As I mentioned in a previous post, Karl Barth says that there are three forms of the word of God: preaching, the Bible and revelation. Today I begin to deal with what he says about preaching or more precisely proclamation.
Here is Barth’s definition of proclamation: “Proclamation is human speech in and by which God Himself speaks like a king through the mouth of his herald, and which is meant to be heard and accepted as speech in and by which God Himself speaks, and therefore heard and accepted in faith as divine decision concerning life and death, as divine judgment and pardon, eternal Law and eternal Gospel both together” (from Church Dogmatics Volume I.1 The Doctrine of the Word of God p. 52 – as are all the following page references).
Negatively Barth says that not all talk about God is proclamation. He says that it is not the social work of the church (which he calls active love). It is not the Church’s education of youth. It is not theology ( pp. 50,51).
I think I understand enough of Barth to say that one of the major aspects of his theology is the idea of the freedom of God. God can do whatever God wants. Barth says that God can speak to us however he wants. “God may speak to us through Russian Communism, a flute concerto, a blossoming shrub, or a dead dog. We do well to listen to Him if He really does. But, unless we regard ourselves as the prophets and founders of a new Church we cannot say that we are commissioned to pass on what we have heard as independent proclamation” (p. 55). He goes on to say that we may “rightly think that we have heard the Word of God in the worship and active love and youth education and theology of the Church known to us” (p. 55). Yet Barth insists that these activities are not specifically proclamation.
For Barth “proclamation is preaching” and he describes it as “the attempt by someone called thereto in the Church, in the form of an exposition of some portion of the biblical witness to revelation to express in his own words and make intelligible to the men of his own generation the promise of the revelation, reconciliation and vocation of God as they are to be expected here and now” (p. 56).
I want to note here that Barth regularly uses language that excludes women. I regard this as one of his blind spots and in a later post I will comment more completely about this deficiency in his writing, but for now I just want to let you know that I am aware of this “sexist” language.
In my next post I will consider Barth’s description of preaching in more detail.