A Little Exercise for Young Theologiansby Helmut Thielicke
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A Little Exercise for Young Theologians was written by Helmut Thielicke and first published in 1962 when he was 54. Thielicke spent a number of years preaching and teaching in various churches, and eventually took a professorship at the University of Hamburg.
A Little Exercise for Young Theologians was written by Helmut Thielicke and first published in 1962 when he was 54. Thielicke spent a number of years preaching and teaching in various churches, and eventually took a professorship at the University of Hamburg. While he is an academic, he was not entirely stuffed away in the ‘ivory castle’ due to his many years working directly in those various churches. This book is certainly a recommended read for those planning on a life of ministry, but not necessarily for others.
Thielicke takes on what to him are 13 important issues that can run a young theologian into shipwreck. Whether the reader agrees with his chosen topics, there is a very definite progression he follows, to instruct young men (and possibly women) as the shipwreck could be a single offense or it could be a steady progression down the path described.
The chapters take on the appearance of brief homilies given in a lecture hall. Chapter one is largely apologetic in nature asking for a gracious reception to things which were uttered in lecture but now put into written form. This appears to be the only chapter which was conceived first for the page, whereas the remainder seem to have been the fruit of many years lecturing to these young ones.
Thielicke presents a common path young theologians take, as they begin their first year studies.
The intent is to show the landmines that may lay before a young minister in training so that he can avoid embarrassing or obtuse mistakes. Thielicke is grooming the minister for service, and much of what is found book is quite practical in nature and useful by all. In chapter two he appears to take seriously the concerns of “the so-called ordinary congregation.” (loc. 115).
In chapter four Thielicke presents a very useful adage, “During the period when the voice is changing we do not sing, and during this formative period in the life of the theological student he does not preach.” (loc. 170). In chapters five and six he warns of a pridefulness which can take hold of the student when he arrives home on break.
From chapters seven through nine, and also twelve, he presents serious theological matters which should move the reader to deep consideration. These chapters are the area of most critical consideration. The remaining chapters present matters of devotional consideration. These are presented largely as advice from the older to the younger.
Thielickes’ work is a mixed bag. A great many things are commendatory. The fact that he sees his students as “souls entrusted to” him (loc. 92) endears the reader. In a very enlightening point he shows that the student is often not grasping the depth of a matter, though he does live in the “secondhand experience” (loc. 161) of others he is reading.
He states plainly that this is due to “truth and love” that are “seldom combined.” (loc. 196). In a powerful statement where he states, “Truth seduces us…but love is the opposite” (loc. 196) the language is picturesque. This is a good statement, but subtly woven into this same beautiful chapter is a hint to the darker things which are to come.
It is in chapter 6, for the first time Thielicke tips his hand a bit where he hints that he does not necessarily hold to the reformed view of the Scripture, suggesting that miracles may be merely “legendary.” (loc. 204).
In chapter seven there are a number of false suppositions, such as the questioning by the “pious” (loc. 234) that science is out of place in the realm of theology. No less than Dr. R.C. Sproul has said that theology is the “queen of the sciences”. Indeed the first 60 pages of Shedds’ Dogmatic Theology is dedicated to the science of theology! These two men are themselves considered to be of great piety.
However, the area of greatest concern is revealed in chapter eight. Here is presented the very reinterpretation (historically speaking) of the Scriptures, demythologizing the Holy Word of God. His reference to sectarianism as “disfiguring the body” (loc. 279) in chapter nine could otherwise be overlooked, but in light of his leanings, what ‘sect’ or denomination would suit him? In chapter eleven Thielicke seems to show a lack of belief in the depravity of man. This is seen in his reference to God as no “fussy faultfinder” (loc. 339).
As stated in the introduction, this work is recommended, but not without reservation, and not for everyone. As long as one remains alert to the subtle interweaving of ideas which are landmines to true faith, there is much to be gleaned. It is short and due to this fact alone, may keep one from falling into those errors.