Karl Barth's Answer to Emil Brunner's "Nature and Grace"
by Tami Jelinek
In 1934 Swiss theologian Emil Brunner (1889-1966) wrote an essay entitled “Nature and Grace” which he calls a contribution to the discussion with his fellow Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968), and in which he states “it is the task of our theological generation to find the way back to a true theologia naturalis.” Barth responded forcefully that same year with his own essay entitled “No!” Barth’s answer is a “no” first of all to the premise that there is such a thing as “a true theologia naturalis,” and furthermore to the “theology of compromise” toward which he sees Brunner’s theses concluding. Barth saw the natural theology of Brunner to be a “false movement of thought by which the church was being threatened.” This paper will summarize and evaluate Barth’s main arguments against Brunner from their common soteriological perspective of sola scriptura and sola gratia, and also with a focus on the nature and subject of divine revelation. Specifically, we will show that Brunner’s assumption of a “point of contact” and a “capacity for revelation” possessed inherently by natural, unregenerate human beings is indeed incompatible with the doctrines of grace he affirms, and represents a departure from the supremacy of the person and work of Christ as the subject of God’s self-revelation to us human beings for the purpose of our redemption. Finally we will confront some of the theological ramifications and consequences of Brunner’s error toward the way the Gospel is perceived and presented by the Church even in America today.
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The Heavens Declare the Glory of God
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