Preaching: like delivering the Gettysburg Address over coffee

“What is involved is not the idle question of how those who proclaim this Word should ‘approach’ this or that modern man, or how they should ‘bring home’ the Word of God to him. Instead, the real question is how they have to serve this Word by pointing to its coming. This Word has never been ‘brought home’ to any man except by its own freedom and power. The real question is the problem of the language which must be employed by those who undertake to proclaim this Word. Their speech will have to meet two conditions. In order to be an indication of God’s Word to people, it must have the character of a declaration. And in order to be an indication of God’s Word to people, it must have the character of an address. This speech can be proclamation of this Word only when it expresses itself quite exceptionally (as required by the source which inspires it) and at the same time quite ordinarily (to fit its purpose). It must speak in solemn and in commonplace tones, both sacredly and profanely. It tells of the history of Israel and of Jesus Christand it tells this to the life and action of Christians, Jews, and other contemporary people.” – Karl Barth Evangelical Theology p.182-3.

I read this again this morning for the hundredth time and thought I would share it here since some of my readers preach on a regular basis. Barth’s main claim with regard to Scripture and preaching is that the power to transform lives – the power to set free – is in the Word itself and is nothing other than the very power of the Holy Spirit turning the words on the page into the very Word of God. The task of the preacher is to attend to that power, letting the Word do its work in us and through us. We do that by giving attention to this declaration/address dynamic, basically making preaching like giving the Gettysburg Address over coffee with a friend.