This blog was an assignment I turned in for a preaching class. I had been wanting to write I blog post recently but had not the time. I am sharing this hoping that it may cause someone to become more interested in the mechanics of theology and how it matters in your church. Quotations out of “Homiletics” by Karl Barth.
Preaching and Barth’s Neo-Orthodoxy
At a glance, it is of no surprise that Barth and some of his contemporaries would come out of World War 1 with a theology of crisis or a dialectical theology. This theology came to be known as neo-orthodoxy and was sparked by the pure evil of the first world war, and was fueled by the grotesque and graphic nature of the second. This stance must be taken into account upon discussion of the specifics of Karl Barth’s theology of preaching as there is a direct connection between the ideology of neo-orthodoxy and practicality of his theology of preaching.
In order to get a solid grasp of what neo-orthodoxy is all about, there must be an understanding of three main attributes: 1) the theology of revelation sits in direct contrast to that of natural theology. The revelation of God is the source of Christian doctrine. All biblical doctrine has been received by humans through divine revelation. The Lord spoke through the mouths of the prophets (2 Timothy 3:16), through the actions and words of Christ, and through the ministry of the apostles. The relation between God’s word and humans is direct: using an imperfect being to communicate a perfect message. 2) The transcendence of God is stressed through an “infinite qualitative distinction”. To look at God through immanence, as opposed to transcendence, was to see God as nothing more than a large human. Transcendence recognizes that God is flowing through all and in all, not to be limited to any one being, existence, or metaphor for that matter. 3) Sin can only be overcome through the grace of God. It is a plague of modernism, existentialism and naturalism to say that sin can be overcome by reflection, a social institution, or reason, respectively. The only format through which we can conquer sin is the matter in which it has already been conquered: through the grace of God in his giving to us the death and resurrection of Christ.
Barth begins his definition of preaching by stating that “preaching is the Word of God.” This definitive statement is aligned with neo-orthodoxy. We must remember that the Word of God is different from the word of God, the latter being the text, the former Christ. “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word is God” (John 1:1, author paraphrase). Giving a commentary on the letters and pages of the Bible is not preaching, according to Barth; that is nothing more than presenting research. Preaching must vocalize the Word from the word. Preaching should center our ability to relate Christ using personal inspiration that aligns with the inspired text of the Bible.
Barth’s definition is continued, “ claiming for the purpose the exposition of Biblical text.” In order to understand the Word we are to preach, a realization must be had: the Holy Scriptures are complete and sufficient. The Scriptures are there to make us complete and to prepare us for holy work (2 Timothy 3:17). The Scripture is not to be submitted to our own interpretation, or out of selfish ambition for our own cause (2 Peter 1:20-21). Scripture is sufficient in work and preparation in our sermons.
“…By those who are called to do this in the church that is obedient to its commission.” It is imperative to realize that in order to preach Word, there must be faith in the word. Neo-orthodoxy claims that faith comes from hearing the word, the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). The natural question that arises is what should our faith be placed in? The resurrection of the Christ is where our faith must be placed (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Our faith holds both as a testimony to the Word we preach and as a connection to that preached Word.
“Preaching is an attempt enjoined upon the church to serve God’s own Word”. In order for our communication and relationship with the Word to be legitimate, we must have an encounter with Christ. We learn this from the disciples in Luke 24. At first when the disciples encountered the risen Christ, they believed him to be a ghost. It was only after the encounter they were positive Christ has indeed risen. A moment of encounter with Christ not only strengthens our faith, it gives our preaching purpose due to the personal attachment and responsibility we receive through our miraculous encounter with the Word.
Through the “One who has called us hitherto, by expounding a biblical text in human words, and making it relevant to contemporaries in imitation of what they have to hear from God himself.” We as Christians, namely, called preachers, have a duty to proclaim, teach, preach, prophesy, and show the Word to the world. We are to “contend to the faith that has been delivered to all the Saints” (Jude 3, author paraphrase). There is a responsibility to give the Word to those who know not what it is. We have been sent because if there was no one to be sent, preaching is impossible (Romans 10:15).
There is a two-part reason as to “why preach”? The answer is out of love for Christ and out of love for those in the world. Our encounter and faith in the Word causes us to love Christ. To Christ is to love his creation. If we love his creation then we must preach. For this love seeks to preach and to reunite them with Christ. This is the pursuit of the church and its preachers.