With this post we come to end of our exploration of Paul Tillich’s theology. We have discussed his methodology, his overall view of God, his understanding of the proper use of language as it relates to “God-talk,” and his understanding of the relationship of immanence and transcendence. This last post will touch on how Tillich’s view of other religions and his doctrine of God interact.
As Veli-Matte Karkkainen tells it, a few years before Tillich’s death, he visited Japan. He had never interacted in such a real-life way with another faith (Buddhism) before, and it radically impacted him. In fact, for Tillich he was so impacted by this experience that he quit believing that Christianity was the “absolute” religion (133).
For Tillich, Buddhism and Christianity complemented each other. They both complement each other in their most basic understanding of reality as something that has fallen from an earlier state of perfection and seek to be liberated from this state by the “Ground of Being (133).” Even though Buddhist and Christian conceptions of how this state of affairs came to be and how it will be overcome are radically different, for Tillich, since the two systems share the same basic concerns, and both offer an answer to modern man regarding how to overcome the threat of “non-being,” then they are both valid faiths or belief systems.
Let’s sum up Tillich. We have seen that the strengths of Tillich’s approach is his intentionality of delivering an understanding of Christianity that is comprehendable to modern man. This comes out of his sincere desire to understand the struggles that modern people face, which is a commendable goal. His weaknesses have been at times letting that desire dominate his approach to Scripture. This led to a lack of clarity regarding the relationship of immanence and transcendence in God, and a very limited scope of language to use regarding God. In my view Tillich thwarted his main goal of trying to make Christianity palatable to modern sensibilities by allowing the concerns of the day overwhelm his understanding of God.
Up Next: The Great Orthodox Theologian John Zizioulas!