Historical And Theological Studies -- By: Michael S. Horton

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 66:2 (Fall 2004)
Article: Historical And Theological Studies
Author: Michael S. Horton

Historical And Theological Studies

Meeting A Stranger: A Covenantal Epistemology

Michael S. Horton

[Michael Horton is Professor of Apologetics and Theology at Westminster Seminary California, Escondido, Calif. This article was originally presented as his inaugural address at the seminary on 9 March 2004. A revised version will also appear in the author’s book Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, forthcoming).]

In his essay “The Two Types of Philosophy of Religion,” Paul Tillich contrasts the “ontological” and “cosmological” approaches, which he characterizes as “overcoming estrangement” versus “meeting a stranger.”1 Drawing on Tillich’s typology and adding a third alternative, “a stranger we never meet,” I will defend “meeting a stranger” with the covenant as its site.2

I. Two Ways of Avoiding a Stranger

A. Overcoming Estrangement (Hyper-Immanence)

Of course, Tillich does not regard his own (ontological) view as a method of avoiding a stranger. As far as he is concerned, God is not a stranger in the first place. According to Tillich, “In the first way [‘overcoming estrangement’ or the ‘ontological’ view] man discovers himself when he discovers God; he discovers something that is identical with himself although it transcends him infinitely, something from which he is estranged, but from which he never has been and

never can be separated.”3 Tillich cites an example from Meister Eckhart: “There is between God and the soul neither strangeness nor remoteness, therefore the soul is not only equal with God but it is. .. the same that He is.”4 If we think of God as “‘the innermost center of man which is in kinship with the Deepest Reality in the Universe’;. .. if the concept of vision is used again and again, for our knowledge of God, we are in an ontological atmosphere.. . .”5 In fact, Tillich’s own defense of the “ontological” view repeats familiar oppositions in Platonism and Neoplatonism.6 In this approach, unity, univocity, and sameness win out over plurality, analogy, and difference. This ontological way or “overcoming estrangement” persists in the various pantheistic and panentheistic visions of modern theology according to which we come to ourselves when we come to God.

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