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booknotes: Brunner, _Dogmatics III_

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Emil Brunner, Dogmatics Vol. III & Vol. II
Luther, Lectures on Genesis 6-14
Clifford J. Rogers, War Cruel and Sharp: English Strategy under Edward III, 1327-1360 (Boydell, 2000).

This omnibus batch of booknotes is a batch of books I've been reading for quite some time now -- certainly before the end of Feb., since it was at that time I acquired War Cruel and Sharp while in Denver visiting ACME. I think this was the same volume of Luther as at that trip, as well. There are two dashes of Brunner here, so I'll begin there in this post.

The third volume of Brunner's Dogmatics is called "The Christian Doctrine of the Church, Faith, and the Consummation". This is the volume, for obvious reasons, which I spent much of my time dealing with in my SIP ( '96), as it is here that Brunner discusses the doctrine of justification, in conjunction with the question of faith. Being narrowly focused at the time, and that was some time ago, when I wanted to return to my roots, I untucked this volume from the shelf and went at it again, spending more time on the discussion of the "Ekklesia", as Brunner names his idea of the fellowship which is the Body of Christ. This was of especial interest to me, being these days in the company of high-churchers who're a minority in a brutally evangelical setting. Since my interest in ecclesiology has been pretty repressed by my reaction to my Anglican surroundings, I thought Brunner would be a pretty good antidote to both sides of the matter.

This is certainly the case. Brunner reads the Ekklesia as a living fellowship, and is as anti-institutional as one can expect from a Protestant existentialist theologian. However. Brunner is very far from an individualist or an idealist; he is concerned contrary both to Protestant and Romanist practice to emphasize a fellowship of believers which is grounded in living experience made tangible in love and service. The Body is not essentially formal or invisible, but is the gathering of believers together. Therefore, the Ekklesia is "the presupposition of faith", which is the reason he moves from God's self-revelation by the Holy Spirit through the Ekklesia, to the experience of the new life in Christ by faith.

One of the great advantages Brunner's approach has is it faithfulness not only to his interpretation of Scripture, but to the lvied reality most of us are in. Most particularly, his remarks on how people enter the Ekklesia are not merely theoretical:

He who receives the Word of witness -- through faith -- is at the same time united with the Ekklesia and incorporated into it. But, as we saw in an earlier context, it can be the other way round. A man is laid hold of by the life of the fellowship, moved by the love which he experiences there; he "grows into" the brotherhood, and only gradually learns to know Jesus Christ as the Church's one foundation. His way to Christ is through the fellowship; through receiving human love he comes to believe in Him from whom this love originates. As a rule the Church has reckoned only with the first possibility, and acknowledged this way, the way of instruction, as the only one. But since both the Word that bears witness to Christ and the love created by it have the same source, the second way, which leads through fellowship, through reception if the Spirit of love, to Christ as the source of this Spirit, is just as much to be reckoned with as a possibility, although true faith comes into being only through the unity of Word and Spirit, of truth and fellowship, of knowledge of Christ and the heart-felt experience of love.

[Dogmatics III, Part 3, Section II, Chapter 10]

The pattern Brunner describes is one I myself have seen again and again in those who've come to Christ; in many cases, the practice of ministry expects the movement from fellowship to faith in Christ, but the structures of the church are still geared only to "the way of instruction". This is commonly the case in youth ministry, where one who is drawn into the life of the 'youth group' and keeps moving "onward and upward" -- until they 'join the church', at which point their Christian development often halts entirely, as they have climbed backwards and passed through to what pastors and parishes think of as their starting point. A great deal of time and energy is then blown trying to give the kids what they already have: love, fellowship, zeal, an awareness of spiritual things. Routinely this results in young adults who have received only cursory tools for spiritual discernment, but who hunger for spiritual things -- these eager ones are essentially cut adrift, and end up scouring the world for "more", and construct an understanding of God out of whatever ideas this world provdes. (To quote Vonnegut, who comes to mind, "Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops." (Slaughter-House Five,, ch. Two))

One of the joys of this volume of Brunner's dogmatics is its structure; specifically, I was pleased and gratified to find that the end of the section, "The New Life In Christ", is a chapter on prayer, where he states: "For this reason prayer is the touchstone of faith, and the theology of prayer is the touchstone of all theology." (Part III, Section II, Chap. 24, IV.) While this is a fairly standard Protestant protestation, in my judgement Brunner has carried the statement through his work, because he has been focused in every discussion on the personal character of the Christian's relationship with God (what he called in the contemporary philosophical jargon the "I - Thou" type of relationship).

Although Brunner's mid-twentieth-century perspective on hermeneutics and the results of Biblical scholarship are sure to terrify and alarm evangelicals, it is genuinely a shame that the deathgrip they maintain on their inerrantist hermeneutics and objectivist perspective will keep most of them dismissive and unappreciative of Brunner's accomplishment: a usable dogmatics which grapples with problems of traditional doctrines as well as reciting them, which is anchored in the God revelaed in the Scriptures, and which sees a living personal relationship with the Lord as its ultimate goal. Shame though it is, I can't see this changing anytime soon, in spite of the inherent attractiveness of Brunner's approach. With scholarship on Early Christianity changing almost unimaginably in the past 40+ years since this volume was completed, dogmatics from Brunner's point of view, with the same commitment to discovering the truth of the Biblical texts, might look rather different in some aspects, but could serve as a rallying point for a living expression of the Gospel beyond the combined denominational-traditional-confessionalist divides of the present situation.

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