Friday, 26 May 2006

For the love of God (4): Why I love Paul Tillich

A guest-post by Patrik Hagman

My first encounter with Paul Tillich was within the first weeks of my theological studies. Obviously this was not a course I was supposed to take, but I had bluffed my way in. One of the texts we worked with was the final chapter of Tillich’s The Courage to Be. This is not an easy text, especially taken out of its context like that. But something made me read it again and again. A few years later I read the whole book and I decided to write my Master’s thesis (or pro gradu as we call it in Finland) on Tillich and the Systematic Theology.

Many people find Tillich’s language difficult. All this talk of “being,” “ultimate concern,” “self-alienation.” But for me, then completely fed up with conventional religious language, this was enlightenment. It was like I had been given back my faith.

Reading the system was an overwhelming experience. It was as though Tillich put into words every vague notion I had ever had. Suddenly everything made sense. The genius of Tillich’s method is that it creates meaning. Everything becomes relevant. The system is based on experience. It is not the product of cool reflection; it is about getting involved in the world and in the revelation.

I think this was what made me “fall in love” with Tillich: he completely rejected the notion that being Christian meant existing on some higher plane than the rest of the world. He showed that culture and religions are two sides of the same coin: only a false religion separates them.

Tillich’s reinterpretation of the Christina doctrine enabled me to see that theology is a way of life, not a body of information. There are no limits whatsoever to what theology can be or what can be theology.

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