Brunner's Counter Theses and Their Proof: The First Counter-Thesis
Brunner wants to reconstruct natural theology biblically and on the grounds of the Reformation. He claims this new way of doing natural theology is able to maintain the dialectic of nature and grace that can preserve the priority of grace over nature, both ontologically and epistemologically. The “lynchpin of this dialectic,” as Joan O’Donovan has observed, is the dual concept of the imago Dei, which can function as both nature and grace.
According to Brunner, man’s creation in the image of God has two aspects: the formal aspect and the material aspect. The formal aspect acts as the structure and function of human being, a characteristic that makes it inherently superior to the rest of the contingent order of created beings. The structural-functional superiority of human being manifests itself in human “responsibility” and “capacity for words.” As Brunner puts it:
Man has an immeasurable advantage over all other creatures, even as a sinner, and this he has in common with God: he is a subject, a rational creature. The difference is only that God is the original, man a derived subject. Not even as a sinner does he cease to be one with whom one can speak, with whom therefore also God can speak. And this is the very nature of man: to be responsible.
Thus, the formal aspect cannot be destroyed by sin, thereby rendering humanity responsible and inexcusable for the cosmological chasm (which is both ontological and epistemic) between God and His subjects.
In contrast with the continuing integrity of the formal aspect, sin has successfully destroyed the material aspect of the image of God in humanity. Brunner agrees with Barth that humanity’s original righteousness “has been lost and with it the possibility of doing or even of willing to do that which is good in the sight of God . . . [such that] the free will has been lost.”
The destruction of this material aspect leads to the total perversion of created human being that renders the once “personal” human being as “anti-personal.” The sinful human remains “a person” insofar as he/she remains a responsible subject (retaining the formal aspect). Yet, Brunner notes:
he is not a personal person but an anti-personal person; for the truly personal is existence in love, the submission of the self to the will of God and therefore an entering into communion with one’s fellow creature because one enjoys communion with God. This quid of personality is [negativized] through sin, whereas the quod of personality constitutes the humanum of everyman, also that of the sinner.