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Dynamics of Faith Paperback – 30 Sep 1958
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From the Back Cover
This graceful and digestible volume was called 'a little classic' by the New York Times Book Review. In it, one of the best known theologians, Tillich, explores the idea of faith in all its dimensions, defining the subject in the process. As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in the New York Times Book Review, 'Paul Tillich is a giant among us.' 'A little classic . . . His analyses of the purely intellectual, emotional and volitional interpretations of the dynamics of faith are superbly subtle in distinguishing what is true from what is false in each position . . . Again reveals the astounding virtuosity of the man and the thinker.' ---Reinhold Niebuhr 'Tillich remains one of the very few of the very great theologians of our time. Dynamics of Faith is a good introduction for those who would like to get acquainted with him, an important clarification of his thought for those who have struggled through his earlier books and an important essay in its own right.' ---Albert C. Outler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Paul Tillich (1886-1965), one of the great theologians of the twentieth century, taught at Union Theological Seminary, New York, and then at the University of Chicago and Harvard University.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Tillich does ask interesting questions and make intruiging observations. The key sentence in "The Dynamics of Faith" is: "Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned". Since every human is ultimately concerned about something, this means that all humans have faith. The existence of faith cannot be disproven, since all attempts to do so are circular. To "disprove" faith, one must assume that there isn't anything to be ultimately concerned about. But this is in itself an ultimate statement. Besides, the philosopher who frantically attempts to prove that everything is meaningless is also ultimately concerned about something, namely the truth of his nihilism. Thus, faith is as self-evident as the Cartesian "Cogito, ergo sum".
Tillich's point, of course, is that all humans assume that there is something higher than themselves, transcending our everyday existence, something of cosmic importance. And this is not simply an abstract idea. All humans actively seek self-transcendence. All humans have faith, even the atheists. Tillich also makes an observation familiar to readers of C.S. Lewis: All humans operate on the assumption that there are universal moral laws, transcending the individual. Even more curiously, humans seemingly create moral laws that are impossible to live up to, and then feel guilty and condemned when they fail. How is this possible?
Naturally, to Tillich this all points to the existence of God. But it is here that his reasoning becomes problematic. There are myriad different conceptions of God. There are also many different opinions on morality. What religion is the true one? And what morality should we live by? Tillich cannot really answer these questions. His conception of God is strikingly similar to that found in certain forms of Hinduism. Tillich's God is really Brahman, the nameless and formless Being beyond all Being (and Non-Being). All religions are reflections of this God, but all religions are purely symbolic. Even Jesus Christ is simply a symbol. But how can we know which symbols are true, "true" in the sense of expressing the truth about God? Tillich never really answers this question. At one point, he seems to be suggesting that we don't know which faith is the true one. All faith therefore entails a risk, the risk of being wrong. At other times, Tillich says that the liberal form of Protestant Christianity is the highest religion, and that the Cross is a more authentic symbol than the symbols of other religions. However, he never explains why this is the case.
Sometimes, I get the impression that Tillich is somewhat disingenous. He defines "God" in such an abstract and nebulous manner, that any "ultimate concern" becomes "God". He also defines God as "being-itself" (perhaps Being-in-itself would be a better term). Thus, everything that exists, is God, simply by definition. By defining God in this manner, Tillich makes it impossible to falsify the idea of God. And by making Christianity symbolic, Tillich makes it impossible to falsify Christianity as well! This sounds like an attempt to save Christianity from being exposed by atheism, by making the Christian concepts completely evasive - a constantly moving target. Paul Tillich's God is all things to all people. But isn't such a God really a nullity?
But perhaps this is a rash criticism of "The Dynamics of Faith" and "The Courage to Be". Still, one wonders what solutions Tillich has to the existential problems he has raised. He doesn't believe in the traditional scenario, where a resurrected Jesus will return one day and set up a Millenium. Nor does he believe in the immortality of the soul. Indeed, he seems to regard the immortal soul as a bad idea, even symbolically speaking! In the end, he can only tell us to be courageously self-assertive in the face of Non-Being, go on living despite our feelings of meaninglessness and guilt, and risk being wrong.
This, of course, could have been said by any atheist of an existentialist bent. Which makes you wonder why "God" is needed as part of the equation at all. Even apart from it not being a very comforting answer...
This text, 'Dynamics of Faith', is one of Tillich's more accessible writings, more directly relevant to the situation of individuals and congregations. Tillich here looks at what faith is, and is not, from a theological perspective, but his intention is to make this transformative for the humanity that seeks to understand God.
In the first chapter, Tillich introduces one of his key terms – ultimate concern. Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned about something – God – without conditions or reservations. Ultimate concern can be religious or not, and can be misguided (people are tempted into idolatry, according to Tillich, not only by making things such as money, power and fame the objects of ultimate concern, but also by making particular ideas or views of God and religion into inappropriate ultimate concerns). In the second chapter, Tillich explores the ideas of what faith is not – faith is not merely intellectual understanding, emotional bonding, or even an act of will. Faith is rather (going back to the first chapter) an act of total personality – one's whole being is drawn to the ultimate concern.
Through the remainder of the text, Tillich develops an intriguing idea of the symbolic in faith – symbols are not constructed like marketing logos, but rather assume a life of their own and participate in that to which they point, in a community context over time. Community is important to Tillich for symbols and for faith, as it is through community that we develop the language and understanding skills necessary to codify and understand such things. Tillich looks at the different disciplines of science, history, philosophy and reason, asking (perhaps echoing Pilate in a different manner) what is truth? Tillich clearly states that neither scientific nor historical truth can negate or validate the truth of faith, and vice versa. Philosophical truth is a different matter, given that the 'language' of faith, through theology, is often expressed in philosophical terms – however, even here, philosophical truth and reasoning cannot be used as a trump card. However, for the truth of faith to be affirmed, the faith must be focussed upon the 'real' ultimate concern.
Tillich often irritates modern Christians because of mistaken assumptions about what he means. In other texts (such as his massive 'Systematic Theology', also often used in higher-level seminary and graduate courses on theology), Tillich describes God as a Ground of Being, and as such, having no 'existence' as we commonly use the term; this gets reduced to the soundbite 'God does not exist', and Tillich is written off. In 'Dynamics of Faith', Tillich often refers to 'cults' and 'myths', using these terms in specific scholarly manner, to refer to religious and biblical issues and events – again, the soundbite becomes 'Tillich says that the Bible is a myth', and given the popular non-Tillichian definition of the word 'myth', again Tillich is dismissed.
There is much material packed into this small text. It is worth exploring.
This book goes a little way in answering this question. At first I found the book difficult to read, mainly because Tillich uses a special sort of vocabulary. "Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned" says the author. If you plough on, you can gain an insight into what he means. Man is finite, but God or the content of one's ultimate concern is infinite. Revelation is when one experiences the infinite.
Tillich also relates Christian faith to other religions, science and secularism. If a secularist has an ultimate concern, the he/she also has faith. I buy into that, but some sweeping statements are made about such things as morals, love and human emotion which I find difficult to accept. Tillich tends to tie them all into faith, anything else being idolatrous. However, Tillich regards symbolism and myths as important in keeping faith alive.
This book doesn't explain all about God, but it does explain how and why people put their faith in God. For that, the book is well worth reading!
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
We can only express the object of our ultimate concern symbolically as the object itself is beyond our grasp. Here Tillich makes the distinction between a sign and a symbol. Wile both point to some reality beyond themselves a sign does so only by convention while a symbol participates in that reality to which it points. Symbols reveal a reality that can not be understood without them and also reveal a before hidden, corresponding area of our soul. Works of art can act as symbols in these ways. Symbols can not be invented but come to have a life of their own. Faith goes beyond belief in a story/myth to acceptance of the ultimate concern to which the story symbolically points. Accepting the story literally destroys its symbolic meaning and makes it unable to point us to the ultimate. The literal interpretation of the story comes from belief in a god confined to space and time and makes the symbol an idol.
Tillich next discusses two types of faith; ontological faith and moral faith. Oncologic faith is the faith of being. It is the experience of the ultimate. Moral faith is the faith to be what the ultimate intended us to be. There is a constant tension between these two forms of faith.
Faith and reason are thought to be in conflict with each other only by those who misunderstand the true meaning of faith. Reason is what makes us human and any "faith" that tries to destroy reason is dehumanizing. Faith is built on reason for it takes reason to distinguish our ultimate concern from our other concerns. Tillich defines reason as the "meaningful structure of the mind and reality." Although faith is based on reason it is not confined to reason but reaches out to that with is beyond the grasp of reason, for our reason is finite. Faith is the ultimate fulfillment of reason. Science deals with the physical universe and faith deals with our ultimate concern which is beyond the physical universe. Conflicts occur when science tries to deal with issues beyond the physical universe or faith tries to deal with issues of the physical universe. The relationship between faith and philosophy, in the traditional sense, is more complicated because they both deal with ultimate reality but faith uses symbols and philosophy uses concepts. The reason for the different tools is the fact that the philosophy remains distinct from the ultimate reality/concern. In the symbol of God are the concepts of life, being, sprit, and love. In the symbol of the fall is the concept of man's estrangement from his essential nature.
The truthfulness of our faith can be looked at subjectively and objectively. Our faith is subjectively true if it what we are really ultimately concerned about and it is objectively true if it what is really the ultimate. There can be no faith without the participation of that which is ultimate. If there is no revelation of the ultimate, than man can not have faith in this ultimate. Faith, as our ultimate concern, integrates all other aspects of our life. Love is an inseparable aspect of faith. True love contains both eros and agape. Acton is the expression of love. Not only does faith exist in community but there can be no community of any kind without a shared faith. One faith can only be attacked by another faith.