Reflections: A Little Exercise for Young Theologians
by Bob Young

That theological studies may not lead to practical applications in real life situations is always a danger. Thielicke's book, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, warns of that danger and addresses some of the underlying causes.

Most people in the pew are anxious about the entire idea of theology. That anxiety intensifies when the young theologian tries out his "wisdom" in a Bible class or sermon. Further, the youthful theologian, just embarking upon theological studies, is more apt to think in intellectual terms than in practical terms. The understanding that we are all bankrupt apart from Jesus Christ and his righteousness may be overshadowed by all kinds of intriguing theological questions. Thielicke calls this intrigue infatuation, and identifies it as a characteristic of "theological puberty." The parallel is an accurate one.

Thus the young theologian may become so enamored by the study of theology that he develops a disdain for those whose major task in life is not to study Christianity, but to live Christianity. That is another way of saying that theology must have a subjective element and not remain totally in the objective. We are not spectators and onlookers, we are participants, facing the challenge of acting upon the message of the Bible. We must have a "primary experience" and not just a "conceptual experience" whereby we think we know what the fathers of the faith before us might have thought and endured.

What attitude must be present in the student of theology? Toward fellow-Christians there must be understanding and charity. Toward the study itself, there must be the every-present desire to find personal meaning and application as study proceeds coupled with prayer. To avoid study in the "third person," rather than in the "second person," to hear Jesus and not just the kerygma, will keep theology sacred. It must be! Preaching and study are not just professions, occupations, nor livelihood. Preaching and study are the privilege of building one's own faith and life so that example and experience might build the faith and life of others--even all we touch.

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Last updated March 3, 2010.