In Foundations, Brunner attempts to work out something like a Christian philosophy of civilization dealing with some basic principles which underlie all civilization. In the second part, Specific Problems, the author then provides a Christian interpretation of some of the main features of civilized life.
Brunner begins his survey of ‘specific problems’ with ‘technics’, or the development and use of tools through which the means become more important than the ends and the machine becomes a human being’s saviour and controls his or her will. Because of such technics, humanity is emancipated from God and tools (weapons) divide humankind into social classes and subdue hostile nature step by step. According to Brunner, the Christian alternative to the technical apocalypse requires that humankind perform an inward turn that will convert the fatal perversion of the order of means and ends. From technics, Brunner moves to a discussion of science, which he defines as a disinterested activity that originates from the will to know the truth. In Christian understanding, God has created man to know him through the forms and laws of natural science. If we understand science this way, there is no conflict with faith. According to Brunner’s evaluation, sin, however, has unfortunately influenced science by poisoning the sense of truth: by calling God what is not God, it forgets God.
In addition to science and technics, Brunner argues that tradition shapes and renews civilization. He understands tradition as cultural memory as well as a living preservation of the past in the present. Regarding Christianity and tradition, the author underscores that all of humanity is bound together by solidarity in creation and sin. The tradition held by the Church passes on forgiveness. Education also plays a role in passing on tradition and culture. Brunner discusses different types of educational formation, from the Socratic method to the German idea of Bildung. He also explicates the original Christian idea of education that sought to teach church doctrine and morality. Brunner points out, however, that faith was and/or can be identified by belief in doctrines. In contrast to such ‘theological intellectualism’, Brunner agrees with Pestalozzi that self-development within community should be the central idea of Christian education, because personality develops in relation to others, and the Christian person is called into relation by God.
Other important topics of Christianity and civilization include work, art, wealth, law and power. The author observes that the classical Aristotelian conception of work understands that a free person must create but not work. Marx, however, argued the reverse: the worker is the ‘real man’. As opposed to both Aristotle and Marx, Luther argued that the Christian is called into the service of God and all work is divine calling or vocation. As for art, the author thinks that artists create a second reality through which they seek to transcend existence because reality does not satisfy. Brunner, however, feels that the search for such aestheticism does not change life or offer any liberation from it. Overall, he relates art to the purpose of the Sabbath and suggests that, like the Sabbath, art should open the closed soul, help it relax and relieve it from the pressures of everyday life.
From art, Brunner turns to wealth. He credits the development of wealth to the transition from nomadic life to permanent residence and property. He then notes that a certain amount of economic independence is a prerequisite of free personality. In light of the Bible, wealth itself is not evil but its temptation is almost irresistible. He also discusses the faults of economic systems such as Communism and Max Weber’s theory concerning Calvinistic capitalism.
Next, in an examination of law and power, Brunner revisits—albeit with slightly different emphases—social custom and freedom, respectively. Here the author points out that in the New Testament, good customs are acknowledged and recommended and that the Christianity offers a new kind of social existence. The less social custom, the more law fills the gaps. In the end, Brunner argues that only where a glimmer of divine light shines through the legal order of a nation can spontaneous obedience be expected. As for power, in the author’s understanding, power stands in direct opposition to freedom. The surplus freedom of one which is power is the deficit of freedom of another. While the Christian faith, the love of God and love of one’s fellow man do not act so much as political factors, they can work against the misuse of political power and work for the use of political power for the common good.
In the final chapter of Specific Problems, Brunner returns to his first lecture and the question: What is Christian civilization? He argues that the essence of civilization is the formation of human life which has its origins not in mere biological necessity but in spiritual impulses. Although prospects for the realization of the Christian idea seem to be very bad, he insists that we not be pessimistic. As people search for the foundation of truly human civilization, the Christian tradition is rediscovered.
In his epilogue, Brunner states that the gospel of the redemption and salvation of the world in Jesus Christ is not meant to be a program for any kind of civilization or culture. Culture and civilization, even at their best, are temporal and belong to this earthly life. The Gospel, however, is revelation of eternal life, which indicates that humankind is not meant to pass away but is destined by the Creator for eternity. For Brunner, the main concern of the Christian, then, should never be civilization and culture but his or her relation to God in Jesus Christ.