Tillich – Systematic Theology Volume 2

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I’m going to offer some brief reflections on Tillich’s Systematic Theology Volume II

1) Atonement – Tillich is right to note “God is the subject not the object of mediation and salvation. He [sic] does not need to be reconciled to man, but he [sic] asks man to be reconciled to him [sic]” (91). He goes on to say that Christ does not represent “man to God but shows what God wants man to be” (91). Tillich criticizes the three major theories of atonement. He rejects Christus Victor because it lacks the subjective response of man’s participation and relegates salvation to a cosmic struggle that does not involve man. For man to be properly healed of his anxiety and guilt, it requires that God’s law and justice are emphasized. Tillich faults Abelard’s theory for not considering the objective aspect of reconciliation. Finally Tillich questions Anselm’s view of the atonement (following Aquinas) believing that the subjective side is de-emphasized. Outlining his own approach Tillich suggests there are five principles to any proper doctrine of atonement: 1) God alone atones, 2) No conflict exists between God’s justice and God’s love, 3) Reconciliation can not simply overlook the guilt and estrangement of man, 4) God actively participated in existential estrangement and self-destructive consequences, and 5) The Cross manifests the divine participation in estrangement.

2) Historical Criticism – Tillich makes the interesting point that only Protestant Christianity, of all the world religions, has had the courage to subject its holy texts to historical criticism and research. Tillich believes this move has enabled Protestants to become more genuinely honest and he criticizes those groups who reject historical research based solely on dogmatic prejudice. This acceptance of historical consciousness has allowed Protestantism to not be forced into irrelevant spirituality (a la Schleiermacher). Perhaps we sense here why Barth’s theology is so awkwardly placed between liberal and conservative theology. He pays lip service to historical critical research but then acts as if the Bible is completely reliable. As much as I respect his effort, one has to wonder if Barth’s refusal to take sides is, in fact, a retreat from the truths of Biblical studies. I completely understand why Harnack et al. were totally bewildered by Barth’s move in Romans. Perhaps Tillich’s somewhat speculative theology is one of the last great efforts to return theology to the ontological task after the Bible had been dethroned in Protestant theology. Rejecting the Biblicism from both the right (infallibility) and the left (Ritschl), he opens up the path for a theology of culture that is fully secular. However, I suspect that Tillich’s legacy will ultimately be forgotten years from now because the ontological architecture he imposes on Christian thinking is bound to become outdated and strange. Although I imagine Tillich would only respond with the charge to “keep theologizing” since his very method of correlation, suggests that theology is a continually creative task that requires constant re-invention and renewal based on man’s current situation.

3) Christology – In Volume I of his ST, Tillich laid out his argument that God is “beyond existence and essence” (147). Given that his definition of divinity implies that God is beyond existence, this raises questions about the Chaledonian definition that describes Christ as possessing two-natures. Christ lived in 1st century Palestine and was clearly not beyond essence and existence. This finite existence precludes a divine nature in Tillich’s theology. Instead, Tillich rejects that God-man idea and replaces it with ‘God-Man-hood”. Unlike the static essence of divinity, this conception is dynamic and relational. Although Tillich recognizes his Christology resembles Schleiermacher’s, he believes his Christology has an ontological character whereas Schleiermacher’s Christology only has an anthropological one.

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One Response to “Tillich – Systematic Theology Volume 2”

  1. A.J. Smith Says:

    In regards to your last point, Tillich says that we can only speak of God as ‘existing’ in the “Christological paradox” (Vol. 1, 205). As I understood, his “God-man” was basically Chalcedonian, trying to avoid docetic and monophysite tendencies.

    As we talked about a bit before, I found the first two volumes of Tillich’s ST to be brilliant. I’m almost sad that we have to skip over the third volume (for now at least).

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