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Paul Tillich: The New Being


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This thread has been more popular with the readers than any other recent thread but it has not been popular with the current posters to this website. It is interesting to go back and see what the most popular threads have been. It does give some insight into what people who are interested in Progressive Christianity are interested in reading.

 

Anyway, I am interested in wrapping this up and moving on. I have asked Rivanna to help wrap this up by picking her favorite chapters of the remaining chapters and I will do the same. Some sermons speak to us more than others and it may be best to focus on the ones that we get excited about. We will then post on those chapters and then wrap up this book discussion. Anyone is welcome to also choose a remaining chapter and make the first response to that chapter.

 

Tillich takes on a huge challenge in Chapter 12. The challenge is to say on the one hand “he who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me” and on the other hand say “he who sees Him sees the Father. There are not two faces”.

 

It is this fundamental problem that causes me concern whenever someone claims that Jesus and God are “one”. When I hear this I want to say, “he who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me”. “Jesus is neither an authority nor an object of faith”. “When we use the name of Jesus, do we not often try to force upon those to whom we are speaking and upon ourselves something great besides God?” Tillich wants to make the point that Jesus and God are not one and that it is important to not make Jesus “great besides God”.

 

But then again….“he who sees Him sees the Father. There are not two faces”. Tillich suggests that the answer to this problem is that we can only say that Jesus and God are “one” if we mean “nothing is left in the face of Jesus the Christ which is only Jesus of Nazareth, which is only the face of one individual besides others”. This obviously seems not possible if we maintain any contact with the physical universe. Tillich is one that would say that Christianity is dependent upon the historical Jesus so the physical universe can not be taken out of the picture. But then again Tillich would say that it is the experience of Jesus as the Christ within that universe that provides the Christian message and that happens when “nothing is left in the face of Jesus of Nazareth”.

 

I think Tillich would say that we can only say these things symbolically. With Tillich we can say that this is the language of faith. But too often when we hear about “oneness” this is not clear. And it is certainly not clear when we use the name of Jesus without reference to God. When that happens Tillich’s complaint is valid: “When we use the name of Jesus, do we not often try to force upon those to whom we are speaking and upon ourselves something great besides God?”

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Also, if anyone has a nook, you can download it for free from B&N

I agree the bible story could apply to anyone who identifies as a misfit or outsider.   Dutch wrote, "Tillich's portrayal of the righteous is always a challenge, but does it mean that one must be bo

I come back periodically to see what is happening here. For the most part I don’t see much change in the dynamics here that caused me to leave some time ago and so I don’t intend to become real acti

Actually it should be noted that the discussion under “Other Wisdom Traditions” entitled "the Tao Te Ching" had a lot more views than most any other thread in the history of this website. I am not at all sure what that means. Be careful what you attempt to prove by numbers.

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Chapter 20, “Our Ultimate Concern” has some of Tillich’s most passionate writing, on a subject which has always appealed to me—the story in Luke about Jesus with Mary and Martha. I think it speaks to both men and women – the active and passive side in everyone, extrovert / introvert etc. In my own life I see both sides.

 

This story shouldn’t be taken as a value judgment of doing / being, or spirit / flesh, or works / faith or contemplation vs social activism. There are plenty of times when Jesus teaches the need to actively help others. As Tillich points out, Martha’s service is important – work that keeps the world running. But on the other hand Martha is not going around the village donating food to the poor. She is proving herself worthy and angrily judging her sister, which is why Jesus chides her. Martha anxiously conforms to the world, the traditions that bound women to household tasks. Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, open to what she could learn, at a time when women were forbidden even to study the Torah.

 

Theologians have defined the “one needful thing” as worship, piety, or simply presence. But Tillich rejects religion, even God, as the answer-- he says “the first and last answer I can give is to be concerned ultimately, unconditionally, infinitely… Mary was infinitely concerned.” The finite concerns are defined as things which can be taken from us--they all come to an end; they all bring anxiety. Tillich leaves the “one needful thing” only vaguely defined – Jesus’s words did as well, it’s open to interpretation.

 

I like what Thomas Merton wrote about the Mary / Martha story: “if we have the courage to let almost everything else go, we will probably be able to retain the ‘one thing necessary’ for us -whatever it may be. Happiness consists in finding out precisely what the ‘one thing necessary’ may be, in our lives, and in gladly relinquishing all the rest. For then, by a divine paradox, we find that everything else is given us together with the one thing we needed.”

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Rivanna,

 

This is my favorite sermon in the whole book but I have nothing to add to what you have offered. I have so much enjoyed your contributions to this discussion.

 

David

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I have so far enjoyed reading both the book up to this point and both David's and Karen's responses in particular with great appreciation. I have only committed myself to study of a chapter a week so i will perhaps continue more slowly since my book reading time is limited.

 

Joseph

 

The thread will remain open for anyone to continue comments on any chapter of the book until it no longer recives responses.

JosephM (as Moderator)

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In chapter 14 On Mothers and Fathers and sisters and brothers, i do not see Tillich as interpreting for us to disregard our blood lines and responsibilities brought about by such. Nor does he ask us to revolt or oppose them though that is certainly an "unavoidable stage" on the way to freedom. Rather he emphasizes not allowing the images they (these blood relations) create within us to cause guilt to overtake us and "prevent us from doing the will of God in a concrete situation". Situations in which "love , power and justice are united".

 

While the biblical words in the gospel accounts concerning family are rather harsh concerning preferring Christ above the bondage and responsibilities of family, they in context according to Tillich do not tell us to ignore these relations but rather they " cut with divine power through the natural relation between members of the family whenever these relations claim to be ultimates." Freedom in Christ in Tillich words, "transcends all father and mother images".

 

Joseph

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I would like to choose one more sermon to “sponsor”. I appreciate chapter 18 “The Paradox of Prayer” because this sermon lifts up the importance of the symbol for Tillich. I think that this “language of faith” is under attack not only from those who we should expect to attack it (the fundamentalists) but also from those who think they have progressed so far that they do not need symbols.

 

About prayer Tillich says: “…the question is decisive whether a prayer is possible at all. According to Paul, it is humanly impossible. This we should never forget when we pray: We do something humanly impossible. We talk to somebody who is not somebody else, but who is nearer to us than we ourselves are. We address somebody who can never become an object of our address because he is always subject, always acting, always creating….Something in us, which is not we ourselves, intercedes before God for us….so Paul gives us the surprising picture of God interceding for us before Himself. Such symbols---like all symbols concerning God---are absurd if taken literally. They are profound if taken as genuine symbols. The symbol of God interceding before Himself for us says that God knows more about us than that of which we are conscious….Words, created by and used in our conscious life, are not the essence of prayer. The essence of prayer is the act of God who is working in us and raises our whole being to Himself.”

 

What is not humanly possible is to say what Tillich is trying to say and say it literally or to say it with empirical language or say it with nominalist words. Yet what Tillich is pointing towards is the nature of God. And this God is “above” or “below” God the word. It is the God that in fact disappears when you say the word God. Without symbols we should not even say the word God. “Symbols are absurd if taken literally”. But they are so important for Tillich because they are the language of faith.

 

But symbols are under attack. They are under attack by ProgressiveChristianty.org. This is taken from the mission statement for ProgressiveChristianity.org: “Progressive Christianity is a very different Christianity than most people are familiar with. It is centered in the life and teachings of Jesus. The tenets of the progressive Christian theology evolve with the newest findings in biblical, historical and scientific scholarship. The doctrine and dogma of traditional Christianity that cannot withstand intellectual integrity and informed scholarship are generally recast in their symbolic meaning rather than as theological truth.”

 

Note the allegation that intellectual integrity and informed scholarship provides a split between things that are “recast in their symbolic meaning” and separated from “theological truth”. Tillich would choke on this. For Tillich the very essence of “theological truth” can only be expressed in “symbolic meaning”. From what has been shown about Tillich that does not mean that Tillich accepts the “doctrine and dogma of traditional Christianity”. From what has been shown about Tillich is that without Tillich there would be no Spong.

 

I am hopeful that the mission statement for Progressivechristianty.org is just poorly worded and there was no intent of making a split between symbols and theological truth. But even if that is the case it shows a rather elementary ability to deal with theological truth. But the worst case scenario is that this mission statement combined with the elimination of the word God from the eight points does in fact realize what would be Tillich’s worst nightmare.

 

I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to attempt to bring my interpretation of Tillich to the readers of this thread. I think that Joseph has matured as a moderator in comparison to when he used to censor my posts in part and in total. I appreciate that fact. However, I will do what I said I would do and return to silence since I can not any more support the eight points as they have “progressed” and by definition according to this website I would not be able to post as a Progressive Christian. Should Tillich arise again here you may hear from me, but until then best wishes to all.

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From Chapter 15 " All is Yours", I came away with a different perspective than the thoughts expressed by David for Chapter 18 directly above this post that "symbols "are under attack by PrgressiveChristianity.org" or that "the elimination of the word God in the eight points does in fact realize what would be Tillich's worst nightmare" or that "Tillich would choke on this"

 

We can only guess what Tillich;s response might be to PC here but this Chapter speaks plainly to me that even the different theologies of the time, "the more dialectical one of Paul, the more ritualistic one of Peter, the more apologetic one of Apollos" are all ours. The only one he says that Paul dislikes is "that which wants to monopolize the Christ and call itself the party of Christ." I think Tillich sees the need for debate and dialog and the wisdom of this world, which is ours, in our theological work. Progressive Christianity is evolving and progressive in nature. There may be better ways to express it in words and symbols that change with the time. Tillich goes on to say in this Chapter that "There is a deep dishonesty in the accusation against the use of historical research and philosophical thought in theology" . I think both historical research and philosophical thought are playing a part in the changing of words even though they are often met with some resistance.

 

Just my own view concerning my impressions from chapter 15 and related comments,

Joseph

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As the revised eight points keep coming up in this thread, I guess I will offer my two-cents worth. I find nothing objectionable and much commendable in the revision.

 

The word 'God" has a theistic meaning, or connotation, to most English speakers. Its presence causes linguistic gender problems or awkward circumlocutions to progressives. Its absence removes possible confusion and ambiguity.

 

George

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Joseph,

 

Tillich’s “worst nightmare” is not about words whether those words are God or Christ. That nightmare is about our culture’s loss of symbols that point to the reality that words cannot contain. My point was that when you make a division between symbols and theological truth Tillich would choke.

 

From one of my posts: “For Tillich there is no possible way to speak about the Divine other than through symbols and myths. Symbols and myths are the language of faith. That is why Tillich so strongly says that truth cannot be contained in propositional statements. My point here is that some words are better than others. If we can only speak about the Divine with symbols/myths then words that are obviously symbolic are better than words that are obviously based upon “nominalism”. Tillich flatly rejects “nominalism” which holds that words that attempt to point to the “universal” are just abstractions and do not reveal anything “real”. Post modernism is a child of nominalism which states there is no “universal” reality so words that are obviously symbolic in nature are misleading and not helpful…. Some argue that the word “Cross”, the word “Sin”, the word “Grace” and most of all the word “God” are now such “dead” words. But too often those arguments are associated with word replacement with words that are not obviously symbolic. So to me those arguments are not about which symbolic word to use, but are about the general use of symbolic words versus nominalistic words.”

 

As far as the eight points are concerned perhaps the word God can be replaced but it can only be replaced with words that are obviously symbolic in nature….this has not been done from my point of view but I certainly would accept that others would find that the new words are better symbols for that reality that can not be contained by words. If so let us hear from them. Let us hear about new symbols. Do they have that quality that if taken literally become absurd?

 

George,

 

Your post seems to prove my point. You want words that are not ambiguous which is the essence of words that act as symbols. Tillich states that words as symbols if taken literally are absurd. It does not bother me that the word God is not understood by most people as Tillich would want. I don’t see Jesus as being insecure about the fact that many people misunderstood what he was talking about.

 

Thank you both for the opportunity to attempt to clarify.

 

David

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Joseph,

 

As Moderator you have the absolute right to move, delete or whatever.

 

I think my comments about symbols can only be understood in the context of understanding Tillich and only those that have read Tillich would understand (whether they agree or not). I think that is evident with my response to George and so if George has not read Tillich then he would not understand the context.

 

Anyway, the new thread in the debate section may give people an opportunity to talk about taking the word God out of the eight points without doing that in the book discussion area so probably both George and I should not have discussed it here. I hope that people will tell you why they prefer the new words to the word God (or not) but I am not real interested in staying around for that.

 

David

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  • 2 weeks later...

There’s one more sermon in this book I thought worth commenting on, chapter 16 --“Is there any word from the Lord?” It focuses on the anxiety of making important decisions, wanting to be directed by divine wisdom, needing courage to accept doubt, possible error or failure. Tillich emphasizes that the Word of God was/is Jesus’ life, his being, beyond any particular words; and can never be owned by any one group. The conclusion to this chapter seems to me one of his best points:

 

“a word from the Lord is always present and tries to be perceived by us. It is like the air, surrounding us, omnipresent… It is the empty space in our souls which it tries to enter, here and now. So the last question is: Is there an empty space in your soul? Or is everything filled with that which is transitory, ultimately insignificant, however important it tries to be? Listening with an open soul, keeping an empty space in our inner life, this is the only thing we can do. Therefore, let us keep open our ears and our hearts, and ask with great seriousness and passion: Is there a word from the Lord, a word for me, here and now? It is there, it tries to come to you.”

 

Other ways of putting it --

“God dwells only where humans step back to give him room.” – Henri Nouwen

“There is a crack in everything / that’s how the light gets in” – Leonard Cohen

or as Richard Rohr says, God enters through the wound….your woundedness is the place that the Holy Spirit can pour the healing Presence in.

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Karen,

 

That was one of the most difficult chapters for me to understand. Your summary was much easier to grasp. When reading so many words, it is sometimes very difficult to remember that it may be better not to focus on them (the words as normally defined) but rather sense what they point to.

 

Joseph

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I didn't participate in the discussion but I was struck by what you said Rivanna. It made me think of several theologians who say that, in a mirror image, God makes room, opens up, is even wounded (Jakob Boehme) This quote is from John Haught's conversation with Michael Dowd. A reciprocal welcoming.

 

In other words, creation is not divine pyrotechnics so much as what happens when omnipotence becomes humble (I say this in very human and inadequate language) and opens up a space for something to come into that space—namely, a world.

 

Dutch

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Although there is much to the idea that “woundedness is the place that the Holy Spirit can pour healing” I hear Tillich saying in this sermon that the “Word from the Lord” is more generally “the eternal cutting into the temporal”. The “eternal can also cut into the temporal by affirming it, by elevating a piece of it out of the ordinary context of the temporal things and events, making it translucent for the Divine glory.” I do wonder if being “wounded” may make us more “open” to the “Word from the Lord” than our “success stories”, but I certainly have experienced those times when my “high points” were experienced as “Words from the Lord”. The eternal shines through and gives ultimate meaning to what we experience within history.

 

Tillich notes that although being human means being able to “perceive something ultimate” we do not always hear the “Word from the Lord”. I liked the words from the wise old man "I need somebody whom I can thank when a great joy is given to me”. Perhaps the difference between those who hear the Word and those who do not is the response of thanks.

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  • 1 month later...

Chapter 17 on "Seeing and Hearing"

 

I found this a most difficult chapter at first to grasp.Tillich, at least for me, is excellent at pointing beyond with language that which is difficult to understand unless one looks beyond words.

 

In this chapter Tillich says...

" This seeing and not seeing at the same time is what we call faith. Nobody can see God; but we can see him "with and through". Here the conflict ends between seeing and hearing. The word tells us where to see and when we have seen we pronounce what we have seen or heard. In the state which we call faith, sound and vision are united and perhaps this is why the "holy" likes to be expressed in music more than any other medium. Music gives wings to both, word and image, and goes beyond both of them. " "And Jesus says we are blind because we believe we see and do not know that we are blind. "

 

Of course the question then arises that if we are blind then how are we led into the "holy" or our place of faith? Tillich says we must look beyond our eyes. He makes examples of how by seeing disciples could have made Jesus an idol, a national and religious hero that he calls "fascinating and destructive". He says "Its what the disciples and masses wanted him to be. They saw him, they loved him . they saw with and through him the good and the true, the holy itself but they succumbed to the temptation of seeing. They kept to that which must be sacrificed if God shall be seen through any mortal being ."

 

So then when he sacrificed himself they at first at least looked away in despair like those whose idols and images are destroyed. That is until they were again able to look beyond the eyes that see to look "with and through" with him to truly see that which is the "holy" and good to the God "who is really God. Tillich makes the point that we are not asked to give up the abundance of God's creation as some do or "refuse union with what we see" but rather see "with and through everything into the depth" by which Jesus showed the way. And as we look beyond the images of the eyes, into the depth of all, we become in a sense blind because we know we do not see God from a flesh and blood standpoint and yetlook beyond and see and hear God in all of creation beyond the seemingly order and chaos that is so often mixed that as Tillich says "we often feel dizzy and without ground and meaning."

 

That is why we can only see and hear by knowing we do not. In a sense it is paradoxical.

 

Joseph

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This chapter was difficult for me, thought Joseph’s concluding line was helpful – being aware of our limited human perception, is the beginning of wisdom.

 

When Tillich says “we unite with what we see, seeing is a kind of union” it suggests we become what we focus on.

I like the ending, let us close our eyes, to feel the divine gaze that “looks at us with eyes of infinite human depth and power and love.” Imagining ourselves fully accepted by God returns us to wholeness.

 

The meaning of this chapter is still unclear to me, but it reminds me of Jesus’ saying, Remove the plank from your own eye so you can see clearly to remove the splinter from someone else’s.

It reminds me of the end of the book of Job -- I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.

And also of another Tillich passage from chapter 13 in The Shaking of the Foundations, based on For now we see through a glass darkly [i Cor. 13] --

 

“Paul says that all our present knowledge is like the perception of things in a mirror, we do not grasp it directly face to face. A little light and much darkness; a few fragments and never the whole; perfect knowledge is denied us. For everyone is an elusive fragment to himself, and the inner life of everyone else is an enigma. The misery of man lies in the fragmentary character of his life and knowledge; the greatness of man lies in his ability to know that his being is fragmentary and enigmatic…..

Paul experienced the breakdown of a system of life and thought which he believed to be perfect truth. He then found himself buried under the pieces of his knowledge. But Paul never tried again to build up a new, comfortable house out of the pieces. He dwelt with the pieces. He realized that the unity to which they belong is grasped through hope, but not face to face. The fragmented mirror pointed to something new for him: the reality of perfect love. Not blind love- a seeing love, a knowing love that looks into the depth of our hearts.”

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