The Real Tillich Is the Radical Tillich
  • Russell Re Manning
Part of the Radical Theologies book series (RADT)


Paul Tillich (1886–1965) is perhaps best known as a liberal theologian of mediation, whose famous method of correlation aims to respond to humanity’s existential questions with answers drawn from the Christian message. Key concepts such as ultimate concern, the New Being, and the sacred depths of culture have been influential and have powerfully informed the liberal theological agenda of mainstream developments in the second half of the twentieth century. Notable instances include theologians associated with Chicago (such as David Tracey and, more recently, William Schweiker), as well as a diverse range of thinkers in the fields of theological engagement with culture (e.g., much recent work in theology and film) and the sciences (including figures such as John Haught and Philip Clayton). Indeed, as Jonathan Z. Smith has recently noted, Tillich’s influence (albeit often unacknowledged) lies behind the very enterprise of the American Academy of Religion—the world’s largest forum for scholarly work in theology and religious studies.


Socialist Decision World Religion Ultimate Concern Religious Socialism Philosophical Theology 
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  1. 1.
    See Paul Tillich, “Über die Idee einer Theologie der Kultur” in Paul Tillich, Main Works/Hauptwerke. Vol. 2. Writings in the Philosophy of Culture, ed. Michael Palmer (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1990), 69–86.Google Scholar
  2. This text has been translated into English by W. B. Green in Paul Tillich, What Is Religion? ed. James Luther Adams (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), 155–181. An alternative, improved, translation by Victor Nuovo is published as Visionary Science. A Translation of Tillich’s “On the Idea of a Theology of Culture” with an Interpretive Essay (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    See the representative texts collected in James M. Robinson, The Beginnings of Dialectical Theology (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1968).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    See also Paul Tillich, The Religious Situation, trans. H. Richard Niebuhr (New York: H. Holt and Co., 1932).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    For more on this topic, see Russell Re Manning, Theology at the End of Culture. Paul Tillich’s Theology of Culture and Art (Leuven: Peeters, 2005), 5–55.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    For a persuasive defense of this contested claim, see Douglas Hedley, “Was Schleiermacher a Christian Platonist?” Dionysius 17 (1999), 149–168.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    See Paul Tillich, The System of the Sciences According to Objects and Methods, trans. Paul Wiebe (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  8. For Cornelius’ opposition to Tillich, see Werner Schüßler, “Tillich’s Life and Works” in The Cambridge Companion to Paul Tillich, ed. Russell Re Manning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 10.Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    Paul Tillich, The Socialist Decision, trans. Franklin Sherman (New York: Harper and Row, 1977).Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. I (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951–1963), 131–132.Google Scholar
  11. 9.
    Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (New York: Harper & Row, 1957), ix.Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    For “theism transcended” and “absolute faith” see in particular, Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be. 3rd ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), 171–177 and 182–186.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Paul Tillich, On the Boundary: An Autobiographical Sketch (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1966), 13.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    The first of these is Thesis 115 from a presentation given by Tillich in 1911 at Kassel, in which he delivered 128 theses and a paper with the title “Die christliche Gewissheit und der historische Jesus”. See Paul Tillich, Main Works/Hauptwerke. Vol. 6 Theological Writings/Theologische Schriften, ed. Gert Hummel (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1992), 33.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    The reference is to Isaiah Berlin’s 1953 characterization of those, the hedgehogs, who know the world through the lens of one single defining “big idea” (including Plato, Dante, Hegel, and Nietzsche) as opposed to those, the foxes, whose perspective cannot be pinned down to a single notion (examples given include Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Goethe). Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox. An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1953). This analysis of Tillich’s multisystematicity coheres well with his mastery of the essay and lecture format of theology. Indeed, there is something remarkably homiletic about Tillich’s style of theology, even when far from any biblical language.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    Paul Tillich, Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religions (New York: Colombia University Press, 1963). The lectures were delivered in autumn 1961.Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    Robert Scharlemann. “Tillich’s Religious Writings” in Paul Tillich, Writings on Religion /Religiöse Schrif en, ed. Robert P. Scharlemann (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1988) = Main Works / Hauptwerke 5, 1–12; 5.Google Scholar
  18. 23.
    Ibid, 84; 89. For a very different theological critique of religion and religions, see Tom Greggs, Theology Against Religion. Constructive Dialogues with Bonhoeffer and Barth (London: T & T Clark, 2011).Google Scholar
  19. 24.
    For an alternative strand of radical theology—as hermeneutic theology— indebted more directly to Bultmann and Heidegger, see Ingolf Dalferth, Radikale Theologie (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2010).Google Scholar
  20. 25.
    For a comprehensive dismissal of the alleged “existentialist turn” in the development of Tillich’s theology, see Marc Boss, Au commencement la liberté. La religion du Kant réinventée par Fichte, Schelling et Tillich (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 2014), 513–524, especially 521: “il nous paraît inutile de chercher un tourant existentialiste dans la trajectoire intellectuelle de Tillich”Google Scholar
  21. and repeated in Marc Boss, “Paul Tillich and the Twentieth-Century Fichte Renaissance: Neo-Idealist Features in his EarlyAccounts of Freedom and Existence,” Bulletin of the North American Paul Tillich Society 36.3 (2010), 8–21, especially 15: “the very notion of an “existential turn” in Tillich’s intellectual trajectory seems highly doubtful to me.” Boss reaches this conclusion through close analysis of Tillich’s writings before and after the First World War notwithstanding Tillich’s own subsequent critiques of German Idealism and mythologizing of an embrace of existentialism as a result of the horrors of the War.Google Scholar
  22. 27.
    John Clayton, The Concept of Correlation. Paul Tillich and the Possibility of a Mediating Theology (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1980), 5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 28.
    See Durwood Foster, “Introduction” in Paul Tillich, The Irrelevance and Relevance of the Christian Message (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1996, 2007), xiii–xiv. Clayton raises a similar concern that “it might be reasonably asserted that the period for which Tillich was writing was already past or at least nearly so by the time he completed his Systematic Theology.” He continues, “There was perhaps a certain inevitability in this. Philosophical reflection of the sort in which Tillich engaged tends to come, as Hegel was keenly aware, at the end rather than the beginning or the zenith of an age.” Clayton, Correlation, 6.Google Scholar
  24. 31.
    The feminist critique of Tillich’s theology (and ethos) is the most developed. See Judith Plaskow, Sex, Sin and Grace. Women’s Experience and the Theologies of Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich (New York: University Press of America, 1980),Google Scholar
  25. Susan Lichtman, “The Concept of Sin in the Theology of Paul Tillich: A Break from Patriarchy?” The Journal of Women and Religion 8 (1989), 49–55, and the judicious assessment by Rachel Sophia Baard as “Tillich and Feminism.”Google Scholar
  26. In Re Manning, Cambridge Companion, 273–287. For a critical engagement with Tillich’s failure to engage race, see Elaine A. Robinson, “Paul Tillich.” In Beyond the Pale. Reading Theology from the Margins, ed. Miguel De la Torre and Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 151–160. After an overview survey of Tillich’s central theological themes, Robinson defends the claim that “Tillich was a German-born American theologian who became White in the context and culture of the United States,” specifically that “little evidence exists to suggest that Tillich attempted to understand the social and legal construction of race in the United States, despite the immense cultural implications present in the long history of racial injustice and genocide within the American borders. There is little evidence within his theological corpus that the question of racial injustice was taken seriously, despite the fact that elements of his system could provide openings for just such analysis (e.g., experience as a medium or culture as a source).” (156).Google Scholar
  27. For a nuanced discussion of Tillich’s potential and his limitations within contemporary political theology, see Gregory Walter, “Critique and Promise in Paul Tillich’s Political Theology: Engaging Giogio Agamben on Sovereignty and Possibility” Journal of Religion 90.3 (2010), 453–474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 32.
    Two notable exceptions—both by contributors to this volume—are Clayton Crockett, Radical Political Theology. Religion and Politics after Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011)Google Scholar
  29. and Jeffrey W. Robbins, Radical Democracy and Political Theology (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), as well as their jointly written work in the Palgrave Macmillan “Radical Theologies” series, Religion, Politics, and the Earth. The New Materialism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).Google Scholar
  30. 33.
    Paul Tillich Dogmatik-Vorlesung, (Dresden 1925–27), ed. Werrner Schüßler (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2005), 1.Google Scholar

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© Russell Re Manning 2015

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