A Curious Phenomenon

As i recently mentioned, I am focusing this summer on the theologies of Paul Tillich & Karl Barth.  As i have begun to work through some secondary literature, I have noticed a curious difference of interpretation regarding Tillich’s view of the God-World relation.

Initially it seems that for evangelicals, Tillich’s understanding is heavily, if not completely, focused on God’s immanence within creation.  I can almost detect that for evangelicals this interpretation flows partially out of Tillich’s admitted love (but not strict adherence) to liberal thought.  However, for authors that specialize in the work of Tillich, they equate Tillich’s view with a completely transcendent view of God.  This is also not surprising, since I have quickly observed that Tillich scholars at times wish to position Tillich much closer to Barth’s thought, or at least his theological goals, than he really is.

Now, anyone who has even casually looked into the thought of Paul Tillich understands that he is a frustratingly complex and vague thinker.  This has understandably led to differences of opinion regarding how to understand his thought.  Nonetheless, I think it is fascinating how wide the two camps are on this issue, and how view will serve the larger interests of the interpreter’s eventual evaluation of Tillich’s project.  This is not a completely unique occurrence, but the distance between these interpretations are striking to me, even within theological discourse today.


4 responses to “A Curious Phenomenon

  1. As someone who has studied both Barth and Tillich, I must say that, despite what some evangelicals and Barthians claim, the agreement between them on certain core issues is more significant and extensive than their disagreements. The issue of transcendence/immanence is a false starter, because as someone like Kathryn Tanner brilliantly shows, a true and absolute transcendence coincides with a true and proper immanence. That is, when God is qualitatively other than the world, God can be fully in and with the world. Barth recognizes this as well.

    Barth and Tillich do not differ on the issue of transcendence. They differ rather on whether Christ manifests a reconciliation that is always eternally true in God (due to Tillich’s Schelling influence), or whether Christ actualizes a reconciliation that was not ontologically real prior to his death/resurrection.

  2. David,

    Glad you’re stopping by lately.

    re pp 1: I have found that admirers of Tillich share your sense of consonance between their respective theologies. While commonalities are evident, these seem to stem more from common concerns and goals generated by their shared cultural context. I think the methods/execution used to deal with these common concerns are sufficiently different so as to make them fairly incompatible. Barth’s letter to Tillich in the final years of his life illustrate this point nicely.

    Your point about the false dichotomy of the God-World relation is well taken; my point in this post (however poorly articulated) was to show how a priori commitments color the emphasis one sees in another’s work. While this was not an earth-shattering revelation, the depth of the disparity in this case struck me as interesting.

    More later, but let’s start here.

  3. Just to be clear, I wasn’t criticizing your post, but rather the evangelicals and Barthians who think that the God-world distinction is indicative of the difference between Barth and Tillich.

    Obviously there are methodological differences between them, but as both of them would attest (Barth more than Tillich, though), methodology is itself already theology, in the sense that one’s methodology is shaped and even determined by more basic theological commitments. So I would contend that soteriology/christology is the source of the disagreement, which then manifests itself in divergent methodologies.

    • I’m with you on your intent-no offense taken.

      Good point re methodology as theology. I would agree with Barth & yourself on this point, but my imprecise writing may have indicated otherwise.

      Further, I agree with you that christology is a primary difference between them, but in my reading this is what makes them fundamentally incompatible. For example, a whole swath of issues accompany the difference you note in the last line of your 1st comment, ones that I think both reveal & set the stage for their differing methods and goals.

      My guess is that you would, at least to an extent, agree. I suspect our respective views of how well their theologies comport with each other would vary only by degree.

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