Welcome to The Karl Barth Society of Amherst, Massachusetts - a local chapter of the The Karl Barth Society of North America. This site is maintained by Chris TerryNelson. Please let me know how I can make this page a better resource for you. Email me, view my profile. You can also visit my new personal website, Disruptive Grace.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Brunner's Fourth Counter-thesis

According to Brunner, “the manner in which God is present to his fallen creature is his preserving grace. Preserving grace does not abolish sin but abolishes the worst consequences of sin [i.e. death].” Brunner then proposes that God reveals Himself in creation by using it as a way of preserving the health and life of humanity. In a sense, it is the converse of the general religious claim that if it is raining, God looks favorably on us. Instead, what is revealed is that God looks favorably upon us, therefore it is raining. Here, the indicatives of grace are prior to the imperatives of law, as James Torrance has often emphasized in line with John Calvin. Of course, one must also take into consideration the problem that the elements also bring terrible disasters, which are often the impetus for questioning why it is raining so much! Therefore, creation seems to be a tool for God, not only for His grace but also for His wrath.
Brunner claims, rightly I think, that the Bible states clearly that God does not withdraw Himself entirely from creation, even in spite of the reality of human sinfulness. What is most interesting is what Brunner says next: “In part, however, in that, agreeably to the state of sin, he provides new means for checking the worst consequences of sin, e.g. the State.” Here we must take into consideration the political resistance against Hitler that Barth and (supposedly) Brunner are engaged in. The question is clearly applicable to their context, as it always seems to be: What happens if the State fails to act according to its office as intended by God, and becomes a tyrannical and idolatrous State? Or, to put the question to Brunner: What happens when the State becomes the medium by which we are tormented by “the worst consequences of sin?” While nature is a bit more simple to deal with, given that we cannot control the elements, our doctrine of the State here affects our understanding of the people that comprise the State. Does the State, as an institution, have any less of the residue of blinding sinfulness than we as human individuals have? Should we not implement some form of control and resistance against such a State, even that State to which we belong?
[Footnote: For a helpful discussion of these questions, see the essay by George Hunsinger entitled “Barth, Barmen, and the Confessing Church Today” in Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 2000), pp. 60-88. Hunsinger points out that there were two competing historical views on the doctrine of the State: One view held by Luther and Augustine and another held by Aquinas and Calvin: “The difference between the two views is clear: [Augustine and Luther hold] that to obey the state, even the radically unjust state, is to render obedience to God; [Aquinas and Calvin hold] that times may come when obedience to God requires political disobedience and resistance to the state” (p.81). Barth obviously felt inclined towards the latter view.]

Brunner points to the significance of the “historical life” as a way of God’s preserving grace:

"The benefits which form the historical inheritance of the whole of mankind, are seen to be given by the preserving grace of God. Consequently human activity comes within the purview of divine grace – not of redeeming but of preserving grace. All activity of man which the creator himself uses to preserve his creation amid the corruptions of sin belongs to this type of activity within preserving grace. It is from this that the doctrine of civil and secular functions and offices is derived."


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