Preaching and Current Events

Right about this time of year in 1963 (May 31), Time published an interview with the greatest living theologian in the world, according to the perceptions of a substantial number of professional theologians and lay people as well. In that article, Barth said particularly to preachers who would be reading but without excluding lay-women and lay-men with an interest in interpreting the Bible:

Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.

Karl Barth
Barth’s picture had appeared on the cover of Time just over a year before the 1963 article in which he connected scriptures with newspapers.

This statement has been quoted in various forms across the years; the way I first heard it was that a preacher should preach with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Not exactly what Barth said; in the ballpark maybe. Barth had a very exalted view of the Bible.

I like more about Barth than his famous theology. In fact, much of his theology isn’t my cup of tea. But he was increasingly engaged in current events in a way I greatly admire. For example, a Swiss citizen, he was a professor at the University of Bonn in Germany. While there he became the primary writer of a very important document called the Barmen Declaration (1934), which was a series of objections of mostly German Christians who took strong issue with the state church that supported Hitler whole-heartedly. Gutsy Barth sent a personal copy of the finished draft to Hitler. This would cost Barth his job.

As Hitler garnered more and more power, he began to demand utter devotion from more and more people. The time came when university professors were on his list. Barth refused to pledge allegiance to Hitler and was terminated; he returned to Switzerland where he began to teach at the University of Basel.

I’d like for sermon-hearers to know what a burden it can be for preachers who want to keep sermons fresh in terms of connections to current events; keeping up with those events can become dark and disorienting. It’s one of several ways preachers have a tough time freeing their minds to be able to enjoy exclusively what is joyous and life-giving. Also, if a preacher is confronting evils outside the pulpit too, there’s another layer of self-giving required for her or his authenticity that is often a sacrifice for the preacher.