Thielicke Response Paper

A Response to Thielicke, Helmut. “A Little Exercise for Young Theologians.”

It is far too easy for anyone who has spent time learning what the Bible is all about, what it means for our lives and how it effects the world and eternity, to explode into a church and knock everything off the tables with their eagerly wagging tail. It’s not that they are trying to break things, but they’re just a little too excited. Law and Gospel are very delicate things that have to be lived into. They are not just concepts that can dryly be applied across the board. As a young theologian lives life and walks along beside people they will discover that the technical words they have learned to describe symptoms and assess disease are not the same words one uses to speak healing or conviction into someones life.

While Thielicke shares many different concerns, all his examples and definitions stem from the same problem: confusing the dead word of God with the living Word of God. Ink on paper is not the living Word of God, yet many theologians approach the Bible as if they are aspiring kabbalist looking for the secret meanings in the bible code. When they find a special answer in their book they go running out hoping to stamp everyone they meet with their right answer, sometimes killing people and/or their souls for the sake of preserving their perspective. The living Word of God, on the other hand, can be seen through the Bible. If the theologian will slow down and look hard enough, they will see the Living God interacting with His creation lovingly balancing on the sometimes-hard-to-see path of justice and mercy. The Living Word is intimately involved in life and the lives of people. When the young theologian begins to see the living Word of God, he or she begins to realize that the Law is not a bunch of rules and punishments. He or she discovers that the Gospel is not, ‘you too can become a better person.’ There are not simple rules or easy-outs, instead there is a God who is called Emmanuel.

It has taken me years to come to this understanding, and I realize I’m not even close to fully understanding the implication of a just and merciful God who created us, who walks with us, who infills us. I have beat myself up against the mountain of the Law. I have used my understanding of the gospel to justify in myself things that are not just. But worst of all, I have imposed my misunderstanding of who God is and He relates to us on others. I thought I was doing them a favor to make them really really understand how bad their actions are, even though they were already torn apart. I have made the gospel dependent on others actions, as often as I have trusted my own. Not only that, but I know I will continue to misunderstand and misapply God’s Word, and for that I can only ask forgiveness and ask for God’s clear rebuke. I only pray that I can be humble enough to accept it.

Humility, however, is a difficult thing. One of my favorite lines is, “I’m one of the most humble people I know.” It sounds like a joke, but that is how many people approach humility. It is a comodity to be attained and flaunted, like next years model LCD flat-screen living-gamma HD TV. But humility isn’t willing to be just had. It can’t even be earned. Humility requires submission and generosity; two of the most un-american qualities ever invented. In light of the Law, humility requires submission. And if we are capable of submission the second part, generosity, is easy. This isn’t about doing the right thing. This is about putting God and others first, willing to listen more than speak, and provide rather than prescribe. When we submit, we set aside our agendas and trust that the spirit will guide. When we are being generous, God’s grace is moving in us and through us. Humility makes John 17 a possibility.