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Emil Brunner

Professor of Systematic and Practical Theology, University of Zurich
1899 to 1966

Emil Brunner was born near Zurich on 23 December 1889. He studied at both Zurich and Berlin universities and received his doctorate in theology from Zurich in 1913. His doctoral dissertation was entitled ‘The Symbolic Element in Religious Knowledge’. In 1916–1917. Brunner served as pastor in the mountain village of Obstalden in the Canton of Glarus. In 1919–1920 he spent a year in New York studying at Union Theological Seminary.

In 1921 Brunner wrote what he considered his second dissertation Experience, Knowledge and Faith. Another book soon followed Mysticism and the Word a critique of the liberal theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher. Such work enhanced his academic reputation and he was rewarded in 1924 with an appointment as professor of systematic and practical theology at the University of Zurich which he retained until 1955. In the late 1920s his reputation continued to increase with the publication of two more books The Philosophy of Religion from the Standpoint of Protestant Theology and The Mediator.

In 1932, having fulfilled invitations to visit and lecture across Europe and the United States, Brunner wrote God and Man and The Divine Imperative. Later in 1937 he published Man in Revolt and Truth as Encounter. In 1938 he again returned to the United States to accept a visiting professorship at Princeton Theological Seminary.

He returned to Europe prior to World War II. Following the war Brunner was invited to give the Gifford Lectures at the University of St Andrews in 1947–1948. His lecture series ‘Christianity and Civilization’ was divided into two parts, ‘Foundations’ and ‘Specific Problems’.

Brunner’s teaching career concluded in 1953–1955 at what was then the new International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan. In the meantime, he published his three-volume dogmatics, including The Christian Doctrine of God, The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption and The Christian Doctrine of the Church Faith and Consummation. On the return journey from Europe to Japan, Brunner suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and was subsequently physically impaired, which weakened his ability to work productively. For the next nine years Brunner suffered from further strokes. He died on 6 April 1966.

Other books by Brunner include: Theology of Crisis (1929); Word and the World (1931); Divine-Human Encounter (1943); Justice and the Social Order (1945) Revelation and Reason: The Christian Doctrine of Faith and Knowledge (1946); Scandal of Christianity (1951); Misunderstanding the Church (1952); Eternal Hope (1954); Great Invitation: Zurich Sermons (1955); Letter to Romans: A Commentary (1959); I Believe in the Living God: Sermons on the Apostle’s Creed (1961).

  • Kelly Van Andel, University of Glasgow