The Doctrine of God in the Theology of Paul Tillich -- By: Randall E. Otto

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 52:2 (Fall 1990)
Article: The Doctrine of God in the Theology of Paul Tillich
Author: Randall E. Otto

The Doctrine of God in the Theology of Paul Tillich

Randall E. Otto

“‘Is Tillich a theist?’ is a question which sends one immediately to the very core of Tillich’s thought.”1 That this question has been answered with every conceivable reply only serves to demonstrate the ambiguity that lies at the heart of Paul Tillich’s thought.2 He has been variously described as a theist, a deist, a pantheist, a panentheist, a metaphysician, a mystic, an atheist, and a humanist. Must one, therefore, despair of ascertaining the idea of God contained in Tillich’s thought? Must one in exasperation declare, as Walter Kaufmann and numerous other interpreters have done, “In short, Tillich’s propositions about God are through and through ambiguous”?3 Any such resignation regarding Tillich’s idea of God is neither fair to Tillich nor to the God of Christian faith.

Paul Tillich rightly declared in his Systematic Theology that “the idea of God is the foundation and the center of every theological thought.”4 This confessed centrality of the doctrine of God to theology should be taken very seriously, for from this doctrine theology is systematized. Since Tillich did systematize his theology based on the centrality of God, it seems improper for James Luther Adams to have concluded that Tillich “has inadequately dealt with the question of the character of God.”5 Furthermore, it does no good to say with Vincent P. Miceli that “Tillich is merely using language to mask an agnostic vacuum.”6 These characterizations obfuscate that which Tillich has asserted is central to his theology. These and most other interpretations of Tillich are prone to confusion for lack of radicality. They have not penetrated to the root of Tillich’s thinking.

This study of Tillich’s doctrine of God will view Tillich from his roots in German idealism, particularly his adaptation of the philosophy of Frie-

drich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775–1854). This study will take seriously Tillich’s “romance with Schelling” which “determined his entire philosophical point of view.”7 It will take seriously the assertion that “what Schelling said, Tillich made his own.”8 With Fedor Stepun and Richard Kroner, Tillich’s associates at the Dresden Institute beginning in 1929, we will ar...

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