Conclusion: The Courage of Paul Tillich for Today

Google “sad college student” and this is what you get.

How then does Paul Tillich speak to the evangelical college, university, or seminary student who is wrestling with the deconstruction of their faith and theology? How does Tillich speak into the anxiety and despair of worldviews changing, paradigms shifting, and systems collapsing? The answer to this, I believe, speaks to the mode of anxiety Tillich describes as emptiness and meaninglessness. It can be especially difficult to do Christian theology in the postmodern context as one encounters the “problems” of relativism, pluralism, and the distrust of metanarratives. And yet, the postmodern context can be especially helpful in providing people the opportunity to discover truth through their experience. The discovery and rediscovery of faith is always subjective and always contextual, and so the intellectual and existential faith crises experienced by students is natural. True, it is a hurtful thing; it is rife with anxiety and despair. And yet, it is in these moments that we come to the place of faith.

This is what Paul Tillich looks like walking up some stairs.

The faith in Tillich’s The Courage to Be is “absolute faith.” It is faith in the self, in one’s being, in the face of emptiness and meaninglessness. As the student of theology struggles and wrestles with changing theological beliefs, it is in the struggle itself, and not in the specific beliefs, that the student is closest to their being and Being-itself. This theological wrestling makes sense in Tillich’s attack against what he called theism; the crisis of faith that emerges within the theological wrestling is more-so a wrestling with theism, or their specific and systematic beliefs. There is a disconnection between the student’s theism and their experience. And yet, true faith does not reside in the theism, as Tillich makes obviously clear in The Courage to Be. True faith, absolute faith, lies in the commitment to that which holds all being together. As the student connects to the ground of being, to acceptance of themselves in spite of the threat of meaninglessness and emptiness, the student will come to the place of absolute faith in the Ground of Being-Itself. From here, the student of theology will move out of the anxiety and despair and into the fullness of their being, that being their identity as a student of faith.

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