Picking up from the previous post in this series, let me train my theological spotlight on the aims of proclamation. What are we aiming to do as we open our mouths to speak ‘as one speaking the very words of God’ (1 Peter 4.11)?
Straight up — and despite what I said last post about the need to focus on the ‘horizontal’ rather than the ‘vertical’/Godward dimension of proclamation — I want to say that it’s about serving God faithfully.
Like all genuinely Christian activity in general, true proclamation is a response of faith to God. It’s what we’re created and saved for. To depend on God. Worship and serve him. Enjoy fellowship with him. Resulting in the Saviour being exalted and the sinner humbled.
John Stott points out that ‘The main objective of preaching is to expound Scripture so faithfully and relevantly that Jesus Christ is perceived in all his adequacy to meet human need’ (I Believe In Preaching, 325). This is certainly true of the apostolic preaching in the NT.
In The Revelation of God, Peter Jensen argues that the gospel is the pattern of revelation. And in much the same way we could say that the apostolic preaching is the pattern of all true proclamation. Of course, we probably won’t be ‘expounding’ Scripture in a verse by verse, running commentary sense every time we open our mouths — whether we’re speaking to Christians or non-Christians. But we ought to be speaking in a way informed by Scripture to present the real Jesus in all his contemporary power and significance (thus maintaining the organic unity of the ‘Jesus of history’ and the ‘Christ of faith’).
The outcome of which will be building up the body, the church. For the Word of God — the Lord Jesus, presented in human words in the power of the Spirit to the glory of God the Father — will do what he always does: create fellowship — between us and God, and between each other.
What this amounts to is nothing short of transformation. When we’ve been formed — or rather de-formed — by the patterns and priorities of our world and culture (which are at best morally ambiguous and at worst downright anti-Christian), we need much more than mere reforming. We need regeneration. Recreation. From the ground up.
This is where Barth’s uncompromising ‘Nein!’ to any independent natural theology comes into its own. Faith comes from hearing. Rather than finding us already receptive — by virtue of some existing capacity or ability — he finds us totally incapacitated, chronically unable to know and love and serve the living God. Yet as we see so often in the Gospels, it’s the encounter with Jesus that is decisive. The Word creates faith as he always creates: out of nothing.
But, in doing so, he actually conforms us to our natural potential and telos. Our transformation is not according to an image or template totally alien to us. It is according to the template of God’s original intention for us: to glorify and enjoy him forever…