Brunner's Third Counter-Thesis
Brunner believes that Scripture unanimously attests to the existence of two revelations: the general revelation of God in creation and the special revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The problem is not whether there are two revelations or one but how these two revelations fit together. He clarifies the problem by pointing out that the general revelation in creation cannot give us the knowledge of God that we need for salvation. It is not because this revelation is lacking anything, but, because of humanity’s sinfulness, we distort this revelation and make idols as a response to it. He then makes an interesting claim: “In any case he is unable to know God, who in Jesus Christ reveals himself to him anew according to his true nature, which even in creation is partially hidden.”
So far general revelation has been put forth by Brunner as biblical, Reformed, partially hidden. Is it partially hidden because of our sinfulness? Or is it just a partial revelation prior to our understanding (or lack thereof), to later be fulfilled by Christ?
Brunner believes that the “natural revelation” is only known in all its glory when Christ opens the knower’s eyes in the second revelation. The second revelation “far surpasses” the first, but Brunner does not give us a clear answer for why this is, and leaves the reader to fill in the gap. He further obscures his views when he attempts to summarize how “nature” applies in various events and capacities without giving any explicit connections between them:
"This means that in the phrase “natural revelation” the word “natural” is to be understood in a double sense, one objective-divine and one subjective-human-sinful. The term “nature” can be applied to such permanent capacity for revelation as God has bestowed upon his works, to the traces of his own nature which he has expressed and shown in them. But the term “nature” can also be applied to what sinful man makes of this in his ignorant knowledge, just as it can be applied to that which God has implanted in human nature as an image of himself, indestructible, yet always obscured by sin. Or it can be applied to what man himself makes of himself through sin. Therefore one can say in conclusion: Only the Christian, i.e. the man who stand within the revelation in Christ, has the true natural knowledge of God."
The big question that one leaves with is: how does one “stand” in this revelation in Christ? Brunner lets go of the project, perhaps admitting that he needs more time and space to help us understand what he has in mind. All he wants is our ascent so far:
"All these concepts need further theological consideration. But such consideration cannot alter these fundamental outlines without contradicting the testimony of Scripture. Even the most perfect theology will in the main be unable to get beyond the double statement that as concerns the heathen, God did not leave himself without witness, but that nevertheless they did not know him in such a way that he became their salvation."
[Footnote: Here Brunner cites Acts 14:17, my italics below. For context, Paul and Barnabas are preaching in Lystra, when Paul heals a cripple. The crowd responds by saying “The god’s have come down to us.” Barnabas they call “Zeus,” and Paul they call “Hermes.” As the crowd begins to sacrifice to them, Paul and Barnabas shout: “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons: he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (adapted from NIV Translation of Acts 14:1-17). This passage works favorably for what Brunner has said earlier regarding our attempts to use the general revelation as a platform for idolatry. Notice also that from this text the general revelation seems to be the message of Paul and Barnabas, while there is no mention of Christ. Finally, it is also Scriptural evidence of what Brunner will later say regarding God’s preserving grace of all humanity- in this case - through the regulation of weather elements.]
This “double-statement” harkens back to Brunner’s desire to secure responsibility in the hands of “the heathen” for their lack of knowledge, and thus their lack of salvation.