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A Guide to Paul Tillich's Dynamics of Faith

A Guide to Paul Tillich's Dynamics of Faith

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A GUIDE TO
 
Paul Tillich's
Dynamics of Faith
 
INTRODUCTION
 
You will probably find Paul Tillich's
Dynamics of Faith
--abbreviatedherein as
DF
--hard tounderstand.
 
His vocabulary and approach tothe subject are unique and unfamiliar to most readers. His argument isfrequently interrupted by digressions which, although sometimesinteresting,may confuse you because they divert your attention from the progress of theargument; moreover, you may not find it easy, when you first read the book, todetect thesedigressions and to separate non-essential from essential matters.And finally, his argument isstated quite concisely, with few illustrativeexamples.
 
You can overcome the first difficulty by carefully reading and thenre-reading the material.The other difficulties are diminished when thenon-essential elements have been removed fromthe text and the remainingmaterial is supplemented with clarifications, elucidations,expansions, andillustrations, drawn from some of Tillich's other writings.
 
The following pages attempt both to present the book's essential argument,from which non-essential digressions have been removed, and also to clarify theargument with other materialfrom Tillich's works. Not everyone who readsthese pages will agree with this editing of 
DF
,but it can at least beclaimed for these clarifications that they are all words which Tillichhimselfwrote.
 
The sections printed in italic type are not from Tillich's writings and areincluded for editorialclarification; a list of the abbreviations used toidentify Tillich's various works is provided at the end of this document.
 
Guide to DF:i.1
 (FAITH AS ULTIMATE CONCERN)
In
DF
Paul Tillich analyzes and examines the nature of 
"faith"
, but the book is at the sametime also an analysis andexamination of the nature of 
"religion"
. The phrase
"ultimateconcern"
is the key to Tillich's analysis, and he explains what it means in
DF:i.1
.However, there are several paragraphs, found in some ofTillich's other writings whichprovide a useful introduction to this analysisof 
"faith"
as
"ultimate concern"
. Notice that intheseparagraphs he makes a very important and essential distinction, which youmustunderstand: he distinguishes between{1}
"historical religion[s]"
or 
"the concrete religions"
(bywhich he means such things asChristianity, Judaism and so on) and 
 
{2}
"the religious dimension in man's nature"
or 
"beingreligious"
(by which he means anaspect of the human condition, common toall people everywhere and always, regardless of their historicaltraditions).
 
In
DF:i.1
, Tillich makes this same distinction when he talks aboutthe
"content"
of one'sultimate concern as opposed to
"the state ofbeing ultimately concerned"
; he is also making
 
this distinction when hedescribes
"the subjective and the objective side of the act of faith"
 in
DF:i.3
.
 
The
"religious dimension"
, to which the followingquotation refers, is the principalsubject of 
DF
.
 The decisive element in the predicament of Western man in our period is hisloss of thedimension of depth.... I suggest that we call the dimension ofdepth the religious dimension inman's nature. Being religious means askingpassionately the question of the meaning of ourexistence and being willing toreceive answers, even if the answers hurt. Such an idea makesreligionuniversally human, but it certainly differs from what is usually calledreligion. It doesnot describe religion as the belief in the existence of godsor one God, and as a set of activitiesand institutions for the sake ofrelating oneself to these beings in thought, devotion andobedience.[R]eligion in its innermost nature is more than religion in this narrowersense. It isthe state of being concerned about one's own being... [LD:p.28]There are many people who are ultimately concerned in this way who feel farremoved,however, from religion in the narrower sense, and therefore from everyhistorical religion. Itoften happens that such people take the question ofthe meaning of their life infinitelyseriously and reject any historicalreligion just for this reason. They feel that the concretereligions fail toexpress their profound concern adequately. They are religious whilerejectingthe religions. It is this experience which forces us to distinguish themeaning of religion as living in the dimension of depth from particularexpressions of one's ultimateconcern in the symbols and institutions of aconcrete religion. [LD:p.28]You cannot reject religion with ultimate seriousness, because ultimateseriousness, or the stateof being ultimate concerned, is itself religion.[RD:p.8]If we abstract the concept of religion from the great commandment, we can saythat religion isbeing ultimately concerned about that which is and should beour ultimate concern. Thismeans that faith is the state of being grasped byan ultimate concern, and God is the name forthe content of the concern. Sucha concept of religion has little in common with the descriptionof religion asthe belief in the existence of a highest being called God, and the theoreticalandpractical consequences of such a belief. Instead, we are pointing to anexistential, not atheoretical, understanding of religion. [AR:p.40]
The
"great commandment"
in the foregoing paragraph refers to StMatthew 22.36-38:
 
`Master, which is the great commandment in the law?' Jesus said unto him,`Thou shalt lovethe Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul,and with all thy mind. This is thefirst and great commandment.' The word 
"existential"
in that paragraph means somethingpractical,down-to-earth, and every day, in which
"the whole existence of man isinvolved"
 
(DF:p.34)
, as opposed to something which is theoretical orspeculative in nature.
 
A word which appears at the beginning of 
DF
is
"spiritual"
.This is probably the most over-used and misunderstood word in the religiousvocabulary. Therefore, it is important to noticethat Tillich uses it in avery simple way, which is easy to understand. For him, as you will seein thenext quotation,
"spiritual"
refers to all aspects of the human conditionwhich set peopleapart from
"other living beings"
, such things as their 
"cognitive, aesthetic, social, political"
 concerns.
 
Look now at some sentences from the opening paragraphs of 
DF:i.1
.
 
 
Man, like every living being, is concerned about many things, above all aboutthose whichcondition his very existence. But man, in contrast to other livingbeings, has spiritualconcerns--cognitive, aesthetic, social, political. Someof them are urgent, often extremelyurgent, and each of them as well as thevital concerns can claim ultimacy for a human life orthe life of a socialgroup. If it claims ultimacy it demands the total surrender of him whoacceptsthis claim, and it promises total fulfillment even if all other claims have tobe subjectedto it or rejected in its name... [DF:i.1]But it is not only the unconditional demand made by that which is one'sultimate concern, it isalso the promise of ultimate fulfillment whichis accepted in the act of faith...and it isexclusion from such fulfillmentwhich is threatened if the unconditional demand is not obeyed.[DF:i.1][An] example...is the ultimate concern with "success" and with social standingand economicpower. It is the god of many people in the highly competitiveWestern culture and it does whatevery ultimate concern must do: it demandsunconditional surrender to its laws... [DF:i.1]
Tillich returns to the example of 
"success"
later in
DF:iii.2
:
 Success as ultimate concern is not the natural desire of actualizingpotentialities, but isreadiness to sacrifice all other values of life for thesake of a position of power and socialpredominance. The anxiety about notbeing a success is an idolatrous form of the anxietyabout divine condemnation.Success is grace; lack of success, ultimate judgment. [DF:iii.2]
In the last sentence Tillich used the word 
"idolatrous"
, which, alongwith cognate forms(
"idol", "idolatry"
), is a very important word in hisvocabulary; it refers to the situation inwhich
"preliminary, finiterealities are elevated to the rank of ultimacy"
; in
DF:i.3
, hewritesthat 
"a critical principle was and is at work in man's religiousconsciousness, namely,that which is really ultimate over against what claimsto be ultimate but is only preliminary,transitory, finite."Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned. The content mattersinfinitely for the life of the believer, but it does not matter for the formaldefinition of faith.... [DF:i.1]
The following paragraphs, taken from another of Tillich's books, furtherexplain what hemeans by
"ultimate concern"
.
 I have sometimes explained successfully [the general idea of ultimateconcern], to people whoare shocked by the term or not readily able tocomprehend it, as taking something withultimate seriousness, unconditionalseriousness. That is a useful translation. It is not as good as"concern,"but to "take seriously" is a kind of concern. And the term is in some caseseasierthan the word "concern." If people tell you, "I have no ultimateconcern"... then ask them, "Isthere really nothing at all that you take withunconditional seriousness? What, for instance,would you be ready to suffer oreven die for?" Then you will discover that even the cynictakes his cynicismwith ultimate seriousness, not to speak of the others, who may benaturalists,materialists, Communists, or whatever. They certainly take something withultimateseriousness. [UC:p.7]We could die for a bad cause--for instance, in Hitler's Germany. This is notnecessarily amatter of ultimate concern, although it could be for somepersons. We may go to nurse a

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