Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Reading Tillich Series

Well, my reading Tillich series is finished. It has been a few years since I last read through the system, and my appreciation of Tillich's theology has not changed. The system is not perfect - the last part is not very interesting IMO - but there is a lot of stuff in here that is still very much relevant, and there is still need for Tillich's kind of theology, maybe now more than ever. Tillich tries to embrace life in its entirety and bring it to theology, not by placing it under theology, but by allowing it to inform it.

What I have realized when reading the system this time is that it is quite possible to read Tillich as a kind of spiritual guide. All this philosophy, weird new language, it all serves the purpose of making it possible to communicate spiritual experience in a post-Christian world.

My comments in this series have been very uneven, some almost pointless. Tillich's quotes are usually far better, something that should come as a surprise to few. Anyway. I'm happy with a few of them: 3, 4, 16, 18, 21, 22, 23, 30, 34.

Here's the whole list:

Reading Tillich 1
Reading Tillich 2: New Theonomy
Reading Tillich 3: Mystery
Reading Tillich 4: Sainthood
Reading Tillich 5: Symbolical Language
Reading Tillich 6:Religious nationalism
Reading Tillich 7: Destiny and Freedom
Reading Tillich 8: Destiny and Meaning
Reading Tillich 9: God and Existence
Reading Tillich 10: Being Created
Reading Tillich 11: Human Creativity
Reading Tillich 12: Prayer
Reading Tillich 13: Participating Theology
Reading Tillich 14: Angels and Demons
Reading Tillich 15: Sin
Reading Tillich 16: Collective Guilt
Reading Tillich 17: Christ
Reading Tillich 18: The Law
Reading Tillich 19: Christology
Reading Tillich 20: Deliteralisation
Reading Tillich 21: Acceptance
Reading Tillich 22: Morality
Reading Tillich 23: Art
Reading Tillich 24: The Unity of Morality, Culture and Religion
Reading Tillich 25: Ecstasy
Reading Tillich 26: The Latent Church
Reading Tillich 27: Belonging
Reading Tillich 28: Contemplation
Reading Tillich 29: Equality
Reading Tillich 30: Self-transcendence
Reading Tillich 31: Faith and Mysticism
Reading Tillich 32: Trinitarian Thought
Reading Tillich 33: The End of History
Reading Tillich 34: The End of History II
Reading Tillich 35: The Kingdom of God
Reading Tillich 36: Divine Life

What I think is extremely cool is that some people have said they have started to read Tillich, in part because of my writings! I think this means that I have made the world a little bit better with these posts! (Check out Andrew's thoughts on holiness!)

Reading Tillich 36: Divine Life

In this view the the world process means something to God. He is not a separated self-sufficient entity who, driven by whim, creates what he wants and saves whom he wants. Rather, the eternal act of creation is driven by a love which finds fulfilment only through the other one who has the freedom to reject and to accept love. God, so to speak, drives toward the actualization and essentialization of everything that has being. For the eternal dimension of what happens in the universe is the Divine Life itself. It is the content of the divine blessedness.
Systematic Theology III, 422.
Tillich ends with dismissing, in a subordinate clause, the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination. But that is hardly his point. What he means is that we, by living authentically, actually make up God's life. Not that we create God, but rather so that we, when we live in the presence of the Spirit, enter into union with God's creation. This is said in the context of Tillich's eschatology. What he says is essentially that this is what remains of us: God. Eternal life is becoming one with God. And that, as Tillich says, is about all we can say about that.

Like a true theologian, Tillich ends his system by once again noting the limits of what we can say about God. One must not "violate the mystery of the divine abyss".

Monday, November 27, 2006

Reading Tillich 35: The Kingdom of God

One cannot reach the transcendent Kingdom of God without participating in the struggle of the inner-historical Kingdom of God. For the transcendent is actual within the inner-historical. Every individual is thrown into the tragic destiny of historical existence. He cannot escape it, whether he dies as an infant or as a great historical leader. Nobody's destiny is uninfluenced by historical conditions. But the more one's destiny directly determined by one's active participation, the more historical sacrifice is demanded. Where such sacrifice is maturely accepted a victory of the Kingdom of God has occurred.
Systematic Theology III, 392.
Now, this notion of historical sacrifice is an interesting one. What is it? A personal sacrifice that not only achieves a historical aim, but also produces a personal fulfilment of the one that is sacrificed. It is then, the question of what one lives for. Tillich claims that unless you participate in the inner-historical struggle of the Kingdom of God (and let's remember that this is not the same as the Visible Church) you cannot reach the transcendent Kingdom of God, which is his way of saying that you're no good and you life is pointless. The reason is that not being involved in this struggle is based on lying to yourself. One cannot stay neutral in this struggle, one is already involved in it just by being born. However you live your life you will contribute, positively or negatively to this struggle.

This means that "historical sacrifice" is inevitable.

"Wherever historical sacrifice and the certainty of personal fulfilment are united in this way, a victory of Kingdom of God has taken place."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Reading Tillich 34: The End of History II

The end of history ... comes at the moment in which mankind ceases to ask the question of its predicament. This can happen by an external extinction of historical mankind through destruction caused cosmically or humanly, or it can happen by biological or psychological transformations which annihilate the dimension of the spirit or by an inner deterioration under the dimension of the spirit which deprives man of his freedom and consequently of the possibility of having a history.
Systematic Theology III, 367.
Note that Tillich uses the word end here differently from in my last post. Here it is not the "aim" of history, but really the end. I find this statement quite scary. As you know I am a pessimistic guy, that's why I feel we need a theology of decline. Still when Tillich states it like this, I start to question if we have already passed the point Tillich envisions to be a possible future, when "mankind ceases to as the question of its predicament". Isn't this a perfect description of where our culture is at right now? We still exist, kind of, but we as a culture, has stopped asking the big questions and settle with consumption. "I'm not living, I'm just passing time" as Thom sings.

However, I don't think this is irreversible, and I don't think Tillich thinks that either. There are still individuals that live in the dimension of the spirit, and thus has enough freedom to create history. The problem is that our culture has developed tools and techniques that makes the huge public completely un-interested in such ideas. TV has effectively killed the spirit in us, and we fill the void with products.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Reading Tillich 33: The End of History

Time under the non-historical dimension is neither endless nor ending. The question of its beginning cannot be asked (which should deter theology from identifying an assumed beginning of physical time time with the symbol of creation). Nor can the question of its end be asked (which should deter theology from identifying an assumed physical end with the symbol of consummation). The end of history is the aim of history, as the word "end" indicates. The end is the fulfilled aim, however this aim may be envisioned.
Systematic Theology III, 320.
I have to confess that much of the fifth and last part of Tillich's system fails to excite me. It's more second rate philosophy that theology actually, and here, for large portions, the system takes over and becomes and end to itself. However, this is an interesting thought, and one, I feel that theologians in general do not address. In a time when it has become a kind of shibboleth of evangelicalism to believe in creationism, to completely disconnect the beginning of physical time from creation is just off the scale. But the important part is the idea that the end of history is the aim of history. Now this is not a particular point in time. This means that the end of history is not at all on the same timeline as physical time. The aim of History is the "Kingdom of God", which, after all, is not of this world.

Heaven Can Wait

I do read more than one blog, but in spite of yesterdays post, I have to note that Byron has finished (for now) his series Heaven: not the end of the World. The sixteenth installement (with links to the previous ones) is here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Peak Oil Theology

Byron is starting a series on Peak Oil.

He will offer: "a theological analysis of the problem and its possible 'solutions'."

I'm very much looking forward to that.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Reading Tillich 32: Trinitarian Thought

The questions arising out of man's finitude are answered by the doctrine of God and the symbols used in it. The questions arising out of man's estrangement are answered by the doctrine of Christ and the symbols applied to it. The questions arising out of the ambiguities of life are answered by the doctrine of the Spirit and its symbols.
Systematic theology III, 286
This is a nice summary, not only of Tillich's thoughts on the Trinity, but of his system as a whole. It is good to keep in mind that Tillich feels that he is doing apology, that is, he is trying to make the Christian doctrine meaningful to modern humans. It is not metaphysical speculation. Therefore there is no conflict between this and "my" trinity, but you can probably see where I got the idea from.

(My three existential problems are also based loosely on Tillich, on some ideas found in his The Courage to Be.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Reading Tillich 31: Faith and Mysticism

There is no faith (but only belief) without the Spirit's grasping the personal center of him who is in the state of faith, and this is a mystical experience, and experience of presence of the infinite in the finite. As an ecstatic experience, faith is mystical, although it does not produce mysticism as a religious type. But it does include the mystical as a category, that is, the experience of the Spiritual Presence. Every experience of the divine is mystical because it transcends the cleavage between subject and object, and wherever that happens, the mystical as category is given.
Systematic Theology III, 242.
I have become more and more careful in using the word mysticism. We should be aware that the term itself is little over 100 years old. What Tillich is saying here is basically that faith is something you experience. Unless faith is something that grabs you ("grasping your personal center") it is not faith but something else. I think this is not so much something that religious people need to be reminded of, but something that theologians need to take into account. We have all read theology that is completely avoids the mystical category, and speaks of God as if he/she was an object. I think some of the most famous theologians do this, and then accuse people like Tillich of "speaking about man in a really loud voice". I think that is not only fair, but fundamentally wrong.

Theology, if it wants to stay true to the religious experience, true to faith, must always kind of talk around its subject. Because "every experience of the divine is transcends the cleavage between subject and object" it is not something we can really talk about.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Reading Tillich 30: Self-transcendence

The self-transcendence which belongs to the principles of sanctification is actual in every act in which the impact of the Spiritual Presence is experienced. This can be prayer or meditation in total privacy, in the exchange of Spiritual experiences with others, in communications on a secular basis, in the experience of creative works of man's spirit, in the midst of labour or rest, in private counseling, in church services. It is like the breathing in of another air, an elevation above average existence. It is the most important thing in the process of Spiritual maturity. Perhaps one can say that with increasing maturity in the process of sanctification the transcendence becomes more definite and its expressions more indefinite. Participation in communal devotion may decrease and the religious symbols connected with it may become less important, while the state of being ultimately concerned may become more manifest and the devotion to the ground and aim of our being more intensive.
Systematic Theology III, 236
Here, then, we have Tillich's spirituality in a nutshell. Self transcendence is only on aspect of the process of life in the Spiritual Presence, but it seems it is the most important one. Tillich stresses how the Spiritual Presence becomes a part of ordinary life, not a specific area of it.

However, and I think this is the first time I have expressed criticism of Tillich in this series - I have obviously choses the quotes I like - I think the notion that the natural development of spiritual life is away from the communal devotion towards a more individualistic spirituality.

I see where he is coming from, and I think it is rather usual that spiritually mature people - in protestant traditions - tend to have a rather detached relation to services and liturgy. But I'm hesitant to make this a part of the system as Tillich does - I would prefer to place this under the heading of ambiguities of religious life. It is the way communal service is acted out under the estranged state of existence that communal service lacks meaning for the spiritually mature. The notion community is part of the essential being, and this too should be reconciled with existence under the influence of the New Being.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Reading Tillich 29: Equality

The churches rarely followed the attitude of Jesus towards the "publicans and the whores". The were and are ashamed of the way in which Jesus acted in acknowledging the equality of all men under sin (which they confess) and therefore he equality of all men under forgiveness (which they confess). The establishment of the principle of inequality between socially condemned sinners and socially accepted righteous ones is one of the most conspicuous and most anti-Christian denials of the principle of equality. In opposition to this attitude of many groups and individuals in the churches, the fact that secular psychology of the unconscious has rediscovered the reality of the demonic in everyone must be interpreted as an impact of the Spiritual Presence. ... If the churches do not feel the call conversion in this development, they will become obsolete, and the divine Spirit will work in and through seemingly atheistic and anti-Christian movements.
Systematic Theology III, 206-207.
The basic criticism Tillich presents here is hardly original, though I think few would claim that the churches has "felt the call to conversion" in this area. I find it interesting that Tillich proposes the anthropology of modern psychology as a possible source for rethinking in this area in the churches. It would be tragic if the new found knowledge of a different discipline would make the churches repent when the churches have confessed the same idea all the time.

I feel I am not unjust to Tillich when I interpret the latter part of the quotation, not so much as a threat or a description of what could happen in the future, as a sensitive description of what is actually happening right now. We see lots of movements with no connection to the churches that is basically succeeding where the churches systematically failing, to see that our loyalty should be with the poor and oppressed.

On se niin väärin!

I guess this is Rev. Sam getting back at me for naming his blog Blog of the Month. You have to see it. Basic skills in Finnish a plus.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Reading Tillich 28: Contemplation

The Divine Spirit's presence in the experience of contemplation contradicts the idea we often find in medieval mysticism that contemplation must be reached by degrees, as in the movement from meditation to contemplation, and that it itself may be a bridge to mystical union. The gradualistic thinking belongs to the ambiguities of religion because it faces God as a besieged fortress to be surrendered to those who climb its walls. According to the protestant principle, God's surrender is the beginning; it is an act of his freedom by which he overcomes the estrangement between Himself and man in the one, unconditional, and complete act of forgiving grace. All the degrees of appropriation of grace are secondary, as growth is secondary to birth. Contemplation in the Protestant realm is not a degree but a quality, that is, a quality of a prayer which is aware that the prayer is directed to Him who creates the right prayer in us.
Systematic Theology III, 192-193.
Before this startling comment, Tillich has defined contemplation as "participation in that which transcends the subject-object scheme and therefore language itself", and criticized the lack of it in protestant churches. But it is still a very bold thing for a protestant theologian to enter the arena of catholic mysticism with this criticism that seems to come from within that arena rather than from without. The usual protestant criticism of catholic (or any) mysticism is that it is about the individual trying to reach God without relying on God's grace. Here Tillich is much more subtle, and shows greater understanding. He acknowledges that the goal of the mystic is sound, but he questions one of the key metaphors for the process of reaching this goal. Even though this may sound like polemics it is not, it is spiritual guidance. The first step is to become aware of the fact that the walls, so to speak is already torn down, because God has surrendered. The wall does not exist between Me and God, it is a wall within myself. To be aware of this in one's prayer is contemplation.

I would love to discuss the question why military language was so prevalent among the medieval mystics with Tillich. He doesn't give any thoughts on this, at least not here. This would probably be a fruitful starting point for an inquiry into the vision of the world and society in the middle ages.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Patristic Carnival

As you may or not know, my day job is in the field of patristics, which is why I am glad to see that Phil S of hyperekperisou is starting a Patristic Carnival for bloggers.

Good luck to him! I'll be sure to check it out!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Reading Tillich 27: Belonging

There are some who unconsciously or consciously want to belong to the church, to such an extent that they cannot imagine not belonging to it, and who are in a state of such doubt about the basic assertion that Jesus is the Christ and its implications that they are on the verge of separating themselves from the church, at least inwardly. ... They belong to the church but they doubt whether they belong. For them it must be said that the criterion of one's belonging to a church and through it to the Spiritual Community is a serious desire, conscious or unconscious, to participate in the life of a group which is based on the New Being as it has appeared in Jesus as the Christ. Such an interpretation can help people whose consciences are troubled by misgivings about the whole set of symbols to which the subject themselves in thought, devotion and action.
Systematic Theology III, 175.
Its a central feature in Tillich's theological thinking that doubt is something that is accepted. Tillich applies the notion of grace to it, claiming that it is not only the sinner that is accepted by God, but also the doubter. In this text I think Tillich shows a deep understanding of the nature of the doubt many people experience in the Christian faith. It is more seldom the idea of belonging to the church that is the problem, but the way faith is expressed. Tillich says that a desire, even unconscious, to be part of the church is enough to be part of it, even if one has difficulties with expressions of the doctrine and so on. He is able to assert this because he is aware of the transient nature of all formulations of the dogma. The Spiritual Community is not based on a common language game, it is based on a longing for sharing love. That longing is the criterion of membership.

(also see this post for some of my own thoughts on the subject.)

Monday, November 06, 2006

New Blog of the Month at Theology Blogs

Yes, one of my personal faviourites, Elizaphanian, is the new Blog of the Month at Theology Blogs. Have a look!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Christians in Turkey

Compared to the situation in Syria, the situation in Turkey is much more difficult. Compared to a decade ago in Turkey, it is much better today. There does not seem to be any violence at the moment, at least not in the area we visited (south eastern Turkey, mainly the Tur Abdin region). There is even talk of a few Christian families returning, at least to spend the summers in their old country, and some such returning families have even invested in starting up wine-production again (Vineyards were often destroyed in the war with the PKK guerilla). The wine, my wine-drinking friends told me, was (still) terrible, but you have to admire their courage.

That said, in the land were Christianity once had its centre, there is very few Christians left. The genocides on the Armenians and Syrians in the beginning of the 20th century broke the back of the Christian presence in the country, and the few that survived had mostly emigrated, to Syria or western countries. Today Christian life is centred on the few monasteries that are still functioning (we visited two - Dayr al-Zaferan and Mor Gabriel).

At the moment, the most pressing problem seems to be the acute lack of priests. This is caused by Turkey's strict "secular" policy towards education. The problem is delicate: no private schooling of any kind is allowed, and people educated abroad are not allowed to function as religious leaders. While this policy in actuality functions as a way to keep the rather large Islamic fundamentalist population in order (there are no Quran-school's allowed either), it is the Christians that are suffering the most. While the are Muslim theological faculties run by the state, where Muslim leaders are educated (in a fashion that is acceptable to military, who de facto is running turkey), there is no way to educate Christian leaders at all. This means that at the moment one old priest has to look after several parishes. If one has to find anything positive in this situation it has lead to some rather daring ecumenical steps being taken. In Mardin, for example, there are a few families of several Christian denominations present. The single Syrian-Orthodox priest tends to them all, and he will celebrate a liturgy in one of the churches each Sunday. The liturgy is the same, but the building may be Greek-catholic, Armenian or even Presbyterian. As one priest noted: "this is a different kind of ecumenism: this is called survival." When you're the last family in your church, niceties about Christology suddenly seems less relevant.

For the same reason in mentioned in my post on Syria, money does not seem to be a huge problem, at least judging from the amount of brand new buildings we could see in the old monasteries. These monasteries do not function as we are used to in the west - we actually saw very few monks in them. But they are sights of pilgrimage and places were the Syrians can go to learn more about their tradition. It seems there is a lot of visitors coming, and the newer buildings reflect this - a huge bookshop and a nice cafeteria. But of course those that come are more interested in the fourth century churches still in daily use, or the resting places of famous saints (12.000 in Mor Gabriel only, according to the young man who showed us around.)

Is there hope for Christianity in Turkey? Most look to the European Union for such signs. It is plain to see to anyone visiting Turkey how desperate the country is to be allowed to enter the Union. Obviously religious freedom is central to the "values" of the European Union. But in the negotiations that are currently proposed the question has received low priority. The reason is the same as I already mentioned. Religions freedom in Turkey is not only freedom for the fraction of the population that is Christian, but also for the far greater portion that is made out of conservative Muslims. This is not something EU wants to mess with.

But still one can hope for the best.

Solidarity with the Powerful

Dan has come up with a very good post again. Another example on how the way we chose to live can bring new things into our theology.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Reading Tillich 26: The Latent Church

The concrete occasion for the distinction between the latent and the manifest church comes with the encounter of groups outside the organized churches who show the power of the New Being in an impressive way. There are youth alliances, friendship groups, educational, artistic, and political movements, and, even more obviously, individuals without any visible relation to each other in whom the Spiritual Presence's impact is felt, although they are indifferent or hostile to all overt expressions of religion.
Systematic Theology III, 153.
By distinguishing between the latent and manifest church (and this is not to be confused with the visible and invisible church), Tillich makes it possible to acknowledge the infinite width of human efforts for the good. In groups where the New Being is present - any group - the church is present, even if only in a latent way. It is latent because such a group is not consciously aware of expressing the love and faith of Jesus as the Christ. It is expressing that love, but it is not yet aware that such love is rooted in Christ.

Of course this notion also becomes the ground for a re-evaluation of all religions. As far as they express the presence of the New Being they are part of the Church.

This also does mean that although the Spiritual Presence is manifest in the the Christian churches, if a Church community does not express the New being, it is not in the proper sense of the word church, even latently.

Imagining Non-violence

Rev. Sam continues to wrestle with the question of non-violence. We all should.