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Monday, May 07, 2007

Brunner's Sixth Counter-Thesis

Brunner devotes a long section of his pamphlet Nature and Grace to explaining how his theology, especially the doctrine of the imago dei, is not only biblically sound but also within the Reformed tradition of Calvin. I do not wish to attend to who is right in this aspect of the debate, since this would require reading and interpreting Calvin’s theology. At the end of the section Brunner goes on to repeat the charge of one-sidedness against Barth as an explanation for why Barth denies natural theology. Brunner writes:

"Barth refuses to recognize that where revelation and faith are concerned, there can be anything permanent, fixed, and, as it were, natural. He acknowledges only the act, the event of revelation, but never anything revealed, or, as he says, the fact of revelation. The whole strength of Barthian theology lies in the assertion of the actual. It is here that revelation in the ultimate, fullest sense can only be an act, God speaking to me here and now. But that is only one side of the biblical concept of revelation."

He goes on to explain his theology of the Word as related to Scripture:

"The other side is its very opposite. It is the fact that God speaks to me here and now because he has spoken. Above all, that he speaks to me through the Holy Spirit because he has spoken in Jesus Christ. This “has” is maintained in the concept of the Canon. The Bible is the “fact of revelation” of God. It is true that the Scriptures become the Word of God for me and they become it because they already are it. They become it through that, which is written, the solid body of words, sentences and books, something objective and available for every one. If I may use this trivial comparison, the relation of the Bible to the actual revelation of God is like that of the gramophone record to the sounding music, which has been engraved upon it and taken out of it. It is a “record,” an action become substance. It is fixed and unalterable. It is a piece of world at anyone’s disposal, even though the fact of its being a revelation is not at anyone’s disposal. That which is at anyone’s disposal, this Book of books with its fixed text, is what God uses in order to speak his personal Word to me to-day. That is his will. Only through that which is fixed and given does he will to give me his direct personal Word."

From this Brunner makes the jump to God speaking to us in nature. Brunner claims that the “whole arrangement of the world, with its fixity and the permanency of its being, is a manifestation of God.” But he cautions that the world “does not bear this function ‘in itself’ – anymore than the Scriptures – but only because to this Word is added an ear that hears it, to this manifestation an eye that sees it.”

Finally Brunner discusses how God’s Word must be indirect communication:
God does not speak to us except by signs and pictures. By the picture-language of the order of the world and by that of the prophetic and apostolic word. Even Jesus Christ is a piece of picture-language or, as Kierkegaard puts it, an “indirect communication.” For direct communication is paganism. Direct communication cannot communicate the message of God, but only that of an idol. That is the reason why it is not possible to deny the “fact of revelation” of God in the order of the world or of the nature for the reasons which Barth gives, e.g. in the context of his rejection of the analogia entis. For if one did so, one would also have to abandon the fact of the revelation of God in Scripture, and would thus lapse into an enthusiastic idea of revelation. But this parallel with Scripture does not exhaustively show the signficance of natural revelation and therefore of theologia naturalis for the Church and for theology.


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