A Christian Philosophical Perspective on Western Civilization

By Grad, Iulia | Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

A Christian Philosophical Perspective on Western Civilization


Grad, Iulia, Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies


A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHICAL PERSPECTIVE ON WESTERN CIVILIZATION Emil Brunner, Christianity and Civilisation. Foundations and Specific Problems. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co. 2009.

Key words: Christianity, civilization, man, humanism, crisis of modern civilization, Emil Brunner.

"In this book I seek to formulate and to justify my conviction that only Christianity is capable of furnishing the basis of a civilization which can rightly be described as human." This is the main objective advanced by Emil Brunner in the preface of the volume Christianity and Civilization. The book was first published in 1948 and aims to demonstrate the fundamental dependence of Western civilization on Christianity. Brunner addresses different issues from a Christian perspective and attempts to show that, even with the atrociousness of the two World Wars, there is a possibility, provided by Christianity, to rebuild civilization.

Brunner appreciates that the point of his investigation is the Christian faith, adding that "by Christian faith we do not mean something indefinite, but the Gospel of the New Testament, as it is understood within the tradition of Reformation Theology." I consider that, for a better understanding of the approach proposed by this volume, it is useful to mention that Emil Brunner served as a pastor for ten years, until 1924, when he become professor of systematic and practical theology at the University of Zurich.

The volume contains Brunner's lectures at St. Andrews University, between 1947- 1948. The complexity of the subject makes impossible an analysis that would not to be guilty of oversimplification and omission of other aspects or issues. Moreover, Brunner's approach is also affected by the time limitation of a teaching course. Furthermore, the author accepts on several occasions the blame of oversimplification. Nevertheless, both the theme and the manner of approaching confer novelty to Brunner's work and render it very actual. These features justify the republication in 2009 by James Clarke & Co..

Christianity and civilization has two main parts, representing two series of conferences. The first series of conferences aims to propose a Christian philosophy of civilization, whereas the second series offers a Christian interpretation of the essential features of the modern civilized life.

A key feature of the approach presented in this paper is the effort that this important exponent of the neo-orthodox theology made in order to create a mélange between the theological discourse and the cultural humanistic one. The subjects covered within the chapters of the first part are the classical philosophical themes: reality, truth, time, purpose of life man in the Universe, justice, freedom, etc.

Brunner is addressing these issues and proposes a theory that could be described as a Christian dialogical anthropology. The Swiss theologian sets out his position as a counterweight to ancient Greek philosophy and to some modern philosophical and scientific conceptions.

Thus, in addressing each of the mentioned issues, Brunner would consider both a philosophical history of the concept and an overview of the modern context, always referred to as being highly problematic and acknowledging only one way out of crisis, provided by the Christian conception.

As we already have mentioned, the view proposed by Brunner is profoundly Christian and dialogical. The strong influence of Martin Buber's philosophy of dialogue is obvious. Thus, Brunner appreciates the human being as being dependent to the relationship with God, this dependence being a matter of choice and providing the ultimate mark of humanity. Human nature is, therefore, not a disposition, but is the human response to the divine call. The Christian humanist conception succeeds to overcome both the Greek idealistic humanism and the Darwinian naturalistic nihilism by the fact that it presents the man, as created in the image of God and placed within the nature, whereas being above it. …

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