The August Avignonian Carnival: A Month of Emil Brunner

You may not realize this but on 15 August, 1947, Emil Brunner was honored with a doctorate from Union Theological Seminary. And in 1950, also on August 15, his exceedingly impressive Dogmatics, volume 2 was published.

Brunner earned his doctorate in theology (ThD) from the prestigious University of Zurich and after he made extraordinary contributions to the study of theology he received a number of honorary doctorates from other universities around the world.  By the way, Karl Barth never earned a doctorate. He was given an honorary degree by the University of Munster so that he could teach in their theology department. Brunner, in this respect also, being superior to Barth.

In order to celebrate Brunner as he deserves to be celebrated (and to make up for his being eclipsed by Barth because Barth had better P.R. than Brunner) this month’s Carnival is dedicated to him. Below you’ll find snippets of his thought and a gallery of images from his illustrious life.

On the Bible

Is everything true that is to be found in the Bible? Let me draw a somewhat modern analogy by way of answering this question. Every one has seen the trade slogan “His Master’s Voice.” If you buy a phonograph record you are told that you will hear the Master Caruso. Is that true? Of course! But really his voice? Certainly! And yet — there are some noises made by the machine which are not the Master’s voice, but the scratching of the steel needle upon the hard disk. But do not become impatient with the hard disk! For only by means of the record can you hear “the master’s voice.” So, too, is it with the Bible. It makes the real Master’s voice audible, — really his voice, his words, what he wants to say. But there are incidental noises accompanying, just because God speaks His Word through the voice of man. Paul, Peter, Isaiah, and Moses are such men. But through them God speaks His Word. — Emil Brunner

On Faith

To have insight into God’s plan for the world — that is faith. — Emil Brunner

On ‘Faith Alone’

“By faith alone” then, means not I, but God alone creates my redemption, my salvation, the saving and redeeming of the world; He alone is good, He alone brings to the desired goal — “with might of ours can naught be done;” — that means to rely on God alone, to make God our whole defense. Does not that make man lazy? Ask a Luther, a Zwingli, a Calvin whether this “God alone” faith made them lazy! Examine the lives of others who have really received this “God alone” faith in all of its depth and magnificence, and inquire whether it has made them morally indifferent or ethically lazy. It is the great mystery of God that men do not become strong until they know their weakness, and expect all things from the power of God. — Emil Brunner

On Accountability

God requires an accounting. He holds us responsible. And that is what strikes terror in us, for how can we bribe the judge in this case? Or thinkest thou that God will wink at evil? That is the (I must add it) cursed frivolity of our generation, that it thinks God does not take things seriously. He will not cast off any one because of disobedience. Forgiveness has been misunderstood to mean indulgence. But the opposite stands in the Holy Scriptures. God will cast off the disobedient, for what men sow they must also reap. — Emil Brunner

On Eternity

Our life is “superficial” without depth or meaning so long as it does not have its roots in eternity. Either it has eternal significance or it has no significance at all. Temporal sense is nonsense. — Emil Brunner

On The Evil in the World

When a father merely observes, for a while, the petulant, headstrong actions of his little son so that the lad may experience for himself where his own will leads — does that mean that the father is a weak parent, who cannot control his son? He will, no doubt, take things in hand at the proper moment, but he prefers not to lecture his son, but rather to educate him through experience to make his own decisions. There is no doubt that God could, if He so desired, create order in this topsy-turvy world all at once; He could, no doubt, make us obedient with a wave of His hand. But He doesn’t want to force us; it is His desire that we should turn to Him of our own free will. Hence He gives us, situated as we are in this deranged world, His Word, namely, the Law and the Promises, that we perceiving the insane folly of evil and the fixed nature of His love, may return to Him in freedom and gladness. — Emil Brunner

On Betrayal

My friends, pause a moment to reflect upon this fact: it was actually possible for one of the disciples to become the enemy of Jesus and to betray Him to a hostile gang. That fact struck the disciples too as a gruesome and unfathomable mystery.  — Emil Brunner

On Doubt

Many have the idea that doubt belongs to life and cannot be helped, that it belongs even to the Christian life. But the truth is that so long as we are in bondage to this doubt we are not yet Christians. For to doubt eternal life is to dismiss the promises of God, to be dis- obedient to the Word of God, to put our trust in our own understanding and senses. God’s Word is not sufficient guarantee, we want something more certain. But this desire for something more certain than God’s Word is doubt, crass, naked doubt; crass, naked paganism; crass, naked Godlessness. — Emil Brunner

On True Seeking After God

If you really enquire about God, not with mere curiosity, not, as it were, like a spiritual stamp- collector, but as an anxious seeker, distressed in heart, anguished by the possibility that God might not exist and hence all life be vanity and one great madness — if you ask in such a mood as the man who asks the doctor, “Tell me, will my wife live or will she die?” — if you ask thus about God, then you know already that God exists; the anguished question bears witness that you know. Without knowing God you could not so ask about Him. You want God because without Him life is nonsense. Your own heart distinguishes between sense and nonsense; it knows that sense is right. Your heart knows something of God already; and it is that very knowledge which gives your question existence and power. You wish that there might be a God, for otherwise everything is ultimately the same — evil is not evil, good is not good. You know already that there is a God, for you know that good cannot possibly be the same as evil. — Emil Brunner

On God’s Wrath

God’s righteousness stands like the mountains. He who withstands God must shatter himself upon God. This is the meaning of God’s wrath. Because God’s will is absolute obedience He therefore hates disobedience absolutely. He who persists in disobedience falls under the fearful wrath of God. That is the holy God. — Emil Brunner

On Prayer

Faith lives on prayer, indeed, faith is nothing but prayer. The moment we really believe, we are already praying, and when we cease praying we also cease believing. –  Emil Brunner

On Forgiveness

There is no forgiveness of sins without a truly repentant heart to which sin is sincerely painful and which renounces it with all its power.  – Emil Brunner

On Dogma’s Importance

In the realm of doctrine the Christian Church has always recognized a twofold task: one concerning the Church itself; the other concerning the outside world, the world of doubt and unbelief. Although, at a time like the present, the conflict with unbelief and false ideologies may seem the more urgent one, yet the first task is always fundamental. For how can the Church do justice to her missionary calling in an un-Christian world if she is not herself clear about the content of her message? All down her history the Christian Church has given much thought to the basis, meaning and content of the message she has received—and is bound to proclaim; this process of reflection is what we mean by “dogmatics”. — Emil Brunner

On Luther and Scripture

Luther was the first to represent a Biblical faith which could be combined with Biblical criticism, and was therefore fundamentally different from the traditional, formally authoritarian view of the Bible, which culminates in the doctrine of Verbal Inspiration. — Emil Brunner

On the Heresy of Universalism

The Word of Christ is for us the word of decision, which, so far as we believe, gives us salvation, and, precisely because it summons us to this decision, forbids us to believe in a deliverance which awaits us, or anyone else outside the sphere of faith. Just as we ought to know that God alone in Jesus Christ is the God of Grace, and outside of Jesus Christ the God of Wrath, so ought we to know that He is only gracious to him who believes, but that He is not so to him who is outside the sphere of faith. But this cannot be for us an object of theoretical doctrine or even of imaginary ideas. This is said in order that we may believe, and it is for each of us to tell others as we have heard it, in order that they, too, may come to believe.

This is our business, but nothing else. We must absolutely resist the inclination to draw “logical conclusions”, since they only lead to one of two errors : either to the doctrine of the double decree or to the doctrine of universal salvation, each of which removes the reality of the decision of faith. Only the renunciation of the logically satisfying theory creates room for true decision; but the Gospel is the Word which confronts us with the summons to decision.  — Emil Brunner

On Barth’s Universalism- which Is Worse Than Origen’s

Karl Barth has been charged with teaching Universalism. When he denies this he is not altogether wrong. He knows too much about the not particularly illustrious theologians who have taught this doctrine of Apokatastasis in Christian history to be willing to allow himself to be numbered among them. “The Church ought not to preach Apokatastasis” (p. 529). Thus Barth’s doctrine is not that of Origen and his followers.  Rather, Barth goes much further. For none of them ever dared to maintain that through Jesus Christ, all, believers and unbelievers, are saved from the wrath of God and participate in redemption through Jesus Christ. But that is what Karl Barth teaches.  — Emil Brunner

On the Incorrectness of Barth’s Doctrine of Predestination 

No special proof is required to show that the Bible contains no such doctrine [as Barth presents it], nor that no theory of this kind has ever been formulated by any theologian. If the eternal pre-existence of the God-Man were a fact, then the Incarnation would no longer be an Event at all ; no longer would it be the great miracle of Christmas. In the New Testament the new element is the fact that the eternal Son of God became Man, and that henceforth through His Resurrection and Ascension, in Him humanity has received a share in the heavenly glory; yet in this view of Barth’s, all this is now anticipated, as it were, torn out of the sphere of history, and set within the pre-temporal sphere, in the pre-existence of the Logos. — Emil Brunner


A Brunner Gallery

Next month’s Carnival will be about something equally enthralling. Stay tuned.  In the meanwhile just remember this one truth:  Emil Brunner is Barth’s superior in every way: morally, ethically, maritally, theologically, and Christian-ly.  Spend some time with him and you’ll realize how very true that is.

2 thoughts on “The August Avignonian Carnival: A Month of Emil Brunner

  1. billc0119 1 Sep 2016 at 11:28 am

    Truly inspiring post. You may need to make a “Cliff Notes” version of the history of Christian thought for seminarians. I don’t remember a course with this material in it. Thank you.


    • Jim 1 Sep 2016 at 11:35 am

      brunner really does get short schrift


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