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The Shaking of the Foundations 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. This book was published by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, in 1955 and is out of print. This material was prepared for Religion Online by John Bushell.


Chapter 14: Doing the Truth


For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. John 3:17-21.
 
 

He that does the truth! This is very surprising combination of words. We may recognize and know the truth, 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 phase "doeth the truth". Perhaps this phase 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.

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 Amos questioned the theory of all pagan religions, that the being and power of God is in some way identified with the being and power of a special country, the pagan practice all over the world was undermined. 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 earthy ruler, and explained the Cross of Christ in terms of salvation, the whole system of ancient values was shaken. When Augustine challenged the theory that God and man work together for salvation; when Luther attacked the theory that there is no salvation without the sacramental mediation of the Church; and when modem historical science destroyed the mechanistic and superstitious doctrines of inspiration, the practice of large sections of mankind was changed. 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.

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, something 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 and which takes 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, it is done, and done 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, and the decision for truth from the decision for Him (just as the decision for 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 toward 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 that truth which is done; saving truth is in "him that does the truth."

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