Skip to main content

Tillich, Paul (1883–1965), Theologian, Philosopher

Tillich, Paul
(1883–1965), theologian, philosopher.

Regarded as one of the most influential modern Christian thinkers of the twentieth century, Paul Tillich was born in Germany but emigrated to the United States. Tillich, the son of a Lutheran pastor, received his Ph.D. from Breslau in 1910 and his licentiate in theology from Halle in 1912. His experiences as a chaplain with the German forces in World War I transformed his youthful nationalistic fervor and religious beliefs and set him on the road to his mature reflections on the human condition. In 1933 Tillich was dismissed from his prominent Frankfurt professorship for opposing Nazism, and for the next 22 years he taught theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Upon his retirement from Union, he accepted prestigious positions at Harvard (1955–1962) and Chicago (1962–1965).

Tillich emphasized that it is the "duty" of every theology to address the challenges of contemporary culture through an explication of the meaning, relevance, and truth of Christian beliefs and practices. Tillich described this process as a "method of correlation" between the fundamental "existential questions" arising from human existence and the "answers" to those questions found in the Christian message. Traditional Christian symbols are critically reinterpreted in light of prevailing modes of thought, and contemporary experience is in turn explicated in light of religious tradition. Tillich's correlational method informed all of his writings—his sermons collected in influential volumes, such as The Shaking of the Foundations (1948); popular classroom texts, such as The Courage to Be (1952) and Dynamics of Faith (1955); and his philosophically and theologically rigorous magnum opus, the three-volume Systematic Theology (1951, 1957, 1963). Deftly drawing from existentialist philosophy and psychoanalysis (among other modes of critical inquiry), Tillich argued that the questions arising from the anxiety and estrangement of the finite human condition are fundamentally religious; hence, they are properly addressed in terms of the religious experience whereby one is grasped by "being-itself " or the "power of being," which transcends "finitude." This power of being, as expressed through religious symbols such as "God as Creator" or "Jesus as the Christ," is both the source of our "courage" to resist the despair of finite existence and the integrating ground of our experience as artisans of culture. The religious dimension is, in other words, the underlying substance of culture, and cultural symbols are the form through which the religious dimension of our experience comes to expression.

Tillich has had an extraordinary impact on American intellectual and religious life since the 1950s. He wrote from a perspective that straddled the conventional boundaries between German and American cultural sensibilities, philosophy and theology, the modern scientific consciousness and traditional Christian faith, and the trust in the possibilities of reason that embued modern intellectual and political life before the world wars and the self-doubt of the postwar period. Tillich's creative insight on life between cultural worlds struck a chord with many liberal Christians and young Americans searching for religious and cultural renewal. Despite strenuous scholarly challenges, for example, to Tillich's theory of religion and view of God, his vision of the task of theology remains an influential classic model for many theologians.


See alsoGod; Religious Studies.


Bibliography

Adams, James L., Wilhelm Pauck, and Roger L. Shinn, eds. The Thought of Paul Tillich. 1985.

Clayton, John P. The Concept of Correlation. 1980.

Kelsey, David H. The Fabric of Paul Tillich's Theology. 1967.

Pauck, Wilhelm, and Marion Pauck. Paul Tillich:HisLife and Thought. Vol. 1. 1976.

Tillich, Paul. Main Works/Hauptwerke. Vols. 1–6. Edited by Carl Heinz Ratschow. 1987.

Stone, Ronald P. Paul Tillich's Radical Social Thought. 1980.

David G. Kamitsuka

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Tillich, Paul (1883–1965), Theologian, Philosopher." Contemporary American Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Sep. 2019 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Tillich, Paul (1883–1965), Theologian, Philosopher." Contemporary American Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/legal-and-political-magazines/tillich-paul-1883-1965-theologian-philosopher

"Tillich, Paul (1883–1965), Theologian, Philosopher." Contemporary American Religion. . Retrieved September 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/legal-and-political-magazines/tillich-paul-1883-1965-theologian-philosopher

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.