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The New Being Paperback – June 1, 2005
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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.
Like most Tillich writing, reading this book will open up many avenues of thought in the reader. I read this book after a hospital stay and it was a comfort and thought provoking.
Another must read Tillich book is "the Courage to Be." You just can't find writings of this quality anymore.
I enjoy reading these short sermons in a sort of devotional manner. Tillich writes on the New Being a person is when they accept Christ as a personal, liberating experience rather than a set of theological propositions which require intellectual assent.
These New Being sermons are grouped into three subsets, New Being as: love, freedom and fulfillment. Each grouping has about 5-8 sermons for a total of 23.
My personal favorite is in the freedom section: By What Authority. Tillich always starts with a scripture passage (Luke 20:1-8 in this case) and interprets in light of the existential concerns of contemporary man while still respecting historical and orthodox background as touchstones. In By What Authority Tillich approaches each question in his explanation/outline with the care of a philosopher, briefly exploring the nature of authority itself starting with parents, society, state and even rebellion. He interprets Jesus question to the elders as an indicator that they cannot recognize power by its own internal presence. They see "the rise of an authority without ritual or legal foundation...but deny the possibility of it...so they deny both the Baptist" and Jesus himself. They "deny the possibility of an authority guaranteed by its inner power." "There is something in the Christian message which is opposed to established authority." Tillich then goes on to illustrate how church and state are both just pale images of the true authority of Christ as their best is just an attempt to emulate some of His attributes. The New Being wants to know him in more fullness than these pseudo-authority structures acknowledge or even encourage.
Clearly, this is not light devotional reading, but neither is it long and tedious. I do not understand all of Tillich's thought, and I may never, but I love some of these sermons. If you have some background in theology or philosophy and don't mind some neo-orthodox interpretations of well loved passages, Tillich may be just right for you. Note however, neo-orthodoxy is a far cry from orthodox. Tillich is not confined by the usual strictures of purely biblical hermeneutics. So if you strongly prefer a traditional approach to Christian inspirational preaching/reading, this may not sit well.