Monday, September 04, 2006

New series: Reading Tillich

After finishing my Ideas for a Theology of Decline, I will have to think of something else to fill this space with. I go to work by bus every day and today I started to re-read Tillich's system. It's been a few years since last time, but I still think that the introduction is one of the greatest theological texts written.

So I will share some of my thoughts while reading trough this system in the coming weeks. Here are some preliminary remarks.

First of all, If one wants to take Tillich seriously, one has to recognize that the system is now over 50 years old. This means that the "situation" has change quite a bit. This should mean, if Tillichs approach is correct - and I think it is - that large parts of the system is outdated. Our generation need to again formulate the Christian message for our time, just like he did. It won't look the same. This will be one of my guiding principles when reading and commenting on passages from the system.

A second principle will be that I will look for stuff in the system that I feel still speaks to us in our situation - that is the culture in decline. So I will keep up the general theme of this blog in this new series also.

As an introduction to this series I will post my text on why I love Tillich that I wrote for Ben Myer's "For the love of God" series back in May.

Why I love Paul Tillich

My first encounter with Paul Tillich was within the first weeks of my theological studies. Obviously this was not a course I was supposed to take, but I had bluffed my way in. One of the texts we worked with was the final chapter of Tillich’s The Courage to Be. This is not an easy text, especially taken out of its context like that. But something made me read it again and again. A few years later I read the whole book and I decided to write my Master’s thesis (or pro gradu as we call it in Finland) on Tillich and the Systematic Theology.

Many people find Tillich’s language difficult. All this talk of “being,” “ultimate concern,” “self-alienation.” But for me, then completely fed up with conventional religious language, this was enlightenment. It was like I had been given back my faith.

Reading the system was an overwhelming experience. It was as though Tillich put into words every vague notion I had ever had. Suddenly everything made sense. The genius of Tillich’s method is that it creates meaning. Everything becomes relevant. The system is based on experience. It is not the product of cool reflection; it is about getting involved in the world and in the revelation.

I think this was what made me “fall in love” with Tillich: he completely rejected the notion that being Christian meant existing on some higher plane than the rest of the world. He showed that culture and religions are two sides of the same coin: only a false religion separates them.

Tillich’s reinterpretation of the Christina doctrine enabled me to see that theology is a way of life, not a body of information. There are no limits whatsoever to what theology can be or what can be theology.

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