Monday, November 27, 2006

Paul Tillich - The Dynamics of Faith

Faith and the Dynamics of the Holy -

"He who enters the sphere of faith enters the sanctuary of life. Where there is faith there is an awareness of holiness."

This section of the chapter called What Faith Is deals with the holy--and Tillich distinguishes between the popular usage of the word and what he says it the original and only justified meaning of holiness.

"What concerns one ultimately becomes holy. The awareness of the holy is awareness of the presence of the divine, namely of the content of our ultimate concern. This awareness is expressed in a grand way in the Old Testament from the visions of the patriarchs and Moses to the shaking experiences of the great prophets and psalmists. It is a presence which remains mysterious in spite of its appearance, and exercises both an attractive and a repulsive function on those who encounter it."

"This original and only justified meaning of holiness must replace the currently distorted use of the word. 'Holy' has become identified with moral perfection, especially in some Protestant groups."

I find myself agreeing with Tillich completely--I've never understood why Holiness has to do with morality--it always seemed to me more of an experience than a state of being. But why? And what does it matter?

It's as if the popular use of holy stems from the idolatrous or untrue aspect of religion (or as Tillich calls it, the demonic). True holiness should cause us to be in awe; untrue holiness keeps us pent up in fear. I see a great deal of this within the pious denominations --Wesleyan, Nazerene--a longing to reach holiness and not 'give in' to temptations. This misses the point or Faith and of experiencing the holy. There is a mysterious character of the holy which produces an ambiguity in man's ways of experiencing it--as with faith, there is a creative and destructive aspect to the holy. Tillich calls this ambuguity "divine demonic"--in the sense that divine is victory by the creative over the destructive and the demonic is vica v. This is where the shift in the use and understanding of the holy changed.

"In this situation, which is most profoundly understood in the prophetic religion of the Old Testament, a fight has been waged against the demonic-destructive element in the holy. And this fight was so successfull that the concept of the holy was changed. Holiness becomes justice and truth. It is creative and not destructive . The true sacrifice is obedience to the law. This is the line of thought which finally led to the identification of holiness with moral perfection. But when this point is reached, holiness loses its meaning as the 'separated', the 'transcending', the 'fascinating and terrifying', the 'entirely other'. All this is gone and the holy has become the morally good and the logically true. It has ceased to be the holy in the genuine sense of the word. Summing up this development, one could say that the holy originally lies below the alternative of the good and the evil; that it is both divine and demonic; that with the reduction of the demonic possibility the holy itself becomes transformed in its meaning; that it becomes rational and identical with the true and the good; and that its genuine meaning must be rediscovered. "

I find what Tillich calls the genuine and true meaning of the holy to be the more creative and more spiritual. For those of us who feel a certain disdain for organized religion at times, this is extremely encouraging. There is also, it seems, more room for play with this use of holy--more ability for a literary interpretation of the holy.


Blogger chris said...

Well, I guess I'm too Barthian to appreciate this. I keep thinking of the Biblical approach to holiness. The whole divine/demonic dichotomy and synthesis is lost to me. I agree with Karl Barth that Tillich is the last great nineteenth century theologian. I guess William James and Rudolph Otto express holiness equally well. It leaves me with the thought "Why speak of God at all?"
You should know, however, that my experience with Pentecostal worship and preaching leave me with the same thought.

It is true that America has popularized a kind of holiness that elevates morality and sin to where they have their own cultural hegemony. That effect also heightens and satiates a reactionary cultural impulse (like the porn industry).

Faith's power or disfunction lies in its' engagement with that culture. ("Keeping oneself unstained from the world and remembering Widows and Orphans in their affliction" is a definite biblical example of true religious engagement)

But the danger always lies in believing that cultural engagement leaves us unchanged.

12:19 PM  
Blogger Jon Trott said...

As an admitted skeptic of both fundamentalism and theological liberalism, I find Tillich interesting on the surface of things but dangerously non-committal on the deep things. That is, to quote Kierkegaard, "Poetry is idolatry refined." Tillich is a poet, an arranger of words for their musical and self-referential value. (And before I go further, let it be known I too often fall into that sinful category.)

Did Tillich actually believe in a God of history? I don't want to go as far as Francis Schaeffer (who unfairly dissed my man Kierkegaard for one thing). But with Tillich, I'm left empty because I don't believe him to be, at root, a believer in the God/Man Jesus. Not Jesus the poetic, or Jesus the iconic, but Jesus in a real historical framework witnessed accurately to by the New Testament.

If there is not such a Jesus, all Tillich's poetry is a massive waste of time. Or so this fallible soul sees it. If Jesus was not a God/Man as revealed in the NT, if he did not literally rise from the dead, then I'm with Nietzsche (the only poet left once God and morals die their simultaneous death).

Sigh... I do realize that your reflections on Tillich do in fact reflect "real" truth (unlike other facets of his theology and his life). But I am left unable to recieve from the strange a-historical framework he seems to work from.

Tell me I'm wrong. Because that is not an unusual state for me. (grin)

Jon Trott

12:33 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Well, (in true Tillich fashion) I wouldn't tell either of you that you're wrong. I've been thinking some of the same thoughts actually.

This is my first time reading Tillich, and I do enjoy him, but I've also noticed like Jon said "I find Tillich interesting on the surface of things but dangerously non-committal on the deep things."

But I haven't completely formed my opinion of him yet.

I'm going to post tomorrow on his chapter on Faith and Doubt--and I'll bring up some doubts I have about his ideas of faith.

Thank you for your comments.

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You may be interested to know that I have just posted a couple of articles on Tillich at my blog -

8:17 PM  
Blogger standrews said...

In my previous comment, I mentioned my earlier blog - "The Theology of Berkouwer". This blog has been closed down. Here's a link for some of my thoughts on Tillich and Barth - Tillich.

5:15 PM  

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