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Emil Brunner: A Reappraisal
Alister E. McGrath
260 pp., $102.95
Stephen N. Williams
At the start of 2014, the scuttlebutt had it that membership of the class of 20th-century Christian thinkers whose biographies or intellectual biographies had not been written by Alister McGrath was set to dwindle even further. In Emil Brunner: A Reappraisal, the aforementioned wastes no time in scotching the rumor. "This work is not primarily a biography of Brunner, nor an introduction to his theology. It is an exploration of the development of his thought, primarily in the 1920s and 1930s, set against the intellectual and cultural context of the age, leading into an assessment of his theological vision, and an attempt to make connections with our own context." In this contribution, the author is characteristically disciplined in verbal expression and diplomatic in perlocutionary ambition, but something great is at stake: Brunner offers "a powerful, compelling account of the theological enterprise, which cries out to be engaged, assessed, and applied." In fact, "it would be madness not to make better use of" his thought. Whatever its weakneses, it provides us with "a theological platform with considerable potential for the engagement of contemporary cultural concerns."
Direct advocacy of Brunner as a contemporary resource occupies a brief final chapter. The bulk of the volume is expository. Its first and longer part takes us from Brunner's theological beginnings up to his important Truth as Encounter in 1937 and the brief spell in Princeton prior to World War II. The second treats "Brunner's Vision for Post-war Theological Reconstruction." Précis of Brunner's most important works is embedded in biographical narrative. Geographically, the story is centered on Zurich, where Brunner was born (1889), appointed as Professor of Systematic and Practical Theology (1924), and in whose proximity he died (1966), having lived most of his life there. There are other significant places, notably the United States and also Tokyo, where Brunner briefly served as Professor of ...