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Monday, May 07, 2007

Brunner's Fifth Counter-Thesis

Under the rubric of preserving grace, Brunner links the ordinances of matrimony as well as government, “without which no communal life is conceivable, that could in any way be termed human. These ordinances vary in dignity.” He explains that monogamous marriage as an institution is more dignified than the State because it is untouched by sin. For Brunner, marriage is necessarily natural because all men practice it, which is important to understand for embracing natural theology:

"The Christian, who recognizes the creator only in Jesus Christ, also recognizes the ordinance of matrimony to have been instituted by the creator. The distinction between this “ordinance of creation” from a mere “ordinance of preservation” relative to sin, such as the State, is made for sound theological reasons. It is necessary for a Christian theologia naturalis, i.e. for Christian theological thinking which tries to account for the phenomena of natural life. Matrimony is a “natural” ordinance of the creator because the possibility of and the desire for its realization lies within human nature and because it is realized to some extent by men who are ignorant of the God revealed in Christ."

This natural ordinance of marriage argument is not very effective, since marriage is only “realized to some extent” and sociologically is somewhat dubious in its definition. But Brunner’s claim that matrimony is unlike the State in the sense that it is untouched by sin leaves room for the possibility that Brunner was open to questioning the government, though he is only speaking generally here.
Brunner emphasizes that these ordinances are only fully realized by a person of faith, but that they are still ordinances of nature, just like the arts, and are “created and maintained by reason or instinct.” This link between nature and reason is important to notice:

"Even the believer, who by reason of his faith understands their ultimate sense better than the unbeliever, cannot but allow his instinct and his reason to function with regard to these ordinances, just as in the arts. And finally it is true that only by means of faith, i.e. through Christ, their relation to the loving will of God can be rightly understood. Nevertheless through the preserving grace of God they are known also to “natural man” as ordinances that are necessary and somehow holy and are by him respected as such. For it is peculiar to the preserving grace of God that he does his preserving work both by nature acting unconsciously and by the reason of man."

There is something about reason and instinct that allows a kind of a priori knowledge of God. I think these faculties are somehow related to the formal aspect of the imago Dei, and are the capacities for knowing God. Having God reveal himself through creation allows God’s grace to penetrate our sinfulness come what may. What is lacking in the revelation in Christ for Brunner that motivates him to look outside it in creation? And is he looking in a way that is proper to the walk of faith?


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