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The New Being by Paul Tillich

Paul Tillich is generally considered one of the century's outstanding and influential thinkers. After teaching theology and philosophy at various German universities, he came to the United States in 1933. For many years he was Professor of Philosophical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, then University Professor at Harvard University. His books include Systematic Theology; The Courage to Be; Dynamics of Faith; Love, Power and Justice; Morality and Beyond; and Theology of Culture. The New Being was published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1955. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.

Chapter 15: "All Is Yours"

If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God.



When a speaker in a morning chapel service used this as his text, I got a written question in class: "What do you think about this morning’s sermon?" And this was the implication: How can philosophy stand in view of Paul’s depreciating words? I want to answer by trying to interpret what I believe Paul means, not only in the passage above but in the whole context. At the end of his discussion he gives the key by saying: Let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. (1 CORINTHIANS 3:21—23.)

Paul has asked, "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" And now he exclaims, "World and life and Apollos are yours." This means that the wisdom of the world is ours also. How could it be otherwise? We could not even read Paul’s words without the wisdom of the world which enables us to understand ancient texts, which gives us the technical tools to spread the Christian message all over the earth, which produces and sustains the political and educational and artistic institutions which serve and protect the Church. All this is ours. And even the different theologies are ours: the more dialectical one of Paul, the more ritualistic one of Peter, the more apologetic one of Apollos. There is only one type of theology which Paul dislikes—that which wants to monopolize the Christ and call itself the party of Christ. For each of these theologies wisdom of the world is needed; scribes are needed, debaters are needed, philosophers are needed, a language is needed to which everybody contributes. It is impossible to deny all this. But it is possible to discredit through loose talk what one cannot avoid using at the same time.

There is a deep dishonesty in the accusation against the use of historical research and philosophical thought in theology. In daily life one calls somebody dishonest who brings defamation upon those whom he uses. We should not commit this dishonesty in our theological work. And we cannot escape using the wisdom of this world. It is no escape if we say: Let us use a little of it, but not much, in order to escape the dangers implied in it. This certainly is not what Paul means. The whole world is yours, he says, the whole life, present and future, not parts of it. These important words speak of scientific knowledge and its passion, artistic beauty and its excitement, politics and their use of power, eating and drinking and their joy, sexual love and its ecstasy, family life and its warmth and friendship with its intimacy, justice with its clarity, nature with its might and restfulness, the man-made world above nature, the technical world and its fascination, philosophy with its humility—daring only to call itself love of wisdom—and its profundity—daring to ask ultimate questions. In all of these things is wisdom of this world and power of this world and all these things are ours. They belong to us and we belong to them; we create them and they fullill us.

But . . . and this "but" of Paul’s is not one of those "buts" in which everything is taken back that was given before. The great "but" to the world which is ours gives both the foundation and the limit of the world that is ours: "And you are Christ’s," namely, that Christ whose Cross is foolishness and weakness to the wisdom of the world. The wisdom of this world in all its forms cannot know God, and the power of this world with all its means cannot reach God. If they try it, they produce idolatry and are revealed in their foolishness which is the foolishness of idolatry.

No finite being can attain the infinite without being broken as He who represented the world, and its wisdom and its power, was broken on the Cross. This is the foolishness and the weakness of the Cross which is ultimate wisdom and which is the reason that Christ is not another bearer of wisdom and power of this world but that He is God’s. The Cross makes Him God’s. And out of this foolishness we win the wisdom to use what is ours, the wisdom of the world, even philosophy. If it be unbroken, it controls us. If it be broken, it is ours. "Broken" does not mean reduced or emaciated or controlled, but it means undercut in its idolatric claim.

Paul’s courage in affirming everything given, his openness towards the world, his sovereignty towards life should put to shame each of us as well as all our Churches. We are afraid to accept what is given to us; we are in compulsive self-seclusion towards our world, we try to escape life instead of controlling it. We do not behave as if everything were ours. And the Churches do so even less. The reason for this is that we and our Churches do not know as Paul did what it means to be Christ’s and because of being Christ’s, to be God’s.

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