Gerhard Forde on theology and proclamation

Gerhard Forde on correlating the church’s theology and proclamation

This quote may need some introducing. Fundamental to Forde’s thought was the distinction he drew between theology and proclamation. Forde distinguished between them by way of mapping their difference onto another distinction, that between the church’s primary and secondary discourse. Primary discourse speaks from the first person point of view to the second. E.g., statements like “I love you,” “I baptize you in the name of..,” etc. It is the in actu language of the church as it engages in the commerce of its practical life. Proclamation in particular, then, is that species of primary discourse that actually delivers grace to its addressees when it’s deployed. Secondary discourse, on the other hand, is reflection upon, or talk about, primary discourse. So if primary discourse says, “Your sins are forgiven,” secondary discourse adds, “and here is what we mean by sin and forgiveness.” It’s this latter mode of discourse that theology speaks. Theology, then, is charged with the task of overseeing and regulating the church’s primary discourse, such as its proclamation. It is meant to teach the church how to speak its message faithfully. So much for my introduction.

It seems to me that one of the biggest temptations in theology today is […] to confuse the lecture, the explanation […] with the proclamation, the primary discourse, the “I declare unto you.” When that confusion is made, what happens is that the proclamation invariably gets lost and is ultimately silenced. […]

Without proclamation, there will be no systematic theology — at least not proper systematic theology. If systematic theology does not understand the place of proclamation, and realize that its purpose is to drive to proclamation, then it will overstep its bounds and try to usurp proclamation. […] Systematic theology, that is, has to recognize that there are definite limits to the enterprise, boundaries to our explanations. It has to realize that proclamation is not the practical application or popularizing of systematic theories, but that it is itself the last move in the theological operation, the last step in the argument. If done properly, systematic theology leads one to the point where the only move left is to leave the lectern and enter the pulpit. […] The only point, finally, in saying so loudly and persistently as we do in our systematics that grace, faith, and all those things are free and unconditional gifts is precisely to give them, to do it, to say it. That is what God is up to in this world.

from The Preached God, (Eerdmans, 2007), 47-48.

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