The Reader Speaks

A Student Looks at Paul Tillich


If somebody would tell you that one of America’s greatest minds will speak in your community, about one of the most interesting topics you can think of, you no doubt would be interested to listen to it. This was the case in Grand Rapids when Dr. Paul Tillich spoke on “The Basic Religious Question and Answer of Our Age.”

To say that Paul Tillich is one of America’s greatest theologians does not imply that he represents Christianity. Tillich represents a school of thought so far removed from Christian thought that we simply cannot call it Christianity.

According to Dr. Tillich, the basic religious question that our society has to face, is the “rediscovery of the dimension of depth.” This depth dimension is the awareness that there is beyond the limitations of man a deeper meaning which transcends his existence. In orthodox terminology we could call this, the search for God and the end of man.

The rediscovery of the depth dimension is characteristic of Tillich philosophy, because it is the answer to the basic religious question that faces us today.

How do we break through the walls of our finite prison and how do we reach the depth of our existence? Many attempts are made to give an answer to this question. Some say the answer is a return to the churches. Tillich’s reply is no, because a church membership of 91% instead of 51% is not the answer to the basic question.

Another approach of society is that we feel that we have to regain religion in order to save our culture. Tillich’s answer is no again, since it is one of the profoundest abuses of religion to use it in order to save the disintegrating trends in our culture. Religion must be used for its own purpose.

The last approach which Tillich rejects is the idea that we have to bring people back to the belief in the existence of God. The question is not whether we “believe in something”—that is not faith! It is not a question whether or not God exists; no, faith is the ground of our being because it means that we are being grasped by the ultimate. That alone is faith.

It would be a mistake to think now that Tillich’s position would finally lead to the orthodox one. By no means! Tillich does not want to walk on any orthodox path. Orthodoxy is, according to him, a vain and proud pharisaism, because it claims to possess God. It drags down God, because it clings to a God who is explained by dogmas.

This orthodox approach is too much for Tillich. That is why he said, “…Nobody can speak of God in terms of our finite world…” and if it is done, it is an absurdity. Who are we to condition the Unconditioned?

Tillich’s scorn is unloaded not only on the head of orthodoxy, modernism also is subject to his wrath. After all, modernism is guilty of the same error as orthodoxy. While the proud orthodox church has made the great mistake of imagining that it is the “blessed possessor” of God, modernism has discarded “him” (it) altogether by making “him” immanent with the universe. No, Tillich does not want to have anything to do with what he calls the limitation of the Absolute.

However, Tillich finds an answer in his search for the “Absolute.” He finds an answer for the ultimate meaning of man’s existence. This answer is found by means of the Christian symbols. These symbols are for Tillich the creation, the resurrection, the last judgment and the kingdom of God. By means of these symbols the human mind can approach the “Absolute,” because these symbols are means which transcend themselves. Through these symbols we can grasp the “Ultimate,” through these symbols we can grasp that which grasps us. Thus spoke Tillich.

The basic weakness in Tillich’s approach is that his religious question and answer are not analyzed on the basis of Scripture. The supremacy of Scripture is not acknowledged in Tillich’s premises.

If Tillich would have taken the Bible as his criterium, the formulation of his basic religious question would have changed altogether. Since the Bible speaks about a covenantal relationship between Creator and creature, the question is, How can sinful man again have communion with God? When the Christian asks this question, God gives the answer. God spoke and he speaks through the redemption wrought at Calvary. This redemption had a cosmological significance because all of history was involved. This redemption was the answer of God which transcended history.

In Tillich we do not find the answer in God’s acts through history. In Tillich we do not even find a personal God.

The suprahistorical events which took place in history are supplanted by symbols which can be understood only by means of phenomenological intuition.

This system makes the human mind the final reference point. It speaks authoritatively but its authority is invalid because it has as its premise the autonomy of man.

Tillich’s theology is one of the greatest perils with which we are confronted today. This theology, which has abandoned the Christ and the validity of Scripture, creeps into our universities and seminaries. It enters slowly, appealing to the consciousness of the human mind. However, it finds willing followers in thousands of students, because it pretends to fill the vacuum which is found in the human heart—a heart turned away from the God of Scripture.

The approach of Tillich is devilish, because it uses Biblical terminology while rejecting the heart of Christianity.

We too should face the basic religious question of our age, but may we find its answer in the Word of God.

This article was written while the author was a senior at Calvin College. He expects to attend Westminster Seminary beginning this Fall.


Comfort for the Minority


The cars of our lawmakers were parked around the Capitol Building in Springfield. A sign read, “Space reserved for Minority Leader.” That gave food for thought.

What a blessing the minority has been in our land. From what pitfalls they have saved US as a people.

And so it is in our Denominational life. The minority is often sneered at. When a few brethren who love Zion so much that they want to keep her unspotted from the world, criticize things in the church, they are called old fashioned, faultfinders, narrow-minded, are getting old, etc.

We need a lot of grace, brethren, often just to be snowed under.

We need a lot of self-examination to determine whether we criticize because of pride, self-will or faultfinding, or if it is the zeal of the Lord which Jesus had when He chased the money changers out.

First of all we must ourselves be blameless, with God’s help. We read, “If the ways of a man please the Lord, He makes His enemies to be at peace with him.”

Then we must do as a Pastor said, “When there is no principle at stake I recede; when there is, I never move.”

And last, but not least, we must be rooted and grounded in the Scriptures.

With our prosperity we become so full of things, there is no room for God. We are so busy with television that we have no time to read a good book. We defend traveling two hundred miles on Sunday, to go visiting. Our conversation is not in heaven, even on Sunday. Many of us belong to worldly unions. We now follow other denominations on divorce. The Missouri Synod (Lutheran) would never accept our new stand.

According to the stand of our church now, when a man leaves his wife and marries another, no pastor may say, “You may not have this wife.” All we may say is: “You sinned; you must confess that sin, and all is well.”

“Have you not read?” Romans 7 verse 3 says, “The wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If she go from him and marry another she shall be called an adulteress, but if her husband dies she shall no more be called an adulteress.”

Now, if we explain this last part honestly, brethren, then Paul says plainly that this woman is an adulteress as long as her husband lives.

John said to Herod, “You may not have this lady.” It cost him his head. We soft-peddle unions, and we in preaching must soft-peddle divorce. We hardly dare say from our pulpits, “You may not belong to a worldly union.” So we quench the Spirit, and in the measure we do this, God removes the candlestick from us.

We are not ashamed when our bowling club bowls one evening per week with fifty in attendance, when fourteen come in Men’s Society.

So, dear readers, don’t be discouraged when you are a small minority, but pray for wisdom, know ledge and great boldness so you may stand like the prophets of old. Read about Amos, a man called from behind the sheep. Also read Hebrews 11. God is not interested in talented people; He is interested in faithful people.

A man in England said years ago: “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man who is wholly devoted to HIM.”

We must begin to see that it is hard to be a Christian. Listen to Paul when he says, “I die daily…I keep my body under…My very thoughts I keep in subjection to the will of God…I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus…If we suffer with HIM we shall reign with HIM…It is given unto us not only to believe, but also to suffer for HIM.”

We must learn to be in unbroken fellowship with our Heavenly Father. He will then converse with us as a friend talks to a friend. He will say to us, “I am not forgetful of your labor of love for me.” Or “You have labored in my name and did not grow weary.”

I wiII stop here, dear fellow soldier, with a comforting word from Holy Writ, Revelation 3 verse 4: “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” Just imagine, dear fellow traveler, even if we are in the minority, if our faithful God would say that to us. May many amongst us be worthy of that saying.

Amy Carmichael wrote this poem. She was a missionary in India for fifty years.


Hast thou no scar? No hidden scar, on foot, or side, or hand? I hear thee sung as mighty in the land. I hear them hail thy bright ascending star,

Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound? Yet I was wounded, by the archers, spent. Leaned me against the tree to die, and rent By ravening beast that compassed me, I swooned;

Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar? Yet as the master shall the servant be. And pierced are the feet that follow me. But thine are whole; can he have followed far,

Who has no wound, no scar?