Church Dogmatics Paraphrase: §3, “Church Proclamation as the Material of Dogmatics”

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June 27, 2013 by mattwilcoxen

imagesKarl Barth, Church Dogmatics §3, “CHURCH PROCLAMATION AS THE MATERIAL OF DOGMATICS” (pp. 47-87)

Talk about God and Church Proclamation (pp. 47-71)

Theoretically it could be the case that all talk was in some way referred to God. This should be the case. Alas, it is not–we are sinful. In our sinful situation, the event of God’s revelation comes to us and elects a part of our speech to be set apart from the norm. This is proclamation. Proclamation is when the church speaks about God, but with 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. (p. 52)

The will to be proclamation does not make human speech succeed in its endeavor, its willing to be proclamation must be in the form of a petition. The answer of this petition is God’s decision.

The petition that our words might be proclamation takes the specific form of obedience to the commission given to the church. This commission for proclamation is twofold: (a) preaching, as the exposition of the biblical witness in a contemporary idiom, and (b) sacrament, as symbolic acts that are carried out in obedience to the biblical witness and in confirmation of preaching. Preaching is the promise of God in the form of word, sacraments are the promise of God in the form of action.

This understanding of proclamation is in contrast with both liberal Protestantism and Roman Catholic theology. The former sees proclamation as arising from within humans themselves–the expression of “the spirit in all men” (Tillich). In this theology, all of our speaking and acting are subsumed into a framework of being that comprehends both humans and God. In the end, there is no need for proclamation at all. The Roman Catholic position on proclamation also differs (and errs) in a similar way, ironically. Because it sees God’s relation to us not in terms of “Word and faith” but in terms of “cause and effect”, it dissolves the need for proclamation as preaching into the sacraments. Barth’s theology, by contrast, does not want to see the relation between God and humans in terms of cause and effect, but in terms of personal encounter. Here sacraments are visible actions which serve speech.

Dogmatics and Church Proclamation (pp. 71-87)

The preaching of the church is always a human word and therefore always fallible, but it also always has a responsibility to get things right. The church’s preoccupation should not be with outside attacks to the faith, but the question of whether or not it is getting its own proclamation right. The task of correcting the church’s proclamation is the task of dogmatics. This too is a human task, and so never infallible and never finished. If the church or her theologians try to avoid this question, they do so at their own peril.

The way dogmatics proceeds is to start with yesterday’s proclamation and ask about how it should be corrected for tomorrow. It often becomes a debate among dogmaticians–an academic debate, if you will. Yet, this is not a negative assessment, for the debate is about preaching. Dogmatics is the “gym” for preaching–making one strong for the task of proclamation. Dogmatics must always serve the question of what the preacher is to say on Sunday. It should not be preoccupied with a generalized knowledge of God and the world.

Dogmatics therefore serves an auxiliary role to church proclamation. It does not have a higher access to truth, but merely the special assignment of thinking through the truth of proclamation. Dogmatics is a polemical work, aimed at the issue of what should be said. It does not take the place of the proclamation of what should be said. Dogmatics does not worry about “stimulating and edifying presentation” in the way that church preaching must. Dogmatics is always a means to an end, never an end in itself like proclamation.


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