Friday, June 28, 2013

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.1 §3.1 "Talk About God and Church Proclamation" pp. 47-71

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §3 states "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."

In subsection one of §3 ("Talk About God and Church Proclamation"),  Barth starts with this beautiful little observation:
Not all human talk is talk about God. It could be and should be. There is no reason in principle why it should not be. God is the Lord from whom and to whom we exist. 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. Yet serious reflection on human talk about God must take as its starting-point the fact that this is not at all the case, that it is quite impossible to interpret human talk as such as talk about God. We do not know man, i.e., ourselves, as man in his original estate and therefore as the man of the kingdom of glory. Of this man it might well be said that all his talk is talk about God. But we do not know ourselves as this man. We know ourselves only as the man to whom mercy is shown as one who is fallen, lost and condemned. 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 (47-48).
Barth recapitulates an earlier point: theology is the church's talk about God. However,
...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. The Church’s prayers and hymns and confessions of faith obviously are what they purport to be only to the extent that so far as possible they cease to attempt the impossible task of proclaiming something to God or the unworthy one of incidentally proclaiming something to man. They are the response to God of the praise, confession and thanksgiving of those to whom proclamation concerning Him has come. They are the sacrifice the bringing of which can have before God only the meaning of a confirmation of what He has done to man, and in respect of which  man can obviously have no intentions in relation to others who may also be present (49-50). 
In other words, talk about God is not the Word of God in those places (this includes theology, see p. 51) but rather talk about God is the Word of God in a specially commissioned "proclamation" of the Church which it must accept as a commission to and for all people. This "proclamation" is two fold:
  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 (56). 
  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 (56).
Of course, that is not say that God cannot speak in whatever form he might choose to speak within. One of my favorite lines from this section is on p. 55--
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
Ha! However, we cannot say that we are commissioned to speak (as the Church) except through proclamation as preaching and sacrament.

Barth notes the error in both liberal Protestantism and Roman Catholicism when it comes to preaching. On the one hand, LP undermines the preaching event and downplays it, elevating action over proclamation. RC, on the other hand, tends to undermine preaching in that it is usually underwhelming and moralizing, and instead elevates the sacraments at the expense of the sermon. Barth notes,
From this standpoint it is easy enough to understand that in practice little importance is attached in the Church to the claim and expectation that preaching should speak the Word of God. 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 (60).
Barth notes, in contrast:
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 [with respect to emphasis], the Evangelical Churches, Lutheran as well as Reformed, can and must be termed the churches of preaching (69-70).
Thus Barth does not mean to minimize the importance of the sacraments, he is emphasizing the importance of preaching as proclamation, which rightly understood is a repetition of the promises of God, and is confirmed in the sacraments. Thus, proclamation has the priority. In the end, proclamation is an event.
The ongoing event of the final distinction, the event in which God Himself acts… (48). 
Preaching is where the God speaks through His herald. It is a vaulted elevation and one which should make us pause to consider the vast potential of Sunday morning.