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Emil Brunner: A Reappraisal



Emil Brunner: A Reappraisal

Alister E. McGrath

ISBN: 978-1-119-28341-6 August 2016 Wiley-Blackwell 264 Pages

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In Emil Brunner: A Reappraisal, renowned theologian Alister E. McGrath presents a comprehensive intellectual history of Emil Brunner, the highly influential Swiss theologian who was instrumental in shaping modern Protestant theology. 

  • Explores Brunner’s theological development and offers a critical engagement of his theology
  • Examines the role that Brunner played in shaping the characteristics of dialectical theology
  • Reveals the complex and shifting personal and professional relationship between Brunner and Barth
  • Delves into the reasons for Brunner’s contemporary neglect in theological scholarship
  • Represents the only book-length study of Brunner’s works and significance in the English language

Preface ix

A Note on Translations and Editions xiii

1 Emil Brunner: The Origins of a Theological Mind, 1914–1924 1

Theological Studies at Zurich 2

Pastoral Ministry and Contacts in England 4

The Swiss Crisis of Identity, 1914–1919 6

Brunner and Dialectical Theology: The Origins of an Ambivalent Relationship 9

Brunner in America, 1919–1920 12

Brunner, Barth, and Thurneysen: Continuing Debate 13

The Quest for Recognition: Erlebnis, Erkenntnis und Glaube (1921–2) 16

Brunner and American Psychology of Religion 18

The Limits of Humanity: Reflections on Revelation and Reason (1922) 22

The Critique of Schleiermacher: Die Mystik und das Wort (1924) 25

Part I The Making of a Dialectical Theologian 29

2 Brunner’s Theology of Crisis: Critique and Construction, 1924–1929 31

The 1925 Inaugural Lecture at Zurich: Revelation and Theology 32

Reason and Theology: An Ecclesial Engagement (1927) 34

The Mediator: A Manifesto for Dialectical Theology (1927) 39

The Trinity: Dogma, not Kerygma 50

The American Reception of the “Theology of Crisis” (1928) 54

3 Reflections on the Tasks of Theology, 1929–1933 61

Crisis: The Rise of Ideology in Western Europe, 1920–1935 62

Brunner’s Challenge to Ideology: The “Other Task of Theology” (1929) 66

Presenting Dialectical Theology in Britain: The Word and the World (1931) 74

A Theological Ethics: The Divine Imperative (1932) 78

A Problematic Liaison: Brunner and the Oxford Group 85

The Work of the Holy Spirit:

The Copenhagen Lectures (1934) 87

4 Natural Theology? The Barth–Brunner Debate of 1934 90

Natural Theology: A Contested Notion 94

Karl Barth’s Views on Natural Theology, 1918–1933 101

A Game-Changer: The Nazi Power Grab of 1933 105

Brunner’s Public Criticism of Barth: Nature and Grace (1934) 113

Brunner’s Later Views on Natural Theology: Revelation and Reason (1941) 121

Barth’s Response: No! (1934) 127

5 Brunner’s Theological Anthropology: Man in Revolt (1937) 133

The Need for a Theological Anthropology 134

The Impossibility of an “Objective” Anthropology 136

The Dependence of Humanity on God 140

The “Contradiction” within Humanity 142

The Image of God and Human Identity 145

Humanity and Evolution: The Limits of Darwinism 148

6 Objectivity and Subjectivity in Theology: Truth as Encounter (1937) 154

Object and Subject in Theology:

The Context to Brunner’s Thought 155

Objectivity and Subjectivity: Brunner’s Criticism of Existing Paradigms 161

Overcoming the Object-Subject Impasse: Brunner’s Strategy 166

The Implications of Brunner’s Notion of “Truth as Encounter” 169

America: The Call to Princeton

Theological Seminary, 1937–1939 172

Part II Consolidation: Brunner’s Vision for Post-War Theological Reconstruction 179

7 Brunner’s Vision for the Christian Community: The Church, State, and Culture 181

The Ideological Origins of Totalitarianism 182

An Antidote to Totalitarianism: The Renewal of Natural Law 185

The Need for Theological Reconstruction: Revelation and Reason (1941) 190

The Christian State: A Modest Theological Proposal 195

Rediscovering the Church as Community: Brunner’s Ecclesiology 199

8 Teacher and Preacher: Brunner as a Public Intellectual 205

Rector of the University of Zurich, 1942–1943 206 The Catechist: Our Faith (1935) 207

The Fraumünster Sermons: Brunner as Preacher 210

The Public Lecturer: The Scandal of Christianity 214

Theological Education: Brunner’s Dogmatics 218

Tokyo: Brunner’s Engagement with Asia 221

Final Illness and Death 223

9 Legacy: The Contemporary Significance of Emil Brunner’s Theology 225

The Reformed Tradition: A Richer Range of Possibilities 228

A Theology of Nature: The Basis of Natural Law, Theology, and Science 229

Cultural Engagement: The Theological Foundations of Apologetics 231

Personalism: The Defence of Relational Identity 232

The Trinity: A Plea for Theological Modesty 234

Conclusion 237

Works by Emil Brunner Cited in This Study 239

Index 242

“McGrath has written an excellent account of Brunner's theology that should, if history be kind, spark a renewed interest and consideration of Brunner as a significant theologian for the 21st century.”  (Freedom in Orthodoxy, 1 February 2014) Alister McGrath at Wiley