This is the first post in a series attempting a rough sketch of a theology of proclamation (the rationale for the series is over here).
I want to begin by exploring why there’s an imperative in the New Testament to proclaim or ‘preach the word’ (2 Tim 4.2).Speaking God’s words is not just the responsibility of particular office-holders. This is part of how Peter portrays the mutual ministry to ‘one another’ within the corporate life of Christ’s people:
Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4.10-11)
Further, Acts gives us a really significant glimpse of ordinary Christians proclaiming the message wherever they went. When the ‘severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria […] those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word’ (Acts 8.1, 4).
From the beginning Christians have been those who ‘in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor 1.2), which O’Donovan (Desire of the Nations) suggests has both intra- and extra-church reference. Calling on the Lord is both a ‘vertical’ activity (prayer) and a ‘horizontal’ one (prophesy — which addresses both Christians and non-Christians, cf. 1 Cor 14).
Which is all well and good. But why? Does God somehow need us to proclaim his word? Isn’t he able to make himself known without us? In fact, hasn’t he done just that? Off his own bat. On his own initiative. God has spoken — decisively and definitively — ‘in these last days […] by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds’ (Heb 1.2).
And there’s the rub! He may not have needed to, but he has addressed us. He’s come to us. Drawn near. Become ‘God with us’ in the Lord Jesus. A human being. The Word made flesh. The one in whom the fullness of God dwelt bodily — not behind or above his concrete humanness, his ‘unsubstitutable particularity’.
And we today meet God in the same way. In the person of the Mediator ‘clothed in his promises in Scripture’ (as Calvin puts it). God speaks and interacts with us in a humanly accessible way. Just as he’s always done — the God who created the universe is mindful of human beings (cf. Ps 8). In his holiness he doesn’t isolate himself. He turns towards us — claiming and purifying us for himself, so that we might enjoy fellowship with him in our humanness (not apart from it).
All of which means that we are privileged to proclaim not in spite of but because of his turn to us in Christ by the Spirit. He has spoken. And so we speak. Human speech is not incompatible with God’s self-revelation — it’s thoroughly fitting. That’s why we proclaim him, ‘warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ’ (Col 1.28).