October 27th, 1912, Emil Brunner was ordained. He had preached his first sermon earlier that year, on April 14th. His subject, “Jesus is the Divine Man’. In that sermon, which really serves as an indication of all his later work (though of course just in the slimmest of outlines), Brunner asserted that ‘Faith in the biblical sense is nothing other than an apprehension of the truth’. And faith in the theological sense is like ‘when a mother says to her son, I believe in you!’
The concept of faith remained important to Brunner his entire ministry.
Oh, and he was more brilliant than Barth to the same degree that the sun is more brilliant than a firefly.
Emil Brunner’s spectacular 3 volume Dogmatics is still the best systematic theology ever produced. And today marks the anniversary of the publication of the second volume of the three, in 1950.
In the second volume, Brunner describes the Christian doctrines of Creation and Redemption. Fantastic stuff.
The great thing about Brunner is that he is accessible, and yet profound. That can be said of very few theologians- but it is most certainly true of him. If you want to know what creation and redemption are, he tells you in this book.
Brunner enjoyed another honor on 15 August a few years earlier in his life: he was given an Honorary Doctorate by Princeton University on this day in 1947. He would go on to make such lasting contributions to theology that he would be honored by a number of Universities in the same way.
No greater systematic theologian lived in the 20th century.
The fact that in spite of many health difficulties I was able to finish this book before leaving Europe for my journey to the East is due to the assistance of many good friends. Herr Pfarrer Basler in Zofingen, and Fraulein Gertrud Epprecht, Assistant-Minister in Zurich, have shared with me the labours of proof correction, and my son, Dr. H. H. Brunner, Pfarrer in Marthalen, prepared the Index. To all of these, and to several others who remain anonymous, I tender my cordial thanks.
From the Preface to the second volume of his Dogmatics.
You can download 2 of the 3 volumes of the Dogmatics and have them, freely.
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
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
Your guilt is an ultimate reality insomuch that not even the love of God can simply pass it by. — Emil Brunner
Emil Brunner answers
To ask the question, then, “Is there a God” is to fail to be morally serious. For when one is morally serious he knows that good is not evil, that right and wrong are two different things, that one should seek the right and eschew the wrong. There is a divine order to which one must bow whether one likes to do so or not.
I think we could all do with a nice dose of Emil Brunner right about now. And his little book Eternal Hope is just the thing. And you can read it free. Enjoy.
The questions that worry the layman are both more interesting and more difficult than those which are the favored subjects of discussion by theologians. — Emil Brunner
[Emil] Brunner has not been refuted; he has simply been neglected. – Alister McGrath
The story is told- and I don’t know if it’s true or not- that shortly after Karl received his VERY well deserved doctorandus honoris causa his little son Markus was playing with a school-mate and his little friend asked him what kind of Doctor his father Karl was, Markus is said to have quipped
‘The kind that doesn’t help anyone’.
Karl apparently loved to tell that story and it is cute. But if one were to ask Emil Brunner what he thought his reaction might well have been a bit different. Brunner took theology quite seriously and believed that there was no higher or more important calling or work. For him, Karl was – qua theologian – the precise sort of Doctor who DOES help people and in fact helped in matters far more important than a mere MD or Podiatrist or Gynecologist or whatever.
Karl did too. But just not as seriously as Brunner. That’s why I call Karl the Neo-Calvin and Brunner the Neo-Zwingli. Thankfully, there has only ever been one Luther.
NB- By the by, Charlotte v. Kirschbaum always thought Karl was ‘very’ helpful… *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*.
‘It’ is complete a systematic theology. Barth couldn’t manage it (probably because he spent too much time at the Bergli and its ‘distractions’) but Brunner can, could, and did.
It was on the 14th of May, 1960 that Emil Brunner published the third volume of his fantastic Dogmatics. With the publication of that impressive volume, again, Brunner achieved what Barth never managed- the completion of a systematic theology.
Brunner was the most insightful of the 20th century theologians. His work is still very much worth reading, even 50 years after its first appearance.
And he did it all in the old fashioned way- by actually reading books and typing on paper. With that ancient technology he accomplished more than 99% of our modern theologians with all their tools and means. Because, it has to be said, he was a thinker and a Churchman. Far too many modern theologians are neither.
So do yourself a favor and read a bit of Brunner’s Third today.
That EVERYONE who thinks they know what the Church is, should be, or how it should do its task should, must, needs to, should be required to read Emil Brunner’s ‘The Misunderstanding of the Church‘.
From now on, whenever some tweet or facebook post or any blog post mentions the Church I’m going to ask if they’ve read this book. If they haven’t, they have no business talking about the Church.
It’s in PDF. It’s free. You are without excuse.
Go READ IT.
Emil Brunner received one of his several Honorary Doctorates – this one from the University of Oslo in 1946. He was very deserving of such honors and, unlike his contemporary Karl Barth, wrote well and concisely.
Thanks to Carl Sweatman for the heads up about this–
Perhaps at no other time in the history of the Christian church have the function and purposes of Christian proclamation in general, and preaching in particular, been so scrutinized as in the last twenty years. In the judgment of many, the crisis of the Christian church today-its apathy and enervation in the face of modern problems, its unreality and shopworn moralism-at its heart, is the crisis of preaching.’ Careful scholarship has shown that the Christian church arose as the response to kerygmatic preaching,= a fact which Paul attests out of experience when he notes that faith comes from preaching (Rom IO : 17). If preaching was the principle vehicle which accounts for the authentic, dynamic fellowship of faith in the first century, then it seems most probable that the recovery of authority and relevance by Christianity would depend on solving the crisis of preaching.
Give it a look. Keep it. Treasure it. Learn from it.
Preaching at the Fraumunster
Emil Brunner, freshly ordained, preached his inaugural sermon on the 14th of April in 1912. Unlike so many theologians Brunner actually had Pastoral experience, and never abandoned the Pulpit for the lectern- serving in both his entire life, which is precisely what makes him so profoundly important and insightful. The topic- almost as though he already knew his major path- was “Jesus: The Divine Man”.
His much later series of sermons on the Apostle’s Creed is moving and profound.
If you can track down his sermons, do so. You’ll be glad you did.
Anhand der Quellen, vor allem von Briefen, Tagebüchern und nicht publizierten Manuskripten, gibt Frank Jehle Einblick in Leben, Werk und Wirken Emil Brunners. Das theologische Werk des Schweizer Theologen steht im Zentrum dieser umfassenden Biographie: Mit «Der Mittler» hatte Brunner die erste ausgebaute Christologie der dialektischen Theologie vorgelegt. Seine Auseinandersetzung mit Karl Barth über die natürliche Theologie ist in die Theologiegeschichte eingegangen. Vor allem aber ragt Brunner als Ethiker hervor: «Das Gebot und die Ordnungen» von 1932 ist ein Meilenstein in der Geschichte der Sozialethik. Bestimmend war auch sein Einfluss auf die Weltkirchenkonferenz in Oxford 1937. Brunner wirkte mehrfach als Gastprofessor in den USA, nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg wagte er den Schritt nach Asien, u.a. nach Japan. – Erstmals dargestellt wird Brunners intensive Beziehung zu Leonhard Ragaz.Die hier vorliegende Biographie ist zugleich ein wichtiger Beitrag zur Theologiegeschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts und zur Geschichte der Schweiz im und nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg.
Read it. It is the perfect antidote for the Barthian misinformation about Brunner that too many gullible and silly people accept without question.
And couldn’t spell the word ‘Doctrine’… (from SBL 2014).
* Sorry Wipfers, I just can’t control my impulses…
The first two volumes of Emil Brunner’s Christian Dogmatics are online-
Unfortunately volume three isn’t. But maybe it will be soon. Or you could just buy the print edition. It’s very much worth it.