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Posts Tagged ‘a little exercise for young theologians’

Upon reading Helmut Thielicke’s Über die Angst des heutigen Theologiestudenten vor dem geistlichen Amt (published in English as A Little Exercise for Young Theologians), Karl Barth had this to say:

I read your book at once at a single sitting and in its totality, and I can only endorse its essential thesis and its tenor. For a long time I have been rather disconcerted by your great ability to say anything and everything to our fellowmen in a precise, definite, and instructive way that I could never match (Karl Barth, Letters: 1961-1968, p. 277).

That’s very high praise, and I think it’s accurate. Thielicke’s work is not only eminently accessible; it speaks directly to its own time and to times that follow. This is especially true of his book Nihilism: Its Orgin and Nature with a Christian Answer. That book, written largely for those whose lives lost meaning in the aftermath of WWII, speaks to the anxieties of each generation so far. Like Barth, Thielicke’s most useful material is in his sermons and popular essays, not in his theology. Theologically he is, in the words of a friend of mine, “just another good German theologian.”

This characteristic of Thielicke’s is a good sign that he is doing something right, whatever one thinks of his theological prowess. Indeed, might his ability to be useful to more than one generation and context reflect something of the character of God? I’ll close with Thielicke’s description of Jesus after the temptation.

Does he stride from this battlefield as we would expect: with head high and renewed might, crowned as the victor, and bearing a name which henceforth and visibly is to be set above every name (Phil. 2.9)? By no means; how different is this victory from those of men! He rises to his feet, and immediately sets forth on his via dolorosa. He, too, goes forth into the world. Once again he will have to contend with the powers of evil which rise against him. He goes through this world, which is a theatre of war and a battlefield between God and Satan. By winning his first victory he has entered this world. Christ will fight for the souls of the men he meets, whether they be publicans or Pharisees, fools or wise men, rich youths or poor men, working-class men or lords of industry, the hungry and thirsty or well-fed and safe – he will fight for the souls of all these men alike, and he will die for all of them (Helmut Thielicke, Between God and Satan, p. 2).

Addendum: For the legions upon legions of Thielicke fans who follow this blog, this post is good.

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