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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Barth and Brunner on Natural Theology: Part 5


The distance between Barth and Brunner grows when Barth revises Church Dogmatics I/1, which devotes ten pages to undermining Brunner’s “eristics” project. Brunner, in turn, writes an article entitled “The Question of the ‘Point-of-Contact’ as a Problem for Theology,” which calls for theologians to devote attention to theological anthropology. He also writes Barth to thank him for sending an early manuscript of Church Dogmatics, while accepting Barth’s diagnosis of the growing distance between them:

"You are heading in the direction of a “perennial theology,” which rejects the special feature of human questions for every time; you believe that, in the twentieth century, you must also answer the questions of the sixteenth century. I, on the other hand, have turned in the direction of the kind of dogmatics which sees its service as answering the questions asked by the modern person. . . . [This is] where all of our differences have their ultimate ground . . . For me, theological work, . . . in the end, is nothing more than a particular type of evangelism, namely the battle against pagan thinking. . . . Perhaps (this is still always my hope), when your great work is brought to completion, you will turn yourself again to the work for which you are so specially equipped, and – if God grants it – you will be allowed really to ring the great bell which the whole world can hear."

Instead of accepting Brunner’s task, Barth responds predictably by formally relinquishing Brunner as a theological colleague:

"Yes, it is as you write: we continue in opposite directions, only for me it has been, for a long time now, a question not only of an opposition of method and style of writing, but even more a material opposition occurring right down the line. . . . I can understand as a theological friend only one in whom I have trust that he will not make a pact with the ancient serpent, neither with respect to nature nor with respect to grace. I no longer have this trust in you. You have made this pact on both sides as solemnly as possible. . . . It grieves you to hear that from me. But it has first grieved me to see gradually over the years and now completely clearly that we . . . want and intend something completely different materially, so that nothing now remains but for us to renounce the fictitious picture that there is a special solidarity in our work. . . . This renunciation is my answer to the point-of-contact. . . . All you need to do is to understand . . . your letter as radically as possible . . . in order to get the story of the gulf which divides us. All [its] points are non-debatable for me. . . . Here, here at the level of these . . . points it must be shown whether we are united in Christology, justification, the Scripture-principle, etc. If we can still be surprised with one another here, how then can it not be that we also intend completely different things in these other doctrines . . . ? The hyphen which has bound your name and mine . . . was a fictitious alliance."

Brunner goes onto repeat his charge of “one-sidedness” at Barth, thus laying the blame for their dissolution on Barth:

"There is truth in the saying: as much unity as is possible in some way. You have always been the strong one; you have perceived yourself to be the mightiest alone. You could accomplish it all by yourself. But also consider what it means for Christian people if you throw off everyone – everyone – from yourself, and will have fellowship with no one else who comes to the fore theologically. And what will happen if it comes to the point where you have the theological tradition of the entire Church against you! Do what you must, but we will always ask ourselves whether this separation belongs to the necessary issues, or to the uncertain issues, where there is freedom."


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