Humility in Theology and Preaching....And the two paragraphs by Karl Barth that I would hope every preacher, teacher, student, layperson reads.
The previous post on perfect theology has reminded me of a few things. It has reminded me of the importance of humility in the task of doing theology. It has also reminded me of the importance of humility in the task of preaching. And it reminds me of the importance of humility, in a theologian, who hopes to go about these two tasks: And these things remind me of Karl Barth. Karl Barth, is considered by many to be one of the greatest theologians of all time, and certainly of the 20th century. His sheer theological output is stunning. If anyone, should somehow, approach the task of theology and preaching without humbleness, you think it would be someone with such an amazing resume. But that is not the case. Karl Barth, more than most people that I have read, approached the task of theology, or Dogmatics, and the task of preaching, or Proclamation, with great humility.
As we have been discussing the issue of preaching, teaching, dialogue, and perfect theology, I am reminded of his opening statements in Church Dogmatics, where he discusses the relation of dogmatics to preaching, and does so with great humbleness. He would say that in no way should we imagine that we have become masters of these things, otherwise we forget our position in relation to Jesus Christ. A theology of preaching will really begin to develop in the first 100 pages of this text as well.
Too many of us do not approach God, theology, or preaching with the humility that is necessary, and that was demonstated to us in the life of Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:5-11). We instead push for perfectionism, and believe with a lack of humility that we have the correct answer for everything. And with a lack of humility we believe that only if we, were given the chance to preach, we would change this church around. Humility is something that is often lacking in ministry, and we are all vulnerable to it. Barth reminds me of the importance of humility in our theology and preaching.
He says this, in:
Volume 1/1: The Word of God
A. On the relation of dogmatics to proclamation (pp, 85-87)
(underlinings are my emphasis)
3. The theme of Church proclamation or subject-matter of Christianity demands dogmatics to the extent that its proclamation is a responsible act and to the extent that dogmatics is the effort to meet this responsibility towards the theme of proclamation. Yet it is by no means the case that in dogmatics the Church becomes as it were the lord and judge of the subject-matter, so that the current results of dogmatics are to be accepted as law imposed as it were on God, revelation and faith. Dogmatics has to investigate and say at each given point how we may best speak of God, revelation and faith to the extent that human talk about these things is to count as Church proclamation. It should not think that it can lay down what God, revelation and faith are in themselves. In both its investigations and its conclusions it must keep in view that God is in heaven and it on earth, and that God, His revelation and faith always live their own free life over against all human talk, including that of the best dogmatics. Even if we have again weighed everything and corrected everything and formulated everything better, as is our duty to the subject-matter of Christianity in respect of human talk about it, and even if our findings have been given the status of Church confession and dogma, we have still to say: We are unprofitable servants, and in no sense are we to imagine that we have become in the very least masters of the subject.
Like the subject-matter of Christianity, Church proclamation must also remain free in the last resort, free to receive the command which it must always receive afresh from that free life of the subject-matter of Christianity. Church proclamation and not dogmatics is immediate to God in the Church. Proclamation is essential, dogmatics is needed only for the sake of it. Dogmatics lives by it to the extent that it lives only in the Church. In proclamation, and in God, revelation and faith only to the degree that these are its objects, dogmatics is to seek its material.
Thank you to my favorite professor, Ray Anderson, who instilled in me and many other students, a love for Karl Barth, Bonhoeffer, and many others. Like these theologians, Dr. Anderson is a professor who challenges his students to think through the tough issues, and who demands that one integrates theology into the life of ministry, and vice-versa.