Reader's Guide to Tillich's Systematic Theology

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Reader's Guide Entry Page
Volume 1, Introduction
Volume 1, Part I: Reason and Revelation
Volume 1, Part II: Being and God
Volume 2, Part III: Existence and the Christ
Volume 3, Part IV: Life and the Spirit
Volume 3, Part V: History and the Kingdom of God

Volume I, Introduction [3-68]

Introduction.A: Point of View [3-8]
  Introduction.A.1: Message and Situation [3-6]
  Introduction.A.2: Apologetic Theology and the Kerygma [6-8]

Introduction.B: The Nature of Systematic Theology [8-28]
  Introduction.B.3: The Theological Circle [8-11]
  Introduction.B.4: Two Formal Criteria of Every Theology [11-15]
  Introduction.B.5: Theology and Christianity [15-18]
  Introduction.B.6: Theology and Philosophy: A Question [18-22]
  Introduction.B.7: Theology and Philosophy: An Answer [22-28]

Introduction.C: The Organization of Theology [28-34]

Introduction.D: The Method and Structure of Systematic Theology [34-68]
  Introduction.D.8: The Sources of Systematic Theology [34-40]
  Introduction.D.9: Experience and Systematic Theology [40-46]
  Introduction.D.10: The Norm of Systematic Theology [47-52]
  Introduction.D.11: The Rational Character of Systematic Theology [53-59]
  Introduction.D.12: The Method of Correlation [59-66]
  Introduction.D.13: The Theological System [66-68]

Introduction.A: Point of View [3-8]

Introduction.A.1: Message and Situation [3-6]

Summary:

[3] Theology is a function of the Christian church and its purpose is to “serve the needs of the church” (3). There are two basic needs that a theological system must address: 1) ”the statement of the truth of the Christian message [kerygma]” and 2) ”the interpretation of this truth for every new generation [the situation]” (3, emphasis added). Theology must move back and forth between the two poles of the eternal truth of the kerygma (the Christian message) and interpretation of this truth in every new context (the situation), and it must avoid the hazard of emphasizing or excluding one at the expense of the other. [4] Kerygmatic theology emphasizes the unchangeable nature of the message but [6] needs apologetic theology for its completion.

Definitions:

  • Message or Kerygma: the proclaimed content of the Christian faith, the truth of which is permanent and unchangeable (3). The message "is contained in the Bible but it is not identical with the Bible. It is expressed in the classical tradition of Christian theology, but it is not identical with any special form of that tradition" (4).
  • Situation: The existential qualities of the context in which the kerygma is proclaimed; it refers not to “the psychological or sociological state in which individuals or groups live” but to “the scientific and artistic, the economic, political, and ethical forms in which they express their interpretation of existence” (3-4); the situation is “the creative interpretation of existence, an interpretation which is carried on in every period of history under all kinds of psychological and sociological conditions” (4). In sum, the situation “is the totality of man’s creative self-interpretation in a special period” (4). The distinction between the existential context and the theological interpretation of the situation may be seen clearly in the following example: Tillich states, “Theology is not concerned with the spread of mental disease or with our increasing awareness of them, but it is concerned with the psychiatric interpretation of these trends” (4).
  • Kerygmatic theology: "emphasizes the unchangeable truth of the message (kerygma) over against the changing demands of the situation" (4) and in this respect is like fundamentalism and orthodoxy.

Questions:

  • Do you agree that the truth of the Christian message, when conceived in isolation from the situation in which it is received, is "unchangeable"?
  • For Tillich, the task of theology is to serve the needs of the Christian church, of which he names two basic needs. Do you agree with his assertion regarding the task of theology? Furthermore, do you agree with his assessment of the basic needs of the Christian church?
  • What is Tillich’s interpretation of fundamentalism? Do you agree with Tillich?

Changes in German:

  • [4]+2 is not [+einfach] the situation
  • [5]+21 was not [+immer] conscious enough
  • [5]+25 does not [+immer] realize

Introduction.A.2: Apologetic Theology and the Kerygma [6-8]

Summary:

[6] Apologetic theology is “answering theology,” that is, apologetic theology attempts to answer the questions implied in the situation with the answers implied in the eternal truth of the kerygma. [6-7] There are reasons to distrust apologetic theology, particularly when it generates defensively minded “apologetics,” i.e., “God of the gaps” positions or strict kerygmatic theologies that seek to protect the uniqueness of the Christian message; yet, the real danger latent in apologetic theology is its presupposition of a common rational and even spiritual ground with its audience. This presents a danger because it can lead to compromising the clarity and definitiveness of the kerygma. Therefore, apologetic theology must heed the warning of kerygmatic theology and make sure that the truth of the kerygma functions as the criterion for its statements that are directed toward the implied questions of the situation. [8] The ST uses the method of correlation to unite message and situation, which is itself a theological hypothesis made with risk and passion. System and method belong to each other.

Definitions:

  • Apologetic Theology: “answers the questions implied in the ‘situation’ in the power of the eternal message and with the means provided by the situation whose questions it answers” (6).
  • Method of Correlation: is “a way of uniting message and situation. It tries to correlate the questions implied in the situation with the answers implied in the message. ... It correlates questions and answers, situation and message, human existence and divine manifestation” (8). The method of correlation attempts to move between the two poles described above without obliterating the distinct features of either pole.

Questions:

  • Does the “question and answer” motif fit the “back and forth between message and situation” motif of the previous section? Is anything significant riding on the precise formulation of Tillich’s theological method?
  • What should be made of Tillich’s use of the term “implied?” Are the implied questions of the situation and the implied answers of the kerygma readily apparent or must one initiate a serious inquiry in order to discern the implied questions and answers?
  • Do you agree with Tillich’s account of kerygmatic theology’s suspicion of apologetic theology (assumption of a common ground causes theology to lose its distinctive identity)?
  • Do you agree with Tillich’s critique of kerygmatic theology (common ground is real and inevitable)?

Changes in German:

  • [7]-3 The wholesale condemnations of [-theology +theological work] during the last two centuries [-of theology] which are fashionable
  • [8]+10 It does not derive the answers from the questions [-as a self-defying apologetic theology does]. Nor does it elaborate answers without relating them to the questions [-as a self-defying kerygmatic theology does].

Introduction.B: The Nature of Systematic Theology [8-28]

Introduction.B.3: The Theological Circle [8-11]

Summary:

[8] Theology as an empirical-inductive or metaphysical-deductive (or mixed) science is an impossible task because valuational premises and existential commitments always determine the key moves of any theological system. [9] No religious philosopher can escape the mystical a priori, that is, the intuitive awareness of something that transcends the cleavage between subject and object. [9] Both the philosopher of religion and the theologian are trapped by this circle for “Every understanding of spiritual things … is circular” (9). To this circle, which is called the religious-philosophical circle, may be added the theological circle. The theological circle is produced by the Christian theologian who adds the criterion of the Christian message to the mystical a priori. [10] The scientific theologian may attempt to subsume the Christian message under an abstract concept of religion that aims to purge the concrete particularities of faith traditions for the purpose of establishing a universal category, but this activity takes place outside the theological circle. The properly Christian theologian accepts the task of being an interpreter of the church and its claim to uniqueness and universal validity “in spite of its concrete and special character” (10), and, consequently, places this activity within the theological circle. Because of the pervasiveness of doubt and uncertainty and the inevitable blending of commitment and alienation, the theologian must be understood as one who takes the content of the theological circle to be his or her ultimate concern, even if he or she is sometimes attacks or rejects it. [11] The theologian is one who has made “an existential decision” to stand on the boundary between commitment and alienation, faith and doubt, and the religious-philosophical and theological circle (10). The methodological consequence of the doctrine of the theological circle is that no one part of the theological system provides the logical basis for the other parts; hence, the ordering of discussion topics is “only a matter of expediency” (11).

Definitions:

  • Mystical A Priori: “an [intuitive] awareness of something that transcends the cleavage between subject and object” (9), the rational formulation of which (especially in idealistic philosophies) expresses or hides an ultimate theological concern.
  • Theological Circle: the social context and pattern of inquiry determined by accepting the mystical a priori and also the criterion of the Christian message (9).
  • Religious-philosophical circle: the social context and pattern of inquiry determined by viewing faith traditions as examples of “religious life beside other examples”(10). There may be a hierarchical valuation of faith traditions, yet no tradition embodies finality. In addition, current faith traditions may be surpassed by future traditions.
  • Philosopher: An intellectual who “tries to abstract from [the concrete and special elements conditioning religious experience] and to create generally valid concepts concerning religion” (9).
  • Theologian: An intellectual working in the theological circle, who “claims the universality of the Christian message in spite of its concrete and special character” (9-10).

Questions:

  • Do you agree that scientific theology is impossible? Does Tillich address and effectively rule out all of the possibilities for a scientific theology?
  • Tillich describes the philosopher of religion as one who “tries to remain general and abstract in his concepts, as the concept ‘religion’ itself indicates” and the theologian as one who “claims the universal validity of the Christian message in spite of its concrete and special character” (9-10). What is your reaction to these descriptions?
  • In your view is Tillich’s analysis of the existential situation of the theologian correct (see 10-11)?
  • What position do you take on Tillich’s claim that “every understanding of spiritual things … is circular” (9)?
  • Is Tillich correct that a person can function as philosopher at some times and then as a theologian at other times?

Introduction.B.4: Two Formal Criteria of Every Theology [11-15]

Summary:

[11] Formal criteria are not the basis of a deductive system but methodological guardians at the boundary line of theology. In the ST, the formal criteria are “derived from the whole of the Christian message” (11). The phrase “ultimate concern” is an abstract translation of the great commandment (Mark 12:29). [12] It is unconditional, independent of any conditions of character, desire, or circumstance; it is total in the sense that no part of ourselves or of our world is excluded from it. The ultimate object of religion only gives itself to the existential attitude of ultimate concern. The first formal criterion concerns the object of theology. It states: The object of theology is what concerns us ultimately. Only those propositions are theological which deal with their object in so far as it can become a matter of ultimate concern for us. This implies that theologians should steer clear of commenting on preliminary concerns as theologians. [13] [Preliminary concerns being those concerns that find their frame of reference within finitude.] Preliminary concerns may be related to ultimate concern in three ways: mutual indifference, elevating a preliminary concern to ultimacy, and a preliminary concern serving as a vehicle of the ultimate concern without claiming ultimacy for itself. [14] Mutual indifference refers to the experience of daily living with its characteristic preoccupation with finite concerns and the occasional breaking in of ultimate concern. The elevation of a preliminary concern to a position of ultimacy is idolatry since it occurs when “something essentially conditioned is taken as unconditional, something essentially partial is boosted into universality, and something essentially finite is given infinite significance” (13). And, the third way, i.e., a preliminary concern serving as a vehicle for ultimate concern is quite straightforward. An important point to note here, however, is that “in and through every preliminary concern the ultimate concern can actualize itself” (13, emphasis added). When a preliminary concern becomes a vehicle of the ultimate concern, then the preliminary concern may become an object deserving theological attention. The second formal criterion concerns the content of ultimate concern. It states: Our ultimate concern is that which determines our being or non-being. Only those statements are theological which deal with their object in so far as it can be a matter of being or not-being for us. This second criterion helps to establish the content of ultimate concern. The content of ultimate concern may only be that which has “the power of threatening and saving our being” (14). This criterion “does not point to any special content, symbol, or doctrine” (14). It only deals with that which concerns human being and the meaning of such being. The content of such concern is universally felt by human beings since each human being is “infinitely concerned about the infinity to which he belongs, from which he is separated, and for which he is longing” (14).

Definitions:

  • Formal Criteria (in general): conditions for the scope and adequacy of a theological system stated as abstractions from the specific content of a theological system (11).
  • Ultimate Concern: “the abstract translation of the great commandment: ‘The Lord, our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength’“ (11; Mark 12:29 RSV). The ultimate concern “excludes all other concerns from ultimate significance; it makes them preliminary”; it “is unconditional, independent of any conditions of character, desire, or circumstance”; it “is total: no part of ourselves or of our world is excluded from it”; it “is infinite” (11-12).
  • Preliminary Concern: anything that directs attention to finitude may be classified as a preliminary concern. Examples of preliminary concerns are: artistic creations, scientific theories, historical reconstructions, architecture, education, etc. (12-15).
  • First Formal Criterion: ultimate concern is the only proper object of theology (12).
  • Idolatry: “the elevation of a preliminary concern to ultimacy” (13). In other words, “something essentially conditioned is taken as unconditional, something essentially partial is boosted into universality, and something essentially finite is given infinite significance” (13).
  • Second Formal Criterion: ultimate concern, and thus the proper object of theology, is that which determines our being or not-being (14).
  • Being: the term  “does not designate existence in time and space. … the term ‘being’ means the whole of human reality, the structure, the meaning, and the aim of existence” (14).

Questions:

  • What does it mean to say that “ultimate concern” has both subjective and objective aspects?
  • Is using ultimate concern to describe both the subjective and objective aspect of religion a satisfying strategy to you?
  • Can theology really conform to the two formal criteria? Does theology not frequently, and of necessity, violate them?
  • Would you propose formal criteria other than those Tillich proposes?

Changes in German:

  • [11]-9 [-Form and content do not function as +The formal criteria are not] the basis of a deductive system

Introduction.B.5: Theology and Christianity [15-18]

Summary:

[15] Theology is the methodical interpretation of the contents of the Christian faith. The task of apologetic theology includes proving that the Christian claim also has validity outside the theological circle, and showing that trends imminent in all religions and cultures are comprehended in the Christian answer. Theology in its broadest sense is as old as religion and not specifically Christian; [16] it is rational interpretation of the religious substances of rites, symbols, and myths. Christian theology does this also, but in a way that implies the claim that it is uniquely correct and timeless. This claim derives from the incarnation, an absolutely concrete and absolutely universal foundation that transcends the concreteness of priestly and prophetic theologies and the universality of mystical and metaphysical theologies, thereby establishing the unique superiority of Christian theology. The union of the absolutely concrete and absolutely universal is the central claim of Christianity; one could say, this doctrine is represents the essence of Christianity (17).

Definitions:

  • Theology: “the methodical interpretation of the contents of the Christian faith” (15); the “rational interpretation of the religious substance of rites, symbols, and myths” (16)
  • Logos: “reasoning about theos (God and divine things)” (15)
  • Spiritual” versus “spiritual”: Spiritual “refers to activities of the divine Spirit in man” and spiritual refers “to the dynamic-creative nature of man’s personal and communal life” (15).

Questions:

  • Do you agree that theology is specifically a Christian activity, as Tillich insists? How might Tillich define theology in our time?
  • Do you agree that Christian theology pursues the “rational interpretation of the religious substance of rites, symbols, and myths” in such a way as to imply “that it is the theology” (16)? Would Tillich say this at the end of volume III of the ST?
  • Can you accept Tillich’s claim that the incarnation, if true, would cause Christian theology to transcend infinitely everything in the history of religion that could be called theology?
  • How do you respond to Tillich’s claim in volume I that Christianity “has received a foundation which transcends the foundation of any other theology and which itself cannot be transcended?” (16) In light of the recognition that thousands of religious traditions have appeared and disappeared throughout human history, what is the strength of Tillich’s case here?

Introduction.B.6: Theology and Philosophy: A Question [18-22]

Summary:

[18] The relationship of theology to other fields of knowledge is a vital point for discussion since “theology claims that it constitutes a special realm of knowledge” (18). Since theology explores a special object it “employs a special method” of inquiry as well. Given the common ontological presuppositions of the sciences and philosophy, the two can be merged; furthermore, scientific findings are classified as preliminary concerns until the meaning of such findings for human beings is asked. Philosophy is that cognitive approach to reality in which reality as such is the object. [19] This is more modest than philosophical attempts to present a complete system of reality and less modest than attempts to reduce philosophy to epistemology and ethics. [20] Philosophy is, in effect, to ask the question of the structure of being. [21] The theological project necessarily presupposes claims about “the structure of being, its categories, laws and concepts” (21). Theology asks the same question insofar as being can be our ultimate concern, which directs theology to being itself or the ground of being, but moves beyond questions merely concerned with structures and categories of being. [22] So the question is clarified: what is the relation between the ontological question asked by the philosopher and the ontological question asked by the theologian?

Definitions:

  • Philosophy: “that cognitive approach to reality in which reality as such is the object” (18). “Philosophy asks the question of reality as a whole; it asks the question of the structure of being. And it answers in terms of categories, structural laws, and universal concepts. It must answer in ontological terms” (20).
  • Ontology: “it is analysis of those structures of being which we encounter in every meeting with reality” (20).

Questions:

  • Tillich’s definition of philosophy seems ill-suited to comprehend much that goes under the name of philosophy these days, and indeed, even in Tillich's own day, as witnessed by the resistance to his way of being a philosopher from the Philosophy Department at Harvard University when Tillich was a University Professor there. Is this a problem for Tillich’s definition or a problem of contemporary philosophy?

Introduction.B.7: Theology and Philosophy: An Answer [22-28]

Summary:

[22] Philosophy and theology ask the question of being from different perspectives. Philosophy deals with the structure of being in itself; theology deals with the meaning of being for us. This produces a divergence in cognitive attitude between the philosopher’s detached objectivity and the theologian’s explicit acknowledgement of his or her existential involvement in the object of theology. [23] It produces a second divergence in sources, with the philosopher studying the whole of reality on the assumption of harmony between objective and subjective structures of reason, and the theologian studying those places where ultimate concern is manifest (preeminently in the Logos made flesh). [24] A third divergence is in content, with philosophy dealing with the categories of being in relation to the material structured by them, and theology relates the same categories to the soteriological quest for new being. Convergences are equally obvious. [25] Both philosopher and theologian exist, both seek to understand. [26] What of conflict or synthesis? Philosophy and theology have separate domains and, if they fight, they must fight on one domain or the other domain, meaning, the philosopher takes up the mantle of the theologian and vice versa. [27] Thus, there can be no conflict and no synthesis. [28] The idea of Christian Philosophy in the narrow sense of not looking at universal structures of being but at the specific demands of Christian theology must be rejected.

Questions:

    Is the distinction between philosophy and theology really as neat as Tillich suggests here? Can people really put on either the philosopher’s hat or the theologian’s hat as the situation and their interests dictate? Are we not much more existentially tangled in our interpretations than this suggests?
  • When Tillich draws such clear distinctions between philosophy and religion, is he reasserting the claim that theology is the “Queen of the Sciences?”

Introduction.C: The Organization of Theology [28-34]

Summary:

[28] Every theological discipline, including systematic theology, is the methodical presentation and explanation of the Christian faith. [29] Theological disciplines can be distinguished based on their location on a continuum: the historically oriented disciplines tend to be more concrete and take up historical issues, while the constructive disciplines tend to be more universal and take up philosophical issues. [30-32] On the historical side, historical theology includes the biblical disciplines, church history, and the history of religion and culture. On the constructive side, systematic theology is difficult to organize without settling debates over the place of natural theology and philosophy of religion, over the place of apologetics, and over the role of dogmatics. Centralizing the method of correlation obviates the difficulties to some extent and functions as the organizing principle for systematic theology in the ST, allowing every kind of philosophical question to arise naturally within the outworking of the theological system. [32] Practical theology is another important part of theological activity, in addition to the historical and systematic parts. [33] The organization of practical theology corresponds to the functions of the church, and each such function needs a practical discipline to interpret and reform those functions as they operate in particular ecclesial traditions and contexts.

Definitions:

  • Theology: “the methodical explanation of the contents of the Christian faith” (28) (see the definition of theology on 15).
  • Dogmatics: “is the statement of the doctrinal tradition for our present situation” (32). Given the negative connotations surrounding this term, Tillich finds it to be outdated and prefers “systematic theology,” which encompasses “apologetics, dogmatics, and ethics” (32).  
  • Practical Theology: “the technical theory through which [historical theology and systematic theology] are applied to the life of the church” (32).

Questions:

  • Is there any compelling reason for Tillich to limit his definition of theology to the Christian faith?
  • Tillich treats biblical theology as a sub-discipline of historical theology (35). Do you agree?
  • When Tillich claims that theoretical theology determines the “ends” for which practical theology develops the “means” is he truncating the scope of practical theology and subordinating praxis to theory?

Introduction.D: The Method and Structure of Systematic Theology [34-68]

Introduction.D.8: The Sources of Systematic Theology [34-40]

Summary:

[34-35] The Bible is not the only source of systematic theology because the Word of God is not limited to a book and revelation is not limited to inspiring a book. [35] Nevertheless, the Bible is the basic source of systematic theology because it is the original testimony to the events on which Christianity is founded. [36] Church history is another source of systematic theology. Church history is a necessary source since it is the institutional church that has been responsible for generating the Bible and transmitting tradition to posterity. [37] The possible relationships between church history and systematic theology are many and varied, and the systematic theologian must take an explicit stand on the complex hermeneutical and denominational issues surrounding this relationship. [38] The broadest source of systematic theology is the history of religion and culture. It is through the cultural context, e.g., education, poetry, philosophy, political structures, that the theologian develops her/his language and conceptual tools. The denominational affiliation of the theologian is also a source, yet it does not count as official source since it primarily manifests as an unconscious source. Even so, it is a “decisive source” because it is “in the concrete life of the denomination, in its liturgy and hymns, its sermons and sacraments” where the theologian encounters the “New Being in Jesus Christ” (38). Biblical theology makes the Bible available to systematic theology, and the history of dogma makes church history available to systematic theology. But there is no established discipline that makes the history of religion and culture available to theology. The required discipline involves a theological history of religion and a theological history of culture, both of which are incompletely present in ST.

Definitions:

  • Biblical Theology: The discipline that presents the Bible for use in systematic theology.
  • History of Dogma: The discipline that presents church history for use in systematic theology.
  • Theological History of Religion and Theological History of Culture: The discipline that presents the history of religion and culture for use in systematic theology.

Questions:

  • Tillich bluntly rejects “the assertion of neo-orthodox biblicism that the Bible is the only source” of systematic theology (34). Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • Tillich says that the disciplines needed to present the history of religion and culture for use in systematic theology are not established (39). Has this state of affairs changed since 1951? How so?
  • According to Tillich, the theologian needs to work within the framework of intellectual freedom (36); how do you receive this claim?

Changes in German:

  • [35]-16: anticipates [-the] assertions
  • [36]+16: The documentary character of the Bible is [-identical with +based on] the fact that it contains the original witness
  • [36]+20: The inspiration of the biblical writers is their receptive and creative response to [-potentially revelatory facts +events which could become revelatory events].
  • [36]+24: the act of reception is part of the [+revelatory] event itself.

Introduction.D.9: Experience and Systematic Theology [40-46]

Summary:

[40] Experience is the medium of revelation, through which human beings participate in the sources of revelation. [41] Experience as the medium is decapitated as a theological source since the medium cannot be, by definition, the origin of the mediated content. For experience to be a theological source humanity and “the divine Spirit” would have to be one and the same (46). Experience has had a mixed reception among philosophers and theologians but it survived the enlightenment through pietism and related movements and found its theological fulfillment in the thought of Friedrich Schleiermacher. [42] Schleiermacher’s “feeling of absolute dependence” is akin to the Systematic Theology’s notion of ultimate concern about the meaning and ground of being. But Schleiermacher made the mistake of deriving every aspect of his theology from the experience of absolute dependence, whereas the founding events of Christianity are given in history regardless of experience. In contemporary theological debate, experience is used in three senses: ontological, scientific, and mystical. In the ontological sense, experience demarcates that about which we can meaningfully speak, and thus simultaneously determines that which we can right claim to exist. [43] On this view, there is nothing that wholly transcends experience, and thus God as a being transcending the world cannot be encountered or known, and is excluded from theology. [44] Experience in the scientific sense combines rational and experimental elements and presupposes a never-ending process of correction.The scientific sense of experience attempts to make theology conform to the scientific method, yet such an attempt fails for two reasons. First, “the object of theology … is not an object within the whole of scientific experience,” and second, since the object of theology is not within the realm of scientific experience, it cannot be empirically tested and verified (44). Thus, theology of this type perpetually involves risk and can never establish its foundations with absolute certainty. [45] Mystical experience is experience by participation and is surreptitiously presupposed in the other two senses of experience. Experience in the mystical sense opens up the possibility of a post-Christian form of revelatory engagement, and this partly mystical experience is resisted by neo-orthodoxy and evangelical biblicism. [46] To treat experience as the medium of theology implies that experience is not a source, and therefore that the scope of Christian theology is set not by experience but by the founding events surrounding Jesus as the Christ. Experience receives revelation but does not produce new revelations. Ordinary life and the experience of mistakes of interpretation destroys the vanity of supposing that our experience can be an independent source for theology rather than a dependent medium.

Definitions:

  • Experience: "the medium through which the sources [of systematic theology] 'speak' to us , through which we can receive them" [40].

Questions:

  • Is it possible that Tillich stresses the impossibility of experience delivering new and potentially post-Christian revelations because he is committed at this point to the supremacy of Christianity both among the religions and through history?
  • In describing experience as fundamentally receptive and not productive, does Tillich do full justice to the way human beings structure their realities? Compare the statements of this section to that of pages 53-54 in section D.11 of the Introduction.

Changes in German:

  • [45]-6: “Open experience” is [+for this form (or perspective)] the source of systematic theology.
  • [46]+2: If experience is called the medium through which the objective sources are received, [-this excludes the reliance of the theologian on a possibly post-Christian experience. But it also denies the assertion that experience is a theological source. And, finally, it denies the belief in experiences which, though remaining in the Christian circle, add some new material to the other sources +the following position emerges].

Introduction.D.10: The Norm of Systematic Theology [47-52]

Summary:

[47] The norm of systematic theology is that to which its sources and mediating experience are submitted in order to discriminate sound from faulty theological ideas and reasoning. The question of a norm for systematic theology has had a long and complex history. Norms develop unconsciously as historical contexts interact with the kerygma. This unconscious process is the “Spiritual life of the church” (48). Early on the church produced a material norm, which is a creed and a baptismal confession. It also produced a formal norm, which is an ecclesiastical hierarchy exercising authority. In the Reformation, the situation required different norms. The material norm was justification through faith and the formal norm was the authority of the biblical message. These norms are compatible in principle but they often conflicted in practice. [48] For norms to be authentic, they must not be personal expressions but rather expressions of the church’s encounter with the Christian message. Thus, a systematic theologian can only state norms provisionally. [48-49] A norm must be constructive and concrete, rather than critical and abstract (the critical norms were discussed in section B.4 of the Introduction and pertained to ultimate concern). [50] The norm capable of addressing the modern situation—that is, a situation marked by “disruption, conflict, self-destruction, meaninglessness, and despair”—must focus on “reconciliation and reunion … creativity, meaning, and hope” (49). The material norm deployed in the Systematic Theology responding to this situation is the New Being in Jesus as the Christ. The Bible is the source of the norm for systematic theology rather than a norm in itself. [51] Similarly, church history and particularly the history of doctrine is a source of theological norms and not a norm in itself. [52] The history of religions is an even less direct sources for the norm of systematic theology, and not a norm in itself. The norm of systematic theology emerges through experience but is not identical with it; indeed, the norm judges experience.

Definitions:

  • Norm of Systematic Theology: "the criterion to which the sources as well as the mediating experience must be subjected" [47]
  • Material Norm: A norm focused on material content [implied; 47]
  • Formal Norm: A norm focused on formal structures of authority [implied; 47]

Questions:

  • How can the New Being in Jesus as the Christ function as a norm? How are theological claims assessed with reference to it?
  • Why can't the Bible be a norm for systematic theology, according to Tillich, but rather a source of the norm?
  • Why can't a theologian authorize theological statements with reference to the Early Church Fathers or other authorities from the history of the church, according to Tillich?
  • Do you agree with Tillich that the norm of systematic theology judges experience and not the other way around?
  • If a norm is only seen clearly after the passage of time, how can a norm be used in a particular setting, that is, a contemporary setting?
  • Supposing that contemporaries of Tillich provisionally submitted norms, how does one decide which norm is the real norm?

Changes in German:

  • [48]-4: Whether this is the case cannot be known [-at the present time +so long as one is involved in this encounter].
  • [51]+19: The partial openness of the canon [-is a safeguard of the Spirituality of the Christian Church +preserves the possibility for the Holy Spirit to break forth in new ways].
  • [51]+20: This relation of the Bible as the [basic source of systematic theology (+emphasized in the German)]
  • [52]+16: though it might grasp us and dispose of us [German fixes awkward expression]

Introduction.D.11: The Rational Character of Systematic Theology [53-59]

Summary:

[53] Systematic theology is a constructive, not a historical, discipline. It interprets the Christian message for the contemporary situation. It is natural to wonder about the extent to which rational considerations constrain such interpretative constructions. Thus, there are many controversies surrounding the relation between rationality and systematic theology. The deepest controversy concerns the meaning of rationality itself. The faculty that receives the Christian message is ecstatic orf self-transcending reason, whereas the faculty that formulates theological propositions is technical or formal reason. [54] These two modes of reason are qualitatively different. Ecstatic reason “has a completely existential, self-determining, and self-surrendering character … Ecstatic reason is reason grasped by an ultimate concern” (53). Despite the apparent separation of roles between these two aspects of reason, the two are in fact dialectically related so that they influence one another. This raises the challenge that they may not be properly synchronized or fully compatible, and this is one of the most profound challenges shaping the enterprise of theology. Despite the impossibility of decisively resolving this difficulty, three principles still determine the rational character of systematic theology. First, the principle of semantic rationality requires systematic theology to clarify the meaning of the terms used. [56] Second, the principle of logical rationality requires systematic theology to conform to the rules of logic that govern any intellectual enterprise. [57] Third, the principle of methodological rationality requires systematic theology to follow a determinate and clearly justified method. [58-59] All systems have shortcomings because “life continuously breaks through the systematic shell,” but even with such shortcomings, the system is beneficial overall for enhancing consistency and clarity of thought (58). The method of systematic theology has been attacked from three points of view: (1) based on a confusion between “system” and “deductive system”; (2) based on the impression that a system forecloses the possibilities for future research and improvement; and (3) based on an emotional reaction to system as a kind of prison. Each of these attacks expresses a misunderstanding of the nature of system as it is deployed in the Systematic Theology.

Definitions:

  • Principle of Semantic Rationality: the requirement that systematic theology use clear and unambiguous concepts (54).
  • Principle of Logical Rationality: the requirement that systematic theology conform to the logical rule governing any meaningful form of discourse (56).
  • Principle of Methodological Rationality: the requirement that systematic theology use "a definite way of deriving and stating its propositions" (54).
  • Paradox: “‘against the opinion,’ namely, the opinion of finite reason” (57). “Paradox points to the fact that in God’s acting finite reason is superseded but not annihilated” (57).
  • Technical reason: the reason employed by the theologian when expositing the content of faith (53).
  • Ecstatic reason: “reason grasped by an ultimate concern” (53).

Questions:

  • Is it possible that Tillich's account of the rationality of systematic theology makes it impossible for his system to register actual irrationalities or paradoxes in reality?
  • How do you feel about the idea of a system of theology? Do you feel sympathy for any of the criticisms of system that Tillich discusses [58-59]?

Introduction.D.12: The Method of Correlation [59-66]

Summary:

[59-60] All scientific approaches to any subject matter, including systematic theology, follow a method. But a fully adequate method cannot be determined in advance of its actual use because a method is part of the aspects of the world under study. [60] Systematic theology always used the method of correlation, regardless of its methodological self-understanding. This method explains the Christian faith through existential questions and theological answers in mutual interdependence. Since it is human beings who discern and employ methods, methods not only reveal information about the subject matter, but also reveal something about the subject employing the method. “Correlation” has three sense. First, it refers to the correspondence of different series of data, as between religious symbols and that which is symbolized by them. [61] Second, correlation refers to the logical interdependence of concepts, as between God and the world, between the infinite and the finite, or between other pairs of polar concepts. Third, correlation refers to the real interdependence of entities and events in structural wholes, as in the way that the divine-human relationship is mediated through the structural whole that is religious experience. Answers from the Christian message are only meaningful when they address questions that naturally arise within a particular cultural and historical context. [62] Systematic theology uses the method of correlation by analyzing the human situation out of which the questions arise. [63] This analysis makes use of numerous sources from all realms of culture. [64] Systematic theology then conveys the answers to those questions out of the wealth of the Christian message, and particularly as they are contained in the primal revelatory events of the Christian faith. [64-65] The method of correlation replaces three inadequate alternative methods of relating the Christian message to human life. First, it replaces the supranaturalistic method, whereby the Christian message suddenly appears in the world as an alien truth. Second, it replaces the natutralistic or humanistic method, whereby the Christian message is derived from the natural state of human beings. Third, it replaces the dualistic method, whereby a supranaturalistic structure of knowledge is erected upon a naturalistic foundation, as in natural theology. “The Christian message provides the answers to the questions implied in human existence. These answers are contained in the revelatory events on which Christianity is based and are taken by systematic theology from the sources, through the medium, under the norm. … [this revelation] .. is ‘spoken’ to human existence from beyond it. Otherwise, they would not be answers, for the question is human existence itself” (64).

Definitions:

  • Method of Correlation: "explains the contents of the Christian faith through existential questions and theological answers in mutual correlation" [60].
  • Supranaturalistic Method: "takes the Christian message to be a sum of revealed truths which have fallen into the human situation like strange bodies from a strange world. No meditation to the human situation is possible. These truths themselves create a new situation before they can be received" [65].
  • Natutralistic or Humanistic Method: derives the Christian message from man's natural state. It develops its answer out of human existence, unaware that the human existence itself is the question" [65].
  • Dualistic Method: "builds a supranatural structure on a natural substructure" [65].

Questions:

  • What does Tillich find implausible about the supranaturalistic approach to systematic theology? The naturalistic or humanistic approach? The dualistic approach of natural theology?
  • Tillich is clear in this section that the method of correlation involves questions and answers in "mutual correlation" [60] but he spends almost all of his effort in Systematic Theology discussing just one direction of influence: from existential questions to theological answers. In what ways can theological answers influence the detection and formation of existential questions?
  • Tillich states, “A symptom of both the essential unity and the existential separation of finite man from his infinity is his ability to ask about the infinite to which he belongs: the fact that he must ask about it indicates that he is separated from it” (61). What is the strength of this claim? Is it sound to assert that the ability to ask a question about a relationship or an ontology implies the actual existence of a relationship or an ontology?

Introduction.D.13: The Theological System [66-68]

Summary:

[66] The structure of the theological system is determined by the method of correlation: one section framing questions implied by the “situation” followed by one section framing answers implied in the kerygma. [66-67] Thus, the five sections are Reason and Revelation, Being and God, Existence and the Christ, Life and the Spirit, and History and the Kingdom of God. [67] While it might be most fitting to begin with a section on Being and God, the epistemological section on Reason and Revelation comes first for three reasons. First, it explains the epistemological basis on which the system depends. Second, reason must be explained in order to understand the recurring claim that reason transcends itself. [67-68] Third, revelation is presupposed throughout the system and so must be discussed first. [68] Nevertheless, each part of the system expresses the whole from a distinctive perspective.

Questions:

  • If you had to reorganize the five parts of Tillich's Systematic Theology, in which order would you put them?
  • If you had to devise a sixth part to extend Tillich's Systematic Theology, what would it be called?
  • Are there parts that you would add or eliminate from the system?

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