Christ who Marches Through History
Almost 30 years ago, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on The Doctrine of Man in the Theology Helmut Thielicke. Today Thielicke is almost forgotten by the younger seminary students. But he was an important figure in the 20th century. He was second only to Karl Barth in literary output.
I was fascinated by Thielicke because he ministered in what we call today a post modern culture. One can only imagine ministering in a nation that had gone murderously insane and then to minister to that same culture after its fall. How do you tell about Jesus to a culture that is in despair? How do you return a nation to its theological and moral roots? Even in the 1970s one could see something like this coming to our nation. The following is taken from the introduction of my dissertation.
The cultural and spiritual situation of pre- and post-war Germany had a lasting effect upon Thielicke’s theology. He protested Nazi thought, and his outspokenness endangered his life both before and during the war. He was critical of the German Church for its capitulation to Hitler. After the war the reigning thought forms in Germany were secularism, nihilism, and despair; and Thielicke addressed these issues in written and oral form. Because modern culture must be addressed, Thielicke felt that good theology must be preachable. It was with the goal of proclamation in mind that Thielicke wrote much of his theology as well as his sermons. Thielicke believed that God marches throughout sacred history. God moved in the Old Testament; he marched past the cross, and he marches into modern times. It is the theologian’s job to help men see God as he passes by:
Thus I express my conviction that we should portray to men the poor garment of the Crucified only in such a way that we expound to them at the same time the rustling of the mantle of God in our age. God does not merely speak; He also marches. And why should we not venture, why should we not have to venture, to speak of this marching when we have set ourselves under the disciplines of His Word? . . . And perhaps theologians out of the pulpit, even more than preachers in it, are summoned today to hear the command of the hour and to become Socratic theologians, who will move through the markets and shelters and guard posts and command stations, and there, questioning and answering, often maintaining silence when others speak, from man to man, let this Word shine as a light in the darkness of events. (Out of the Depths, pp 22-23)
For Thielicke, theology always must address the present age. Consequently, modernity always will have a formative influence on theology. Theology does not capitulate to culture but always addresses culture in such a way that the gospel can be understood. (R. Davis)
We would do well to listen to Thielicke. Theology always addresses a culture. We are called to confront each generation with the cause of Christ. We must speak clearly and we must be honest. Our message is too serious to pull any punches. Every generation needs to be reminded that we are fallen sinners guilty before God and that God himself has undertaken the most incredible venture of becoming flesh and paying the price for our sins. Our work as pastors and theologians is necessary for a world in dire need. may we all be found faithful, not to entertain the masses, but to make clear the Gospel so that it may be understood.