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Tillich's Theological Influence on Frank Forrester Church IV (1948-2009)

Frank Forrester Church IV (from here)

Frank Forrester Church was a Unitarian Universalist minister at All Souls Church in New York. Church openly admits the influence of Paul Tillich while never diving into the specific places where Tillich's theology was formative. Forrest Church's theology does express the influence of Paul Tillich in at least four major aspects. First, Church's image of the Cathedral of the World connects to Tillich's Ultimate Concern and Preliminary Concerns. Second, Tillich's demonic relates to how Church's Cathedral of the World's windows can be misunderstood. Third, death starts religious exploration for both theologians. Fourth, they both emphasize a balance in life.

In the invocation to his book, The Cathedral of the World, Forrest Church asks his readers to imagine being birthed into the middle of a beautiful and endless Cathedral with stained glass windows as far as the eye could see. All of these stained glass windows represent different religions. Church points out that there is one Light illuminating all of the windows and it cannot be perceived but through the windows. The windows are not the Light but are the only way we can have access to the Light (Cathedral of the World, xv-xvii). This directly parallels Tillich's conception of Ultimate Concern in that there is no way for each individual person to access it directly. We can only access it through preliminary concerns. A preliminary concern could be anything. They all, however, must allow us access to the Ultimate Concern: God (Tillich, 3).

This leads into a consensus the two theologians share over what Tillich explains to be a demonic Preliminary Concern. For Tillich, a preliminary concern becomes demonic if it stops connecting the individual to the Ultimate Concern. In other words, if the individual decides to replace God with the preliminary concern rather than allowing it to be a conduit to the Ultimate it becomes demonic (Tillich, 3). Church takes this same line when it comes to his outlook in the Cathedral of the World. In his metaphor, Church discusses two types of typical reactions to seeing all the windows. First, there are people who simply believe that their window is the only window and do not like that others are able to find other windows. They feel that the real Light only shines through their window and not the others. They may go so far as to even break the other windows. There are other people, however, who look at all the windows and deny that there can be any light if all of the windows are lit. Church, first, hints that these people just stop trying to figure it out and throw their hands in the air. He also insists that they made their own window and just never realized it. These people have made their windows more important than the Light shining through it (“Cathedral of the World”). This is when these windows would become, as Tillich would explain, demonic.

Another place at which these theologians converge is the idea of death. For Tillich, death, or the threat of nonbeing, is the beginning of each individual's quest for the Ultimate Concern: God. It is nonbeing's inevitability for finite beings that makes someone look for answers (Tillich, 186). For Church, death is central to his understanding of what religion is. Church says that his definition of religion is the reaction to the dual reality that we are all alive and that we are going to die (“Love and Death”). This means that all of those windows which are in the Cathedral of the World are centered around this notion of dealing with death.

For Tillich, it is at this point where the individual starts to dive deep and to see that there is a difference between essential and existential being, even if they do not use these words exactly (Tillich, 186). Without the threat of nonbeing, there would be no reason to search deep within one's self to see that there is an unrealized potentiality. While in Church's system, death's implication is vast in light of Tillich's theology. Church is hinting that Tillich's concept of “New Being” is not something which is only found in Christianity. Rather, Church is implying that this can be found in all of the world's religions and that they are all trying to answer that same question.

From here, Tillich focuses on our drive for balance, He writes that it is necessary for the individual to recognize that there is a potential that could be achieved in that there is an essential being which is possible. This tension between the possible and the actual, called existential disruption, causes anxiety (Tillich, 199). Tillich speaks more generally of the inherent drive for a balance in many other circumstances, like in our need to understand things both intimately and distantly in order to understand something as a whole (Tillich, 97). Church also discusses the need for balance and understanding in all things. He questions the right of people to ask “why me?” and pushes for a balance between pain and suffering with the miracle that is life (“Love and Death”). He also calls into question those in bad health and the inability to focus on anything other than their health by using a metaphor of looking through a glass pane at the world. He says that if our health becomes an obsession, we press our faces too closely to it and it transitions from transparent to translucent to opaque, making our ability to see anything involving life impossible (“Love and Death”).

Aside from passing notes found in books that Church published, he remains quiet on Tillich's influence. In spite of the lack of explanation, Tillich's influence is pervasive in Church's work. The scope of Tillich's influence on Church is not limited to the examples brought forward in this essay but extends further into other aspects of Church's work. It is clear from a side by side comparison that Tillich was not just in the way Church thought about universalism but also in how he articulated it.


Church, F. Forrester. The Cathedral of the World: A Universalist Theology. Boston, Ma: Beacon Press, 2009.

Church, F. Forrester. “The Cathedral of the World.” Sermon, All Souls, New York, NY, April 26, 2009. Accessed October 26, 2017. /fcsermons/cathedral-of-the-world

Church, F. Forrester. “Love and Death.” Sermon, UUA General Assembly, Ft. Lauderdale, Fl, June 27, 2008. Accessed October 26, 2017. ations/sermons/fcsermons/GA-2008-Love-and-Death.pdf.

Church, F. Forrester. “The Tribunal of Love.” Sermon, All Souls, New York, NY, February 15, 2009. Accessed October 26, 2017. ons/fcsermons/the-tribunal-of-love.pdf.

Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. Chicago, Il: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

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