Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology

Heinrich Emil Brunner (1889-1966)

Table of Contents
1. Background
2. Works (Selected List)
3. Themes
4. Outline of Major Works
5. Relation to Other Thinkers
6. Bibliography and Works Cited
7. Internet Resources
8. Related Topics

1. Background


Heinrich Emil Brunner was born 23 December 1889 in Winterthur, a city in the Canton of Zurich in northern Switzerland. He studied at the universities of Zurich and Berlin and earned his doctorate in theology from Zurich in 1913, with a dissertation entitled The Symbolic Element in Religious Knowledge. In 1913-14, he resided in England and taught high school in Leeds while honing his facility of English.

From 1916-1924, he served as a pastor (Swiss Reformed Church) in the mountain village of Obstalden in the east central Canton of Glarus. It was there Brunner met and married Margrit Lautenburg in 1916. The couple had four sons, one of whom was killed in a tragic railway accident in 1952.

In 1919, Brunner interrupted his pastoral work for study at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Upon his return in 1920, he was appointed Privatdozent at the University of Zurich. In 1924, Brunner published Die Mystik und das Wort, a searing critique of the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher, which led to his appointment as professor of systematic and practical theology at Zurich. Aside from frequent lecture tours across Europe, Great Britain, and the United States, Brunner held this position until 1955.

For Brunner, the highlight of his career came near the end when, from 1953-1955, he lived in Japan and taught Christian ethics and philosophy at the then-recently-established (1949) International Christian University in Mitaka City on the outskirts of Tokyo. Brunner was keenly interested in missions and evangelistic work in Japan and the Far East. However, Margrit’s poor health forced the Brunners to return to Switzerland in 1955. On the voyage home, Brunner himself suffered a cerebral hemorrhage resulting in severe speech and physical impairment. Despite several more strokes, he was able to continue writing and completed the third and final volume of his dogmatics in 1960.  On the morning of 6 April 1966, in Zurich, Brunner died after a severe illness of three months.

Influences and Career

Theology is always forged in a particular context. For Brunner, the two streams of national and religious fervor flowed forcefully into and through his life. Brunner’s father could trace an unbroken line of Zurich farmers back to the Reformation. The lofty ideals of Swiss liberty and democracy inculcated in him from birth were profoundly pertinent to his thinking. Brunner was a stalwart opponent of despotism, a menace he would observe in Hitler’s Germany. So steeped in liberty was Brunner that he felt compelled to acknowledge:

It is especially difficult for Swiss people to believe that we must and do have a king. The word Liberty was sung to us even in the cradle. It is a beautiful word, and we rightly exalt it. But this honor of liberty is only one half of the truth, liberty is not the first, but the second word. The first word is obedience. (Our Faith, 1954, p75)

Brunner’s mother was the daughter of a Reformed minister and managed to maintain her biblical, Reformed faith during an era when “rationalism had invaded the church in the form of militant liberal theology” (A Spiritual Autobiography, 238-9). Brunner credited the prayers of his parents and especially “the Bible stories which my mother told me” as foundational for the development of his faith and theology (A Spiritual Autobiography, 239).  Even his birthplace was near Zurich, the location of Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli’s (1484-1531) efforts, and later Brunner served as pastor in the Canton of Glarus in which Zwingli had also labored some five centuries prior.

Brunner upheld a vigorous concern for the church. In 1912, he became a minister in the Swiss Reformed Church, the denomination in which he remained until his death. It might come as a surprise that Brunner, the eminent systematiker, was the main professor of homiletics and pastoral care at Zurich. For him, proclamation and care were indispensable constituents of the gospel message. The pews in the ancient Fraumünster Kirche (donated by King Ludwig the German in the year A.D. 853) were typically empty except for the Sundays in which Brunner was slated to preach. Early arrival was crucial on those days if one planned to find a seat. Similarly, Brunner’s pastoral heart manifested itself with a deeply personal concern for the struggles, welfare, and faith of the people of Zurich. From the city, Brunner “looked out upon the whole world as the sphere of Christ’s church and the vast home of men and women who need to hear and believe the Gospel” (“Emil Brunner—Teacher Unsurpassed,” Theology Today 19, 533).

With Karl Barth, Brunner is commonly associated with neo-orthodoxy or the dialectical theology movement. Nelson, a former student of Brunner’s, relates an amusing dialog between the disciple and his master:

One evening I brought up the matter of the open debate by correspondence between Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr, following the Amsterdam Assembly of the World Council of Churches. Inadvertently I spoke of Barth and Brunner. He corrected me: "You mean Barth and Niebuhr, don't you?" I replied, 'Oh yes, but you know the names Barth and Brunner come together automatically, like ham and eggs." "Really?" said Brunner instantly. "Which is the ham?" (Nelson, 534)

Hesselink comments that, in the decade immediately following World War II, students in most mainline seminaries and university divinity schools in the United States read more of Brunner’s works than that of any other theologian. These included: Revelation and Reason, Man in Revolt, The Mediator, The Divine Imperative, and Justice and the Social Order. His influential works, The Divine-Human Encounter and the highly-popular Our Faith, were also widely read. By 1940, his Gifford lectures, Christianity and Civilization (two volumes), were available for English readers, and, by 1953, so were the first two volumes of his dogmatics, as well as Eternal Hope and the brief, but controversial Misunderstanding of the Church.

According to Hesselink,

Brunner’s approach did not find favor in all theological quarters. Old-time liberals dismissed him along with Barth as being biblicistic and pessimistic, and fundamentalists rejected his alleged neo-orthodoxy as a "new modernism" (so Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Seminary). Even so, self-confessed liberal Wilhelm Pauck and leading conservative evangelical theologian Carl F. H. Henry found much that was challenging and admirable in Brunner’s theology (“Emil Brunner: A Centennial Perspective,” Christian Century 106:38).

It is, after all, Brunner’s theology for which he is renowned. “Real theology,” he argued, “is not only for experts, but it is for all to whom religious questions are also problems of thought” (Brunner, Man in Revolt, 11). What are the key components of a “real theology” for Brunner?

2. Works (Selected List)

Theology of Crisis (1929), Word and the World (1931), The Mediator (1934), Man in Revolt, A Christian Anthropology (1937), Dogmatics. Volume I: The Christian Doctrine of God (1949), Dogmatics. Volume II: The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption (1952), Dogmatics. Volume III: The Christian Doctrine of the Church, Faith and the Consummation (1962).

3. Themes

Theologians typically react against perceived error. Brunner clearly reacted against the drift of nineteenth and early twentieth century theology toward a theology of immanence. For Brunner, immanence was embedded in the liberal Protestant theology of the day and especially by and through the various tributaries of Hegelian thought. Brunner’s theology was an incessant condemnation of all attempts to know God from human reason without the aid of divine revelation.

A Mediating Alternative

Brunner rejected both liberalism and orthodoxy as being “wide of the mark” (Theology of Crisis, 14-18). Liberalism’s anthropocentric approach subjected the mystery of God to human reason. The inevitable consequence was human religiosity rather than Christian faith; its narrators replaced Christian theology with the science of religion. On the other hand, Brunner believed that Protestant orthodoxy failed to distinguish God’s Word from the recognizable “human character” found in the Bible, which “means that it is coloured by the frailty and imperfection of all that is human” (Dogmatics I, 34.) Thus, orthodoxy was forced either to defend “legalistic” beliefs (Dogmatics I, 47.) or allegorize statements that were clearly intended to have a literal meaning. Such bibliolatry obscured the Christ and restricted freedom of exposition. (Theology of Crisis, 19-20; The Word and the World, 92-104; Dogmatics I, 34, 48.).

Brunner’s mediating alternative focused on recognizing the Bible as God’s revelation in and through human agents. He appreciates Luther’s statement that the Bible is “the Crib wherein Christ lieth” (Dogmatics, I, 34). God’s revelation, the “real revelation” (Dogmatics, I, 31), is more than ink on parchment, more than a word about someone. It is “a human life fully visible within history. . . Jesus of Nazareth . . . God Himself, not only a Word about Him, is now here” (Dogmatics, I, 23). Jesus Christ is God’s self-disclosure to man. The Bible expresses humanity’s hope for and witness to that disclosure. The essential need humans have is to encounter God in Christ, not to believe various propositions found in the Bible are precisely accurate. (Cobb, Living Options in Protestant Theology, 144). Brunner contends:

We are not required to believe the Scriptures because they are the Scriptures; but because Christ, whom I am convinced in my conscience is the Truth, meets me in the Scriptures—therefore I believe. Scripture is not a formal authority which demands belief in all it contains from the outset, but it is an instrumental authority, in so far as it contains that element before which I must bow in the truth, which also itself awakens in me the certainty of truth (Dogmatics, I, 110)

That does not negate the authoritative function of Scripture as long as the revelation, Jesus Christ Himself, remains supreme. However, Brunner refuses to embrace arcane Scripture as the basis for doctrine. The meaning of doctrine is determined by the church’s critical reflection on the biblical testimony. Since critical reflection will never yield unanimous outcomes, Brunner concludes that “all Christian doctrine is, and remains, a venture of faith” (Dogmatics, I, 49).

Revelation and Human Responsibility

Brunner’s much publicized debate with Barth (see later) centered on Brunner’s insistence that God has also provided a general revelation discernible in nature. In other words, something about God can be known in and through God’s creation. Revelation in nature was necessary in order to provide God with a means of assessing humanity’s culpability. God could judge humanity guilty only if there was some standard to which it either responded or failed to respond. Brunner appears to follow the maxim of the Apostle Paul, “where there is no law, there also is no violation” (Rom 4:15, NASB). For Brunner, this standard was theologia naturalis; ignoring it was to commit “the great sin of the heathen . . . the sin of idolatry, upon this possibility of knowing Him, given by God Himself. The denial of this revelation through the Creation in the latest theology empties the Biblical idea of Creation of meaning . . . and also, wrongly, denies man’s relation to God, and with that the responsibility of the godless man” (Man in Revolt, 529-530).

Brunner did, however, recognize the limitations of general revelation. It could not lead human beings into a saving relationship with God, imparted little if any information about a loving God, and plainly provided nothing for dealing with the problem of human sin. More appallingly, sin “prevents man from seeing this [natural] revelation through the Creation aright” (Man in Revolt, 530).

Thus, the superior revelation in Jesus Christ was required, but not to the degree that human responsibility was abrogated. Human responsibility to God was taught in Scripture through the imago Dei. He rejected traditional Reformation determinism which reduced human decision-making to the level of puppets with no control over their responses. Rather, human beings were called to make real and responsible decisions. Divine election and human faith join forces in a creative tension in this decision. Brunner contends:

In Himself the Son signifies Election: where the Son is, there is Election; but where the Son is not, there is no election. But the Son is only present where there is faith, hence in the New Testament the “elect”, and they alone, are those who believe. For this cause alone faith is decision in which the stakes are salvation or ruin; it is not a sham decision, where everything has already been decided beforehand (Dogmatics, I, 314-315).


Faith as a human decision originates in the church; the church functions as “the precondition of the birth of faith” (Dogmatics, III, 135). Human beings come to believe through the proclamation of the Word of God’s love in Jesus Christ. But, the proclaimed Word can “awaken truth faith only when it is vitally present.” For Brunner, it is only through the Word of Jesus Christ which the church has received “from faith to faith” Rom 1:17) and faithfully proclaimed that faith comes into existence (Dogmatics, III, 135).

Faith is, thus, faith in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. Here again Brunner criticizes orthodoxy’s “articles of faith laid down by the Church or taught in the Bible” as objective evidence that a person who assents is “one whose relationship to God is altogether in right order” (Dogmatics, III, 178). The truth of faith is truth as encounter, truth in a person. “The truth which faith recognizes and comprehends is a personal self-disclosure in encounter with Jesus Christ. The truth of revelation cannot be discovered by research or the use of the intellect; otherwise, theologians alone would be true believers (Dogmatics, I, 61-2).

That does not suggest that faith is drained of doctrinal content. Doctrine is prerequisite to faith: “Since God does not speak with us otherwise than as ‘he says’ something to us in order to communicate himself, so a certain amount of doctrine must be present before living faith can come into being” (Truth as Encounter, 140).  Doctrine serves as a “framework” or token of that with which faith is primarily concerned. For Brunner, faith is personal encounter—manifested as trust, obedience, and love—not faith in something or doctrine (Truth as Encounter, 134):  “The fact remains that in faith we are dealing, not with truths, not even with divinely revealed truths, but with God, with Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit” (Truth as Encounter, 134). Humorously Brunner remarks that not even God foists dogmatic theology courses (or an objectified confession of faith) upon people (Truth as Encounter, 133)!

Jesus Christ

Brunner’s theology was unwaveringly Christocentric. His first work, Die Mystik und das Wort (1924; ET: The Mediator, 1927) and that which established him as a major theologian, signaled precisely that which would endure across Brunner’s life’s work—his emphasis on Jesus Christ. He chastises those who emphasize the theocentric nature of theology, pointing out that “Christ is the center of the Christian message” (Mediator 400); but, his analysis does not minimize a theocentric standpoint. Rather, “if Christ means anything at all, it is simply and solely because through him God is revealed, the eternal Unchangeable God, in His very being” (Mediator 400). Brunner insists that Christian theology and, in particular, salvation, is nothing less than Christocentric:

When the Christian message says with emphasis, “Look to Christ,” it does not mean “look away from God,” but, “look away to God where God really is,” for if God is contemplated apart from Christ, if Christ is ignored, then God is not seen as He really is. Zeal for Christ is zeal for the true God; the exclusive element in the Christian creed: “in no other is there salvation . . .” is simply the exclusiveness of Divine Truth. Because the truth of God is one, and one only, and because in order to see this truth we must stand at a certain point, is the reason why we must make such exclusive claims for Christ.

While Brunner does not deny divine revelation through natural means, it is only in Christ that salvation occurs. Christ enables one to know aright the eternal while residing in the historical (Mediator, 401). The first confession of faith, “Christ the Lord,” means that the confessor now has “a Lord, a King, who really, that is unconditionally, without restriction, is King, an absolute Lord with no democracy” (Mediator, 585,586).  Brunner’s emphasis on the necessity of the Mediator distinguishes the redemptive message of the Christian faith from the religions and philosophies of the day: “. . . either religion is based upon Divine revelation, or it is simply the product of the phantasy of the mind which desires it” (Mediator, 21).

As Brunner examined the NT writings, he became convinced that the earliest Christians contemplated Christ first in his action or work, then in his person. His later Dogmatics II discloses Brunner’s inductive approach as he explains the saving work of Christ prior to his discussion of Christ’s person. In his christology-from-below approach, Brunner argues that Christ’s person is discernible from his work (Dogmatics II, 271), especially since “the ‘achievement’ of Christ is always in the foreground, while the mystery of the Person is in the background” (Dogmatics II, 271).  For Brunner, revelation, atonement, and Lordship are a trio of aspects describing the same reality—that which God in Jesus Christ has done and continues to do for his creatures (Dogmatics II, 305) and on a distinctively personal basis.

You must know him yourself, be able to say yes to him. That is faith.  Jesus is not the Christ for the onlooker, the thinker, the scholar, the historically informed, but simply and solely for the believer (Our Faith, 66).

4. Outline of Major Works

[content coming]

5. Relation to Other Thinkers

The Barth-Brunner Debates

The focus of the debate between Barth and Brunner concerned the relationship between nature and grace, creation and redemption, and state and church. The disagreement was both notable and incredible not solely owing to Barth’s fervent responses, but, to some degree, because it transpired between two scholars who, up until then, were regarded as theological comrades. Interestingly, Brunner lived only a few miles from Barth; but, the theological chasm between the two eclipsed their geographical proximity.

In the 1920’s, both Barth and Brunner broke with theologians such as Friedrich Gogarten (1887–1967) and Rudolf Bultmann (1884–1976) who insisted on an anthropological starting point. If, however, all that human beings have from God is the existential moment, then theology is effectively reduced to explaining this experience and the faith behind it. What then of the Word of God? What then of Christ? The Word of God contains content, not merely human encounter. Barth and Brunner thus insisted on moving away from existential orientations and toward theology proper.

Although theological battle lines had been drawn since 1929 when Brunner initially proposed a necessary “point of contact” for the Gospel in non-Christian hearers, the decisive disagreement between Barth and Brunner erupted in 1934, when Brunner published a brief essay entitled Natur und Gnade (ET: Nature and Grace). For Barth, the conjunction “und (and)” spelled trouble in Brunner’s theology since its inclusion suggested that something else could be placed alongside God and steer theology in idolatrous directions. Brunner argued that Barth had erred in denying any sort of divine revelation in nature. Human beings need a “point of contact” for God’s grace even while living a confused and distorted existence:

What the natural man knows of God, of the Law and of his own dependence upon God, may be very confused and distorted. But even so it is the necessary, indispensable point of contact for divine grace (Nature and Grace, 32-33)

This minimal awareness of God comes through the imago Dei which, although marred, remained. Human beings are sinners, but persist as responsible agents. Brunner’s proposal had significant implications for preaching, apologetics, and missionary endeavors. The church must articulate the Gospel message in ways that can be understood by those with only general revelation.

Barth’s reply was a deafening and acerbic “Nein!” Barth denied any category of revelation other than the revelation of God through Jesus Christ. If a “point of contact” was necessary, Barth insisted, it would arise from God’s side, not from human receptivity of the divine within the natural world. Roger Olson observes that Barth’s harshness was due in part to the fact that he was at that time “teaching in Germany and struggling with the Nazi temptation into which many ‘German Christians’ were falling, as he saw it,  because of their openness to natural theology” (20th Century Theology, 84). For Barth, Brunner’s essay was a compromise that would eventually subvert the German church to Nazi ideology. Brunner was deeply wounded by his old friend’s caustic assessment and frequently referred back to it in efforts to clarify his position. Gratefully, these two titans of dialectical theology resolved their differences before their deaths. Yet, the schism generated by their dispute remains one of the most ironic and regrettable conflicts in contemporary theology.


Brunner holds a place of prominence in Protestant theology in the 20th century as one of the four or five leading systematic theologians. Does he hold that same prominence at the beginning of the 21st century, or is his work to be consigned to courses in historical theology? If the task of theology in the 21st century concerns formulating and presenting eternal truths in ways that take seriously contemporary philosophical, scientific, and psychological insights, then Brunner has much to say. If the task of theology in the 21st century concerns making theology intelligible for pastors and not just experts in the discipline, and if theology encourages the message and mission of the church, then Brunner remains relevant.

6. Bibliography and Cited Works

Selected Works by Brunner in English Translation

Christianity and Civilization.  2 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1948 and 1949.

Christianity and Civilization is Brunner’s two-volume contribution to the prestigious Gifford Lectureships. Brunner seems a natural selection since the purpose of the lectureships was “to promote and diffuse the study of Natural Theology in the widest sense of the term—in other words, the knowledge of God.” In the first volume, Brunner sketches Christian philosophy of civilization dealing with some basic principles which underlie all civilization; in the second volume, he provides a Christian interpretation of such aspects of civilized life as science, tradition, work, art, wealth, law and power.

Divine Imperative, The.  Translated by Olive Wyon. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1947.

The Divine Imperative is Brunner’s study on Christian ethics. For Brunner, the moral problem is one of responsibility between humans who are created in ways that demand a response to God who has established order in the world. Correct understanding of the nature of society, family, state, economic life, is needed to discern one's duty.

Dogmatics. Vol. I: The Christian Doctrine of God. Translated by Olive Wyon. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1950.

Dogmatics. Vol. I: The Christian Doctrine of God is the first of Brunner’s three-volume dogmatics. As the title states, the first volume concerns the Christian doctrine of God. Brunner spends a good deal of time defining the concept of dogmatics as that which “serves first of all those who themselves exercise a teaching-office in the church . . .” He then divides the study of the Christian doctrine of God into two parts: the first and larger concerns “The Eternal Foundation of the Divine Self-Communication” covering the attributes and names of God; the second part focuses on the Eternal Divine Decrees and the Doctrine of Election.” In it, Brunner tackles the approach of Barth’s ever unfolding doctrine of election.

Dogmatics. Vol. II: The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption. Translated by Olive Wyon. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1952.

Dogmatics. Vol. II: The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, the second of Brunner’s dogmatics, represents an expansion of Brunner’s earlier book, The Divine-Human Encounter. Brunner makes use of Buber’s “I-Thou” philosophy, not in an effort to restate it theologically, but rather to rescue Christian thought “from the rigidity of ecclesiastical orthodoxy” and set it on a path toward a fruitful shaping of Christian doctrine. He addresses The Historical Realization of the Divine Self-Communication including a lengthy development of the doctrines of creation, human life, human sinfulness, Divine providence, and christology.

Dogmatics. Vol. III: The Christian Doctrine of the Church, Faith, and the Consummation. Translated by David Cairns in collaboration with T. H. L. Parker. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1962.

Dogmatics. Vol. III: The Christian Doctrine of the Church, Faith, and the Consummation, is the third and final of Brunner’s dogmatics. In this volume, Brunner addresses God’s Self-Communication as His Self-Representation through the Holy Spirit. Brunner offers a solid approach to the doctrine of the church explaining how the primitive Christian ekklesia developed into the church and spread to Europe. More importantly, he explains the role of faith in Christian conversion, including the misunderstanding of faith, justifying faith, the certainty of faith, sanctification, Christian love, prayer, and Christian involvement in the world. In the final part, The Consummation in Eternity of the divine Self-Communication, Brunner concentrates on faith as hope, including the Kingdom of God, eternity, death, and the resurrection.

Eternal Hope. Translated by Harold Knight. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954.

In Eternal Hope, Brunner focuses on crucial nature of human hope. Hope is oxygen to the human being. It is the positive mode of awaiting the future. Yet in Brunner’s lifetime, two world wars and the rise of the totalitarian state had all but dashed the notion of hope in Europe. In its stead “sheer hopelessness in the form of a philosophy of despair, of the nihilistic meaningless of life” began to emerge. From there, Brunner explicates authentic Christian hope utilizing the observations drawn from faith, history, time and eternity, the church, progress, the anti-Christ, the return of Christ, hope and eternity, death and resurrection, final judgment, and the consummation.

God and Man. Translated by David Cairns. London: SCM Press, 1956.

God and Man is a collection of four essays aimed at clarifying some of the disputes between Brunner and his nemesis Barth. Brunner addresses: sin’s obliteration of the Imago Dei, the existence (or nonexistence) of revelation in nature, the lack of a point of contact between God and unregenerate humanity, and that the new creation is not the perfecting but the destruction of the old fallen nature.

Justice and the Social Order. Trans. by Mary Hottingen. New York: Harper & Bros., 1945.

Written against the social and international upheaval of World War II, Justice and the Social Order is Brunner’s assessment of Protestant Christianity’s 300-year-old indecisiveness regarding various social issues, including the social order, law, international law, and politics. Part I is an overview of the principles of justice, including “The Disintegration of the Western Idea of Justice” and follows with a description of the essential nature of justice, equality and inequality, and the place of justice in sphere of ethics. Part II describes the complex application of the principles to the practice of justice. Brunner remarks: “. . . for what is the use of principles which are not applicable in practice?”

Letter to the Romans, The. Translated by H. A. Kennedy. London: Lutterworth Press, 1959.

The Letter to the Romans is a commentary on what Brunner considers to be a document which has shaped the church over the centuries: “Because in this single literary document what is particular and decisive in the Christian faith is worked out in the acutest form and presented in a  concentrated, instructive manner.”

Man in Revolt.  Translated by Olive Wyon. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1947.

Man in Revolt is subtitled A Christian Anthropology. Brunner recognizes in humanity the persistent need to be the center of attention. He argues that the biblical message identifies God as the center, not humanity. It takes Jesus, the Son of Man, “God with us,” however, to overcome this anthropocentric misunderstanding. Brunner then investigates the presuppositions of Christian anthropology, the origin of the Imago Dei and it destruction, and the nature of human personality, human freedom, individual and community, gender issues, the problem of the body and/or soul, and eternal human destiny.

Mediator, The. Translated by Olive Wyon.  Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1947.

The Mediator is subtitled: A Study of the Central Doctrine of the Christian Faith. The book centers on the biblical teaching of the person and the work of Jesus Christ and confirms Him as the Mediator between God and human beings. As the Mediator, Jesus confronts human beings with the true and living God. Brunner examines the deity and humanity of Christ, the nature of the Incarnation and Atonement, and the various misunderstandings which have taken place over the years. He concludes that only in Jesus Christ does God challenge human beings to make a decision. It is the task of the church to “proclaim this name aloud.” After clarifying the differences between general and special revelation, Brunner addresses the person of the Mediator followed by the work of the Mediator.

Misunderstanding of the Church, The. Translated by Harold Knight. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1953.

The Misunderstanding of the Church is a forceful criticism of what the visible church become in across the pages of history; Brunner states the church as he knew it was not “the real thing.” Brunner argues that the church has become an institutional “thing” and not a “he”—the body of Christ. The church is or should be “a pure communion of persons and has nothing of the character of an institution about it.” In twelve chapters, Brunner covers the supernatural origin and fellowship of the early ekklesia and the historical development of the institutional church.

Natural Theology: Comprising "Nature and Grace" by Professor Dr. Emil Brunner and the Reply "No!" by Dr. Karl Barth. Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2002.

This collection featuring Brunner's essay "Nature and Grace," and Barth's caustic "No!" were pivotal pieces for debates over natural theology since their publication in 1934. Barth's uncompromising rejection of natural theology in any appearance was the most radical and biting stance ever taken on the matter. Brunner insists that there must be a point of contact for unregenerate human beings observable and attainable in and through natural revelation.

Our Faith. Translated by John Rilling. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936.

Our Faith is a small, popularly written overview of the basics of the Christian faith.

Theology of Crisis, The. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1931.

The Theology of Crisis is an explication of Brunner’s mediating position. In it he rejected liberalism’s anthropocentric approach which subjected the mystery of God to human reason and orthodoxy’s failure to distinguish God’s Word from the human character found in the Bible.

Selected Secondary Works about Brunner in English

Allen, Edgar Leonard. Creation and Grace: A Guide to the Thought of Emil Brunner.  New York: Philosophical Library, 1951.

Hart, John W. Karl Barth Vs. Emil Brunner: The Formation and Dissolution of a Theological Alliance, 1916-1936. New York: Peter Lang, 2001.

Humphrey, J. Edward. Emil Brunner. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1976.

Jehle, Frank. Emil Brunner, 1889-1966. Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 2006.

Jewett, Paul King.  Emil Brunner. Chicago: lntervarsity Press, 1961.

Kegley, Charles W., ed. The Theology of Emil Brunner. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1962.

McKim, Mark G. Emil Brunner: A Bibliography. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1996.

NOTE: Alister McGrath will complete a major study of Brunner in 2013-2014, which explores how Brunner’s ideas encourage the dialogue between theology and the natural sciences.

7. Internet Resources

Emil Brunner: A Centennial Perspective, by I. John Hesselink.

"A Capacity for Ambiguity: The Barth-Brunner Debate Revisited" (PDF), by Trevor A. Hart. Tyndale Bulletin 44.2 (1993): 289-305. _1993_44_2_05_Hart_Ambiguity_Bart_Brunner.pdf.

Barth’s Thought on Natural Theology: A Study of the Debate between Barth and Brunner

"Legalism: An Essay on the Views of Dr. Emil Brunner", by Ernest F. Kevan. Vox Evangelica 2 (1963): 50-57.

Christianity and Civilization, vol. 1 TPCCIV&Volume=0&Issue=0&TOC=True

Christianity and Civilization, vol. 2 TPCCIV&Volume=0&Issue=0&TOC=True

Our Faith,

8. Related Topics

Karl Barth (1886-1968)


Author: Ben D. Craver, Wayland Baptist University, San Antonio, Texas


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