In the Face of Death: Thielicke – Theologian, Preacher, Boundary Rider

By Fabian F. Grassl

A new and compelling study of the theology of Helmut Thielicke through a biographical lens, focussing on his experiences of death and suffering.

ISBN: 9780227177198


My theological work was always only a superstructure placed upon the experiences and sufferings of my life.
Helmut Thielicke

Thielicke’s story is one of extraordinary circumstance. As a young man living through Germany’s darkest hour, he was time and again put on the brink of death by sickness, Nazi oppression, and war, and these experiences left an indelible mark on his worldview. Fabian F. Grassl’s thoroughly researched study takes a fresh and original look at Thielicke’s turbulent life through the lens of suffering and death, casting new light on one of the outstanding theologians, ethicists, and preachers of the twentieth century.

The reader is invited to explore a world of thought decidedly shaped by the ‘eschatological existence’ of an intriguing personality; a flawed human being like the rest of us, yet endowed with a fascinating theological prowess, taking his stand amongst Germany’s major historical upheavals of the last centenary.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 296

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Fabian F. Grassl has studied theology and philosophy in the United States, Northern Ireland, and the Principality of Liechtenstein, where he is currently conducting research at the International Academy of Philosophy ( Originally from the Bavarian Forest, Germany, he is happily married to Anja and thankful father of three girls. His personal website is


Foreword by Timothy J. Wengert
Foreword by Wolfram Thielicke
Key to Primary Source Abbreviations


Part I: Life
1. Setting the Stage: Thielicke’s Biography as Key to His Theology
2. Existence in the Face of Death: Thielicke’s Childhood and Sickness as Key to His Theology
3. Existence in a Culture of Death: Thielicke’s Experiences during the Nazi Regime as Key to His Theology

Part II: Theology
4. The Lutheran Way: Thielicke’s Conversion and Thought in Historical Context
5. The Pneumatic Theologian: The Spirit’s Regenerative Work as Theological Starting Point
6. The Triune God: Divine Personhood and the Origin of Evil
7. The Crucified God: Borderline Situations and the Cross of Christ

Part III: Proclamation
8. Orator sub specie existentiae: The Making of a Preacher Man in a Culture of Death
9. Homo sub specie malis: Pastoral Challenges in the Face of Death
10. Homo sub specie aeternitatis: The Pastoral Commission in the Face of Death


Index of Names
Index of Scripture Passages


Endorsements and Reviews

Dr Grassl here unveils in a masterful way those life experiences of Thielicke that had a profound impact on his thinking, preaching, and pastoral care. Dr Grassl not only provides insights into Thielicke’s biography – frequently on the basis of previously unexplored archival material – but he also helps the reader to understand more clearly the principal themes in Thielicke’s complex theology. This is now the best introduction in English to this important theologian’s life and work.
Matthew L. Becker, Professor of Theology, Valparaiso University

After a period of relative neglect, Thielicke and his theological legacy are receiving renewed attention. With its well-researched and closely argued account of the formative interaction between Thielicke’s personal life and the central themes of this theology, Grassl’s fine study sets an important benchmark for future work.
Philip G. Ziegler, Professor of Christian Dogmatics, University of Aberdeen

As a pastor who often faced danger, suffering, war, and death, Thielicke is well-equipped to give us wise insight today. Not only has Grassl made Thielicke – long one of my favourite authors – a living, breathing human being, but he has also provided a comprehensive and profound perspective on this amazing, durable, and complex pastor and theologian who still has so much to say to us today.
Daryl McCarthy, Director, European Academic Network and Cambridge Scholars Network