Part 4 – The Legacy of Paul Tillich and The Courage to Be

People who use these tend to like Tillich.

It was shortly after the publication of The Courage to Be that Tillich’s recognition soared, especially among psychiatrists and psychologists. This connection between theology and psychology is evident in the discourse of existentialism. The contrast between humanity’s existence and their essence, and how we are “estranged” from our true essence. [1] Tait identifies four more points of intersection between existentialism and psychology, especially manifested in Tillich. The first is the rediscovery of “psychological material in religious literature.” Pretty straightforward. The second is the emphasis on sin as estrangement, and “not the sum total of immoral or disapproved acts.” Third is helping theology to rediscover the “demonic structures” that influence our consciousness and decision making (tough to explain…). Finally, theology rediscovered forgiveness as accepting those who are “unacceptable.”[2] Perhaps some day in the future we will have a blog post that looks at these facets more in depth!

How could this happy of a guy not like Tillich?

The theological reaction to Tillich was and has remained ambiguous. Some have attempted to label him as Neo-Orthodox, others label him as “liberal,” and while each school sees some affinity with Tillich, “Tillich the theologian is his own man; he defies categorization.”[3]Some have seen a divide in theology between the Tillichians and the Barthians. The Barthians, or anti-Tillichians, reject Tillich’s method of posing of existential questions to get to theological answers. Instead, the emphasis of theology is on divine revelation alone. Nels F.S. Ferre and Father George H. Tavard go so far to say Tillich’s theology is not Christian at all![4]

Hi John!

However, there are those, such as John Macquarrie, who see in Tillich (also in Bultmann) “working out a philosophical basis for religion that makes sense, is contemporary, comprehensive, and capable of further development.”[5] In fact, John Macquarrie goes on in his scholarship to engage with existentialism from a Christian perspective as much if not more than Tillich. For Macquarrie, the use of existentialism is to show how the question of God and  the question of Being arises from our existence. In a step closer to Barth, Macquarrie still argues that because God as Being itself is still beyond our own categories of definition; there is still a place for divine  revelation.[6] However, this revelation is understood as our reception to the experience of God as the ground of being. So it is still subjective, but of an objective reality.

Next week: Part 5 – Interpreting Paul Tillich


[1] Leslie Gordon Tait, The Promise of Tillich, (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1971), 22.

[2] Id. at 22-23.

[3] Id. at 28.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Id. at 29.

[6] Morely, John Macquarrie’s Natural Theology, 7, 71.

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