I saw the American courage to go ahead, to try, to risk failures, to begin again after defeat, to lead an experimental life both in knowledge and in action, to be open toward the future, to participate in the creative process of nature and history. I also saw the dangers of this courage, old ones and new ones, and I confess that some of the new ones have begun to give me serious concern. Finally, I saw the point at which elements of anxiety have entered this courage and at which the existential problems have made an inroad among the younger generation.… Although this fact constitutes one of the new dangers, it also means openness for the fundamental question of human existence: “What am I?” the question which theology and philosophy both try to answer.—From Paul Tillich’s autobiographical reflections recorded in The Library of Living Theology: The Theology of Paul Tillich, Kegley and Bretall, editors.
Paul Tillich’s death removed from the current theological scene a leading molder of twentieth-century thought who was beyond doubt the most influential author of a systematic theology fashioned in America in this generation. Many intellectuals sharing the modern revolt against the supernatural were attracted by Tillich’s probing of science (including depth psychology), his retention of a theoretical apologetic and role for metaphysics in a non-metaphysical era, his postulation of the Unconditioned God of the depths “beyond naturalism and supernaturalism,” his view of faith as the state of absolute concern, and his espousal of the courage of self-affirmation in the face of meaninglessness.
Much of the appeal of Tillich’s thought lay in his emphasis on the ultimate unity of biblical religion and the philosophical quest for reality. Although these involve different methods of approach to reality, and different perspectives, the god of religion is identical—so Tillich insisted—with the ultimate reality that philosophy strives to know. A strength of Tillich’s religious view is the scope it allows for a doctrine of preservation of the world (his Unconditioned is the ground rather than creator of the world), for general revelation, and for history. It is true, of course, that he developed these interests in a nonbiblical way, though alternatively to Barth and Bultmann’s dismissal of general revelation and to Bultmann’s virtual espousal of a non-historical kerygma. Yet Tillich glimpsed a special side in revelation generally, and thus attached Judeo-Christian revelation to general revelation and history in a way that compromised its uniqueness. Along with other dialectical-existential theologians, he did not regard history as revelational (and therefore contended that historical criticism cannot impair revelation); yet he held that revelation does not occur apart from history. For Tillich the Christ-idea, a universal ideal toward which all men should aspire, took pre-eminence over the Jesus of history. His refusal to identify Jesus and the Christ led to the unscriptural notion that Jesus demonstrated himself to be the Christ by sacrificing “himself as Jesus to himself as the Christ” (Systematic Theology, II, 123).
But there was a timely thrust to Tillich’s warning against any effort to “use” God for personal, national, or cultural ends. (Evangelical theologians might well derive a similar warning from their own biblical heritage.) God is a fetish for many moderns, from the speeding taxi driver sporting his plastic madonna to the politician who advances his lust for power while invoking a tradition of piety. Even those who did not distinguish Tillich’s Unconditioned from the biblical Yahweh were given to spiritual decision when he unmasked their “ultimate concern” as alcohol, sex, or wealth. Yet Tillich’s exposition of “ultimate concern” was not unlike Schleiermacher’s “feeling of absolute dependence,” and at times he even spoke of Schleiermacher as his “spiritual father.” He detached divine transcendence from supernaturalism and put it in the context of a deity immanent in man’s experience and transcending man simply as the ground of experience.
Biblical theism he disdained as outdated and unsound. While dialectical theologians revived emphasis on the personal self-revealing God, Tillich considered unjustifiable any ascription of qualities to deity. He disparaged the long-standing Christian attempt to define God’s supernatural relation to the world literally in rational categories, and instead propounded a figurative or symbolic interpretation. Divine personality he viewed as mere symbolism. For Tillich, God is only symbolically personal—that is to say, he is continually “becoming a person” in divine relatedness to us (in our representations). The scriptural truths about divine love, mercy, and judgment Tillich reduced to symbolic statements of how the structures of existence are related to their ground, thus departing from essential Christianity.
This writer first met Tillich in Aberdeen, when Tillich was giving the first of two series of Gifford Lectures (later published in his Systematic Theology, completed only two years ago). A decade ago existentialism held little charm for Aberdonians, and, in contrast with the packed room that greeted Tillich’s final lectures earlier this year at the University of Chicago, the opening attendance was pathetically small. That night at dinner we talked of Kant’s shaping influence on the anti-intellectual theory of knowledge advocated by neo-orthodoxy and existentialism. Tillich considered the traditional Christian view—that divine revelation conveys information in the sense of conceptual and verbal knowledge of God’s nature and ways—to be “harmful.” Thus, in common with the views of Barth and Bultmann, his theory of revelation on its underside was slanted toward the Kantian exaggeration of the limits of human reason. Upon this revolt against the role of conceptual reason in religion Tillich superimposed a philosophical theology in which he allied “depth of reason” and faith against the dominance of “technical reason” in society. For him faith was existential, not theoretical knowledge.
What apparently impressed Tillich little, if at all, was the high cost of his loss of objective supernatural personal theism and the inadequacy of his proposed substitute, a non-objective, non-supernatural, impersonal Unconditioned. The self-revealing God of the Bible thus becomes a symbolic religious expression for a Tillichian substitute. Tillich’s view leaves no logical basis for speaking about the transcendent nature of God. His theology therefore fails to point a way out of the modern impasse in respect to divine transcendence, wherein speculative philosophers seek to speak of cognitive metaphysical knowledge while so-called theologians of “revelation” speak in super-rational postulations. For metaphysics worthy of the Christian religion, the center of revelation must be the Word, not symbol. In biblical theology, revelation is rational; the Scriptures profess to offer revealed truth given nowhere else.
Tillich’s social theory is also worthy of note, since it reaches back to his earlier years of teaching and writing in Germany. In the forepart of this century some Social Democrats abroad held that God is revolutionary, and that his kingdom, which was identified with Christian socialism, must therefore be implemented by revolutionary techniques because of the sluggishness of the churches. Tillich was the first non-Jewish professor to be dismissed by the Nazis. And in the decade before the Nazi revolution he gave philosophical leadership in Germany to Christian socialists who tried to discover how Christianity and Marxism could correct each other. Tillich’s move to the United States in 1933 came when religious socialism was making increasing inroads into church leadership. But instead of attracting alienated working classes to the churches, this theology led church officials into growing political involvement and commitment of the corporate church to radical social positions.
If Tillich widened the dissatisfaction with biblical theism among young intellectuals, it was his fate—like that of others of his contemporaries—to see his own alternative bypassed by a majority of scientifically minded moderns. Among the intellectual victims of scientism as well as the materialistic victims of Mammon, the gulf between modernity and revealed religion remains.
One of the most tragic vacuums in American religious life today exists in the ecumenical seminaries where doubt is as apparent as belief. The decline of ministerial candidates is noteworthy; young men are preferring other religious work to the pulpit, aware that many divinity schools are unsure of the essential content of Christian faith. Tillich encouraged doubt as a desirable element in the depths of faith, and he did this in a generation that needs to discover faith as a redeeming instrument in the depths of doubt. Our age has in common with Thomas and Peter and Paul the experience of a deep questioning of faith; what it lacks is the dynamic and triumphant faith of apostolic Christianity. The New Testament faith cannot be recovered or preserved by a demythologized theology or a detheologized vocabulary. The frustration of the displaced young intellectuals will continue until they turn from the myths of modernity to the evangelical witness.
Protest By Burning
In agony of mind and heart, Norman R. Morrison, executive secretary of the Stony Run Friends Meeting in Baltimore, sought to call attention to America’s involvement in Viet Nam by setting his body afire beneath the window of Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara’s Pentagon office. A horrified bystander rescued his infant daughter, whom he had held in his arms.
The human personality is unfathomable; God alone can render full judgment upon the terrible act to which this man’s tortured convictions led him. Many who support America’s policy are also torn by the suffering in Viet Nam. This struggle is the tragic ambivalence of a sin-ridden world.
Morrison had the right to dissent from government policy and to hold his pacifist views. As a pacifist he was opposed to taking human life. Yet he took his own life and, in his emotional turmoil, almost killed his daughter. Had she died, Morrison would have committed murder as well as suicide. Given this paradox of killing to protest killing, one can only wonder whether his condition was such that he could be held responsible. Our sympathy goes to the widow and family.
The Archbishop And Rhodesia
It would be difficult to deny the Archbishop of Canterbury the right to speak on political issues. The system in England under which the state appoints bishops and allows twenty-six of them to sit in the House of Lords (and so participate in civil government) might be regarded as confirming that right. Many in Britain, however, who thought the Rhodesian government was acting foolishly were at the same time appalled at Dr. Ramsey’s pronouncements on the subject (see page 46). Even some who applauded his courage have called his words ill-timed, clumsy, unhelpful, and divisive.
No less remarkable is the fact that the archbishop delivered his speech at a meeting of the British Council of Churches. Milder action urged last year against South Africa at a BCC meeting under Dr. Ramsey’s presidency had profited nothing. Rather, it had made obstinate advocates of apartheid more obstinate and elicited from the Dutch Reformed Church the retort that the BCC had lowered itself “to the level of a political agitator.” Although on this occasion the archbishop was speaking for himself, his address will hardly allay misgivings about an ecumenical movement oddly selective in its political statements. A British cartoon showed Dr. Ramsey piloting a Rhodesia-bound bomber over Cyprus, with one bomb marked “explosive sermons.” President Makarios is seen looking up and beaming, “Now that’s the kind of archbishop I like to see!”
The advocacy of force if necessary (a measure rejected by Mr. Wilson) stands in stark contrast to recent statements by two other ecclesiastical leaders. “No more war; war never again,” pleaded Pope Paul before the United Nations General Assembly. With special poignancy came too the words of the Dalai Lama that, though Tibet is now under the most ruthless of imperialists, he does not think arms could help restore liberty.
For British evangelicals there is further cause for sad reflection on Dr. Ramsey’s words. During these first five years of his primacy they have looked to him for leadership in a controversy more relevant to his office—and usually have looked in vain. In the face of arrogant radicalism, people needed to hear from the successor of Augustine, not political pronouncement, but the steady, confident proclamation that God still reigns and that the Gospel is still mighty to save. That’s the kind of archbishop they would like to see.
J. Marcellus Kik: 1903–1965
The Reverend J. Marcellus Kik was one of the first three members of the editorial staff of CHRISTIANITY TODAY. When the magazine was initially planned, advice was sought from hundreds of men in this country and abroad. None of the replies showed more depth of understanding and vision for this Christian witness than Mr. Kik’s. His long experience as a pastor and as editor of a church paper in Canada enabled him to make a significant and lasting contribution to this magazine, which he served as associate editor.
Some five years ago, Mr. Kik assumed the post of research editor. In that capacity he spent many months in Europe, particularly in Switzerland and Holland. In Geneva he received permission to study all minutes of the consistory for the period of Calvin’s great ministry in that city, and also the minutes of the city council during the same years. Mr. Kik had these minutes microfilmed and then translated from seventeenth-century French into English. These indefatigable efforts brought to light the clear distinction Calvin made between his duties as a Christian citizen and the spiritual role of the corporate church in society.
During 1927 and 1928 Mr. Kik attended Princeton Theological Seminary, and he graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1930. For the next twenty-two years he held pastorates in Canada, where he also conducted a weekly radio program for thirteen years. He wrote a number of religious books and served on the Board of Trustees of both Westminster Seminary and Gordon College and Divinity School.
Mr. Kik continued his Calvin research up to the week of his death. A year ago he underwent radical surgery from which he never fully recovered but which never daunted him in his work and witness for his Lord. He died in Philadelphia on October 22.
Funeral services were held in the Second Reformed Church of Little Falls, New Jersey, of which he had been pastor for eleven years before joining our staff. A testimony to his life echoed through the hymns sung at the service: “O, for a Thousand Tongues,” “Hallelujah! What a Saviour!,” and “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”
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