Welcome to week two of Wednesday’s With Barth! Here is some of what I really enjoyed from my reading of pages 45-147. What about you? I have some questions for discussion at the bottom. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Chapter One: THE WORD OF GOD AS THE CRITERION OF DOGMATICS.
Barth opens with…
CHURCH PROCLAMATION AS THE MATERIAL OF DOGMATICS. Talk about God in the Church seeks to be proclamation to the extent that in the form of preaching and sacrament it is directed to man with the claim and expectation that in accordance with its commission it has to speak to him the Word of God to be heard in faith. Inasmuch as it is a human word in spite of this claim and expectation, it is the material of dogmatics, i.e., of the investigation of its responsibility as measured by the Word of God which it seeks to proclaim.
Barth then unpacks the above statement in the following pages under the heading…
TALK ABOUT GOD AND CHURCH PROCLAMATION
So it is subject to this topic that I will be posting the highlights from my reading from the past week.
“Even the realities and truths distinct from Him and us which usually form the concrete occasion and subject of human speech exist from Him and to Him. Hence there is no genuinely profane speech. In the last resort, there is only talk about God.”
“We know ourselves only as man in the kingdom of grace, of the present age between the time of creation and that of redemption. We stand under the sign of a decision constantly taken between the secularity and the sanctification of our existence, between sin and grace, between a being as man which forgets God, which is absolutely neutral in relation to Him and therefore absolutely hostile, and one which in His revelation is awakened by faith to being in the Church, to the appropriation of His promise. ”
“The event in which God acts consists wholly in the fact that men are visibly awakened, separated and gathered by God to being in the visible”
“…even though men do not act towards others, God Himself acts towards men. Only in faith, of course, is this event visible as such; only in faith is being in the Church visible as divine election and sanctification. What is visible in itself is simply an event within the secular sphere. Its significance can be missed, but it cannot actually be taken away from it again.”
“Not all talk in the Church’s worship seeks to be proclamation. It does not seek to be such when it is talk addressed by man to God… They are the response to God of the praise, confession and thanksgiving of those to whom proclamation concerning Him has come.”
Barth sites Luther here to bolster his point above…
“We think of Luther’s demand in his sermon at the dedication of the Castle Church at Torgau in 1544, “that nothing else should take place therein than that our dear Lord Himself should speak with us through His holy Word, and we again speak with Him through prayer and praise….” (W.A., 49, p. 588, l. 15; cf. p. 592, l. 17; p. 594, l. 26). “Thirdly, that when we have heard God’s Word we should bring before God our common holy smoke or incense, i.e., that we should together call upon Him and pray to Him” (p. 599, l. 25).“
“…the expression of helpful solidarity in face of the external needs of human society. This, too, is part of man’s response to God.”
“Finally, according to our understanding of the matter, neither can theology as such claim to be proclamation. It, too, is talk about God to men. Proclamation, however, is its presupposition, its material and its practical goal, not its content or task.”
“…namely, that theology as such is not proclamation, but science, instruction and investigation.”
“The talk about God to be found in the Church, however, is meant to be proclamation when it is directed to men with the definitive claim and expectation that it has to declare the Word of God to them. “
“Proclamation, too, implies speaking about God. But here, in what is said about God, there lies concealed as the meaning and purpose of the action the intention to speak the Word of God Himself.”
“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.
Where human talk about God is proclamation, it raises this claim and lives in the atmosphere of this expectation. By what right? Certainly not by that of the logical form or material content, of the religious profundity or personal power, which might pertain to this human talk about God in itself. In and with all that it is in itself, it can only serve God’s own Word. Nor does God’s own Word cease to be itself when it allows itself to be served by human utterance. But as it allows itself to be served by it, it is itself this human utterance, and as this human utterance serves it, it is itself God’s own Word.
For a proper explanation of this “is” we should have to refer even at this early stage to the christological doctrine of the two natures.
If, then, human talk about God aims to be proclamation, this can only mean that it wills to serve the Word of God and thus to point to its prior utterance by God Himself. It cannot assume that it is the Word of God, that God sanctifies the human pointer to be His own witness. The human will in question can only be the will to accept a task. It is a decisive part of the insight of all true prophecy that man as such has no possibility of uttering the Word of God. What human utterance concerning God aims to be when it is intended as proclamation is not grace, but service of grace or means of grace. If the will in question were man’s will to reach out beyond himself, to put himself with his word about God in the place of God, it would be blasphemous rebellion. But there can no question of this in its claim and expectation. What is at issue is that the Church has a commission in relation to service of the Word of God, and that there must always be within it, therefore, the will to accept this commission. Thus proclamation is not asked concerning its formal or material perfection, since even the highest possible perfection would not make human utterance proclamation, nor could the least imposing prevent it from being proclamation. It is simply asked whether it is service, whether it is commissioned.”
“The will which does not say No but Yes, not so much to the venture of authoritative talk about God as to this commission that is to be accepted, is the will for proclamation in the Church.”
“Church proclamation itself, in fact, regards itself only as service of the Word of God, as a means of grace in God’s free hand. Hence it cannot be master of the Word, nor try to regard the Word as confined within its own borders.”
“If the question what God can do forces theology to be humble, the question what is commanded of us forces it to concrete obedience. 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. God may speak to us through a pagan or an atheist, and thus give us to understand that the boundary between the Church and the secular world can still take at any time a different course from that which we think we discern. Yet this does not mean, unless we are prophets, that we ourselves have to proclaim the pagan or atheistic thing which we have heard.”
“But what is this specially commissioned proclamation of the Church which it must accept as a commission to and for men? Our initial answer is purely descriptive.
1. This proclamation is preaching, i.e., 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 to 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.
It might be instructive to compare this with the definition given by Karl Fezer (Das Wort Gottes und die Predigt, 1925, p. 77; cf. the review by Eduard Thurneysen, Theol. Bl., 1925, p. 197 f.): “Preaching is man’s attempt by free speech to co-operate in securing that the God who grants us His fellowship in the Word of Scripture should be corporately present to a group of other men by the Holy Spirit.” (I hear that the formula has taken a different form in the oral instruction given by Fezer. I do not quote it for polemical reasons, but with a view to indicating the problems to be considered at this point.)
2. This proclamation is the sacrament, i.e., the symbolical act which is carried through in the Church as directed by the biblical witness of revelation in accompaniment and confirmation of preaching and which is designed as such to attest the event of divine revelation, reconciliation and vocation which does not merely fulfil but underlies the promise.
Cf. the unusually clear and exhaustive definition of the term “sacrament” in the Heidelberg Catechism, 1563, Qu. 66: “What are the sacraments?—They are visible, sacred signs and seals appointed by God, so that through the use of the same He may the better give us to understand the promise of the Gospel, and seal the same, namely, that for the sake of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross He graciously grants us remission of sins and eternal life.”
This is what the talk about God that is to be found in the Church seeks to be when it is meant to be proclamation and is thus directed to men with the claim and expectation that it has to declare to them the Word of God. It can and should aim to be proclamation as preaching and sacrament because the Church has a commission to make such proclamation.”
“…and this is the real point in the present context—whether the life of the Church would not lack its decisive centre, the reference point of all its other functions, without this function, the function of proclamation.”
“Let us assume that this commission has been issued and accepted; the next thing to be made dear will be that proclamation consists significantly and precisely in preaching and sacrament.”
“Calling, promise, exposition of Scripture, actuality—these are the decisive definitions of the concept of preaching. If proclamation is by commission preaching—the fact that it is so need not be proved since it cannot be proved—then these concepts are a supplementary explanation of the meaning of preaching”
“It is easy to understand that on the one hand Roman Catholic preaching seems to be largely content with the level of higher instruction in religion and morals while on the other hand typical Neo-Protestant preaching does not claim to be more than the most authentic and lively possible expression of the personal piety of the speaker concerned.”
“In conclusion, however, this exegesis of the terms proclamation, preaching and sacrament requires an express declaration: As has been done, Evangelical dogmatics exegetes these concepts.
We may ignore at this point the fact that it is specifically Evangelical Reformed dogmatics which has done this in detail.“
“Modernist dogmatics is finally unaware of the fact that in relation to God man has constantly to let something be said to him, has constantly to listen to something, which he constantly does not know and which in no circumstances and in no sense can he say to himself. Modernist dogmatics hears man answer when no one has called him. It hears him speak with himself. For it, therefore, proclamation is a necessary expression of the life of the human community known as the “Church,” an expression in which one man, in the name and for the spiritual advancement of a number of others, drawing from a treasure common to him and to them, offers, for the enrichment of this treasure, an interpretation of his own past and present as a witness to the reality alive in this group of men.”
Barth now cites Schleiermacher’s view as example…
“Even Schleiermacher’s Christian Faith is not without a section on ministry of God’s Word (§ 133 f.). But we are told at once that the “divine Word” is simply “the spirit in all men,” i.e., in all those united in the Church (§ 134, 3). Thus ministry of God’s Word is the “act of the community as such” (§ 135, 2), or, concretely, the “relation of the active toward the receptive” (§ 133, 1), or the “influence of the stronger on the weaker” (§ 113, 2) through the medium of self-impartation, i.e., a “self-display with a stimulating effect, in which the emotion of the displayer, taken up by imitation, becomes in the receptively stimulated person who takes it up a power which calls forth the same emotion” (§ 133, 1). It embraces the “whole Christian life” and only needs special “management” for the sake of good order and preservation of the common consciousness (§ 134, 3; 135).”
“All that Evangelical faith cannot understand about this alien belief on the left may be summed up in the questions of Rom. 10:14: Πῶς οὖν ἐπικαλέσονται εἰς ὅν οὐκ ἐπίστευσαν; πῶς δὲ πιοτεύσωσιν οὗ οὐκ ἤκουσαν; πῶς δὲ ἀκούσωσιν χωρὶς κηρύσσοντος; πῶς δὲ κηρύξωσιν ἐὰν μὴ ἀποσταλῶσιν; …ἄρα ἡ πίστις ἐξ ἀκοῆς, ἡ δὲ ἀκοὴ διὰ ῥήματος χριστοῦ*.
The other no less serious difference that requires treatment here separates us from Roman Catholic dogmatics. In the first place, but only in the first place, it does not concern the main concept of proclamation but the mutual relations of the concepts of preaching and sacrament. The Roman Catholic Church is expressly and consciously the church of the sacrament. Its dogmatics cannot emphasise strongly enough that the Church lives by and in this means of grace.”
“This is something that cannot possibly be said of the position of the sacraments in the theory and practice of the Evangelical Churches except perhaps for certain sects.
If we are to understand this peculiar situation on the Roman Catholic side and then the meaning and significance of the opposing Evangelical thesis, we have to realise above all else that Roman Catholicism—not unlike Modernism in this respect—sees something quite different from proclamation take place at that centre of the Church’s life which we have described as proclamation. Proclamation must mean repetition of the divine promise. On the basis of the Word which God has spoken to His Church attention is drawn in His Church, through men, to the Word which He wishes to speak to His Church. The presence of God is thus the grace of God, i.e., His unfathomably free act at a given time in which He recognises the attention drawn and therewith fulfils the promise in a twofold sense: by making the repetition effected by men a true one, and by corresponding to the proclaimed promise by a real new coming of His Word. The grace of this twofold fulfilment meets man, then, quite simply in his hearing of the promise and his obedience to it. It meets him only in faith. This is how the Reformers understood that event at the heart of the Church’s life. They understood it in terms of proclamation, i.e., of the promissio repeated by man’s act, because they thought they could understand the presence of the holy God among unholy men only as the grace of the strictly personal free Word of God which reaches its goal in the equally personal free hearing of men, the hearing of faith, which for its part, too, can be understood only as grace. This presupposition is missing in Roman Catholic dogmatics. It, too, describes the event at the heart of the Church’s life as grace. But it understands by grace, not the connexion between the Word and faith, but the connexion between a divine being as cause and a divine-creaturely being as effect. With due reservations one might even say that it understands it as a physical, not a historical, event. It sees the presence of Jesus Christ in His Church, the mystical unity of the Head with the whole body, in the fact that under certain conditions there flows forth from Jesus Christ a steady and unbroken stream or influence of divine-human being on His people.”
“The Reformers, however, did not see themselves as in a position to construe the grace of Jesus Christ in this way. They thought it should be understood, not as cause and effect, but as Word and faith. For this reason, they regarded the representative event at the centre of the Church’s life as proclamation, as an act concerned with speaking and hearing, indicative of the fact that what is at issue in the thing proclaimed too is not a material connexion but a personal encounter. In this light they had to regulate the mutual relations of preaching and sacrament in a very definite way. To be sure, they could not and would not assign to the sacrament the place which falls to preaching according to Roman Catholic dogmatics. Proclamation of the basis of the promise which has been laid once and for all, and therefore proclamation in the form of symbolic action, had to be and to remain essential for them. But this proclamation presupposes that the other, namely, repetition of the biblical promise, is taking place. The former must exist for the sake of the latter, and therefore the sacrament for the sake of preaching, not vice versa. Hence not the sacrament alone nor preaching alone, nor yet, to speak meticulously, preaching and the sacrament in double track, but preaching with the sacrament, with the visible act that confirms human speech as God’s act, is the constitutive element, the perspicuous centre of the Church’s life. Understood a parte potiori* (with respect to emphasis), but only a parte potiori*, the Evangelical Churches, Lutheran as well as Reformed, can and must be termed the churches of preaching.”
Now Barth will be writing on DOGMATICS AND CHURCH PROCLAMATION.
“The claim with which church proclamation steps forward and the expectation with which it is surrounded should not mislead us; it is always and always will be man’s word. It is also something more than this and quite different. When and where it pleases God, it is God’s own Word. Upon the promise of this divine good-pleasure it is ventured in obedience. On this promise depend the claim and the expectation. But proclamation both as preaching and sacrament does not cease to be representation, human service.”
“And because in proclamation the centre of the Church’s life is at issue to the degree that it seeks to be the representation of the divine summons to which all other elements in the life of the Church must answer, we have to state that with and in proclamation the Church itself is generally questioned by that critical authority regarding the authenticity of its existence as the Church.”
“The Church should fear God and not fear the world. But only if and as it fears God need it cease to fear the world. If it does not fear God, then it is not helped at all but genuinely endangered if it fears the world, listens to its opposition, considers its attitude, and accepts all kinds of responsibilities towards it, no matter how necessary and justified may be the criticism it receives from this quarter.”
“The Church can neither question its proclamation absolutely nor correct it absolutely. It can only exert itself to see how far it is questioned and how far it ought to be corrected. On its human work it can only do again a human work of criticising and correcting. And because this is so, it will be far from thinking that it either wants or is able to rid itself of the attack on its proclamation, the uneasiness which God Himself has prepared for it. This work of criticising and correcting its proclamation can be undertaken by the Church in the right sense only if it realises that the uneasiness prepared for it cannot be removed, and its success, if it is well done, will always be that of making it much more clearly aware of the uneasiness prepared for it. But this human work is obviously enjoined upon it with proclamation itself. Church proclamation has to be accompanied and confronted by Church theology, especially dogmatics. In distinction from all scattered answers to irrelevant questions, theology, and especially dogmatics, is the concentrated care and concern of the Church for its own most proper responsibility. In making its proclamation the raw material of dogmatics, it does the one thing it really needs apart from proclamation itself and the prayer that it may be right, the one and only thing it can do as the Church in relation to the obvious centre of its life.”
“The necessity of dogmatics is different from that of Church proclamation. Proclamation is required as the execution of God’s command to the Church. Dogmatics is required because proclamation is a fallible human work. These are two different things. The relation of proclamation to the theme of Christianity is obviously primary, that of dogmatics secondary. The datum from which dogmatics begins is neither God nor revelation nor faith. This is the datum from which proclamation starts. Certainly dogmatics can and should be proclamation too, and to this extent it, too, starts from this datum. But it also has its own function which is not the same as that of proclamation. Hence its datum is different, namely, the questionable fact that in proclamation God, revelation and faith are talked about by men in human terms—questionable because it is by no means self-evident that this is done in truth and purity, and because the Church cannot shirk the responsibility that it ought to be done in truth and purity. Dogmatics serves preaching by raising this question. It tests the orthodoxy of the contemporary kerygma. Concrete dogma, indeed, is simply the kerygma tested, provisionally purified, and reduced to a correct formula by the Church. One should not expect more of dogmatics than it can achieve qua* dogmatics. And we should not take exception to much in dogmatics that is peculiar to it qua* dogmatics.”
“Dogmatics serves Church proclamation. Its relation to this should be seen as parallel to what was called pistis* (faith) and gnosis* (knowledge) in the early Church and what has been called credere* (believing) and intelligere* (understanding) since Augustine, pistis* (faith) or credere* (believing) being understood as the simple reproduction and propagation of the content of the message in a way which unreflectingly corresponds to what has been heard, gnosis* or intelligere* as the scientific investigation of this correspondence. But in this juxtaposition we must insist upon three provisos which were not always observed in the early Church and non-observance of which can lead us into error even to-day.
(a) As compared with proclamation dogmatics involves a different mode and function but in no sense a higher stage of faith or the knowledge of faith.
(b) As compared with Church proclamation dogmatics does not have access to a higher or better source of knowledge”
Like the subject-matter of Christianity, Church proclamation must also remain free in the last resort, free to receive the command which it must always receive afresh from that free life of the subject-matter of Christianity. Church proclamation and not dogmatics is immediate to God in the Church. Proclamation is essential, dogmatics is needed only for the sake of it. Dogmatics lives by it to the extent that it lives only in the Church. In proclamation, and in God, revelation and faith only to the degree that these are its objects, dogmatics is to seek its material.
What Ambrose (De fide ad Grat., 1, 5, 42) wrote against a heretical theology really applies to all theology: Non in dialectica complacuit Deo salvum facere populum suum. Regnum enim Dei in simplicitate fidei est, non in contentione sermonis*. (“God has no desire to save His people through argument. The kingdom of God is found in simple faith and not in verbal disputes”)
Wow! Well that is enough for today! I want to make a special post for Barths next section… THE WORD OF GOD IN ITS THREEFOLD FORM. Perhaps tomorrow. I can put my highlights up concerning that passage. Here are some questions to think on after all of this reading!
Q: What do you think of this statement… “The event in which God acts consists wholly in the fact that men are visibly awakened, separated and gathered by God to being in the visible”?
Q: How does this idea change your understanding of the Local Church and the visible witness of God and the Gospel?
Barth says “…namely, that theology as such is not proclamation, but science, instruction and investigation.”
Q: Do you ever think of theology as science?
Q: What do you think of this statement?
Barth says… “Church proclamation itself, in fact, regards itself only as service of the Word of God, as a means of grace in God’s free hand. Hence it cannot be master of the Word, nor try to regard the Word as confined within its own borders.”
Q:Can you think of contemporary example of “Church Proclaimation” seeking to master Jesus rather than serve Him?
Barth says… “If the question what God can do forces theology to be humble, the question what is commanded of us forces it to concrete obedience. 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. God may speak to us through a pagan or an atheist, and thus give us to understand that the boundary between the Church and the secular world can still take at any time a different course from that which we think we discern. Yet this does not mean, unless we are prophets, that we ourselves have to proclaim the pagan or atheistic thing which we have heard.”
Q: What do you understand Barth to be saying here and how is it relevant for today?
Q: What did you find in your reading this week? Anything you would like to share?
Book I.1: The Word of God as the Criterion of Dogmatics; The Revelation of God
*Post and Discussion Day on the blog.
*Reading list generated by Logos Bible Software.