Salvation, knowledge and faith : a Christian theological enquiry based on the soteriology of Emil Brunner
This study examines the nature of, the relationship between salvation, knowledge and faith in the specific context of Christian theology. It seeks to establish an epistemological basis for the Christian message of salvation in a culture which since the time of the Enlightenment has been highly sceptical of religious claims. This study begins with a critique of the theology of Emil Brunner. It accepts two of his theological premises; that human reason and philosophy cannot prove the truth of salvation, and that the salvation of which Christianity speaks does not address humanity like a bolt from the blue as some groundless revelation but on the basis of a point of contact between man and God, which allows humanity to recognise the salvific event. The distinction Brunner draws between 'personal' knowledge as an encounter between subjects, and 'objective' knowledge which is the construct of human reason enables him to speak of revelation in an unusual and original way. According to this thesis Christian revelation is at the same time rationally and 'personally' comprehensible, and yet not capable of being deduced or verified by human reason. However closer investigation reveals that Brunner's exposition of the incarnation as the 'personal' self-revelation of God within history is not coherent in itself. His understanding of both the 'personal' and the 'historical' is not so much derived from a natural understanding of personality and history, but rather from a use of those terms as defined by, an understanding of revelation which contains implicit within it the groundlessness and the 'alien' nature of revelation which, he sought to avoid. It is the contention of this thesis that in spite of Brunner's failure it is possible to use his basic categories of the 'historical' and the 'personal' to speak of salvation as the, confirmation within history of human 'personal' worth. This worth is ultimately indescribable and inexplicable in the categories of a contingent and finite world, and, as such, is open to a transcendent confirmation and validation. The Christian tradition, itself rooted in the tradition of Judaism, bears witness, like Judaism, to the experience of such a 'personal' validation and vindication. In this sense, therefore, the resurrection of Jesus, while offering no historical 'proof of the truth' on account of its essentially 'personal' nature, can be seen as a legitimate epistemological basis for an understanding of salvation, which still preserves the primacy of faith. However the focus upon the category of salvation, and salvation as an epistemological touchstone, reveals that the resurrection of Jesus confirms not so much the traditional distinctive Christological ontology, but rather a more all-embracing ontology of the gracious transcendence of love itself which resists the narrow and distinctive definitions of orthodoxy. In fact an epistemologically valid ontology of faith's activity in love allows the traditional ontologies of Christology, Soteriology and the Trinity to be seen as peripheral to a contemporary articulation of the Christian message of salvation on account of their dubious epistemological foundations.