Reorienting Certainty


In Paul Tillich’s book of meditations entitled The New Being, he has a meditation dealing with the nature of certainty (pgs 75-78).

To put his point succinctly, Christians can only be certain about the Gospel, and not about the individual hues that color their understanding of that Gospel.  Tillich warns us to guard against making the Gospel we confess dependent on our own understandings.  He points to Paul’s comment in the letter to the Galatians, that “even if we . . . should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you (emphasis mine) . . . ”  For Tillich even Paul didn’t place his certainty in his own experiences.  Paul believed he could come to teach a distorted Gospel.

Tillich encourages his hearers to realize that the Gospel is more than just us comprehending or taking hold of God; rather, it is also (and for Tillich ultimately) about God knowing and taking hold of us.  Tillich’s sentiments here were published in the 50’s, but seem prophetic today in our post(or hyper)modern culture.   Most of us today realize that we cannot get completely outside of the various contexts in which our beliefs were formed.  Thus, as Tillich points out, our hope cannot be ultimately found in our understanding of God or what He has done for us, but in the fact that He has said “yes” to us in His Son.

I think that this is the essence of what Tillich is saying; I’m not sure that I’m completely agreeing with Him.  Any thoughts?


7 responses to “Reorienting Certainty

  1. Thanks for the link 🙂

  2. I’ve read a lot of Tillich, and this doesn’t really sound like him to me. Of course, that just demonstrates the great fertility of his thought. Thanks for bringing this up!

  3. wtm,

    Thanks for the comment. I might be misreading Tillich here: have you read “The New Being?” It’s actually a collection of sermons and devotions he wrote, not a theological work. He does use his classic phrases like “the ground of our existence,” and so forth in this section i drew from.

    However, i haven’t read very much of him yet, so i welcome your revisions!

  4. It is more likely that I am misreading him – or underestimating him. Neither of which I’m thrilled at having done, or being in the process of doing.

    I’ve read primarily his systematic theology, so it could be a genre thing.

  5. wtm,

    i think i agree with you on the role of genre here. I’m sure that’s why it sounds a little unlike him, given the fact that his terminology is very particular to him. Referring to our fear of death “anxiety of non-being” would probably confuse people in the pews.

    Thanks for your comments wtm; most people will look at my blog, but not interact with me. I enjoy the conversation.

  6. Maybe I’ve just got too big of a mouth… 😉

    I feel the same way. What is the point of having a blog if people don’t comment?

  7. Pingback: What is the Point? « A Thinker’s Progress

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