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  • Writer's pictureMark Bocanegra

“Yes, I want to study the word 'Anknüpfungspunkt' for 5 years.

There have been some who have asked me what I'd like to study for my PhD and how it would be relevant to the mission field. This month I've attached the introduction of ,y research sample that gives a taste of what I'd like to study in the future--Emil Brunner's concept of Anknüpfungspunkt. You'll start to see why, as a missionary, I'd like to study this. Of course, Brunner is not Reformed in the traditional and Confessional sense; however, he cites Reformed influences when interacts with his main conversation partner--Karl Barth. Therefore, I hope to cover the interaction of three areas: missionary theology, neo-orthodox theology (Barth and Brunner), and Reformed theology. It makes me excited--excited enough to study it for 5 years (length of an American PhD). This month will be a little bit academic--but hopefully it will still be deepen your view of missionary theology as well. I'm also infamous for not writing very well (grammatically), so please read with much grace as always :) I'm having some brothers help me with that!

Emil Brunner is largely forgotten today despite being one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century--particularly in America. Alister McGrath argues that Brunner is rarely the subject of theological monographs or articles and is more often read through a Barthian interpretative lens. The 1934 Barth-Brunner controversy and the explosive rise of Barth and Barthian scholarship may have caused a decline of Brunner scholarship; however, McGrath points out that this is not because he has been refuted, but merely because he has been neglected.[1]

One of the many areas where Brunner has been neglected is the area of missionary theology. In David Bosch’s groundbreaking work Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, Bosch describes how the missionary telos of theology was largely neglected until the 1950s, while Barth “succeeded in doing [missionary theology] better than most other systematic theologians.”[2] However, the great irony is that Brunner famously distinguished himself from Karl Barth by the missionary telos of his theology: “Barth thinks as a churchman for the church; I think rather as a missionary.”[3] Brunner’s advocacy for the integrative, “eristic,”[4] missionary task of theology can be found as early as 1925. It was also the cause of the infamous 1934 Barth-Brunner debate and it was already fully developed by 1949.[5] However, Bosch makes no reference to Brunner in his entire tome. This neglect of Brunner is not unique to Bosch, but is seen throughout the latter half of the 20th century in missionary theology.[6]

What exactly is Brunner’s missionary theology? In a word, Anknüpfungspunkt—or in English, commonly translated as ‘point of contact.’ His doctrine regarding Anknüpfungspunkt was the center of his 1934 debate with Barth.[7] Brunner’s view of the Anknüpfungspunkt revolved around two aspects. Brunner’s first distinctive is man’s innate capacity to receive divine revelation. Drawing from Romans 1, Brunner argued that man was endowed with a ‘natural revelation’ that rendered man morally and legally responsible to obey God. This innate capacity was the Anknüpfungspunkt for divine revelation in general. Brunner’s second distinctive is a consequence of the first: this ‘natural revelation’ produced a contradiction or an ‘eternal unrest’ within man because of their guilt.[8] He even went so far to say that religion and secular thought was an expression of this restlessness or guilt; therefore, “Jesus Christ is both the Fulfillment of all religion and the Judgment on all religion. As the Fulfiller, He is the Truth which these religions seek in vain.”[9] Brunner believed that this ‘restlessness’—or guilt—was the point of contact for the Gospel. In his Dogmatics (1949), Brunner defined the task of missionary theology was to clarify, and address this ‘restlessness’—or point of contact—with the Gospel:

Missionary theology is, first of all, wholly concerned with the hearer, with his need, his helplessness, his skepticism and his longing. Missionary theology unveils the "cor inquietum," and shows why it is "inquitem"; it does not, however, do this in such a way that the Gospel appears to be derived from the need of man; rather, its aim is to show that it is only the miracle of revelation in Jesus Christ which can meet man's need, because this distress is caused by man's distance from God, and indeed consists in this alienation. Brunner cites three works—The Divine-Human Encounter (1936), Man in Revolt (1937), and Revelation and Reason (1941)—as the pillars of his thoughts on missionary theology and Anknüpfungspunkt. [10]

Despite this self-proclaimed telos and a broad recognition of his missionary tenor, Brunner scholarship has not explored how his theological insights—particularly his doctrine of Anknüpfungspunkt—contribute to missionary theology.[11] Past scholarship assessing Brunner’s later works have either given little thought to Brunner’s contribution to missionary theology[12] or have rejected Brunner’s contributions to mission theology because of misunderstandings, exaggeration of his views, or flat-out rejection of his neo-orthodox views.[13] Recent scholarship has provided careful, balanced, and nuanced presentations of Brunner’s overall theological framework, but no extensive explanation of his theological contribution to the theology of mission.[14] Jan A. Jongeneel—one of the leading missionary historians—only identified one work solely concentrated on Emil Brunner’s missionary theology; however, this work by Heinrich Leipold only analyzes Brunner’s earlier works.[15] The only in-depth examination and development of Brunner’s later missionary theology is Hugh Vernon White’s short essay, “Brunner’s Missionary Theology” in the Brunner festschrift.[16] Summarizing Brunner’s later works, White succinctly illustrates Brunner’s theological contribution to missionary theology:

While we find explicit statements by Brunner of missionary concern such as those quoted above, the basis of a missionary theology is to be discovered in the underlying conceptions and principles of his systematic theology. Here, at vital points, is rooted the necessity of the missionary task of Christianity as historic revelation and in the nature of man as both imago dei and im Widerspruch. Paralleling the relation of revelation and reason as one of mutual involvement yet also of tension and even conflict, is the fact that the Christian faith is intimately involved with culture, yet never to be identified with it.[17] Despite the brevity of the essay, Brunner himself says he learned from this article “more than any other [article in the festschrift]” and that White had grasped “his entire theology.”[18]

Building off of White’s insights, the goal of this paper is to focus on Revelation and Reason–the most integrative and developed of his three missionary works—and to parse out the missiological principles underlying his theological reflections on the nature of revelation.[19] I argue that Brunner’s theological reflection on Anknüpfungspunkt in Revelation and Reason establishes a robust, theological, and practical framework that is more consistent with the work of missions than Karl Barth’s Christological approach.[20] In Part One, I intend to exposit Revelation and Reason by explaining Anknüpfungspunkt through three aspects of his thought on revelation: 1) Revelation as Encounter, 2) Revelation as the cause of Contradiction, 3) Revelation as God working in history. In Part Two, I aim to highlight the value of Brunner’s missio-theological contributions in contrast to Karl Barth, while pinpointing the fundamental difference between their frameworks. Although Bosch laments that systematic theology does not properly engage the mission field not until 1950s, it will be shown that Brunner is clearly doing mature missionary systematic theology by 1941....

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