About 2 years ago, I completed my Master's thesis (there's a copy in the Laidlaw College Library or you could give me a yell--I have a PDF version) which included elements toward a theology of preaching from the work of Karl Barth. The following six months I worked on turning part of my thesis into a published journal article (Stimulus vol 20, Issue 3). I think it's now time to distil that further into a series of three blog posts (and possibly have more people read about it...I guess topping two people can't be that hard). The first one will focus on God, the second will focus on the preacher and the third will focus on the hearers. These three posts will be a collection of insights that have been particularly formative about the way I think about preaching.
So where is God in the midst of preaching? Here are three things I think are important when thinking about preaching from a theological point-of-view.
1) Real preaching is an event of God's doing
While I like to think of myself as a preacher, the reality is my words are meaningless. I can no more communicate God as I can tell you about atomic theory. While I might be able to use stories and other rhetorical devices to communicate something, my words are nothing compared to the infinite transcendence of God.
Therefore, and thank God this is the case, the true preaching of God's Word occurs not in my reflection and communication of a biblical passage but in the amazing grace of God adopting such incomplete words to communicate himself. In other words, God's Word is communicated when God chooses to encounter us through the words of a preacher. Barth refers to this act of grace as an 'event'. God breaking into our reality and making himself known. If it weren't for this eventfulness--this action of God--he would remain unknown to us.
2) Preaching is a deeply relational event
As a preacher I can tell you quite a bit about God. But God is not like an object we can study in a classroom. While we might be able to know some stuff about him, real preaching doesn't rest primarily in this sharing of information but in the encounter that occurs between God and his people. This means the event of God reaching into our lives is a relational event--God drawing his people deeper into relationship with himself. And that's why preaching really is an impossible task. Because preaching is not merely communicating information but a deep and relational encounter. Therefore, real preaching hinges on the fact that God is a loquacious God who is interested in knowing us and allows himself to be known by us.
3) Preaching is a trinitarian event
I believe that preaching is a deeply trinitarian event. The Father is the one who adopts our frail, human words. The Word that the Father speaks is Jesus. And the Holy Spirit allows us to hear that Word. So even in the speaking of his Word, we can only hear it by the Spirit illuminating that Word within the hearts and minds of believers.
So what does all this mean? Well a preacher stands in the pulpit, Bible in hand speaking what they believe God is saying to the church in that context and that day. But it's just words until God, in his grace, adopts those words and chooses to speak his Word through it. The Word that is spoken is Jesus Christ, the full revelation of who God is. But in that act the Holy Spirit is the one who makes such an encounter possible by illuminating the incarnate Christ in the hearts and minds of hearers.
We often think of preaching as the sharing of information. But it's much more than that. It's a relational act of the God named Trinity in the midst of human speech and action. 'Preaching is not just a human action. It is an 'event' in which Father, Son and Holy Spirit are active and draw humans ever deeper into the triune life of God.'
So where is God in the midst of preaching? He is the one who reveals himself to us in an act of stunning grace.