Never mind the origins. Who we are and what we do matters more

In my early adult years in seeking to find theology that was right for our modern scientific era I came across Paul Tillich and his existential theology. Summarised in his three volume Systematic Theology, collections of sermons and other writings.

The beauty and helpfulness of his theology for me lay in the fact that it did not matter how we had come to be as we are, "created " or “evolved”, it was about what were are as people now, in our environment as we perceive it, in the conflicts and ambiguities of life, our potentials as intelligent beings and our individual and communal relations. He had lived his life through two world wars that had affected his country of birth (Germany) and had witnessed some of the depths of human individual and collective depravity. For him want was essential was about the need of individual and social change to overcome the conflicted life of humanity and find a new state of Being ,and that the way of this was found in and through Jesus Christ as bearer of the New Being for us to share in.

I have had reason to return to his theological approach again and again in my life because it cuts out the need of the creationist/ evolutionist debate and takes us as we are and his lessons for what we need to become. His analysis of society in Germany and the US in post 1930’s is as relevant today as it was when he preached and wrote. He witnessed the abuse and corruption of religion and how it can become “demonic” and false, with subservience to nationalistsic politics and not properly prophetic and life changing.

Many have doubted parts of his theological approach that treats much of revealed religion as symbols and feel it is not good enough. But to me it has always been thought provoking about what we believe about God, what we are what we do and what we need to do. Never mind the past origins, let’s deal with who we are now and what we must do as religious people.


Interesting OP. Tillich is just a name to me, so I can’t help with your discussion. But it sounds like a useful, practical topic. I hope there is interest in a serious discussion.


I read his work The Courage to Be many many years ago and I couldn’t really understand a lot of it. It was wordy and difficult to follow for me.


Thank you for this post. I tend to think, think, think and get twisted up in many tentacles and possible paths and theories and views and theologies. I have heard of Paul Tillich and have come across bits and pieces of his work but couldn’t have summarized his essential view as you do here. It has a pragmatic feel to it, for me, and reminds me of “The tree is known by its fruit.” This gets right to the heart of things, doesn’t it?

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I concur he is a difficult read in many of his works but worth the effort.

To further the discussion I have initiated, I have tended to adapt Tillich and his concepts of God as Ground of Being, our estrangement ( a symbolic of The Fall) and New Being brought by Christ.
God as Ground of Being is to me too much of a static picture that lacks the essential traditional theology of the dynamic love in God as Trinity. So maybe God to be better viewed as Three-fold fountain of Being., the origin of all being and all relationships of being.

His concept of Estrangement to describe a state of Fall away from the type of being we are intended to be. Whatever our biological origins, we have not grown in us as individuals or as societies the divinely intended life (Intended Being) that is to flow from the love of God in our origins and so need “salvation” (rescue) from that state that includes guilt and meaningless and hopeless death as an end. We need to become a new sort of person, the Intended Being we should have, that now comes to be seen as New Being and this a new type of human existence in the divine love and participating in the love that overcomes all estrangements. It is unifying and equalising. It is brought by Christ who is the principle of mediating that New Being, that New Humanity, in His atoning forgiveness
and Spirt empowered change of motivations and living.

For those further interested in my use of Tillich you may like to view my website
Its main focus is actually making use of the two great Franciscans Duns Scotus and St Bonaventure and looking at them in a modern light. it incorporates some things from Tillich, Karl Rahner and others. Because of its evolution focus I do not expect Creationists to agree with a lot of it but I hope it may help anyone trying to relate faith to the modern world. My own explorations of theology for the modern world.

I recently read Tillich’s “Ultimate Concern - Dialogues with Students”, which seemed a good start since he was forced to answer the students’ questions understandably and it was one of his later works. However, his existential approach didn’t help me. I don’t want it to start with me, I prefer it to start with God! Such a different angle from Francis Schaeffer’s “The God Who is There”. But let’s remember that Jesus is the way, the truth and the light.

I think that summarizes most views of Tillich.

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