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Thursday, September 07, 2006

THE PURPOSE OF NATURAL THEOLOGY FOR BRUNNER

In reference to Paul’s letter to the Romans, Brunner unfolds the foundation of a Christian doctrine of “natural man” and of heathen religion. He believes that Paul begins with a two-fold occurrence of “trust” and “repentance,” whereby saying No to oneself is how one says Yes to the saving grace of God. Therefore, when Paul speaks of the “inexcusable,” he is speaking of the responsibility of the ungodly for their ungodliness. Brunner makes the doctrine of natural revelation to be the ground of this judgment, for how else could the ungodly be judged? It is precisely the fact that God is with humanity today in His creation witnessing to Him, that makes it impossible to fault God for man’s sinful state. Indeed, humanity is at fault, for they have perverted what they know of God (Romans 1:23) and turned away from Him who declares Himself. Thus, the revelation from creation is used to give reverence to humanity rather than God. As for the heathen, they “do not stand outside the revelation of God, or out of relation to him; they stand rather in that alienatio originis which from the human side must be called sin and from the divine side the wrath of God.”
Here what lies behind Brunner’s attempt at saving natural theology is his attempt to ground the responsibility of the sinner. He sees this responsibility as relevant to the missionary who proclaims the Gospel to the heathen. The knowledge of one’s own sinful state is not only practically effective in the contact between the proclamation of Christ and the revelation of God in the works of creation and in the law written in the heart, it is “indispensable.”

He goes on:

"He who thinks as a missionary, understands without further ado the central significance of this contact, normative and productive of repentance, with the two-fold revelation in creation; and he knows also that far from prejudicing the sola gratia, it alone makes possible the preaching of justification. Everything depends on the establishment of this responsibility, which makes men guilty; and the responsibility itself depends on the reality of a general revelation in creation which precedes the revelation of reconciliation in Jesus Christ, and indeed precedes all historical life."

BARTH’S FALSE CONCLUSIONS

According to Brunner, it is the doctrine of sola gratia and the position of the Bible as the sole ultimate standard of truth from which Barth draws the following conclusions:

(1) Since man is a sinner who can be saved only by grace, the image of God in which he was created is obliterated entirely, i.e., without remnant. Man’s rational nature, his capacity for culture and his humanity, none of which can be denied, contain no traces or remnants whatever of that lost image of God.
(2) Since we acknowledge scriptural revelation as the sole norm of our knowledge of God and the sole source of our salvation, every attempt to assert a “general revelation” of God in nature, in the conscience and in history, is to be rejected outright. There is no sense in acknowledging two kinds of revelation, one general and one special. There is only one kind, namely the one complete revelation in Christ.
(3) Accordingly we have to draw the following conclusion from the acknowledgment of Christ as the sole saving grace of God: there is no grace of creation and preservation active from the creation of the world and apparent to us in God’s preservation of the world. For otherwise we would have to acknowledge two or even three kinds of grace, and this would contradict the oneness of the grace of Christ.
(4) Accordingly there is no such thing as God’s ordinances of preservation, which we could know to be such and in which we could recognize the will of God which is normative of our own action. A lex naturae of this kind which is derived from creation can be introduced into Christian theology only per nefas, as a pagan thought.
(5) For the same reason, it is not permissible to speak of the “point of contact” for the saving action of God. For this would contradict the sole activity of the saving grace of Christ, which is the centre of the theology of the Bible and the Reformation.
(6) Similarly the new creation is in no wise a perfection of the old, but comes into being exclusively through destruction of the old and is a replacement of the old man by the new. The sentence, gratia non tollit naturam sed perficit, is in no sense correct, but is altogether an arch heresy.

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