Category Archives: Brunner

Emil Brunner’s Birth-iversary

Emil Brunner, the greatest theologian since Zwingli, was born on the 23rd of December in 1889.  His breadth of knowledge was astonishing and his theological significance simply cannot be overstated or even exaggerated.  As Kelly van Andel puts it so nicely

brunner_tvz3[Brunner] studied at both Zurich and Berlin universities and received his doctorate in theology from Zurich in 1913. His doctoral dissertation was entitled ‘The Symbolic Element in Religious Knowledge’. In 1916–1917. Brunner served as pastor in the mountain village of Obstalden in the Canton of Glarus. In 1919–1920, he spent a year in New York studying at Union Theological Seminary.

Preaching at the Fraumunster

Preaching at the Fraumunster

In 1921, Brunner wrote what he considered his second dissertation, Experience, Knowledge and Faith. Another book soon followed, Mysticism and the Word, a critique of the liberal theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher. Such work enhanced his academic reputation, and he was rewarded in 1924 with an appointment as professor of systematic and practical theology at the University of Zurich, which he retained until 1955. In the late 1920s, his reputation continued to increase with the publication of two more books, The Philosophy of Religion from the Standpoint of Protestant Theology and The Mediator.

brunnerIn 1932, having fulfilled invitations to visit and lecture across Europe and the United States, Brunner wrote God and Man and The Divine Imperative. Later, in 1937, he published Man in Revolt and Truth as Encounter. In 1938, he again returned to the United States to accept a visiting professorship at Princeton Theological Seminary.

He returned to Europe prior to World War II. Following the war, Brunner was invited to give the Gifford Lectures at the University of St Andrews in 1947–1948. His lecture series, ‘Christianity and Civilization’, was divided into two parts, ‘Foundations’ and ‘Specific Problems’.

brunner8Brunner’s teaching career concluded in 1953–1955 at what was then the new International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan. In the meantime, he published his three-volume dogmatics, including The Christian Doctrine of GodThe Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption and The Christian Doctrine of the Church, Faith, and Consummation. On the return journey from Europe to Japan, Brunner suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and was subsequently physically impaired, which weakened his ability to work productively. For the next nine years, Brunner suffered from further strokes. He died on 6 April 1966.

Other books by Brunner include: Theology of Crisis (1929); Word and the World (1931);Divine-Human Encounter (1943); Justice and the Social Order (1945), Revelation and Reason: The Christian Doctrine of Faith and Knowledge (1946); Scandal of Christianity (1951);Misunderstanding the Church (1952); Eternal Hope (1954); Great Invitation: Zurich Sermons(1955); Letter to Romans: A Commentary (1959); I Believe in the Living God: Sermons on the Apostle’s Creed (1961).

You haven’t experienced the joy of theology until you’ve experienced it through Brunner’s skillful works.  Happy Birthday, Emil!

Brunner’s Ordination

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 Rejection of 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 (emphasis mine)

Brunner’s Ill Health Didn’t Prevent His Working

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.

August 1949

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.

Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3

Today in Brunner-ian History

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.

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

Brunner 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

Is There A God?

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.