Preachers Dare: Excerpt IV

In October, I published Preachers Dare: Speaking for God, my theology of preaching. Preaching is brave speech drawn out of us because, Deus Dixit, God speaks, as Barth reminds us in the Göttingen Dogmatics, and God is determined to remain in conversation with us through us. For this launch webinar, I will be joined by Old Testament professors and preachers Brent Strawn and Stephen Chapman for conversation. Drs. Strawn and Chapman both generously helped me during the book’s editing process. Time will be allotted for participant questions at the end.

Join us January 26 at 7p EST on Zoom:

In anticipation of this webinar, here’s another in the series of excerpts selected by my minion Carsten Bryant, a recent Duke Divinity grad and Methodist preacher. This fourth one is from a section entitled Experienced Preaching:

Peter Hawkins opened his Beecher Lectures with a quotation from the end of King Lear, “Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.” In his lectures, Peter flipped the reference back on his audience, showing how this Shakespearian sentiment is against everything preaching ought to be. Who cares what preachers feel; we preach what we’ve been told.

In the Göttingen Dogmatics, Barth writes, “The promise of the Word of God is the transposing of a [listener] into the wholly new state . . . so that irrespective of [the listener’s] attitude to it [the hearer] no longer lives without this promise but with it. The claim of the Word of God is not . . . a wish or command which remains outside the hearer without impinging. . . . It is the claiming and commandeering of the human being. . . . The person who hears the Word [is] now . . . claimed by God.

The crisis that ignited the Barthian theological revolution began when, in his first parish, young Barth’s academic theology, “talk about self- consciousness and the ‘experience of Jesus’ and whatever . . .” went flat. Preaching is in trouble, not because it can’t find the proper form or style but because it has tried to preach “whatever,” talking about our “experience of Jesus” rather than Jesus.

In the opening volume of Church Dogmatics Barth charged that theologians had exchanged the pious experience of moribund “religion” for living revelation and thereby “theology lost its object.” “Religion” is God on the cheap, substituting lugubrious spiritual practices for the adventure of God–human conversation. “Religion” is defined by Barth as “a vigorous and extensive attempt to humanize the divine, . . . to make it a practical ‘something,’ for the benefit of those who cannot live with the Living God, and yet cannot live without God.” “Religion,” our stand-in for daring encounters with God. Keep Sabbath, plant a garden, work at lectio divina, be mindful, find balance, or do whatever keeps you busy now that God has gone silent. Feuerbach set before us our challenge: when we say “God,” are we just describing ourselves? Modern theology forsook address from God for examination of human experience of God, justifying Feuerbach’s challenge, Barth said. Preachers dare to speak as God has spoken, Deus dixit.

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