Reflections of a Young Theologian

A Little Exercise For Young Theologians

Author: Helmut Thielicke
Book Reviewer: Seneca Law

Words of wisdom from Helmut Thielicke, an internationally known theologian and pastor, quoted from his book, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians.

“It is commonplace we hear, and countless times have ourselves expressed, that theology has to do with life. This being so, it is only natural to begin with a meditation on how things stand with our Christian life in the midst of our course in theology, and how that life fares inside the race track of theological study – and not only fares, but how it can be made deeper, richer and more fruitful.”

This is a good place to begin, to examine my own spiritual life before proceeding to study. Theology informs practice.  How do I link the knowledge of my head to the desires of my heart and eventually the work of my hands and feet?

“Under a considerable display of the apparatus of exegetical science and surrounded by the air of the initiated, he produces paralyzing and unhappy trivialities, and the inner muscular strength of a lively young Christian is horribly squeezed to death in a formal armour of abstract ideas.”

Thielicke raises an example of a theological student who upon returning to his home church, is critical of a Bible study led by his “unlearned” friend. Such behaviour and injections of his “superior knowledge” and other challenges quickly drown out any hint of lively, free flowing discussion. Yikes, sounds like something I would do or maybe have done.

“Theological thinking can and ought to grip a man like a passion. But passionate devotion means a way of thinking and speaking which all too consistently is borrowed from the circles in which a person has just been moving.”

Haha, I ought to be careful with my excessive use of Christianese.

“Truth seduces us very easily into a kind of joy of possession: I have comprehended this and that, learned it, understood it. Knowledge is power. I am therefore more than the other man who does not know this and that. But love is the opposite of the will to possess. It is self-giving. It boasteth not itself, but humbleth itself. This conflict is precisely the disease of theologians.”

And I am constantly plagued. Jesus, our Healer, is the perfect resolution of this conflict, the coexistence of perfect love by grace and eternal truth.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

“In just the same way that every research method is determined by its subject, we must also take seriously the fact that the ‘subject’ of theology, Jesus Christ, can only be regarded rightly if we are ready to meet Him on the plane where He is active, that is, within the Christian church. Only the Son knows who the Father is; only the servant knows who the Lord is.”

Regarding the knowledge that God bestows to me by grace, the fruit of that gift will be evident in the edification of the local church, or wherever God calls me to serve.

“…every theological effort is bound up with the act of faith itself.”

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

So we proceed blindly? I don’t think so.

In my opinion, theological work is not for purposes of proof. For how can the finite created grasp the infinite nature of Creator God? Yet God promises that we will find Him when we seek Him with all our hearts. (Jeremiah 29:13) The use of scientific methods in theology does not eradicate the faith we should have in God and His promise of revelation, as He wills. Thus, every theological effort is bound up with the act of faith itself.

“My plea is simply this: every theological idea which makes an impression upon you must be regarded as a challenge to your faith. Do not assume as a matter of course that you believe whatever impresses you theologically and enlightens you intellectually.”

Wow. How many times do I just accept theological ideas on the weak basis of my own intellectual fascination? Have I regarded them in equal light as the spoken word of God? My inability to sense pain and pressure from the impression of these ideas is a tragedy.

“How all-important it is that a vigorous spiritual life, in close association with the Holy Scriptures and in the midst of the Christian community, be maintained as a background to theological work.”


“But it is all the more important to insist constantly and almost monotonously that a person who pursues theological courses is spiritually sick unless he reads the Bible uncommonly often and makes the most of opportunities by which, in preaching and Bible classes, that cornerstone is made visible.”

Haha, hardcore much? No such thing in God’s eyes. You are either hot or cold and I pray that I stay out of the lukewarm danger zone, lest Jesus spit me out of his mouth. This is God’s first and greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

How did I miss that? The motivation of my theological studies and intellectual endeavours should be my love for God, because He first loved me. This little exercise is only the beginning, a small step in a life devoted to bring glory to Jesus Christ.

(Image Credit: Eerdmans)


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