Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Review: A Little Exerecise for Young Theologians by Helmut Thielicke

Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986) was a German Protestant theologian and prolific writer. He engaged with Karl Barth’s theology early in his career and was active in the German Confessing Church during World War II. After the war, he was a prominent theologian and lecturer.

His short (very short!) book A Little Exercise for Young Theologians is an introductory lecture to seminary students, and although it is a little dated in tone and gender usage, it appears to be, to me, an indispensible collection of wisdom for seminarians or early career ministers. It is also a helpful reminder for more seasoned clergypersons.

Thielicke presents thirteen brief ideas (2-3 pages each) about the tension between the ideas a student learns in seminary or divinity school and life of ministry. From my own experience, I have witnessed the wisdom in his thought. For example, in the third chapter, “Unhappy Experience with a Theologian’s Home-Coming,” he writes about the difficulty of preaching or leading a Bible study after a semester in seminary. Before the young ordinand goes off to seminary, she or he teaches or preaches with enthusiasm, a passion for God, and little else. After a semester or two of serious study, this same person returns how and desperately tries to share this newfound wisdom. However, the book-learning does not have the necessary accompanying life experiences, and it pushes listeners from where their faith journeys have led them.

One of the best chapters addresses dogmatics. He writes, “[Dogmatics] presupposes scientific and religious study of Bible texts, it ponders the thought of the Church over two thousand years, it comes to terms with philosophy and art, it broods over contemporary problems, and it inquires who [humanity] is with whom it currently has to deal and in what abysses [ humanity] lives” (page 27). He goes on to address proper theology in a way that seems to be ignored in a contemporary age that seems fixated on practical theology, church growth models, and commercializing faith. It, and the following chapters, serve as a strong call for ministers to reengage with theology and the philosophy of religion.

To write more would be to risk writing a longer review than the actual book. For a quick read, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians is worth the time.

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