Our Faith by Emil Brunner
Emil Brunner is one of the great systematic theologians of the early twentieth century. Our Faith was translated by John W. Rilling, and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1954. This book prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.
Chapter 2: Is the Bible the Word Of God ?
No one will dispute the assertion that the Bible is a unique Book. It is noteworthy, if for no other reason, in that so many people possess this Book and so few people read it. Why does every one have a Bible? Why is this Book translated into so many hundreds of languages? Why is this venerable Book reprinted again and again in millions of copies annually? Two hundred years ago, scoffing Voltaire, probably the most famous man of his time prophesied that all would soon be over with the Bible. The house in which this boast was made is today one of the offices of a great Bible society. Voltaire's name is almost forgotten; the Bible has had, in the meantime, an incredible career of triumph through- out the world. What is it about the Bible? Whence these facts?
The immediate answer is quite plain: because the Christian Church believes the Bible to be the Word of God, -- just as the Mohammedan is persuaded that the Koran, and the Hindu that the Bhagavadgita is the Word of God; and because Christians are the most proficient propagandists, the Bible is the most widely disseminated Book. Quite right. But this is to overlook one thing: the Bible not only comes from the Christians; Christians come from the Bible. One might make the statement: there are Bibles because there are Christians. Primarily the reverse is true: there are Christians because of the Bible. The Bible is the soil from which all Christian faith grows. For if there were no Bible we should know nothing of Jesus Christ, after whom we are called Christians. Christian faith is faith in Christ, and Christ meets us and speaks to us in the Bible. Christian faith is Bible faith. What is meant by that statement?
Who is God? What is His purpose for us? What are His plans for the world, for humanity, for you? You cannot know that of yourself; nor can any one tell you that. For what you yourself cannot apprehend of God no one else can know either. After all, he is only an- other man and no man can answer these questions of his own accord. God alone can do it. But does He? Does He tell us? Does He reveal the secret of His world plan? Does He make known His purposes for you and me and for all mankind? Christianity answers these questions with an emphatic Yes, God has made known the secret of His will through the Prophets and Apostles in the Holy Scriptures. He permitted them to say who He is. And what they all say in different words is fundamentally the same thing, just as seven sons of a good mother speaks each in his own way of her. Each one says the same thing; and yet each says something different. So, too, the prophets all speak of the one God, not only as eternally enthroned above all temporal change, the invisible spirit above all earthly affairs, but as the One who has purposes for man, who does not leave man to his own devices like some great nobleman who says: I can get along without them; I can wait until they come to me. Not so God. He who alone is the great Lord, does not act as does the nobleman who proudly holds that the poor serf must come to him. God has mercy on men; He even comes to those who do not come to Him; He troubles himself about them, follows after them like a good shepherd after his erring sheep. For He wants to gather them, to bring them home; He does not want them to remain lost; He wants them with Himself.
That is God's purpose. He therefore calls His people, now coaxing, now threatening, now from the heights, now from the depths. But He not only calls; He himself comes to them. In their error, the Good Shepherd seeks His lost sheep, gives even His life for them. It is of this Good Shepherd God that the Bible speaks. The voices of the Prophets are the single voice of God, calling. Jesus Christ is God Himself coming. In him, "the Word became flesh." That means, in him is present that which these Prophets and Apostles were not, but of which they could only speak. They can only speak of the Good Shepherd. Jesus himself is the Good Shepherd. The Prophets and Apostles can only point like doorkeepers to the coming one and say: see him yonder, there is he whom we await. They can open the door: now he stands there, himself! He is the Word of God. In him, his life and death, God proclaims His purpose, His plan. His feelings. "I have revealed to them thy name." He is the Word of God in the Bible. Is the whole Bible God's Word then? Yes, insofar as it speaks of that which is "here" in Christ.
Is everything true that is to be found in the Bible? Let me draw a somewhat modern analogy by way of answering this question. Every one has seen the trade slogan "His Master's Voice." If you buy a phonograph record you are told that you will hear the Master Caruso. Is that true? Of course! But really his voice? Certainly! And yet -- there are some noises made by the machine which are not the Master's voice, but the scratching of the steel needle upon the hard disk. But do not become impatient with the hard disk! For only by means of the record can you hear "the master's voice." So, too, is it with the Bible. It makes the real Master's voice audible, -- really his voice, his words, what he wants to say. But there are incidental noises accompanying, just because God speaks His Word through the voice of man. Paul, Peter, Isaiah, and Moses are such men. But through them God speaks His Word. God has also come into the world as man, really God, but really man too. Therefore the Bible is all His voice, notwithstanding all the disturbing things, which, being human are unavoidable. Only a fool listens to the incidental noises when he might listen to the sound of his Master's voice! The importance of the Bible is that God speaks to us through it.
How then, are we to regard those other books which claim to be God's word also? There are two things to be said: first, are you a Mohammedan or a Hindu? If not, then these books do not apply to you. Second, if you still want to know how we are to regard those Other books, I can tell you only one thing: a different voice is to be heard in them than that which we hear in the Bible. It is not the same God, not the Good Shepherd who comes to His sheep. It is the voice of a stranger. It may be that somehow it is God's voice, too. But if so, a scarcely recognizable voice, just as a poor photo- graph may resemble you, but not at all look as you are.
Now are there any other questions? It is my opinion that if this is the way the matter stands, there is only one conclusion to be drawn: Go now, and begin at last to listen attentively to the Master's voice.