Although I haven’t read much of Karl Barth’s writings, thanks to Richard Mouw’s blog, I discovered these deeply penetrating ideas in his Prayer and Preaching. Among many other pieces of advice, Barth offers the following advice regarding preaching:
Do not indulge in allegory; exercising one’s talents on the Word hinders it from sounding out clearly. One should also beware of intruding one’s own individuality or enlarging on one’s personal experience by using illustrations or parables drawn from events in one’s own life.
Barth’s emphasis on the sufficiency of God’s Word is a refreshing reminder that we are messengers of the Good News, but not the authors. We must remain true to the text without adding a plethora of our own ideas and life experience. As I would summarize his ideas, in a sermon, people should hear from God, not an entertaining speaker.
His comments also relate to how we view creativity in the Church. In the midst of illustrations, videos, dramas, songs, PowerPoints, artwork, and so forth, we should always be cautious of “indulging” in those things. One sign of this is when we are more excited about the medium than the message. The two should never be confused.
There is a fine balance. On one hand, we should use all of our talents to communicate God to others, and this includes our creativity; but on the other, we should be careful to distinguish between God’s Words and our words. Because God’s Words are immensely more valuable, it should not disappoint us that we are merely messengers. We do not need to make things “more exciting” with what we add to the message.
There is a lot to think about here. Obviously, Barth’s ideas can be taken too far, and maybe at times they could seem impractical. However, I think it’s a fair reminder that everything we do — whether preaching, teaching, creating, or serving — should be subservient to God’s Word. When it comes to the end of the day, our actions should ultimately point others to God rather than ourselves.