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The Shaking of the Foundations

Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
July 2018
Fred's Rating: 
Paul Tillich
Total Pages: 
Wipf & Stock

Paul Tillich (1886-1965) was barred from teaching in Germany in 1933. He emigrated to the United States, holding teaching positions at Union Theological Seminary, NY (1933-1955); Harvard Divinity School (1955-1962); and the Univ. of Chicago Divinity School (1962-1965). This book, first published in 1948, is the first of three collections of his sermons. (For his books I’ve read, click on his name.)

The Amazon website for the paperback edition (the only edition on Amazon) is:

[None of the ISBN-10, ISBN-13, or ASIN numbers on Amazon’s websites for the three editions (Kindle, hardcover, or paperback) are recognized by Amazon, thus the ‘no image Circle' appears. I think this new change by Amazon is not good. However, you can see the images of this book's covers at the website above.]

The home page has neither a summary nor the ‘Look inside’ option, but I recommend the Top customer review entitled “Reading another Paul Tillich” (click on ‘Read more’ to see all of this review).

The author’s 2-pp Preface is not available on Amazon’s website, so I give it here:

“There are two reasons why I agreed to the publication of a book of sermons at this time. Many of my students and friends outside the Seminary have told me of the difficulty they have met in trying to penetrate my theological thought. They believe that through my sermons the practical or, more exactly, the existential implications of my theology are more clearly manifest. I should like to think that the sermons included here help to show that the strictly systematic character of a theology does not need to prevent it from being ‘practical’ – that is to say: applicable to the personal and social problems of our religious life.

“There is, however, a more important reason for the publication of this volume. A large part of the congregation at the Sunday services came from outside the Christian circle in the most radical sense of the phrase. For them, a sermon in traditional Biblical terms would have had no meaning. Therefore, I was obliged to seek a language which expresses in other terms the human experience to which the Biblical and ecclesiastical terminology point. In this situation, an ‘apologetic’ type of sermon has been developed. And, since I believe that this is generally the situation in which the Christian message has to be pronounced today, I hope that the publication of some attempts to meet this situation may not be useless.

“The sermons in this collection are printed as they were delivered, with only minor changes; I did not rewrite them for publication. Most of them were delivered at Union Theological Seminary, either in the Sunday chapel service or in daily chapel. Only those sermons are included which evoked such a response from the students that the sermons had to be mimeographed.

“The Biblical texts are taken from several different translations: the King James, the Moffatt, the Smith and Goodspeed, the Revised Standard Version, and some commentaries. For permission to use the last three versions I am indebted respectively to Harper & Brothers, The University of Chicago Press, and The International Council of Religious Education. In many cases I have combined several different translations to form the text given.

“I wish to acknowledge my thanks to ‘Christendom’ for permission to reprint the sermon ‘Nature, Also, Mourns for a Lost God’; to the ‘Protestant’ for permission to reprint ‘The Escape from God’; and to the ‘Union Review’ for permission to reprint ‘The Theologian’ and ‘The Two Servants of Jahweh.’

“The volume could not have been published without the intensive work of serval of my former students in revising and organizing the sermons with great understanding and creative criticism. I wish to express my deep thanks to Miss Mary Heilner, Miss Elizabeth Cooper, Miss Carolyn Speer, the Reverend William O. Fennell and the Reverend William R. Coleman.”

There are 22 chapters in this collection, ranging from 4-pp to 12-pp. Here are the 22 chapters and their titles: Ch. 1 – The Shaking of the Foundations; Ch. 2 – We Live in Two Orders; Ch. 3 – The Paradox of the Beatitudes; Ch. 4 – The Two Servants of Jahweh; Ch. 5 – Mediation: The Mystery of Time; Ch. 6 – The Escape from God; Ch. 7 – The Depth of Existence; Ch. 8 – On the Transitoriness of Life; Ch. 9 – Nature, Also, Mourns for A Lofty Good; Ch. 10 – The Experience of the Holy; Ch. 11 – The Yoke of Religion; Ch. 12 – The Meaning of Providence; Ch. 13 – Knowledge Through Love; Ch. 14 – Doing the Truth; Ch. 15 – The Theologian; Ch. 16 – The Witness of the Spirit to the Spirit; Ch. 17 – He Who Is the Christ; Ch. 18 – Waiting; Ch. 19 – You Are Accepted; Ch. 20 – Born in the Grave; Ch. 21 – The Destruction of Death; Ch. 22 – Behold, I Am Doing a New Thing.

I choose to focus my comments on the 4-pp Ch. 14 – Doing the Truth – because Tillich gives a deep and thought-provoking discussion of Truth, which is seldom discussed in the way he does here. Chapter 14 begins with John 3:17-21. [Comments by me appear in square brackets.] Tillich begins this chapter with all caps in his first line:

“HE THAT DOES THE TRUTH! THIS IS A VERY surprising combination of words. We may recognize and know the truth, and we may act sometimes according to our knowledge, but how can we ‘do’ the truth? The truth is given to us in a true theory. We may or we may not follow that theory in our practice. Theory and practice seem to be two different things, and it is difficult to think of them united. Similarly, it is difficult to understand the phrase ‘doeth the truth.’ Perhaps this phrase should not be taken too seriously. Perhaps it should simply be interpreted as ‘acting according to the truth.’ But if such an interpretation were correct, what about the statements, also to be found in the Fourth Gospel, ‘I am the truth’, ‘the truth has become’, and that which speaks of people ‘who are of the truth’? None of these statements would have meaning if truth were a matter of theory alone.” [With an opening paragraph like the above, I can easily imagine those who had just heard Paul Tillich say the above to be sitting frozen in place, focused intently on what Tillich would say next. I sure would be, perhaps also holding my breath in anticipation! I continue by picking excerpts to condense his words.]

“People sometimes say, ‘This is right in theory but it doesn’t work in practice.’ They ought to say ‘This is wrong in theory and consequently it is wrong in practice.’ There is no true theory which could be wrong in practice. This contrast between theory and practice is contrived by people who want to escape hard and thorough thinking. They like to abide in the shallowness of accustomed practices, on the surface of a so-called ‘experience’. They will accept nothing but a repeated confirmation of something they already know or believe. Only those questions for truth which have challenged and disturbed centuries of practice have brought about a fundamental transformation of practice. This is true of the history of science, morals and religion.” …”When the prophet of the exile questioned the theory that the suffering of a nation is the punishment for its own sins, and explored the theory that the suffering of the servant of God serves all nations, the history of mankind received a new character. When the Apostles questioned the theory that the Messiah is an earthly ruler, and explained the Cross of Christ in terms of salvation, the whole system of ancient values was shaken.” …”The emphasis laid on truth in the Fourth Gospel should prevent us from being taken in by the misleading contrast between theory and practice. And it should give an urgent impetus toward more thorough thinking to those who are especially concerned with the truth of Christianity.” [Such deep thinking is what drove Paul Tillich to work towards developing his theology.]

“The Greek word for truth means: making manifest the hidden. Truth is hidden and must be discovered. No one possesses it naturally. It dwells in the depth, beneath the surface. The surface of our existence changes, moving continually like the waves in the ocean; and it is therefore delusive. The depth is eternal and therefore certain. In using the Greek word, the Fourth Gospel accepts the Greek concept, but at the same time it transforms it. ‘Doing the truth’, ‘being of the truth’, ‘the truth has become’, ‘I am the truth’ – all these combinations of words indicate that truth in Christianity is something which ‘happens’, which is bound to a special place, to a special time, to a special personality. Truth is something new, something which is ‘done’ by God in history, and, because of this, something which is ‘done’ in the individual life. Truth is hidden, truth is mystery – in Christianity as well as in Greek thought. But the mystery of truth in Christianity is an event which has taken place again and again. It is life, personal life, revelation and decision. Truth is a stream of life, centered in Christ, actualized in everybody who is connected with Him, organized in the assembly of God, the Church. In Greek thought truth only can be found. In Christianity truth is found if it is done, and done if it is found. In Greek thought truth is the manifestation of the eternal, immovable essence of things. In Christianity truth is the new creation, realizing itself in history. Therefore, in Christianity the opposite of truth is lie, and not – as it was in Greece – opinion. The decision for or against truth is ‘the’ life-and-death decision, and this decision is identical with the decision in which Christ is accepted or rejected. You cannot have ‘opinion’ about the Christ after you have faced Him. You can only do the truth by following Him, or do the lie by denying Him. Therefore, it is impossible to make Him a teacher of truth among – or even above – other teachers of truth. This would separate the truth from Him (just as the decision of Plato’s teaching is not the same thing as the decision for Plato). But just this separation is denied by the Fourth Gospel, when it calls Christ the truth ‘which has become’, and when it calls his followers those who are of the truth, and who, therefore, are able to do the truth.

“Christian theology is rooted in the concept of truth in which no cleavage between theory and practice is admitted, because this truth is saving truth. Theology should be like a circle in which the most peripheral elements of the historical, educational, and philosophical theories are directed towards the center, the truth, which is the Christ. No statement is theological which does not contain, directly or indirectly, saving truth. And ‘saving truth’ means the truth which is done; saving truth is in ‘him that does the truth’.” [Another way is to say: “To talk the talk” is not enough; what is essential is “to walk the walk”, as did Christ. A second way is to realize that truth is an action word – a verb, much more than a noun.]

Anyone who has read Ch. 14 will realize that I omitted only a few sentences that seemed to me to only be distractions. I did not try to reduce any words by Tillich in this superb chapter. I’m not sure how many Christian theologians have described the crucial action word ‘truth’ as well as Tillich does in Ch. 14. I feel that there may well be many Christians who have never thought about the word ‘truth’ as an action word but may still think of it as a noun; perhaps they have never considered ‘truth’ as either a noun or a verb – for such people I suggest they read the deeply insightful collections of sermons by Paul Tillich. This book, the oldest, I rate at five stars. (Next I will review his second and third collections.)