1889-1966. Swiss theologian. One of the most influential scholars of the interwar years, he enjoyed an international reputation through lecture tours and translations of his writings. After a pastorate at Obstalden (1916-24) he was professor of systematic and practical theology at Zurich (1924-53). In retirement he still traveled, spending two years in Japan as professor of Christian philosophy at the International Christian University of Tokyo (1953-55).
Brunner has long been thought of as a less extreme colleague of Barth* who parted company over natural theology in the 1930s. In fact, despite similarities, Brunner's approach was largely independent. He came from a Christian background. His early thought was influenced by the Christian Socialism of H. Kutter and L. Ragaz. But World War I caused him to reappraise his ideas in the light of the message of Christ. This he did independently of Barth. Among his early publications was a critique of Schleiermacher,* Die Mystik und das Wort (1924), which stressed the priority of divine revelation over human knowledge, reason, and experience. The Mediator (1927: ET 1934) was the first presentation of the doctrine of Christ in terms of Dialectical Theology.* Brunner saw the Gospel as an exposition of the First Commandment. Without Christ's fulfillment in the Gospel this commandment would be unreal and unintelligible. Christ comes as the one who has fulfilled the law, as mediator, revealer, and reconciler. Faith is essentially obedience. Christ's mediatorship is the basis of the Christian ethic. Only in the Mediator do we know ourselves as we really are. Only in Him is the will of God known as love. Only in Him is it possible to see and love one's neighbor. Only in Him is our arrogant self-will broken and God honored. Only through faith in justification does the good become a reality instead of a mere postulate. Only through faith in Christ, the Mediator, does man gain a really ethical relation to historical reality.
Brunner's thought was deeply influenced by Kierkegaard's* dialectic and Martin Buber's* I-Thou concept. He saw revelation essentially in terms of personal encounter with God who communicates Himself. Brunner opposed both altruistic, theological liberalism and evangelical orthodoxy with its concept of revealed truth. The ground of his objection to the latter-that God Himself is a personal subject who cannot be reduced to an object-draws attention to a truth. But it causes difficulty when it is asked how Brunner's view compares with Scripture and how one can speak meaningfully of God and revelation on Brunner's premises. He regarded Scripture as somehow normative, though not above criticism. Revelation is always indirect. It is even mythical in form, but this is necessary because of the incommensurability of Creator and creature. Brunner felt no tension between his stress on revelation and a positive attitude to culture and philosophy. Unlike Barth, he believed in an already existing point of contact between the Gospel and non- Christian man. He pleaded for a positive reformed attitude to natural theology, though he failed to state convincingly what would be involved in it.
The church is the fellowship in faith and love of those who believe in Christ and is therefore the presupposition of faith. There is, however, the constant danger of institutionalism. In his treatment of eschatology Brunner has sought to get rid of what he regarded as the inadequate temporal conceptions of orthodoxy. Though he rejected the “realized eschatology” of Dodd,* he insisted that the existence of a hell has no place in the Christian hope. Brunner regarded Communism as “an anti- religion without God” in which all the elements of antichrist are present. .
His writings include The Divine Imperative (1932; ET 1937); Man in Revolt (1937; ET 1939); Justice and the Social Order (1943; ET 1945); Our Faith (1935; ET 1936); Christianity and Civilization (2 vols., 1948-49); Revelation and Reason (1941; ET 1947); The Divine-Human Encounter (1938; enlarged as Truth as Encounter, ET 1954); Dogmatics (3 vols., 1946-60; ET 1949-62); and with Karl Barth, Natural Theology (1934; ET 1954).
The Theology of Emil Brunner (ed. C.W. Kegley, 1962) contains an autobiography by Brunner, seventeen studies on him, Brunner's reply, and an exhaustive bibliography. Other studies include P.K. Jewett, Emil Brunner's Concept of Revelation (1954); P.G. Schrotenboer, A New Apologetics, an Analysis and Appraisal of the Eristic Theology of Emil Brunner (1955); and “Emil Brunner” in P.E. Hughes (ed.)., Creative Minds in Contemporary Theology (2nd ed., 1969), pp. 99- 130.