Tuesday 9 December 2008


The In Depth Group locally (Barton-upon-Humber) discusses Paul Tillich this evening, led by my presentation. He is often misunderstood (I'd suggest). He was one of the few theologians who broke through into popular culture, but has been regarded as rather more liberal and open than perhaps he was. He gave a role to culture, and used existential terms, but like the other modernist theologians he had a closed not an open hermeneutical circle when it came to defining Christ and he was not open to history as were his nineteenth century liberal predecessors. He used analogy, which was parallel to other forms of meaning, but kept a safe distance.

For me, this won't do, and is a kind of theological protectionism. Like many, I came to Tillich via John Robinson's reuse of him in Honest to God (1962), but in looking at Tillich more directly it seemed to me he offered no 'way in' but gave sealed Christian answers to existential questions, and made him more dogmatic than the image he carries.

My cartoon is of Tillich as an emigrant to the United States in 1936.


It was a good discussion. It helps explanation by adlibbing through prepared paragraphs. The discussion centred around existentialism and its use and correlation. I spoke about angst, or alienation and anomie, as existential states: that we are born by biological accident and are destined to die and we wonder at the point of it all, in the context of Western culture. Tillich via correlation provides Christian answers using existential language. I arrived at his New Being has a power that comes from it being a real human being but then he has no method to attach this to a real human being, and even says New Being could be so if not an historical person! So then Tillich gets close to that of the biblical narrative (rather than as systematic theologian) but draws instead the notion of the essence of something, such as the Gehalt or impact in art, as in Expressionism but in fact in any art. So he wriggles out of becoming yet another narrative theologian (the biblical narrative as a kind of drama) by this dealing with culture. Nevertheless the circle is closed and the Christ concept is protected, quite differently from the nineteenth centry liberal theologians. We discussed if Tillich's non-being to New Being underpinned by Being could relate to other than Western culture, for example mountainside Tibetan culture of many men marrying one woman for resource reasons (removing some angst there) and how all faiths correlate culturally.


Erika Baker said...

Look here, Adrian, I have a bad cold and everytime I really burst out laughing I end up coughing and coughing.

You owe me a whole roll of cough sweets.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I didn't know Tillich was so funny. That cold must be leading you astray. You sure you've come to the right place?