Preaching as Miracle

 William Willimon’s Conversations with Barth on Preaching is one of those books that I love and hate.  It is so very good, but so very bad.  I’ve underlined, highlighted, and circled many different parts.  I’ve also scribbled a lot of question marks and exclamation points in the margins.  Anyway, before I digress too much, here’s a section that is quite good.  It (obviously) has to do with preaching.

“Barth demonstrates to us that to be a Christian communicator is to be engaged in a struggle, a conflict, a kind of war.  As Christians, we ought never to forget that we speak from a minority viewpoint – and always have.  We are, in our speech, speaking against the presumed world of the majority.  Therefore, in our assertions, we will not find many interpretive allies in the weapons of the world.  The world is accustomed to getting its messages from psychology, the vaunted ego, or clear-eyed reason.  Our message requires a miracle to make it comprehensible.”

“Conflict and disruption are inherent in Christian discourse because the claimed stability of the world, the presumption by which the world carries on its business, is being challenged.  We North American preachers today may be among the first generations in our context to realize that the political ground has shifted under our feet.  We are no longer deferentially addressing a culture that can claim, even in its unguarded moments, to be ‘Christian.’  Every Sunday we are issuing a declaration of war against some of the most cherished idols of our culture.  The world in which we live is adamantly set against the gospel – and always has been.  The culture in which we work is arranged, in all sorts of subtle but powerful ways, against the claims that Jesus Christ is Lord – and always has been.  The world is a world at war – and always has been.  Sovereignty is under dispute – and always has been.”

“Thus the Bible is full of violence and war, for there was something about Jesus that brought out the worst in the world.  Christians are contentious.  It is not because we want to be critical and contentious, but rather it is because of the inability of the presumptive world to relinquish its tight, imperialistic grip upon the imagination, that there is conflict.  ‘Common sense,’ always a great foe of gospel foolishness, is really social consensus.  Thus Barth’s sustained rhetorical belligerence – his biting sarcasm, his contempt for the glittering images of much that passes for ‘theology,’ his refusal to use the approved intellectual weapons that were offered to him by the academy, his denial of a natural point of contact between our self-constructed world and the world of the gospel – make him an inspiring example for the tongue-tied preacher” (p. 112-113).

Well said, ummm…sort of.  But worth reading for sure!

shane lems

1 thought on “Preaching as Miracle”

  1. This was awesome, Shane. I confess: this is the sort of book I would pass over, and this post is an example of why I’m so thankful for this site. You and Andrew continually bring things out that I would otherwise miss. So thanks, and keep up the great work.


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