I have previously read A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology, which is intentionally an update of Helmut Thielicke’s classic. I saw that the original was on kindle for less than $5 and decided to read the original as well.
A Little Exercise for Young Theologians is short. I read it in two short sittings. Most of the chapters are only 3 or 4 pages long. Much of it is advice of a similar sort to the updated version I had already read. (I would advice reading both, but with some time between.)
There were a couple things that were different and I enjoyed. Thielicke has a helpful section on why it is a bad idea for people newly in seminary or new Bible School students to teach at a church.
It is a mistake for anyone who is just in this stage to appear before a church as a teacher. He has outgrown the naivete with which in young people’s work he might by all means have taken this part. He has not yet come to that maturity which would permit him to absorb into his own life and reproduce out of the freshness of his own personal faith the things which he imagines intellectually and which are accessible to him through reflection. We must have patience here and be able to wait. For the reasons I have mentioned I do not tolerate sermons by first-semester young theological students swaddled in their gowns. One ought to be able to keep still. During the period when the voice is changing we do not sing, and during this formative period in the life of the theological student he does not preach.
I also liked a section at the end that is focused on why it is more important to focus on our relationship with God and on making sure we are exactly right theologically.
I don’t believe that God is a fussy faultfinder in dealing with theological ideas. He who provides forgiveness for a sinful life will also surely be a generous judge of theological reflections. Even an orthodox theologian can be spiritually dead, while perhaps a heretic crawls on forbidden bypaths to the sources of life.
In context, Thielicke is talking mostly about ourselves, but in context of the larger book, he discusses the fact that while theology is important, it is not the most important thing. And not everyone is as interested as you may be in theology. And yet those people may be actually ‘better Christians’ than you.
On the whole, I like Kalpic’s update more than I like Thielicke’s original. Kaplic’s update had longer chapters and as I read it I felt like I needed to put it down to process and think about more than this one. But I think both are worth reading. I would recommend them as pre-reading before each semester of seminary and alternating between books.
The point of these books is to remind young pastors and theologians that theology is something different than just professional training or a scientific study of God. It requires spiritual disciplines, humility, prayer and wisdom.