Monday, May 31, 2010

Barth On Not Taking the Preacher Seriously in Order to Take Preaching Seriously

As someone who both cringes before and feels compelled toward the pulpit, I find these words of Karl Barth both freeing and challenging. I also think the stuff in bold contains a call to reform that our evangelical preaching ministry could probably benefit from chewing on for awhile.
[Paul] asks: "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher (χωρς κηρύσσοντος)? and how shall they (the subject of the sentence has obviously changed) preach, except they be sent?" When we quote this passage, we must not miss out the last link in the series. For it is on this that all the rest depends. . . .

How, then, can it turn in upon itself? How can it be grounded in itself? How can it crowd out the kerygma [self-proclamation] of Jesus? How can it make this superfluous? It is a call to hearing, faith and confession, news of an accomplished salvation, to the extent that it derives from His sending, consists in the execution of His commission, and therefore, dependent absolutely on His sending and commission, takes up and reproduces the kerygma of Jesus. The power of their action lies in this relationship. It is because of this relationship that there can be said of them and their work: "He that heareth you heareth me" ( Lk. 1016). . . .

Without this relationship it would be nothing. It must say always, in supreme concretion: "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves (we regard as) your servants for Jesus' sake" ( 2 Cor. 45). . . . There is no place, therefore, for any appeal to the undoubted philosophy, scholarship, eloquence, moral impeccability and personal Christianity of the preacher, or for any notion that there is in his preaching any immanent power or value or salvation, or that the Christian kerygma is a self-sufficient and self-operative hypostasis which is as such the πρτον [first] and the σχατον [last]. This notion is one of the most monstrous mythologoumena of all times.

Christian preaching is the Word of the cross ( 1 Cor. 118), the Word of reconciliation ( 2 Cor. 519). As such it points beyond itself to the concrete history of Jesus Christ. To use the Johannine term, it is witness to Him. The preacher need not be ashamed, therefore, for as such it is the δύναμις [power] of God to salvation to everyone that believes ( Rom. 116). Christ Himself is both its divine σοφία [wisdom] and its divine δύναμις ( 1 Cor. 124). It is not itself the kingdom of God, the divine seizure of power. It makes known the fact that this has happened. It is the proclamation of Jesus as Lord, the giving of factual information and the summons to an appropriate attitude of repentance and faith. And it is all this as the word of the ambassador who is not himself Christ, but speaks in His stead (πρ Χριστο).

(Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/2: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, 207-209)

4 comments:

Stewart said...

I love his emphasis here...it's not about the preacher but the Christ who is the Word. I do wonder (and we've had this discussion before elsewhere) what Barth says about the Sword of the Spirit "dividing asunder" etc. Does he acknowledge the power of God's Word when properly understood and/or communicated?

Jon Coutts said...

Yeah, I think so. Maybe elaborate because I'm not totally clear what you are asking.

Stewart said...

I guess if Barth is qualifying our treatment of Scripture ie. that we should always be moving towards Christ in its' pages then i get it. But Scripture is also "special revelation", is it not, and as such has a certain "power", not magical but rather probing. Jesus is the truth and so is Scripture...do we not dilute both in our lives through neglect, self centerdness, etc. etc. But our diluting does not alter the fact of the existence of both as God's gracious provision...one to hear from Him, the Other to receive from Him.

Jon Coutts said...

I guess Barth would look at Scripture as true because it is providentially and sufficiently provided and used as the authoritative and promised testament to the Truth, Jesus Christ. Is it the sword of the Spirit, who in and through it confronts us, dividing asunder the false from the true, the bad from the good? Yes, I think that's exactly what he'd say.