Saturday, June 29, 2013

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.1 §3.2-4.1 "Dogmatics and Church Proclamation/The Word of God Preached" pp. 71-99

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 §3.2  ("Dogmatics and Church Proclamation"), Barth examines the relation between dogmatics and proclamation. He starts by establishing that though proclamation is God's Word to man, it is also a human word and a human responsibility.
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 (71-72).
 And in terms of the human responsibility:
It cannot let itself be questioned as to its agreement with the demands of this or that scientific or aesthetic culture. It cannot let itself be questioned as to whether it is contributing what is needed to maintain or perhaps even to overthrow this or that form of society or economy. A proclamation which accepts responsibilities along these or similar lines spells treachery to the Church and to Christ Himself. It only gets its due if sooner or later its mouth is stopped by some refined or brutal ungodliness. Far better no proclamation at all than this kind. Just because of its real responsibility Church proclamation must be unconditionally free in every other area. Its real responsibility arises out of its intention to be proclamation of the Word of God. The very claim with which it steps forward and the expectation with which it is surrounded also point towards the critical authority by which it must let itself be questioned and in terms of which its legitimacy must always be decided. 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 (72).
Barth suggests that dogmatics follows proclamation and helps ask, indeed like it does of the whole church, whether it is true (73ff.). The process of dogmatic evaluation, of course, is a human process too, thus, 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 criticizing and correcting. Barth notes,
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. For how should not this be the one thing needful when it is not just a matter of right answers to the divine call as with its other functions (and this is certainly to be taken seriously too), but also of the correct representation of the divine call itself, and therefore of the service of God in the supreme sense of the term? And how should not serious reflection on the background of biblical exegesis and with reference to the practice of preaching be the only thing that has to be done, and can in fact be done, about this one thing (always apart from prayer)(76)?
Further, dogmatics helps scrutinize the church's proclamation (whether worship, hymns, social work, etc.) and helps contextualize it and make it relevant in the current milieu:
Starting with the question how the Church talked about God yesterday, dogmatics asks how this should be done to-morrow. The question is aimed first and directly at those entrusted with the task of proclamation and then indirectly, though not on that account with any less weight, at the Church in general, which as a totality bears corporate responsibility for the proper discharge of this function as of all others (77).
Just to give a bit more, Barth continues this thread reminding us that while proclamation is the raw material of dogmatics, dogmatics should not act as the raw material of proclamation:
The self-examination of the Church in respect of its proclamation will have to continue to-morrow with the proclamation itself. On this side too, then, dogmatic work cannot claim more than a gymnastic character. It is pars pro toto [a part standing for the whole]. As may be stated already, it cannot aim to be a system of Christian truth. Apart from all else, this would mean that it could criticise the totality of the past proclamation of the Church and definitively set forth the totality of its corrected proclamation. But it cannot do this. In relation to to-morrow, too, it can only take examples, and it can only take certain examples, pending better instruction, and in no sense conclusively. In dogmatics criticism and correction of talk about God can be practised only on a specific section of the whole world of past and future Church proclamation. We have to learn, and in dogmatics, too, this can be done only for the needs of the next day. In this regard dogmatics shows plainly that its business is that of the school, whose instruction cannot anticipate in any sense the reality of life, but only give the most immediate and most necessary guidance for meeting this reality. Church proclamation is the raw material of dogmatics. But it would be a fatal confusion to try to reverse this and say that dogmatics is the raw material of proclamation (79).
As a preaching pastor who might be tempted to preach straight from seminary notes sometimes, this is an important reminder. But of course, if you have been preaching for quite a while and have not allowed your message to be theologically scrutinized for some time, that can be an error as well. In this reminder, Barth states:
Dogmatics can only be a guide to the right mastery and the right adaptability, to the right boldness and the right caution, for the given moment when this space has to be found. It can only be a guide to orientation between the two poles of saying what has to be said in all circumstances and not saying what must not be said in any circumstances. In short, it can only be a guide to the act of choosing between various possibilities which is characteristic of this human action (as human action) in the same way as it is of all other human action. It can only be a guide from the standpoint that what is at issue in this action is proclamation of the Word of God, and that in this sense it must be given a form commensurate with human knowledge and conscience at its very best (79).
And further just to clear up why dogmatics serves proclamation, is not the raw material of proclamation, and how this all relates, Barth suggests:
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 (82). 
In the end of this section, Barth concludes that dogmatics fulfills the role of servant to proclamation, not lord (p. 85 ff.).

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §4 ("The Word of God In Its Threefold Form") states "The presupposition which makes proclamation proclamation and therewith makes the Church the Church is the Word of God. This attests itself in Holy Scripture in the word of the prophets and apostles to whom it was originally and once and for all spoken by God’s revelation.

In subsection §4.1  ("The Word of God Preached"), Barth establishes that the form of the Word (of which he takes up the first in §4.1) is threefold. The forms are the preached word, the written word, and the revealed word. The Word written and revealed will be taken up in the next two sections, respectively.

Barth contends the most important thing in the Word preached (proclamation) is that it is an event. In and of themselves, preaching and proclamation as revelation are not special just by the work being done, but because God makes them his Word. Citing Bullinger, who wrote:
By God’s word they become sacraments, which they were not before. For they are consecrated by the word and thus shown to be sanctified by Him who instituted them.
Barth suggests there is a parallel between preaching and the sacraments, which Bullinger illustrates above. God is not present just because they are being done by the human. It is God in freedom who gives Godself and makes them his Word. In fact, Barth suggests:
The presupposition of this event is the Word of God (89).
Like I said, the most important thing to remember in Barth's thesis is that the Word of God is first an event. Barth suggests that when proclamation is God's Word, four things hold true (he asks us to imagine four concentric circles).
  1. First, the Word of God will be the commission for proclamation. That is to say, the real necessity of proclamation arises not just from our desire to do so, but from a higher motive--as Barth states: "Real proclamation, then, means the Word of God preached and the Word of God preached means in this first and outermost circle man’s talk about God on the basis of God’s own direction, which fundamentally transcends all human causation" (90).
  2. Second, the Word of God will be the object and theme of proclamation. Barth states, "in this second circle God’s Word preached means human talk about God on the basis of the self-objectification of God which is not just there, which cannot be predicted, which does not fit into any plan, which is real only in the freedom of His grace, and in virtue of which He wills at specific times to be the object of this talk, and is so according to His good-pleasure" (92).
  3. Third, the Word of God will be the judgment of proclamation. Barth states, "Intrinsically proclamation as it takes place in preaching and sacrament presupposes that neither the nature of its object nor the situation or concern of the speaker is or can be so clear to any man as to put him in a position to pronounce on its truth. If there is to be any assessment at all of Church proclamation as such it must be from another angle. It is this fundamentally different aspect of the judgment to be made on Church proclamation that we have in view and describe when we acknowledge it to be the Word of God. We are not denying thereby that proclamation is subject to other criteria too. We are simply affirming that in fact we only know these other criteria in judging it here and now, that we are in no position to pronounce upon its truth in any other way" (92-93).
  4. Fourth, the Word of God will be the event of proclamation. Barth states, "It is the miracle of revelation and faith when the misunderstanding does not constantly recur, when proclamation is for us not just human willing and doing characterised in some way but also and primarily and decisively God’s own act, when human talk about God is for us not just that, but also and primarily and decisively God’s own speech. It is this miracle that in the fourth and innermost circle of our deliberations we have not so much to explain as rather to evaluate as this specific miracle. “Not only—but also and primarily and decisively” is how the formula must run. The “not only—but also” means first that human talk, with its motives and themes and the judgments among which it stands as human talk, is there even while God’s Word is there. The miracle of real proclamation does not consist in the fact that the willing and doing of proclaiming man with all its conditioning and in all its problems is set aside, that in some way a disappearance takes place and a gap arises in the reality of nature, and that in some way there steps into this gap naked divine reality scarcely concealed by a mere remaining appearance of human reality" (93-94). Marvelous.