Paul Tillich: Systematic Theology

I have recently noticed quite a few posts on Paul Tillich floating around the theo-blogsphere, although I don't precisely know why as this year does not mark any particularly important date in Tillich's life so far as I can tell. But, as one given to following the crowd when it serves my own purposes, I thought that I would put up some of my own content on Tillich. So, this is the first post of a 3-part mini-series. Enjoy! And if you can't enjoy, at least read...

Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Pages vii-viii, 3-34, 59-66

Throughout these sections, Tillich appears to be primarily concerned with prolegomena. Specifically, he is interested in discussing the proper object of theology, and delineating precisely what his method of correlation entails. These two foci will be discussed in turn.

First, what is the proper object of theology? This discussion is centered upon an attempt to determine what are the formal criteria for “theological enterprise” (11). The first criterion that Tillich elucidates is as follows: “The object of theology is what concerns us ultimately. Only those propositions are theological which deal with their object in so far as it can become a matter of ultimate concern for us” (12). For Tillich, the notion of “ultimate concern” is linked closely to the existential condition of human persons, namely, the religious concern of humanity based by Tillich upon the requirements of the great commandment (11). The second criterion that Tillich lays out is as follows: “Our ultimate concern is that which determines our being or not-being. Only those statements are theological which deal with their object in so far as it can become a matter of being or not-being for us” (14). The question of being and non-being gets to the heart of the matter. Humanity is concerned with the condition of the human person in relation to the infinite to which humanity belongs, from which it is separated, and to which it longs to return (ibid), namely, God.

In response to this, it must be asked whether there is anything distinctly Christian about this notion? Is it not simply an assertion that within every human person is a longing for the infinite, which we tend to define as God? What is distinctive about this God and this longing, except that Tillich references the great commandment of biblical fame?

Second, what is the method of correlation? The method of correlation attempts to relate the content of Christian faith to the questions of human existence (60). Thus, the theologian must be mindful of the “situation,” that is, the theologian must respond to the questions asked by humanity’s “creative self-interpretation” in the theologian’s contemporary period of history (4). This method has many benefits, because it properly seeks to relate the Christian faith to the theologian’s contexts, thus seeking to merge the kerygmatic and apologetic theological traditions (cf. 6-8). However, it might be argued that, while this method is helpful and proper, it misses a deeper point, namely, that it is God who speaks to the contemporary situation, not the theologian. When this understanding is layered beneath Tillich’s method of correlation, there appears to be greater possibility for the prophetic nature of the kerygma to be guided to the heart of the contemporary situation, for it is indeed God rather than the theologian who ultimately understands and speaks to the situation.


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