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Book Review

The Immanent Divine: God, Creation, and the Human Predicament. By John J. Thatamanil. Fortress Press, 2006. 231 pages.

Review by Hyebin Hong

Review by Hyebin Hong

Paul Tillich, regardless of the striking unorthodox nature of his theology, has been “unsharpened” and neatly nested in a page of the Western Christian doctrine textbook. His methodology of correlation has been taught in seminaries as a part of core curriculum, without serious consideration of what impact it would have on theological engagement with the world. His shocking concepts such as God as the “ground of being” or Jesus as the “New Being” have also been preached in churches as a kind of fancy, superficial adornment for conventional doctrinal language, without understanding of a challenge those symbols will bring into the life of the Church. Once contemporary Christians start to comprehend “the real Tillich” as he is, then the majority of them would consider him a dangerous theologian who has the potential to jeopardize doctrinal beliefs and eventually transform them into ideas non-Christian, even fearfully secular. This volume, edited by a dedicated Tillich scholar and philosopher Russell Re Manning, provides a series of scholarly endeavors to retrieve this “real Tillich” as a fearful, ground-breaking, therefore “radical” theologian of the twentieth century.

In the introduction, “The Real Tillich is the Radical Tillich,” Manning identifies four characteristics of Tillich’s thought that make Tillich not only unique but also radical and particularly influential: 1) Tillich’s bold, therefore “radical” move from dogmatism to the affirmation of the universal reach of theology in its relocation from religion to culture, 2) his radical religious socialism that provokes an assertive “socialist decision,” 3) his decision for the hermeneutics of suspicion (even though it is not his own term) with regard to unexamined faith, and 4) his apologetics that aim to expose “the excess of faith in modern society-in both its religious and its cultural (quasi-religious) forms-and by offering in its place a faithless theology of doubt” (8). Contributing authors of this volume, therefore, are charged with the task of “clearing up some of the myths and false assumptions” about Tillich, retrieving these radical features of his thought, and connecting it to the current strands of radical theological discussion (12).

The body of this book is largely divided into two parts. Part I consists of six chapters identify influential thinkers on Tillich’ theology, as well as recognize Tillich’s legacy on a wide range of radical thinkers. The first two chapters attempt to locate Tillich within the death-of-God centered radical theology. In the first chapter, “A Homage to Paulus,” Thomas J. J. Altizer identifies Tillich as a prototype atheist theologian in a sense that his Protestant project was about a quest for a genuinely new Christianity with a God who died and was re-born as Christ “who embodies the absolutely new” (29). Altizer’s first-hand experience with Tillich (who himself confessed that “the Real Tillich is the Radical Tillich”) provides a robust ground for this volume. Daniel J. Peterson, in “Paul Tillich and the Death of God,” challenges Tillich’s doctrine of God of absolute transcendence and aseity, arguing that this view is not only irrelevant to reality, but also incoherent with Tillich’s theological system. He suggests God’s kenosis as a corrective concept, preserving the aseity of God, but at the same time making God contingent to history. This view helps to better understand Tillich’s notion of “courage to be”, for it “presupposes self-sacrifice of God who negates Himself in order to be reborn as the power of being within us that enables us to ‘choose life’ instead of giving ourselves over to death” (41).

The third chapter, “God is a Symbol for God: Paul Tillich and the Contours of Any Possible Radical Theology,” is an effort to answer an age-old conundrum: if God has no qualities that can be attributed to it, how could one love a God as abstract as Tillich’s being-itself? Richard Griggs argues that Tillich’s notion of participation revisited by Mary Daly can be the key to resolve this puzzle. Daly’s Be-ing, that is dependent upon interaction with creation, challenges Tillich’s priority of the being-itself as the absolute One. Then, Tillich’s notion of participation in being-itself is understood as a “real” analogia entis that indicates “other beings share the structure of human being analogously” (59). Then, to love Being-Itself also always means to love all extant beings.

In spite of the fact that Griggs’ effort to make the Tillichian God more accessible and relevant to people who are in need of a loving and caring God is convincing and effective, his articulation confuses readers, causing them to question whether this project is coming out of his actual belief in the necessity of an accessible God or if it is an attempt to alleviate the discomfort of people who are not ready to appreciate Tillich’s impersonal God with “their whole heart” (57). Not only in Griggs’ contribution but in the overall tone of this volume, it is difficult to neglect a suspicion that radical theology considers itself to be the most evolved form of theology that very few exceptional minds can actually live with. This concern brings to mind Manning’s self-critique on radical theology that stays in the hardly accessible “ivory tower-dom” rather than engage with practical matters (15). The radicality of an idea depends on its positionality on the boundary, as Tillich himself persistently holds, and once it becomes monopolized by a privileged group-the Western white male intellectual, as Manning puts it-it runs a risk of losing its own radicality, becoming fundamentally irrelevant.

In “The Nemesis Hex: Mary Daly and the Pirated Proto-Patriarchal Paulus,” Christopher D. Rodkey offers a detailed picture of how Mary Daly “pirates” Tillich’s theology. Rodkey contends, Daly’s radical shift subversively begins in Tillich’s method of correlation that “recalibrates” Christian theology, but Daly steps further by “an apocalyptic vision” of post-patriarchal society itself (71). In the fifth chapter, “Parataxis and Theonomy: Tillich and Adorno in Dialogue,” Christopher Craig Brittain looks into the hitherto neglected deep and intimate mutual interaction between Tillich and Theodor Adorno. Adducing the correspondence between two thinkers discussing philosophical and theological matters, Brittain traces the imprint of Tillich’s eschatological notion of “theonomy” in Adorno’s methods of negative dialectics. The final chapter of the first part, Matthew Lon Weaver’s “Peacemaking on the Boundary” is an effort to connect Tillich’s self-understanding as a boundary thinker with a pursuit of peacemaking of our time.

The second part consists of seven scholarly engagements from the radical theological perspective, in a narrow sense, with Tillich’s concepts in conversation with postmodern philosophers. The first two chapters of this part undertake serious theological consideration of the possibility of Tillichian socialism. In “The Irrelevance and Relevance of the Radical, Impure Tillich,” Mike Grimshaw argues that Tillich’s life-long endorsement of socialism in both The Socialist Decision (1933) and Ultimate Concern (1965) forces us to read Tillich as a “flaneur,” a kind of secular apologetic, who sheds a new light on socialism today that has collapsed due to inner conflict with the science of bourgeois positivism, offering a radical insight that bourgeois socialism can only be overcome by the profound prophetic turning: “a continuous self-negation that reaches out to overcome all limitations (127).” In “Socialism’s Multitude: Tillich’s The Socialist Decision and Resisting the US Imperial,” Marks L. Taylor maintains that The Socialist Decision provides both theory and courage for overcoming the global sovereignty of “the US Imperial,” by pointing to a striking strategical move that involves building political alliance with an “expanded proletariat” based on the “romanticist” belief in a universal concern for the “good” of all living things (134).

The ninth chapter, “Changing Ontotheology: Tillich, Catherine Malabou, and the Plastic God” is an apology for the ontotheology, seeking for a radical reconceptualization of Tillichian ontotheology. Jeffrey W. Robbins finds Catherine Malabou’s philosophy of plasticity-a subversion of Heideggerian ontology which connects being with change, metamorphosis, and transformation-helpful to clear up the misguided accusation of ontotheology as an archenemy of the alterity or différance. He argues that “the identification of God with being means that God is seen as the very being and source of change. This claim does not rest on the hope for the impossible, but instead is grounded in the very nature of our being-plasticity (175).”

In “Depth and the Void: Tillich and Žižek via Schelling,” Clayton Crockett “radicalizes” Tillich’s theology of depth through Žižek’s philosophical concept of void. Crockett sees that Tillich’s God as the depth of being helps us to stop thinking of God as an exceptional transcendental being, but “his radicality is compromised by the symbolic system in which he expresses it (204).” Through Žižek, who pushes the depth of being further into “the void” and equates the void within God with the void within creation itself, Tillich’s God as the depth of being can be utterly incarnated in the world, to the point of God’s death, according to Crockett. He also believes that this “radicalized” theology of depth can also provide more robust ground for Tillich’s urge for the “socialist decision.” Even though this is a fascinating essay, Crockett could better articulate his last point. He offers a similarity between Tillich’s suggestion for an “alliance of Marxism and psychoanalysis” with Žižek’s Lacanian approach to Marxism, but did not articulate how this radicalized God can be a more useful resource for a radical politics.

In the twelfth chapter, “The Critical Project in Schelling, Tillich, and Goodchild,” Daniel Whistler situates Tillich within “the New Schellingian tradition,” inherited from Schelling’s post-Kantian critical project that abolishes the contrast between metaphysics and epistemology” (216). Whistler argues that Tillich adopted it within his own project of correlation, and “bequeathed” it to Phillip Goodchild’s Deleuzian invocation of limit-experience. Finally, in the closing chapter, “Radical Apologetics: Paul Tillich and Radical Philosophical Atheism,” Russell Re Manning this time assesses the future of Tillichian radical theology-an alternative theological correlation between the current theological atheism (often relatively undervalued, especially the work of John D. Caputo) and the radical philosophical atheism (such as the works of Alain Badiou, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Quentin Meillassoux). Manning concludes this volume with an assertion that it is the radically retrieved Tillich who can provide a robust unapologetic radical theological answer to a serious demand for “the necessity of contingency” from the current philosophical atheists.

Overall, this volume raises an important and timely question that is inescapable for Christian thinkers of our time: Can Christianity still be relevant to reality without incorporating critique from theological and philosophical atheists, demanding to make God relevant and contingent to history? Probably the most significant critique of this volume is already made by Russell Manning himself in the introduction, confessing that it is a critical limitation of this project that the contributors are all Euro-American white male. Minimum engagement with liberation, feminist, or queer and disability critiques jeopardize their effort to protect Tillich from an accusation of the totalizing tendency of his ontotheology. This volume, a predominantly philosophical discussion about Radical Tillich, promises a future volume of political discussion, and I am expecting to see how these radical theologians navigate and respond to such a critique.

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