The Trouble Is The Pulpit

The Trouble with the Church: A Call for Renewal, by Helmut Thielicke, translated and edited by John W. Doberstein (Harper and Row, 1965, 136 pp., $3.50), is reviewed by Carl Kromminga, professor of practical theology and director of field education, Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

This book is a translation of Helmut Thielicke’s Leiden an der Kirche. In it Thielicke applies his skill as a theologian and writer to diagnosing the trouble with the Church. The result is not just another jeremiad on the contemporary impotence of the Church, for Thielicke’s diagnosis and prescription are responsible as well as brilliant.

Thielicke locates the trouble primarily in preaching. Because he is a master preacher himself, his criticism certainly merits a careful hearing. Yet he is not out to exalt the gifted and “successful” preacher at the expense of the earnest and somewhat pedestrian one. His aim is to disclose the fatal flaw in Protestant preaching and to challenge preachers to correct it. Although this book was originally addressed to the German Protestant situation, it includes references to circumstances in American Protestantism with which Thielicke is acquainted through firsthand experience.

“Does the preacher himself drink what he hands out in the pulpit? This is the question that is being asked by the child of our time who has been burned by publicity and advertising” (p. 3). This quotation discloses what, in Thielicke’s view, is really wrong with the Church. Preaching lacks authenticity. The preacher’s unreal tone, strange words, and intolerable abstractness raise the question whether he really “exists” in the dogmas he proclaims. Does the preacher really bring his daily experiences, ...

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