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Book Review

Paulus, Then & Now: A Study of Paul Tillich’s Theological World and the Continuing Relevance of his Work. By John J. Carey. Mercer University Press, 2002. 152 pages. $10.00.

Past and Present; Then and Now; There and Here—these phrases entail relationships between both time and space. In Paulus, Then & Now Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies (Agnes Scott College) John J. Carey fittingly aims to establish a correlation between the renowned Paul Tillich of “then” with the viability of Paul Tillich “now.” He seeks to discern the questions arising from the contemporary period and attempts to correlate them with answers propounded in Tillich’s thought. Carey’s text is divided into two major parts and is accompanied by three appendixes (two of which are noteworthy) and a section of captivating candid photos of the endearing Tillich.

The content of Part I, “Paulus Then—Foundations” springs from Carey’s evaluation of the modern scholarship on Tillich. After assessing the body of literature, he concludes that the early sources of Tillich’s thought have not received adequate attention. Carey intends to remedy this deficiency by elucidating Tillich’s relationship to Luther and Lutheranism, Marx, politics, and the Bible. In the chapter on Luther, Carey emphasizes two primary themes: (1) Tillich, from birth to doctorate, was immersed in a Lutheran milieu, and furthermore, Tillich self-identified as a Lutheran his entire life, and (2) Tillich esteemed Luther as one of Christianity’s profoundest prophetic theologians, and, thus, adapted aspects of Luther’s views on God, humanity, and salvation to his own thought, yet by means of his own philosophical terminology. In the second chapter focusing on Tillich’s relationship to Karl Marx, Carey shows that Tillich remained engaged with Marx’s thought for the duration of his scholarship and not simply during his early period, which most scholars presume. This holds particularly for Marx’s interpretation of history. Tillich, according to Carey, appreciated Marx’s awareness of the impact of material conditions on the whole of society (its ideology, political, economic, social, and religious structure); his clarion call for social justice; and, his existentialist understanding that life and history, in order to be understood, must be a vibrant intermingling of theory and practice. In an opening paragraph of chapter three dealing with Tillich’s early political involvement in Germany, Carey boldly remarks, “It is my contention that Tillich’s legacy to the twenty-first century may well be in his early writings on politics and history rather than his later and more formal systematic theology” (38). A significant portion of this chapter is a replication of chapter two, a drawback for those reading the text straight through, yet Carey does contribute key material regarding Tillich’s privileging of social dynamism over social calcification, his investment in religious socialism over capitalism, and his concern for “historical consciousness” over “historical knowledge” [historical consciousness meaning, “the awareness of one’s ultimate fate in history, and of being so penetrated by the forces of history as to discern the creative significance of the present moment”] (47, emphasis in the original). The closing chapter of Part I covers Tillich’s approach to the Bible. The chapter is a short three pages, which calls into question the purpose of its inclusion; still, it emphasizes Tillich’s distaste for literalist interpretations and his preferred hermeneutical key, i.e., the New Being.

In Part II, “Paulus Now—Applications,” Carey places Tillich’s thought in dialogue with “modern problems” (xiv). Carey asks: (a) about the relevancy of Tillich’s analysis of the human condition in his engrossing book, The Courage to Be, (b) if his valuation of eros may illumine the modern understanding of sexuality, (c) how his thought compares to the writings of Sallie McFague and Langdon Gilkey on the topic of creation, (d) whether his system can withstand the volleys of Postmodernism, and (e) if his ethical theory can contribute to contemporary discussions. Turning to the relevance of The Courage to Be, Carey speaks with adoration for the text and notes that Tillich’s casting of courage as an ontological category instead of a virtue “was a bold and creative contribution to Christian theology” (54). Carey finds Tillich’s critique of “uncritical theism” still pertinent, and he validates the analysis of the human condition through the lens of Existentialist philosophy (56). However, he questions the text’s relevance on two points. First, does this Existentialist analysis only speak to a cultural context experiencing despair and meaninglessness or does it also engage contexts of prosperity? And, second, given the text’s abstract terminology, does it adequately incorporate the struggles faced by multifarious groups of people who are fighting for respect, meaning, and equity? In response to the first point, Carey perceives that the text superbly reminds readers of the “brokenness that still pervades humanity” and that “people still need some words of hope,” but he doubts that it will reverberate in contexts of prosperity (58). And, in response to the second point, Carey feels the text may continue to have a voice since many people facing oppression are still “seeking ‘the courage to be’” (57).

In chapter six of Part II, Carey asserts that Alexander C. Irwin’s text Eros toward the World (1991) elucidates and revitalizes Tillich’s rich employment of eros. Beyond elucidation, Carey sees Irwin’s work as an effective bridge for connecting Tillich’s insights to contemporary liberationist movements even though Tillich himself never explicitly addressed the abusive and exploitive aspects of sexuality. Chapter seven concerning the “concept of creation” is, frankly, a disappointment. Tillich’s view of the relationship between science and theology in respect to creation is briefly summarized along with the views of Gilkey and McFague (who gets the shortest treatment of all three). Since the content of the chapter stops short of broaching critical analysis or of seriously putting the interlocutors into dialogue, the chapter fails to deliver provocative insights into Tillich’s thought. In chapter eight, Postmodernism and the Absolute are discussed. Carey opens the chapter with a summary of the key sections of Tillich’s final lectures published posthumously as My Search for Absolutes and then continues on to summarize the themes of Postmodernism and potential theological responses to these themes. When Carey originally wrote this content in 1997 for the American Paul Tillich Society it may have been more enticing; yet, in 2010 it lacks freshness. The chapter may have been more potent if Carey had illustrated how Tillich’s method and system is capable of identifying the crucial questions of Postmodernism and proffering penetrating responses. Chapter nine is devoted to Tillich and ethics. The primary thrust of the conversation asks about the validity of Tillich’s ethical system given the nature of his personal life. Hannah Tillich’s disclosure of her husband’s sexual adventures features prominently and is enveloped in a castigating tone. Carey concludes that: (a) Tillich’s ethical system is worth considering, (b) he may best be classified as a “‘situation’ ethicist” since he emphasizes principles (agape, justice, and wisdom) over the elaboration of detailed prescriptions, and (c) the best source for Tillich’s ethical reflections are his sermons.         

For those who are burgeoning Tillich scholars, Appendix A and B are a productive read. These appendixes provide an overview of the Tillich archives of Harvard and the University of Marburg, Germany, including the nature of the archived items, the filing systems, the unique holdings, and the means of accessing them. Appendix B discusses the state of Tillich scholarship in Germany including biographies, yet much of this material is now dated.   

Paulus, Then & Now has an extensive amount of material that is accessible for readers seeking an introduction to Tillich’s thought, but for a text that intends to point out the gaps in Tillich scholarship, Paulus, Then & Now leaves one desiring more. The text is stylistically and conceptually clear, but since it is primarily composed of previously published articles the chapters are in need of synthetic revision. [There are even points where the chapter is actually referred to as “this article” (46) or “this essay” (71)]. And, beware: one may become more frustrated with Carey’s text from chapter seven on. For a book purportedly concerned with Tillich’s thought, Tillich makes fewer and fewer appearances as the text unfolds. As a passing gesture to new lines of scholarship, the Paulus, Then & Now may be a success, but one expects a higher degree of acumen from a scholar who has written multiple manuscripts on such a prominent figure.

Brice J. Tennant
Boston University
Fall 2010

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