Nature and Grace

There was this theological fight between Karl Barth and Emil Brunner back in the 1930’s about Natural theology (thinking about God from reason) and Grace (God’s unmerited favor for his creation). In a nut shell the question around nature and grace came down to whether there was a discussion to be had about the topic. For Barth, if theologians concede that God’s grace is knowable in things, like marriage, governments and the image of God in people, and also concede that God’s grace is knowable through human reason as it works to understand things in the world (like the list noted earlier in this sentence), then we open the door to watering down the Gospel and losing the sufficiency of Christ alone. Sorry that felt like a stupid long sentence. Does it make sense? Here’s a better way to get the point across; Barth argued against Brunner by basically saying:

1. Natural theology, like Brunner’s, argues that God’s grace is in nature.

2. Natural theology argues one can know God’s grace in the world without the Holy Spirit and the Gospel.

3. If one accepts 1 and 2 as true then there is a danger to the Gospel and the sufficiency of faith.

4. Therefore, natural theology is not a true category for true Christian theology because it is an enemy of the Gospel.


This debate is helpful at seeing what it takes to keep the defense of the faith faithful, and what it takes to develop a faithful communication of the offense of the Gospel, to reconcile all things to God through Christ by the Spirit. Remember, this debate took place in Germany in the 1930’s! In other words, a compromise in theology meant a doorway for the future Nazi regime to absorb any compromised theology to fit its agendas, which it did! Let us never forget this lesson. Jesus is Lord not government (see video below for more on this point).

Nothing in the world compares to the Gospel’s effect on the world for those reconciled to God through Christ. However, speaking and sharing this passion sometimes means being forced to engage people, who often are not so much on fire with passion for knowledge of the faith that is faithful and not aware of how important it is to keep the discussion under the scope of God in Christ alone. This means teaching and explaining who and what God is in relation to the lost he calls to be reconciled to him through Christ and, if the Lord wills, by his Spirit. But how do you communicate that if so much ignorance of God in Christ abounds? It seems almost necessary to talk of the grace suffused in the world, almost like finger prints, who uniquely point to God.

Barth was perceptive that a theology communicating people to faith that itself is not faithful to the bedrock of the faith (the sufficiency of the Gospel) is doomed to be a part owner of the sins of the future. However, his dismissal of the absolute pervasiveness of God’s grace in everything ignores God. God’s creation is good, indeed very good! For example, the term “mother nature” is an out right abject failure and lie. But this false metaphor leads us to the truth of God. God created the heavens and the earth out of absolute nothing as the only one who is absolutely essential. Or better yet, take the Cross for another example; it stands as the point at which all points point to. The Cross of Christ screams that we must say the line between nature and grace is a farce! Everything is God’s grace and the people of God are pointing to the fact that he is leading all to see and know and believe Christ in all:

For from him and through him and for him are all things. To Jesus be the glory forever! Amen. Romans 11:36

Romans 11:36

Romans 11:36

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