Retired editor, former seminarian, revisits important book

Here is my precis of Martin E. Marty’s Introduction to the 1962 book by Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,1962).

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Think of this modest book as a greeting card. It could be a welcome note to anyone in a new religious position, or a “Happy Anniversary” to a veteran church employee who might be looking back to measure his or her intentions. It could be a “Get Well” greeting to a pretentious theologian or a sympathy card to someone who has forgotten the excitement and promise of the theological task.
In clear and forceful language the author sets out to speak of the difficult language of theology. It greets a young theologian and will not soon be placed back among his or her souvenirs. To begin to exhaust its meanings, one must consult it again and again. The author offers good counsel to the budding theologian.
Any serious reader, before accepting this counsel, will examine the writer’s credentials. By what right does he speak? Will he insinuate his opinions into my consciousness? Will he be pontifical or condescending? Does he know what theology and young theologians are all about?
Few if any in the Christian world would hesitate in appreciation for Helmut Thielike. He wears several mantles that fit well: The business suit of the secular administrator, as well as the academic garb of that post; the robes of the professorial office and the learned lecturer on Christian ethics; indeed, some number him among the greatest preachers in the world. His sermons, now published in many volumes, are among the few that preachers read for their own nourishment. Finally, he may be pictured as a world-traveler and storyteller in his corduroy sport coat. He is at home in all of these roles and well-equipped for the tone of voice he uses here.

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My Afterword:

I first read Thielicke’s little book (41 pages) addressed to young people who might be considering, as I was in the decade following its publication, the formal study of theology.

I was fresh out of college and contemplating two career paths. The first entailed graduate school to study psychology, which had been my undergraduate major. The second was seminary and a career in some form of professional church ministry.

This was not an easy decision for me. I spent the next five or six years bouncing between grad school and seminary, before beginning a career in journalism, which took me into newsrooms and classrooms as a copy editor, daily reporter, teacher of journalism, columnist, webmaster, coach, and executive editor for the next 44 years.

I worked for newspapers in four states and also in Japan, and have always maintained my interest in theology.

Even in retirement, I have worked part-time as a freelance copy editor, librarian, teacher of writing, advisor to student publications, and a mentor in theological studies.

At one point in my career, I joined—with my rector’s consent—a discernment group studying to be ordained in the Episcopal Church. Alas, my age, my four children, my two divorces, and my generalist’s relaxed attitude toward a “purpose” in my call, worked against my bishop’s permission to go forward at the end of our examination.

I’ve never, however, lost my interest in theology nor my captive inquisitiveness about its message of God’s beckoning for my mind and heart.

So, for about the umpteenth time I’m re-visiting Thielicke’s little book.

If you’re reading my little reflection, I urge you to read A Little Exercise for Young Theologians yourself. Despite its title, one need not be young to benefit from its Christian message.

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Helmut Thielicke was born in Wuppertal, Germany in 1908 and died in 1986 in Hamburg.

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