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Nothing transforms my prayer life like quoting Matthew 18:3 to myself:

Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Here's Barth on coming to our Father in heaven as child-like beginners:

In invocation of God the Father everything depends on whether or not it is done in sheer need (not self-won competence), in sheer readiness to learn (not schooled erudition), and in sheer helplessness (not the application of a technique of self-help). This can be the work only of very weak and very little and very poor children, of those who in their littleness, weakness, and poverty can only get up and run with empty hands to their Father, appealing to him. Nor should we forget to add that it can only be the work only of naughty children of God who have wilfully run away again from their Father’s house, found themselves among swine in the far country, turned their thoughts back home, and then - if they could - returned to their Father … Christians who regard themselves as big and strong and rich and even dear and good children of God, Christian who refuse to sit with their Master at the table of publicans and sinners, are not Christians at all, have still to become so, and need not be surprised if heaven is gray above them and their calling upon God sounds hollow and finds no hearing. The glory, splendour, truth, and power of divine sonship, and of the freedom to invoke God as Father, and therefore the use of this freedom - the Christian ethos in big and little things alike - depends at every time and in every situation on whether or not Christians come before God as beginners, as people who cannot make anything very imposing out of their faith in Jesus Christ, who even with this faith of theirs - and how else could it be if it is faith in Jesus Christ? - venture to draw near to his presence only with the prayer: “Help my unbelief” (Mk. 9:24). Mark well that this has nothing to do with Christian defeatism. It describes Christians on their best side and not their worst, in their strength and not their weakness (2 Cor. 12:10).

Karl Barth, The Christian Life: Church Dogmatics IV.4: Lecture Fragments (trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981), 80.

Source: Jason Goroncy

Have you ever heard a more heart-warming doctrine lecture??




When Karl Barth addressed the Brandenburg Missionary Conference in 1932 he introduced a missiological perspective which has determined the shape of mission theology in every part of the Church. 

"Must not even the most faithful missionary, the most convinced friend of missions, have reason to reflect that the term missio was in the ancient Church an expression of the doctrine of the Trinity-namely the expression of the divine sending forth of self, the sending of the Son and Holy Spirit to the world? Can we indeed claim that we do it any other way?"

Barth cuts through soteriological or eschatological consideration to bring us right back to the Source of mission.  It is not that 'Salvation is like this therefore mission should be like that.'  It is not that 'The End will be like this, so mission should be like that.'   No, the real argument is that 'God's being is like this, therefore mission should be like that!'  There are missions because of the missio Dei - because God is a sending God.  In Himself, in eternity, God's being is a being of outgoing love.  This is the Fountainhead for mission.

David Bosch has memorably put it like this:

To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God's love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love.

This insight has been picked up by all wings of the Church, from the conciliar to the Anabaptist, from the Roman Catholic to the evangelical. 

More important than all this consensus however is the bible's own testimony.

 Consider the Johannine 'great commission': 

As the Father has sent me I am sending you.  (John 20:21; cf 17:18).

We ought to take that little word 'as' with full seriousness.  In the same way that the Father sends the Son, so the Son sends His church.  Let us ask, how has the Father sent the Son?

Lest we be Arians we must acknowledge that the Son's generation from the Father is not a mere product of the Father's will in time.  It is rather an eternal begetting that is of the very essence of the eternal Godhead.  There is not a God and then a sending.  There has only ever been a sending God - the missio Dei.  Both Father and Son are eternally constituted in these relations of Sending and Sent.

The Son's being and act is a being and act found and expressed in the Father's sending.  The Son's own life is a life in mission.  This has always been true in eternity and it was made manifest in incarnation.

Christ's most common self-identification in John is as the One sent from the Father.  And His most common articulation of His mission was always to do the will of His Father - a will expressed in thoroughly evangelistic terms - e.g. John 3:16; 4:23; 6:29; 6:38-40.  Christ is sent as the world's Saviour, the One who seeks worshippers for the Father, who glorifies the Father in His saving death and only then says 'it is finished' (John 19:30).

Therefore, because Christ's being is a missionary being, so His activity is a missionary activity. 

On the cross, the true being and glory of the Son was manifested, and in Him the glory of the triune God  (e.g. John 13:32; 17:5).  Here was demonstrated Christ's obedience to the Father and, at one and the same time, His love for the world.  Christ's being and act are laid bare at Golgotha, and shown to be a missionary being and act.

Therefore, returning to John 20:21, we see the continuity of Christ's mission with ours.  Just as Christ has His being in sent-ness for the world's salvation, so does the church.  We have received a commission that was passed from the Father to the Son in the depths of eternity.  Our missionary activity finds its origin not in any human enthusiasm for witness but in the being of God.  And our sent-ness for the salvation of the world is not only our activity.  It is, like God's own missio, constitutive of our very life.

'The Christian community is not sent into the world haphazardly or at random, but with a very definite task. It does not exist before its task and later acquire it.  Nor does it exist apart from it, so that there can be no question whether or not it might have or execute it.  It exists for the world.  Its task constitutes and fashions it from the very outset.  If it had not been given it, it would not have come into being.  If it were to lose it, it would not continue.  It is not then a kind of imparted dignity.  It exists only as it has it, or rather only as the task has it. Nor is it a kind of burden laid upon it.  It is the inalienable foundation which bears it.  Every moment of its history it is measured by it. It stands or falls with it in all its expressions, in all its action or abstention. It either understands itself in the light of its task or not at all.' (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/3, p796.)

'[The task of the Church] is no less, no more and no other than the ministry of witness required of it and constituting it.' (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/3, p834))



Rediscovered this old quote from Barth's Homiletics:

"The theological damage of sermon introductions is in any event incredibly extensive... For what do they really involve at root?  Nothing other than the search for a point of contact, for an analogue in us which can be a point of entry for the Word of God.  It is believed that this little door to the inner self must first be found and opened before it is worthwhile to bring the message.  No! This is plain heresy.... We have simply to approach people knowing that there is nothing in them that we can address, no humanum, no analogia entis of any kind that we can put in touch with the divinum, but only the one great possibility which has no need of our skills, which alone is efficacious, and which does not need us as advocates... We have simply to assume the attitude of a messenger who has something to say.  We have no need to build a slowly ascending ramp, for there is no height that we have to reach.  No!  Something has to come down from above.  And this can happen only when the Bible speaks from the very outset." (Homiletics, p124-125)


You've been told!


“One can never say of a single part of the narrative, doctrine and proclamation of the New Testament, that in itself it is original or important or the object of the witness intended. Neither the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount nor the eschatology of Mk 13 and parallels, nor the healing of the blind, lame and possessed, nor the battle with the Pharisees and the Cleansing of the Temple, nor the statements of the Pauline and Johannine metaphysics and mysticism (so far as there are any), nor love to God nor love to neighbour, nor the passion and death of Christ, nor the miraculous raising from the dead - nothing of all that has any value, inner importance or abstract significance of its own in the New Testament, apart from Jesus Christ being the subject of it all. His is the name in which it is all true and real, living and moving, by which, therefore, everything must be attested.” I/2, p10-11


Some nice moments from Barth against apologetics

"Knowledge of revelation... begins with certitude. Either God has spoken or He has not spoken. If He has spoken, He has done so in such a manner that it is impossible not to heed Him. Among others, the question of His existence and nature are then decided and can be answered only a posteriori. Doubt and despair, human unbelief, and even a sea of uncertainties on our part, will not be able to change the certitude of His presence. Revelation is this divine presence." (God in Action, p8)

"And we are certainly not ministers of the Word if we feel ourselves called to be benevolent protectors, or big-hearted friends or representatives of whom the Word of God has need." (God in Action, p67)

"What God speaks is never known or true anywhere in abstraction from God Himself. It is known and true for no other reason than that He Himself says it, that He in person is in and accompanies what is said by Him." (I/1, 155)

The great danger of apologetics is "the domesticating of revelation... the process of making the Gospel respectable. When the Gospel is offered to man, and he stretches out his hand to receive it and takes it into his hand, an acute danger arises which is greater than the danger that he may not understand it and angrily reject it. The danger is that he may accept it and peacefully and at once make himself its lord and possessor, thus rendering it inoccuous, making that which chooses him something which he himself has chosen, which therefore comes to stand as such alongside all the other things that he can also choose, and therefore control." (II/1, p141)

"For we know nothing of our created state from our created state, but only through the Word of God, from which we can derive no independent, generally true items of knowledge, different from the Word of God and therefore leading up to it." (I/1, p148)

When people say ‘God' "far too often what is meant by it is... the unsubstantial, unprofitable and fundamentally very tedious magnitude known as transcendence, not as a genuine counterpart, nor a true other, nor a real outside and beyond, but as an illusory reflection of human freedom, as its projection into the vacuum of utter abstraction." (III/4, 479)

 "If grace is alongside nature, however high above it may be put, it is obviously no longer the grace of God, but the grace which man ascribes to himself. If God's revelation is alongside a knowledge of God proper to man as such, even though it may never be advanced except as a prolegomenon, it is obviously no longer the revelation of God, but a new expression (borrowed or even stolen) for the revelation which encounters man in his own reflection." (II/1, p139)



For Barth the three-fold Word - Christ, Scripture and Proclamation - means that preaching should always be Scriptural and always witness to Christ.   Here he makes it clear that christo-centrism is not something the preacher (or the biblical theologian) bestows on the Bible.  Rather, the Bible is already and inherently witness to Christ:

"The Bible says all sorts of things, certainly; but in all this multiplicity and variety, it says in truth only one thing - just this: the name of Jesus Christ... The Bible becomes clear when it is clear that is says this one thing... The Bible remains dark to us if we do not hear in it this sovereign name... Interpretation stands in the service of the clarity which the Bible as God's Word makes for itself; and we can properly interpret the Bible, in whole or part, only when we perceive and show that what it says is said from the point of view of that... name of Jesus Christ." (I/2, p720)

What about the Old Testament?  For Barth...

"the Old Testament is witness to Christ, before Christ but not without Christ... As a wholly Jewish book, the Old Testament is a pointer to Christ." (Homiletics, p80)

Barth does not consider the christo-centric meaning to be a sensus plenior in addition to the literal sense. 

"the natural sense is the issue... [we do not] give the passage a second sense... This passage in its immanence points beyond itself... The Old Testament points forward, the New Testament points backward, and both point to Christ." Homiletics, p80-81.

As for the New Testament, Barth insists that christocentric preaching is no less important here.

"One can never say of a single part of the narrative, doctrine and proclamation of the New Testament, that in itself it is original or important or the object of the witness intended. Neither the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount nor the eschatology of Mk 13 and parallels, nor the healing of the blind, lame and possessed, nor the battle with the Pharisees and the Cleansing of the Temple, nor the statements of the Pauline and Johannine metaphysics and mysticism (so far as there are any), nor love to God nor love to neighbour, nor the passion and death of Christ, nor the miraculous raising from the dead - nothing of all that has any value, inner importance or abstract significance of its own in the New Testament, apart from Jesus Christ being the subject of it all. His is the name in which it is all true and real, living and moving, by which, therefore, everything must be attested." I/2, p10-11

This is a helpful reminder.  We usually hear from the Old Testament sermon some "bridge to Christ" (however tenuous!).  Yet what does it say when the same preacher can manage to preach Christlessly from the New?  

Do preachers really believe that the Scriptures are already Christ-focused?  Or is it our job to add a second layer of Christ-centredness?  If a preacher breathes a sigh of relief once they're in New Testament waters, and if they then fail to witness to Christ while there - what does it say about their view of the Old and New Testaments?

Barth is really helpful here.  Scripture exists within the perichoresis of the three-fold Word.  It exists to be preached.  And it exists (every part of it) as witness to Christ.  It is not the preacher's job to make it into a witness to Christ.  If we find our Old Testament sermons involve some weird change of gears in order to 'get to Christ', we've not understood the bible properly.  If we find that our New Testament sermons fail to point people to Christ, we've not understood the bible properly.   These issues might be a sign you've bought into the wrong biblical theology. 

Just a thought.


         Here's my length paper on Barth and Preaching.


That's what Heinrich Bullinger asserted in the Second Helvetic Confession.  And he's not alone.  Check out Luther:

"Tis a right excellent thing, that every honest pastor's and preacher's mouth is Christ's mouth, and his word and forgiveness is Christ's word and forgiveness... For the office is not the pastor's or preacher's but God's; and the Word which he preacheth is likewise not the pastor's and preacher's but God's." (Quoted from CD I/1, p107)

Or Calvin:

"When a man has climbed up into the pulpit... it is [so] that God may speak to us by the mouth of a man." (Sermon XXII on 1 Tim 3:2 "apt to teach", quoted in THL Parker, Calvin's Preaching, Westminster/ John Knox, 1992, p24)

Or, more to the point, check out the Bible!

"And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers." (1 Thes 2:13)

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands for ever."  And this is the word that was evangelized to you. (1 Pet 1:23-25)

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. (Heb 13:7)

So do we agree that 'Preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God'?  Or would we rather Bullinger had maintained a more modest: 'Preaching of the Word of God explains and applies the Word of God'?  Can we seriously maintain the word 'is' in that statement?

Karl Barth did.  Emphatically.  If you want to read more, go here to a very lengthy essay on Barth and preaching.  Here I'll sketch out the argument in point form:


1) The Word of God is a three-fold Word.  That is, Christ, the Bible and preaching are all called 'the Word' in the Bible.  And yet there are not three competing words or revelations but One Word of God (Christ) who comes to us in the Spirit-mediated modes of Scripture and proclamation.  Thus we have one Word in three modes.  This is Barth's primary analogy of the trinity.

2) Just as in the trinity we have distinct Persons who, nonetheless, are one, so with the Word we have distinct modes which nonetheless have a perichoretic unity.   The Son is one with the Father in His mediation of the Father.  He is no less God for being a witness of God.  But He is also no less distinct from the Father in this oneness.  In the same way preaching is no less the Word for being a witness (a Scriptural witness) to Christ. But simultaneously it is no less distinct from Christ (and Scripture) for being one with it. We need a perichoretic ontology not only for God but for the Word also.

 3) There is divinity and humanity to all three forms of the Word.  Yet, for all that, we must avoid the danger of Nestorianiam - that is, we must not conceive of the humanity as a separate existence from the divinity.  Barth is adamant that you cannot get around the worldliness of the Word - whether of Christ, Scripture or preaching.  In fact, it is not at all desirable that you should get around it.  For the Word as grace meets us where we are.  Christ the Man says 'If you've seen me you've seen the Father.'  Christ the Man says 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'  The humanity of Christ in no way jeopardizes divine revelation or salvation.  Equally, the humanity of the apostles and prophets and the humanity of the preacher does not prevent the Word from being still a divine Word.  

Just as the eternal Word did not come in a man but as a man, so on Sunday morning, God's Word does not come contained somewhere within the preaching but it comes as this human preacher in this situation witnesses to Christ.

4) We must remember the divine initiative in all this.  It is not a question of 'Can we hear God's Word in the preacher?' Rather the question is: 'Is it Christ Himself who encounters us in the preacher?'  It's not a case of pulling Christ down through correct exegesis.  If we think like this we're basically falling for an ex opere operato of the pulpit.   That is, we're imagining that our correct priestly exercises ensure a divine encounter.  We must resist this - we must begin from above.  Revelation is grace.  It is Christ who chooses to condescend in Scripture and Proclamation (not we who bring Him down).  But in this divine condescension it is Christ Himself who encounters us. 


Let's take all these points together.  Preaching is a mode of the Word of God.  It is distinct from Scripture and Christ but inextricably linked to it.  And in relation to Christ and Scripture - that is, as Christ is proclaimed Scripturally - it is itself the Word of God.  Not a competing revelation to the Bible but rather a 'Word from Word' (parallel to Christ's divinity as 'God from God').   The humanity of the preacher is not a barrier to divine revelation but instead is the very worldiness in which the Word must meet us.  Thus the congregation on a Sunday morning is not confronted with explanation and application of the Word.  They are confronted with Christ Himself. 

Think of a preacher who challenges the congregation to confess Christ as 'My Lord and My God.' (John 20:28)  If the hearer does not trust Christ, is it only the preacher they've disobeyed? Have they not more fundamentally disobeyed Christ?  Isn't it Christ Himself who confronts them in this preaching?  It is a daunting prospect for preachers, but such is the humbling authority of 'the keys of the kingdom' (Matt 16:19; John 20:23).)

[Preaching is] "the speaking of God himself through the lips of the minister." (Karl Barth, Homiletics, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991, p67.)

" what Church preaching says of God, God Himself speaks for Himself." (Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics, vol. 1, part 2, trans. Geoffrey Bromiley, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1956, p800)


           This post contains reworking from my comments at Faith and Theology


Over at White to Harvest there are some very stimulating discussions of election and assurance going on - see here and the comments here.   But just to stick up for the reformed tradition, here are (very selective!) quotations from three of the greats.  Not to say that these are consistently followed by each theologian or their tradition but here are some good bits nonetheless:


John Calvin

Faith: "is a firm and sure knowledge, of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit" (Institutes, 3.21.2.)

"Christ, when he illumines us into faith by the power of his Spirit, at the same time so engrafts us into his body that we become partakers of every good." (Institutes, III.2.35)


C.H. Spurgeon

"Many persons want to know their election before they look to Christ, but they cannot learn it thus, it is only to be discovered by ‘looking unto Jesus.' If you desire to ascertain your own election; after the following manner shall you assure your heart before God.  Do you feel yourself to be a lost, guilty sinner? Go straightway to the cross of Christ and tell Jesus so, and tell Him that you have read in the Bible, ‘Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.'  Tell Him that He has said, ‘This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.'  Look to Jesus and believe on Him, and you shall make proof of your election directly, for so surely as thou believest, thou art elect.  If you will give yourself wholly up to Christ and trust Him, then you are one of God's chosen ones; but if you stop and say, ‘I want to know first whether I am elect', you ask what you do not know. Go to Jesus, be you never so guilty, just as you are.  Leave all curious inquiry about election alone.  Go straight to Christ and hide in His wounds, and you shall know your election.  The assurance of the Holy Spirit shall be given to you, so that you shall be able to say, ‘I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him.'  Christ was at the everlasting council: He can tell you whether you were chosen or not; but you cannot find it out any other way.  Go and put your trust in Him and His answer will be - ‘I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.'  There will be no doubt about His having chosen you, when you have chosen Him."  (‘Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.' Morning and Evening, July 17.  1 Thess 1:4.)


Karl Barth

"If we would know who God is, and what is the meaning and purpose of His election, and in what respect he is the electing God, then we must look away from all others, and excluding all side-glances or secondary thoughts, we must look only upon and to the name of Jesus Christ, and the existence and history of the people of God enclosed in Him" (Church Dogmatics, II/2, p54).

"We must not ask concerning any other but Him. In no depth of the Godhead shall we encounter any other but Him... There is no such thing as a decretum absolutum. There is no such thing as a will of God apart from the will of Jesus Christ... Jesus Christ reveals to us our election as an election which is made by Him, by His will which is also the will of God. He tells us that He Himself is the One who elects us... As we believe in Him and hear His Word and hold fast by His decision, we can know with a certainty which nothing can ever shake that we are the elect of God" (II/2, p115).


Here is my favourite from Barth:

"We might imagine the conversation to which it gives rise and some of the forms which it necessarily takes. The man to whom it is said thinks and says that he is not this new, peaceful, joyful man living in fellowship. He asks leave honestly to admit that he does not know this man, or at least himself as this man. 

The Word of grace replies: 'All honour to your honesty, but my truth transcends it. Allow yourself, therefore, to be told in all truth and on the most solid grounds what you do not know, namely, that you are this man in spite of what you think.'

Man: ' You think that I can and should become this man in the course of time? But I do not have sufficient confidence in myself to believe this. Knowing myself, I shall never become this man.'

The Word of grace: 'You do well not to have confidence in yourself. But the point is not that you can and should become this man. What I am telling you is that, as I know you, you already are.'

Man: 'I understand that you mean this eschatologically. You are referring to the man I perhaps will be one day in some not very clearly known transfiguration in a distant eternity. If only I had attained to this! And if only I could be certain that even then I should be this new man!'

The Word of grace: 'You need to understand both yourself and me better than you do. I am not inviting you to speculate about your being in eternity, but to receive and ponder the news that here and now you begin to be the new man, and are already that which you will be eternally.'

Man: 'How can I accept this news? On what guarantee can I make bold to take is seriously?'

The Word of grace: 'I, Jesus Christ, am the One who speaks to you. You are what you are in Me, as I will to be in you. Hold fast to Me. I am your guarantee. My boldness is yours. With this boldness dare to be what you are?'

Man: 'I certainly hear the message, but...'

In this perplexed and startled 'but' we see the attack, and who it is that is attacked." (V/2, p250)


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