Science in Christian Perspective



Robert D. Knudsen, Th.M.

From JASA 8 (December 1956): 18-20.

Paul Tillich and Natural Theology
William Paul

For this issue I askd Dr. William Paul of Shelton College to take the column. He has responded with a contribution Paul Tillich. Some regard Tillich as primarily a theologian  though it is equally true that some regard him as first of all, a philosopher. The ideas of the ranking neo-liberal thinker certainly of great concern for the evangelical Christian in attempt to bring the gospel to the world. About that all have to agree.

Physical and social scientists who an aim suppose at times that they are dealing, wrestling with problems which involve an area traditionally referred to as natural theology. Tillich, America's leading neo-liberal philosophical theologian, it has been said both that "he is the remarkable representative of a natural theology on a Christian basis"1 and that "for him there can be no natural theology."2 Both statements contain an element of truth.

Tillich rejects natural theology in so far as it been concerned traditionally with deductive attempts to prove the existence of God. Kant was right in rejecting the arguments----ontological, cosmological, teleo logical-on philosophical grounds. They could bridge the gap between the conditioned character of world (finite beings, causes, purposes) and the conditioned or Being-itself (to employ Tillich's non- symbolical terms for referring to God). Tillich also rejects this "traditional pre-critical. natural theology3 on theological grounds, and that with a contention that is one of the most striking in the whole history Christianity. He wishes to eliminate the phrase "God's existence" from theology as atheistic, as implying that the questioner supposes God to be a being among beings, whose existence profits from demonstrating. "God does not exist. He is being-itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore, to argue that God exists is to deny Him."4

This certainly slams the door on one type of natural theology. Tillich might thereby be supposed to agree with Karl Barth, from whom all natural theology a apologetics is demonic because Christ is the uniquely and exclusive revelation of God.5 But this is far fro true. For Professor Tillich the "Jesus which is the Christ" is uniquely revelatory of God; but in that is the ground and power of all being, all existence may become revelatory of God. There is "no reality, thing, or event which cannot become a bearer of the mystery of being and enter into a revelatory correlation . . . Revelation can occur through every personality which is transparent for the ground of being."6 Though he continues to maintain that "nature cannot become an argumentative basis for conclusions about the mystery of being,"7 it is apparent that a non-deductive and very much broadened conception of natural theology has been  reaffirmed. But it involves no "natural revelation," since if one knows something through the natural functioning of the intellectual self, it is not, in his terms, revelation. Nor is there any general philosophy of religion here which could become an autonomous foundation for a systematic theology as in the older liberal or modernistic system. The Barthian or neo-orthodox criticism of this nineteenth and early twentieth century trend was justified.

To state Tillich's attitude succinctly we may say tat he wants neither an independent natural theology nor philosophy of religion, but he wants both in a third way--by a "method of correlation."8 These are not special sections in his system of theology but are retained in full view throughout. They help to reveal the questions which disturb the mind of modern man perplexed by the ambiguities and meaninglessness of historical existence, questions which reflect man's 'ultimate concern," questions for which neither natural t heology nor philosophy has answers. But Christianity has the message or kerygema and the method of correlation is an attempt to correlate "answering theology" with "apologetic theology," to relate the symbols used in the Christian message"9 to these questions. The message should not be thrown out to men like a stone, as both Barth and orthodoxy tend to do, says Tillich, it must be constantly presented in relationship to the psychological, sociological, secular, and religious quesions which consciously or unconsciously express the pr edicament of human existence and point to man's ul timate concern for the unconditioned, for the New Being which is the Christ. In spite of the unorthodox an d ontologically-weighed character of Tillich's inter itation of the Biblical symbols, it would seem that the pragmatic merit of an apologetic method of correlation remains.

The psychological power of Tillich's method of correlation and of his transformed natural theology may be illustrated from his reinterpretation of the arguments for God's existence., As we have indicated, they must  no longer be considered valid as deductive arguments, but they remain important for Tillich as an ana lysis of 'human finitude and the question involved there" and by that analysis the "question of God" becom es "possible and necessary."10 It is quite meaningful  to ask about the reality or truth of the idea of God, thou gh not about the existence of God. "The onto logical argument in its various forms gives, a description of the way in which potential infinity is present in actual finitude ... All elaborations have shown the presence of something unconditional within the self and the world (within the structure of reason and reality). Unless such an element were present, the question of God never could have been asked, nor could an answer, even the answer of revelation, have been received."11

The cosmological question of God arises as man experiences the threat of nonbeing, of anxiety about his existence, and then is driven to the possibility of being conquering nonbeing and courage conquering anxiety. Likewise, when man experiences anxiety about the meaninglessness of existence, he is face to face with the teleological question of the ground of meaning. These are questions which drive reason, Tillich believes, to the quest for revelation. While natural theology cannot reach the truth of, God's creativity and man's creatureliness ' this is the answer which the revealed doctrine of creation provides to anxiety over being and meaning.

Such a ' line of reasoning might well be psychologic ally persuasive as a point of contact between the Chris tian and many distressed unbelievers of our time. It might serve as a means which the Holy Spirit would use to bring saving conviction in the light of special revelation, the Bible. But unfortunately it is at this point that Tillich fails us. Not only does he reject the full authority of all Scripture but in his desire to emphasize the idea of revelation as an ecstatic and
existential relation between God and man he also fails completely to do justice to the question of the objective validity of either special or general revelation.12 So, for example, Tillich wants to accept creation as a "description of the relation between God and the world... (which) points to the situation of creature liness and its correlate, the divine creativity;"13 but at the same time he denies a factual, objective basis to this "relation," namely a divinely ordered process of events. Where, we ask, is his method of correlation now? Why not correlate the symbolic statements with their objective bases? In the revealed kerygma they are correlated. If we truly stand within this "theo logical circle,"14 We must pay attention to both the existential c ommitment and the objective validation of faith's claims to truth.

Certainly inductive, conformatory evidences are in order here. Tillich has not considered the possibility and value of inductive formulations of the questions concerning the reality of God. In spite of his desire to ground his theology in ontology, he has failed to challenge the anxiety of the unbeliever with the data which tends to confirm the Christian's belief in the purposiveness and meaningfulness of reality, which gives objective warrant to his courage to be.

Such an indictive examination the.evidences of  God's handiwork will exhibit a general revelation of the Creator-Savior God of special revelation, a general revelation which is not generalized or abstracted from particular revelatory events but is very much related to particular evidences confirmatory of God's creative planning and providence both within man (Romans 2:14; 15; Acts 17:23) and within his physical and cultural environment (Romans 1:19,20; Psalms 19; Romans 10:18; Acts 14:17). Scripture implies that man, though a sinner, is potentially open to such a general revelation of an eternal power and Deity, a God who is good and holy as well as great. But Scripture also teaches, and this Tillich (in spite of the attention which he gives to the demonic) fails to clari fy,15 that the history and culture of man reflect the twisting and rejecting of these evidences as the sinner works out his own moral, religious, political and artistic ideas and practices. Man is left responsible and "without excuse." But the revelatory evidences are at hand. By God's common grace some individuals and cultures may not -twist these truths as much as others, but the Scriptures make it clearer than does Tillich that men stand in need of God's saving grace if they are to have both a knowledge of and a personal fellowship (I Corinthians 1 and 2) with the living and the true God, who in Christ has supremely and finally revealed both His love and His justice. 1. Otto Piper, Recent Developments in German Protestantism (London: Student Christian Movement Press, 1934), p. 137.

2. John Herman Randall, Jr., "The Ontology of Paul Tilh The Theology of Paul Tillich, The Library of Living Theolo I (ed., Kegley and Br'etall. New York: Macmillan, 1952), 136. Cf . ibid ., p. 160.

3. Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, I (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), p. 30.

4. Ibid, p. 235.

5. The writer highly recommends the two excellent studies by the Reformed, Dutch theologian, G. C, Berkouwer, General Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955) and The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956).

6. Tillich, op. cit., 1, 118, 121.
7. Ibid., p. 120.
8. Ibid., pp. 59ff.
9. Ibid, p. 62,
10. Ibid., pp. 65, 206.
11. Ibid., p. 206.
12. Ibid., pp. 114, 138.
Unfortunately Tillich rejects the possibility of using the phrase "general revelation" by equating  "general" with "abstracted from particular revelatory events."

13. Ibid., pp. 252-253.
14. Ibid., p. 10.

15. Cf. Allan Killen, The Ontological Theology of Paul Tillich (Kampen: Kok, 1956), p. 245.