Dietrich Ritschl

On the ‘expository sermon’

On Monday, I posted from Dietrich Ritschl’s book A Theology of Proclamation, a volume that I recently had reason to return to again. One of the things that I love about this book is the way that Ritschl understands the Word as the dynamic God in the free act of gracious self-unveiling through human speech and deed. God’s Word, through Jesus’ presence in the Spirit, becomes entangled with our word which, by grace, is ‘of no less authority than [God’s] own Word’ (pp. 67-8). He cites 1 Thessalonians 2.13 [‘We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers’] in support of this claim, and then proceeds to note the cruciality of the claim regarding Jesus’ presence in the Spirit:

‘This is not just a “theological formula”. If we left it out, we would have a Word of God that is separated from God; we would make God the prisoner of our thoughts or theologies. We would have a Word with which we could operate, a Word we could “use”, a Word we could judge. But it could not be the Word of God, the Word which operates with us, uses us, and judges us. Our work in the Church, therefore, can only be a service to this one life-giving Word of God. The clearest expression of this truth is the fact that there is no other way to preach than to preach an “expository sermon”, and even this is not a guarantee’.

Some encouragement for preachers: Dietrich Ritschl on the sermon

‘The Word of the sermon is indeed a new Word and not a repetition of last Sunday’s sermon, but this does not mean that each sermon devaluates or extinguishes the previous sermons. If this were so, the New Testament could never speak about a “Church” and Paul could never refer to the message he had brought before … This is true because Jesus Christ’s presence among His people does not consist of appearances discontinuous in time, i.e., which occur …

‘The presence of Christ in the sermon is nothing less than the presence of the eternal Father who speaks in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit His very own Word of judgment and consolation, life and light; but it happens according to the secret of the ubi et quando visum est deo, the free decision of God to reveal Himself wherever and whenever He decides. The identification between God’s Word and the word of the human witness is under no circumstances the work of man, but always the free work of God’.

– Dietrich Ritschl, A Theology of Proclamation (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1960), 72, 73, 77.