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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte
Pro ecclesia. Die dogmatische Theologie Peter Brunners.
Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag 2001. 456 S. 8 = Neukirchener Theologische Dissertationen und Habilitationen, 30. Kart. Euro 49,90. ISBN 3-7887-1866-8.
Robert W. Jenson
The work under review is Dr. Eißler's doctoral dissertation, presented to the evangelical-theological faculty of Erlangen, and honored by them with a prestigious prize. As a very traditional dissertation, published without rewriting, it is hardly suitable for readers other than scholars interested very specifically in the Heidelberg systematician and ecumenist Peter Brunner (1901- 1981). Author and reviewer can perhaps agree that if history had been just to Brunner, there would be more so interested than there are; it may be noted that in the United States a small but potentially influential Brunner-renaissance seems to be underway.
The dissertation is clearly organized. A first part considers Brunner's Grundlegung of dogmatic theology. A second discusses his Durchführung thereof; here E. takes up Brunner's treatments of worship, churchly office, and churchly unity. It no doubt reflects the initially agreed terms of E.'s work, that this second part discusses no other loci. Nevertheless this is something of a disappointment, since in his lectures - Nachschriften of which E. utilizes - and in papers little noted here, Brunner covered the whole range of theological concerns, and since some of Brunner's most interesting reflections lie outside the loci discussed. Thus one does not discover in these pages the Brunner who once said to me, sotto voce, "Ich bin doch ein bisschen spekulativ," with reference to the relation of God's eternity to time.
E.'s presentation of Brunner's work is, within the noted limits, thorough, clear, and in my judgment accurate. Readers may trust the first part's report of Brunner's positions on the churchly character and location of theology, and of the roles therein of Scripture, confession and historical-philological scholarship, as well as the second part's report of more material matters.
Considering E.'s constant expression of admiration, it is somewhat surprising that he in fact quite comprehensively disapproves of Brunner's theology. Each report of a part of Brunner's thought is followed by a "discussion". The procedure in each of these is the same: Brunner is measured by Luther - as traditionally read in Germany - and found wanting. E.'s objections can be reduced to two.
First. According to Brunner, Scripture comes alive as the Word of God within the proclamatory and sacramental life of the church. According to Luther according to E., Scripture is "the primary means of grace" antecedently to the existence of the church and its sacraments, and is effective in that capacity also outside the church.
Second. According to Brunner, what happens in the proclamation of the gospel and celebration of the sacraments is the "re-presentation" of the saving events. According to Luther, according to E., what happens is the distribution of the benefit of events that remain in their own time and place. The notion of "re-presentation" is said to be a catholicizing tincture which pollutes the evangelical understanding of worship; the pollution spreads to Brunner's treatments of churchly office and unity.
The reviewer is with Brunner rather than with the sort of Lutheranism represented by Eißler. But that, of course, marks a divergence which can hardly be argued here and is anyway irrelevant to review of a dissertation.