Baylor, often refers to Brunner as the theologian he finds especially helpful.

Norm - My shoes were too often abrasive. I am going to stay away from the political thread altogether. Gads, I got waaaaaaaaay too wound up. I’ll try to be more boring! :grin:

A first snippet from pages 32-33 op. cit.
A rescue from bibliolatry? In any case, recovering a somewhat diminished emphasis in Christian life.


Now for my last point: where the knowledge of Jesus Christ given through the Holy Spirit is concerned, in the very nature of the case there is no difference between the Apostles and the members of the Christian Church, thus also there is none between the Apostles and the Christians of later generations. If it is really true that every Christian is to have the Holy Spirit,indeed that he who “hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His”, there can be no difference. To be united with Christ through the Holy Spirit means: to be directly united with Him. Here there is no difference between an ordinary Christian of our own day and an Apostle. And yet this difference does exist,and it has great significance. Only it is not significant for the content of the revelation, but only for the way in which it is given: namely, for the way in which we, in contrast to the Apostles, receive the Holy Spirit and therefore the knowledge of Christ. The second generation, and all the succeeding generations,receive faith, illumination through the Spirit, by means of the witness of the first generation, of the Apostles, the eye-witnesses.’

Jesus Christ is not directly “here” for us, as He was for the disciples. We possess Him only in their narrative which tells us about Him. Their narrative and their doctrine are the means,which God uses, in order to unite us with Him. This is inherent in the very nature of the historical revelation. As an historical revelation, it can only reach us along the historical path,through the testimony of eye-witnesses. But this testimony,in accordance with that to which it points, is not simply an"historic fact"; the Apostles are not for us simply the bio-graphers or chroniclers of Jesus. The historical revelation is something more than an “historic fact”. What they have to tell and to teach is indeed the fact that the Word became flesh,that the Son of God has come to us in human form. The Christian message tells us not only of the Crucified Lord who"suffered under Pontius Pilate", but of the Risen Lord, who rose again on the third day; but the Resurrection is not a"fact of world history", it is a fact of the history of the Kingdom of God, which can only be reported by “eye-witnesses” who have “beheld His glory” as the glory “of the only begotten Son, full of grace and truth”.^ The fact of our redemption—the history of salvation—is transmitted by the proclamation of facts, that is, by the testimony of the Apostles, under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

It is this testimony, then, that stands between us and Christ;not, however, that it may be a barrier, but a bridge.

Through this message we may receive the same Holy Spirit, and may therefore receive from the Spirit Himself the witness that He is the Christ, just as they received it. That means, however,that their witness can never be the basis and the object of faith,but only the means of faith. We do not believe in Jesus Christ because we first of all believe in the story and the teaching of the Apostles, but by means of the testimony of their narrative and their teaching we believe, as they do, and in a similar freedom. Faith in Jesus Christ is not based upon a previous faith in the Bible, but it is based solely upon the witness of the Holy Spirit; this witness, however, does not come to us save through the witness of the Apostles—that apostolic testimony to which our relation is one of freedom, and, although it is true, it is fundamental for us, it is in no way dogmatically binding, in the sense of the theory of Verbal Inspiration. The Scripture—first of all the testimony of the Apostles to Christ—is the “Crib wherein Christ lieth” (Luther).^ It is a "word"inspired by the Spirit.

What strikes me about the above quote from Brunner is the reminder that we are not stuck out here 2,000 years from the action.
Jesus was with the apostles then; then the apostles and others wrote their various letters and histories and revelations. We have that in a Book.
BUT - drawing on Brunner’s thoughts above - because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, that very necessary and life-bringing ministry, we (and all other spirit-filled Christians since that first century) are made alive, given faith, given understanding - the SAME as those that were with Jesus. That is so, because even they had to have the enlightenment of the same Holy Spirit to enable them to understand what they were seeing. So now that same Spirit does that for us.

This is also a reminder for me that bibliolatry is not where it’s at; the bible is not and does not claim to be an idol to be worshipped.

That makes sense to me. There has been a continuity of God’s work in Christ down all the centuries, continuing today, and that is possible because of God’s Holy Spirit.
Comments? I’ll post another snippet tomorrow.

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Not much in Brunner is ‘new’; his strength, it appears to me, is emphasizing forgotten aspects that upon examination turn out to be pivotal, and putting them into an “I-Thou” frameword that gives them new life.

From page 141, op.cit.

“Hence it is so essential that in our thinking about God we
should always start from the original situation of faith: God
who addresses us in His revelation of Himself, God who meets
us as the Sovereign “I”, and in so doing alone gives us the
dignity and responsibility of persons. This shows us the confusion
that is created when the doctrine of God, instead of
starting from this disclosure of His personal Being as Subject,
starts from any kind of neutral definition of being, such as that
of the theology -determined by Platonism, Aristotelianism, and
Neo-Platonism. The idea of God of faith is only gained in the
sphere of faith, not in that of metaphysical, neutral thinking,
which only produces neutral “objective” results. True theological
thought should never leave the dimension of revelation,
the “I-Thou” relation, in order to pass into the dimension of
the “It”. Since thinking about God continually leads theologians
to slip into the tendency to regard Him as an object, they need
continually to reverse this tendency by moving back to the
original situation: revelation-faith. True theology, therefore,
must not only begin with the knowledge of God as the absolute
Subject; its one, its sole task, is to make this clear.”


Yes, I too see Brunner’s neo-orthodoxy as basically presenting the traditional orthodoxy in a fresh way, and less dependent on a more fundamentalist approach.

I do sense (like Barth) his epistemology is adverse to apologetics that appeal to general revelation, arguments appealing to reason, etc, but depend more on having an encounter with the “God who meets us as the Sovereign I,” or as he says, with a “disclosure of God’s personal being as Subject.”

My dilemma with this is about what common ground enables us to interact on theological differences with someone whose experience of God’s disclosure differs from ours, and even how to dialogue with someone who feels God has not met them in the way we believe that God has ‘encountered’ us.

In conservative circles, issues with Brunner (or Barth) have seemed to pivot on the nature and place of the Bible in our doctrinal epistemology. If the affirmation is less that the Bible IS God’s Word, than that it “contains” the Word of God as he speaks to us through it, is, or is not, dialogue about doctrine essentially a debate about exegetical hermeneutics?

Interesting comments Bob, that really point to a fruitful study. I will keep those in mind as I continue reading Brunner.

Side note: Long ago in the AOG church I was attending (1972-73), one of the many traveling evangelists at that time (Ray Stedman, I think) held a ‘revival’ in our church.One evening he made the statement that ‘we should be experiencing God first, and then finding in the bible that our experience is warranted’. Later in the service, when a number of folk in the ‘audience’ were experiencing what might charitably be called ‘religious affections’, he attempted to cast a demon out of a young man, in the middle of which Ray caught my eye and commented “it feels like I’m a fisherman trying to land a big fish”!
So we started the evening getting a lesson in ‘encounter evangelism’ and ended dragging a demon out of a kid like pulling a fish out of a lake. That was the AOG ‘back in the day’. Never a dull moment :slight_smile:

Wow, I didn’t think Stedman was AOG nor that charismatic, but what a great illustration of a more experience oriented approach. Indeed, charismatics are often are seen by many conservatives as violating the more fundamentalist principle that anything experiential and subjective is not to be trusted, only the black and white authoritative words of (supposedly clear) Scripture (and thus e.g. John McArthur’s book, “Charismania”).

In many ways, Pentecostals appear more open to seeking and wrestling with a more balanced epistemology that combines Scripture and experience.

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I hope I’m right in naming Ray Stedman as the revival speaker. I’ve since looked him up on the interweb and cannot decide if his biography fits the timeline or not. I may be mistaken.

Bob - I just read a short online bio of Ray Stedman, the one you are referring to, and I don’t think he could be the same person as the evangelist in the AOG at that time.

This next section is heavy sledding unless you are used to philosophical terminology.
Brunner is striving to once again enforce his contention that God is not an object of our thought; He is in fact Subject, and Personal. About a year ago I read Hans Urs Balthasar’s book “Presence and Thought”, which was a study of Gregory of Nyssa’s thought, and much the same point was made albeit in a different manner. God as Subject and Person is prior to our conceptions, and does not need them to disclose Himself. The question is not ‘how can man rise to the knowledge of God?’ but rather ‘What is God thinking about men?’ We cannot pull Presence out of heaven by abstraction of concepts, or lofty thoughts. We’re dealing with real Personhood. That’s the way I’m looking at it, anyway.

"(3) Mediaeval theology—and its successors in Lutheran and
Reformed scholasticism—describes what we mean by the idea
of “absolute Lord” by three philosophical ideas: Aseity, the
Absolute, and the actus purus. What do these strangely abstract
ideas mean? op.cit. page 142
"The idea of Aseity, first used by St. Anselm,^ that is, of the “a se esse”, expresses the truth that the Being of God is not dependent… but an independent being, an “esse a se”. There is no objection to this idea, although at first sight it looks so remote and abstract, presupposing, of
course, that it is used for a closer definition of the Sovereignty of God, but not for the speculative, metaphysical, artificialconstruction of the Idea of God.
This presupposition is rarely found among the Scholastics—whether of ancient or
of modern times. Indeed, they do not start from revelation, thus
they do not explain what is given in and with this revelation, but, by means of ontological speculation, by the “Way” of abstraction, they “construct” the Idea of God. Once this has
happened, these philosophical ideas tend to obscure the Christian Idea of God, since they weaken the truth of God as Personal Being." p. 142-32

More to follow. Does this have any ‘existential’ meaning for us, or is Brunner just jousting with his fellows? For me, I consider the philosophical explanation above a word of truth and of comfort. The truth that God is before anything else, not dependent on anything for His Being , is a comfort for all of us, who are contingent and frail creatures in a very large and often dangerous creation.

Another heavy section, which I’ve included only because it touches on the subject of ‘idealism’ which has been discussed in another thread on this forum. If that is of no interest to you, fear not! Tomorrow’s snippet will hit a little closer to home, and then we will toward Brunner on soteriology and other matters closer to our normal concerns. I will be shorter from now on. Hopefully.
The following section addresses once again the issue of thought and Presence. The true idealist attempts something by thought and abstraction that will reach to the Absolute, or the World Spirit - but that is not the God of the Bible, and Brunner shows why.

op. Cit., pages 143-146:

“It is, of course, true that modern Idealism believes that it can
get rid of this neutral element in the idea of the Absolute gained
from Being, since it takes the “I” and not the “It” as the
starting-point. That is the meaning of the transition from
Spinoza’s “substance” to Fichte’s “Self”. Here, indeed, by the
way of speculation, it seems as though the idea of the absolute
Subject, and thus of the Lord God, had been attained. But this
is an illusion. For since the idea of the Divine Creation—and
rightly so, from this abstract, speculative point of view—is
rejected as an impossibility for thought (“a creation cannot
possibly be conceived”),^ the being of God and the being of the world are equated in this instance from the standpoint of the
subject, instead of from that of the object; thus here, too, the
idea of the Absolute merges into something which is neuter, an
“It”, even if this “It” is called “Spirit”. Here “Spirit”—
because it is not the Creator Spirit—means that which is
ultimate for thought, the final attainment of our thinking, the
Object of our thought. Hence, also, this idea of the Absolute,
in spite of the fact that it starts from the Subject and not from
the Object, is impersonal, and the God whom it conceives is an
impersonal God, and not “the Lord”. Therefore the speculative
idea of the Absolute—whether it be conceived in the manner of
Spinoza or of Hegel—in the history of modern thought is opposed
to the Christian understanding of God, just as it used to
work against it in secret, in earlier days.^
If, however, the idea of the Absolute is not taken as the
basis, but as the means of intellectual clarification of the revealed
nature of God’s Being, then it is not only useful but
indispensable. Indeed, from the standpoint of the revelation of
God as Lord, we can say: Only God the Lord is truly Absolute.
The Absolute, for the very reason that it is something neuter,
an “It”, cannot be truly absolute…Only the
Free is the Absolute; but this One who is Free can never be
known by the way of thought—for only the Necessary can be
found thus, but never the Free. God, as the One who is free, as
the Lord of the Self, and the Lord of the world, can only be
known where, in His free revelation. He gives Himself to be known. Only the thought of God which is in accordance with
revelation, as the Creator Lord, fulfils that which the concept
of the Absolute of thought seems to provide: it alone shows
us the truly Unconditioned as the nature of that which is
conditioned neither by being nor by thought. Of Him alone can
it be said that He is “a se esse”. Only where this idea of the
Absolute is preceded by the idea of Creator—understood in the
Biblical sense—in which the “a se esse” and the “ab alio esse”,
necessity and contingency, are distinguished from each other,
can we speak in the strict sense of an “a se esse” and of the
Absolute, As a clarifying idea alongside of the idea of God
the Lord given in revelation, both these secondary theological
ideas receive their full meaning, while as fundamental
ideas of speculative thought they cannot provide what they

This section of Brunner is over my head and vocabulary, and I hope someone could paraphrase its’ main idea for we who may have degrees, but feel like theological laymen :slight_smile:

I get the apparent implication that we can’t learn about God by seeking him, and that the prerogative remains with God to choose to reveal himself. But given that folk have different impression of how and what God has revealed to them, I’m unclear as to what criteria Brunner would endorse for sorting out such differences?

I don’t know yet what criteria he would endorse, or even if he does, but I will continue to read him and if something pops up, I will pass it on.
I will do a paraphrase later this evening if time allows.
For the nonce - what is your criteria for an answer to that problem?

I lean toward the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (examining Scripture, Experience, Tradition and Reason). That offers some common ground criteria for dialogue, but of course subjectivity remains, and thus I assume there will never be consensus on what God has revealed.

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Excellent! I’d not heard of the Quadrilateral, but at first glance it appears to cover the possible avenues. I doubt Brunner or anyone else could improve much on that.

No chance to get to the paraphrase this evening. I will try tomorrow. It’s a bigger project than I first thought, because to explain that post I will have to explain a few other things first for context. But it might be fun.

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