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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.


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

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