Karl Barth reflects on his approach to preaching after the Titanic sank:
During my time as a pastor... I often succumbed to the danger of attempting to get alongside the congregation in the wrong way. Thus in 1912, when the sinking of the Titanic shook the whole world, I felt that I had to make this disaster my main theme the following Sunday, which led to a monstrous sermon on the same scale.
Fred Sanders reflects on this sermon:
Barth's seminary trained him in classically liberal Christianity. He entered the pulpit with a set of beliefs that were brittle, insufficiently biblical, and ultimately irrelevant to real people. In the Titanic sermon, you can see him trying to make his liberalism stretch to cover currrent catastrophes. It stretched enough to cover the Titanic, but just barely. This sermon was a real stinker, a real sinker, and it went under pretty fast. But Barth's preaching career kept going until a few years later when the outbreak of World War I would be an even more titanic challenge to the weak Christianity of his seminary training. When that happened, Barth couldn't stretch the thin commitments of liberalism to fit the real world.
That's when he stopped preaching headlines, stopped trying to declare which economic system God hates or what God was up to in the latest disaster, and started preaching from what he called "the strange, new world of the Bible." And that's when he found that he had something to say which the world didn't already know.
I was struck by this thought in Why Johnny Can't Preach. Gordon is responding to those who have dismissed preaching:
I believe the preaching in many churches is so poorly done that it is not, effectively, preaching...If the patients of a given hospital's surgeons continue to die, we could, I suppose, abandon the scalpel. We might also consider employing it more skillfully.
My challenge...is this: Show me a church where the preaching is good, and the church is still moribund. I've never seen such a church. The moribund churches I've seen have been malpreached to death.