Barth: Schleiermacher the emergent preacher

"..., Schleiermacher saw the Kirchen-regiment (Church polity), for which theology provides the premise, as consisting essentially in the office of the preacher, and that he did not only declare himself consistently for this belief theoretically, but -equaling Luther and Calvin- in uninterrupted practice- without be it said, achieving outward success.  Those who know what preaching and academic work involve should be truly impressed by the fact that together with all the other things that claimed his attention, Schleiermacher managed to perform this office year in and year out, almost every Sunday.  Nobody does that who does not feel impelled to do it which at any rate is remarkable.  All the questionable things we learn from the Addresses on Religion and The Doctrine of Faith about Schleiermacher's fundamental idea of this office: namely that the decisive factor is a 'self-imparting' of the preacher- cannot alter the fact that Schleiermacher performed this office with a noteworthy loyalty, where or not his idea of it was correct." Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century, p.416
Barth is generous to Schleiermacher, and I thought it funny how much his description of Schleiermacher sounded like an evangelical critique of an emergent pastor;
“His heart’s in the right place, but his preaching is too-touchy feely.  Not enough proclamation!” 
I haven’t really caught wind of this idea that the important part of preaching is the ‘self-imparting’ of the preacher in Schleiermacher,  but I do like it, and I don’t know if it practically must contradict Barth’s description of preaching, even if Barth refutes his whole subjective enterprise.

Barth’s critique of Schleiermacher on this subject is that nothing objective happens in his (Schleiermacher’s)  view of preaching, that is, the real Jesus -alive and Word of God- isn’t speaking in the midst of the preachers’ words.  Schleiermacher’s  presupposition is that morality and ethics are the height of self-awareness that leads to that deeper feeling of dependence which he calls participation in Christ.  Preaching then, stimulates feelings and moral action making the listener that much closer to experiencing how Christ imparts himself in the listener’s connectedness to the world.    There is a fight here over Calvin’s sacramental theology of the word, about the manner in which Jesus is present in preaching: because we can present him when we preach (Schleiermacher), or because we cannot (Barth).

All of which raises the haunting possibility that Schleiermacher wore a nasty goatee and bandanna.


  1. I am not surprised at all that Barth's characterization of Schleiermacher sounds like a description of emergent preaching. I suggest to people that the quintessential expression of emergent church ecclesiology is Schleiermacher's "Christmas Eve: Dialogue on the Incarnation."

  2. Explain that one Mark. I read Christmas Eve a couple weeks ago so it's still fresh in my mind. I don't recall a focus on ecclesiology at all. Perhaps you are referring to the sort of round table experience, where the gathered all draw on parables from personal experience and then compare?

  3. I won't speak for Mark, but in that work, Schleiermacher presents a kind of child-centered anthropology that Barth critiqued (in his Göttingen lectures on the theology of Schleiermacher) because it didn't account for the sinfulness of humanity, really.
    Plus, it's a bunch of people just sitting around the fire and chatting :)

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post on Schleiermacher's understanding of preaching!!

    I'm doing a unit in Homiletics at the moment, and the teacher is trying to shove down my throat a more sacramental theology of the word in preaching which I cannot abide.

    Delighted to hear I'm not the only one.


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