Paul Tillich’s doctrine of revelation must be treated in relation to his doctrine of God. Tillich’s God is not a supernatural God who existed before nature was, and who exists as its lawgiver; rather, the term “God” designates what concerns man ultimately (Systematic Theology, Vol. I, p. 211; except where otherwise indicated, page references refer to this volume).
Judged from the standpoint of traditional theism, Tillich is an atheist. “God is being itself, not a being” (p. 237). All statements with respect to God, other than that he is being-itself, are symbolic (p. 239). And the truth of a symbol is independent of our own experience, whether physical, psychological, or historical (p. 240).
The Art Of Symbol
Being-itself (God) can be spoken of symbolically as living (p. 241). But to say God is a “ ‘personal God’ does not mean that God is a person. It means that God is the ground of everything personal.… Ordinary theism has made God a heavenly, completely perfect person who resides above the world and mankind. The protest of atheism against such a highest person is correct” (p. 245). Indeed, it is not even possible to ask whether God exists. For being itself is above existence (p. 237).
According to Tillich, man speaks of his ultimate concern in terms of his own being (p. 243). To speak of God as loving, omnipotent, omniscient, and as the Creator, as the Bible does, is to speak symbolically (pp. 272 f.). Creation and the Fall, described in the Word of God, do not refer to events, but rather are descriptions of the relation between God and the world (pp. 252 f.).
All such Christian symbols answer existential questions. God’s “word” is not limited to or identical with the Bible (p. 4). The concepts of theology are rooted in a direct ...1
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