As Mary Ann Stegner states in her introduction to this volume, Tillich is far better known as a systematic theologian and philosopher than as a preacher. Indeed, he is the bane of the existence of many a seminary student who struggles through his magnum opus, the three-volume work entitled simply 'Systematic Theology'. However, Tillich always had the sense that this systematic theological and philosophical work was not an end in itself, but rather was a foundational task toward the greater Christian work, part of which is embodied most directly for most in the preaching and hearing of sermons and homilies. 'In this volume of sermons, Tillich preaches God's love, liberating truth, and fulfilling job, given to us in the New Being of Jesus as the Christ.'
Tillich is not an easy read. Educated in German schools deeply influenced by liberal theology of the nineteenth century and philosophical schools reacting to the breakdown of Enlightenment thinking, Tillich sought to make theology a relevant subject in the academy. Much of his writing is primarily geared toward other academics, philosophers in particular. But this is not so with his sermons. Many seminarians have difficulty with Tillich, both in making real-world connections as well as traversing the language -- Tillich invents his own terminology and develops his own linguistic methods of discussing theological issues, but these things are made more clear in his sermons, meant for the wider audience. They also have more of a direct application - 'Tillich's sermons speak to us, at least in part, because he experienced deeply the same anxieties we do, anxieties of death, meaninglessness and guilt...'
Tillich was profoundly influenced by his experiences in the first world war, where he served as a chaplain in the trench warfare. Unlike theologians such as Barth, he initially had a young man's bravado and support for the war, until the grim realities set in. This experience would never leave Tillich, and he continued to strive all his life to craft a systematic theology that would on the one hand address the concerns of culture but at the same time resist traditional pitfalls of theology-of-culture that make it less universal, and too much a human construct.
Tillich's development of Christology, with Christ as the New Being, is very significant, the way for Tillich's more general philosophical theology to find a grounding in Christianity. It gives this collection its title. Tillich had a long fascination with other religions, Buddhism in particular, and was charged by some critics of relegating Christianity to a secondary status. Like many of Tillich's theological ideas, there is a tension apparent in his Christological development that exists between different traditional methods of dealing with the issue historically, philosophically and theologically. However, Tillich is clear about the 'reality of the New Being which transforms Old Being, the reality who is Jesus as the Christ surrendering himself in love.'
These sermons draw from passages, pericopes and sometimes single verses from the scriptures that inspire Tillich toward a fuller development of themes of love, reconciliation, liberation, and fulfillment. Perhaps one of the most important sermons is one near the end, developed from the verse in the first letter of John (3:14) - Tillich states, 'In our time, as in every age, we need to see something which is stronger than death. Death has become powerful in our time, in individual human beings, in families, in nations and in mankind as a whole.' We can hear this being preached in today's post-9-11 environment just as easily as Tillich might have preached and felt it after the period of world war. Tillich proceeds to expand on the idea of love as unconquerable, as that which overcomes death and all limitation.
This is a wonderful collection of sermons, unique in many ways, products both of their time as well as words that contain timeless messages.