Barth is clear, everyone has a choice to make..

We stand under the sign of a decision constantly taken between the secularity and the sanctification of our existence, between sin and grace, between a being as man which forgets God, which is absolutely neutral in relation to Him and therefore absolutely hostile, and one which in His revelation is awakened by faith to being in the Church, to the appropriation of His promise.

…we can choose to commune with God or we can reject fellowship with Him.

…we can live in hostility toward God, or we can live in the fullness of his Church and experience His presence.

The phrase “God Talk” refers to our communication with God.  God Talk is our way of expressing faith to God.  Barth says there are four kinds of “God talk.”

1. God Talk is Expressed in Our Prayers

We think of Luther’s demand in his sermon at the dedication of the Castle Church at Torgau in 1544, “that nothing else should take place therein than that our dear Lord Himself should speak with us through His holy Word, and we again speak with Him through prayer and praise….”

This formulation defines church–gathering together to give praise to God.  When the church gathers, God speaks to us, and then we speak back to Him the words of praise He inspires in us.

2. God Talk is Expressed in our Acts of Compassion

To this group belongs a function which from the very first has in some form been recognised to be an integral element in the life of the Church, namely, the expression of helpful solidarity in face of the external needs of human society. This, too, is part of man’s response to God.

Social justice is all the rage among Christians, but what I like here is the perspective Barth brings to good works.  Yes works are done for other people in need, but the primary purpose of these good deeds is to celebrate God.  Good deeds done for Men are nothing unless they are first dedicated to God.

Yet the special utterance about God which consists in the action of this man is primarily and properly directed to God and not to men. It can neither try to enter into quite superfluous competition with society’s necessary efforts at self-help in its straits, nor can it seek, as the demonstration of distinctively Christian action, to proclaim how God helps. “That they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven,” that they may be a commentary on the proclamation of God’s help, is, of course, freely promised, but cannot be its set intention.

Even a corrupt world can do good deeds, so Christians should never think our good works are in competition with the world (Matt 7:9-13).  Feeding the hungry, helping AIDS victims in Africa, serving refugees in war torn countries are all meaningless deeds unless they cause those who witness such works to glorify our Heavenly Father (1 Cor 13:3; Phil 3:4-10).

If the social work of the Church as such were to try to be proclamation, it could only become propaganda, and not very worthy propaganda at that. Genuine Christian love must always start back at the thought of pretending to be a proclamation of the love of Christ with its only too human action.

Wow!  If that does not hit home, nothing Barth writes will.  I see far too many Christians using “good works” as a way to build bridges to the world, but all they are doing is generating Twitter Buzz.  If we treat good works as a political strategy, the end result is a distortion of God to the world and a corruption of the Gospel itself.

3. God Talk is Education for the Next Generation

In this field talk about God, as a preparation or a kind of technical sub-structure for the understanding of proclamation, means quite simply instruction or teaching about what the Church thus far, up to the appearance of the new generation of those called to it, has recognised and confessed as the right faith. It is the making known of the most important elements in the tradition with which proclamation must to-day be linked.

Teaching the doctrines of our faith to the next generation is one of the most compelling task so the church.  Even here though, the focus is not apologetics (proclamation to others), but on teaching the young in faith to communicate and commune with God.

4. God Talk is Theology

Finally, according to our understanding of the matter, neither can theology as such claim to be proclamation. It, too, is talk about God to men. Proclamation, however, is its presupposition, its material and its practical goal, not its content or task. Theology reflects upon proclamation.

What I get from Barth is that before we can effectively communicate God to others, and that is our goal, we must first know the God who is the content of our speech.

Summary

The Word of God is bigger than the Church.  We can never embody the total substance and perfection of all that is God, but we must not forget that our mission to reveal the Gospel is attainable.   Before we can reach our goal of making disciples, we must master our God Talk.  Faced with a decision between the secular and the sacred, what will you choose?

  1. How will your prayers reflect the words you hear from God?
  2. How will you ensure your good deeds are truly God Talk and don’t become propaganda?
  3. What are you doing to teach the next generation the art of God Talk?
  4. How do you make sure your theology is a conversation with God before it becomes an apologetic to the lost?

* Karl Barth, Geoffrey William Bromiley and Thomas F. Torrance, Church Dogmatics, Volume I The Doctrine of the Word of God, Part 1, Translation of Die kirchliche Dogmatik.; Each pt. also has special t.p.; Includes indexes., 2d ed., 47 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2004).

Dr. Joe Miller (aka JR) is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. In addition, he is a church planter and coach for emerging leaders. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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