Brunner & Barth: The Natural Knowledge of God
It was the 1930s when Swiss theologian Emil Brunner published his little book entitled Natur und Gnade (Nature and Grace). In this treatise, Brunner argues that in the theology of his “mentor” John Calvin (1) the imago Dei (image of God) in man formed the contact for the gospel and (2) God’s revelation in nature can be seen through the lens of Scripture.
“Calvin considers this remnant of the Imago Dei to be of great importance. One might almost say that it is one of the pillars supporting his theology, for he identifies it with nothing less than the entire human, rational nature, the immortal soul, the capacity for culture, the conscience, responsibility, the relation with God, which -though not redemptive-exists even in sin, language, the whole of cultural life.”
Brunner’s book was met with a harsh and emphatic NEIN! the title of Karl Barth’s treatise. In this work Barth set out to refute Brunner. Part of the reason for the aggressive tone in Barth’s response was due to the pro-Nazi use of natural theology. Barth argued (1) the fall of man had so debased the image of God that our natural knowledge of God is idolatry and superstition at best and (2) natural revelation serves only to render man guilty before God without excuse. (3) For Barth, there is no knowledge of God the creator outside of a knowledge of God the Savior.
“The possibility of a real knowledge by natural man of the true God, derived from creation, is, according to Calvin, a possibility in principle, but not in fact, not a possibility to be realized by us. One might call it an objective possibility, created by God, but not a subjective possibility, open to man. Between what is possible in principle and what is possible in fact there inexorably lies the fall. Hence this possibility can only be discussed hypothetically”
What do you think?