David Kelsy on Paul Tillich

I’ve just handed in a ‘Reading Reports’ assignment where I had to summarise and respond to various set texts in order to grasp something of the global trends in theology in the twentieth century. (If you interested you can link to the THL512 subject overview on the right hand panel.)  It may be a bit clunky, but I’ve cut and paste the assignment here to give you a paragraph on some key theologians from the past 100 years.   Several of the chapters set in these reviews are from the fat brick of a book that is the subject’s text: David Ford’s The Modern Theologians.  Well, here goes nothing… first up – Tillich (delicious!!)

(Kelsy, David H. ‘Paul Tillich’. In David F. Ford with Rachel Muers, The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology since 1918 (third edition) pp. 62-75 (Massachussets; Blackwell Publishing, 2005))

Paul Tillich is trying to make sense of a German Christian theology that had been so accommodating to the Nazi regime. He has the benefit of the Schleiermacher – Barth conversation of the early twentieth century and now his integrative task seeks to answer the trauma of Christian conflation with such a violent socio-political system. He proposes a ‘correlation’ between that which is theological anthropology and that which is divine revelation. His Systematic Theology volumes lay out a resolution to this problem with a surprisingly socratic method: culture poses the questions to which Christian Theology provides the answers. By asking and answering some basic existential questions, Tillich outlines an understanding of humanity’s essential nature, the problem of estrangement from our essence and the spiritual dimension where healing and actualisation of our essence is possible. The essential nature of human beings is a finite system of transactions which strives to keep in balance a number of polarities. The first of these is a need for individualisation on the one hand and participation in community on the other. Another is the dynamism to the process of existence which is kept in tension with solid and static form. A third is freedom verses destiny. When these polarities tip off the scale to lose it’s opposite truth, we experience existential distruption. Only God – that which is experienced as pure essence without finite existence – has the capacity to unite human beings with the essence out of which they have been birthed. Living life with a spiritual dimension working towards self-transcendence seeks to achieve a balance in these polarities. Tillich primarily deals with Scripture as Revelation, as befits his German Protestant context but the presentation of scriptural truths is not the endpoint of theology. The application of Scripture to the questions and dilemmas of faith lived in the real world requires theology to be a critique of culture and context.

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