As compared with Church proclamation, then, dogmatics cannot wish to be an end in itself. The situation is not that God, revelation and faith are given to proclamation and then independently and in some way differently to dogmatics too. They are all given to the Church, and they are not given for contemplation but for proclamation, and only to this extent are they also given to dogmatics as the presupposition of its testing of the human work of proclamation. CD I,1 p. 84
The task of dogmatics serves a purpose but not one independent from the Church and its proclamation. Dogmatics does not “imply a higher possibility of Christian life,” (85) as its existence is one of service. In this way, proclamation and dogmatics are connected – one as the content and the other as the guide or corrective. “Church proclamation and not dogmatics is immediate to God in the Church. Proclamation is essential, dogmatics is needed only for the sake of it. Dogmatics lives by it to the extent that it lives only in the Church” (87).
For Barth, proclamation outranks dogmatics, and thus, preaching is primary, even essential. This does not denigrate dogmatics or theology but prescribes to it an appropriate place, a guiding role. In my memory, Dr. Peter James Flamming exemplifies a striking and authentic mixture of these two.
The Church should fear God and not fear the world. But only if and as it fears God need it cease to fear the world. If it does not fear God, then it is not helped at all but genuinely endangered if it fears the world, listens to its oppositions, considers its attitude, and accepts all kinds of responsibilities toward it, no matter how necessary and justified may be the criticism it receives from this quarter. CD, I/1, pp. 73-74
Fear, the most basic and pervasive of human emotions, operates in two modes. Fear of the first order manifests itself as a strong, unpleasant emotion caused by realized or anticipated danger or dread. Whether rational or irrational, founded or unfounded, fear in this form is a terror, horror, or panic that captures us and puts everything into question. Continue reading
If the question what God can do forces theology to be humble, the question what is commanded of us forces it to concrete obedience. God may speak to us through Russian Communism, a flute concerto, a blossoming shrub, or a dead dog. We do well to listen to Him if He really does. CD, I,1 p. 55.
With certainty Barth believes in the primacy of the Word of God as made known to us through preaching, the sacraments, scripture, and ultimately in Jesus Christ. And yet, he steadfastly maintains that God is free to reveal Himself however He wishes – even through a dead dog. Our concern must be that no matter how He speaks, we are to humbly listen and obey.
Revelation, if and how it comes to us, is not the crucial question. Rather, the question for you and me, whether we are a theologian, nurse, farmer, welder, or teacher, is will we or will we not obey. For most of us, we have already heard too much and obeyed too little. God speaks, and we do well to listen. And above all we do well to respond with concrete obedience to what we have heard.
By the way … at this point, Barth is only opening his discussion, and thus, we can be sure he does not leave it to a dead dog to speak the Word of God.