1. Statement of problem
The problem of this dissertation is to compare and evaluate the conceptions of God in the thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.
It was in the year of 1935, at a ten-day seminar on religion, that Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman, along with several other distinguished religious thinkers, gathered at Fletcher Farm, Proctorsville, Vermont, to discuss some of the vital problems of religion. One of the most heated discussions of the conference was a discussion on the nature of God, in which all lecturers took part.1 In this particular discussion, Tillich and Wieman ended up in radically different positions. Wieman contended that Tillich “was at the same time more monistic and less realistic than he … pluralistic at the human level and monistic at the transcendent level.” Against this monistic thinking, Wieman sought to maintain an “ultimate pluralism whereby God was in no way responsible for evil … with no statement as to the ultimate outcome of the struggle between it and good and as opposed to God, not merely an instrument of God for good.”\[Footnote:] Quoted from Horton, Art. (1952), 36.\ Tillich in reply “commented upon Dr. Wieman’s complete break with the Christian tradition and Greek philosophy, and characterized his position as in direct line with Zoroastrianism … the plurality of powers and the duality of good and evil.… God was a duality and at the same time ultimate, which was a contradiction in terms.”\[Footnote:] Ibid.\
It is probable that Wieman and Tillich went away from this conference not fully understanding each other’s position. The controversy between Wieman and Tillich arose again a few years later when Wieman, in The Growth of Religion, grouped Tillich, Barth, Brunner, and Niebuhr together as “neosupernaturalists.” In a review of this book, Tillich sought to make it palpably clear that Wieman was erroneous in his grouping. Tillich writes:
What we have in common is simply the attempt to affirm to explain the majesty of God in the sense of the prophets, apostles and reformers—a reality which we feel is challenged by naturalistic as well as the fundamentalistic theology.\[Footnote:] Tillich, Rev. (1940), 70.\2
This affirmation does not put God outside the natural world as Wieman claims. And so Tillich goes on to affirm:
With respect to myself, I only need point to practically all my writings and their fight against the “side by side” theology even if it appears in the disguise of a “super.” The Unconditioned is a qualification of the conditioned, of the world and the natural, by which the conditioned is affirmed and denied at the same time.\[Footnote:] Tillich, Rev. (1940), 70.\3
In other words, Tillich is seeking to make it clear that he cannot be labeled a supernaturalist. The Divine, as he sees it, is not a being that dwells in some transcendent realm; it is the “power of being” found in the “ecstatic” character of this world.4
It is clear that in neither of these debates has the real difference between Wieman and Tillich been defined. Yet there is a real difference which needs to be defined. This dissertation grows out of an attempt to meet just this need.
The concept of God has been chosen because of the central place which it occupies in any religion; and because of the ever present need to interpret and clarify the God-concept. And these men have been chosen because they are fountainhead personalities; and because each of them, in the last few years has had an increasing influence upon the climate of theological and philosophical thought.
2. Sources of data
The primary sources of data are those works of Tillich and Wieman in which the concept of God is treated. Prominent among Tillich’s writings which contain discussions of the conception of God are the following in chronological order: The Religious Situation (1932), The Interpretation of History (1936), The Protestant Era (1948), Systematic Theology I (1951), and The Courage to Be (1952).
The main works of Wieman which contain discussions of the conception of God are: Religious Experience and Scientific Method (1927), The Wrestle of Religion with Truth (1927), The Issues of Life (1930), Normative Psychology of Religion (1935), The Growth of Religion (1938), and The Source of Human Good (1946).
The writings of Tillich and Wieman relevant to our problem also include several articles found in various theological and philosophical journals. These articles may be found listed in the Bibliography.\[Footnote:] For a general account of all source of data see the Bibliography. Writings of Tillich and Wieman will be designated by abbreviations. All other references will include the names of the authors and abbreviations of their works.\
3. Review of the work of other investigators
Since the publication of his magnum opus, Systematic Theology, in 1951, there has been an upsurge in the number of investigators of Paul Tillich’s thought. Prior to that time James Luther Adams of the Federated Faculty of the University of Chicago had been the chief interpreter of Tillich to American readers. Adams selected and translated the essays contained in The Protestant Era which was published in 1948. As a final chapter in this book Adams wrote an excellent interpretation of Tillich’s thought entitled “Tillich’s Concept of the Protestant Era.” Adams had earlier translated a chapter of Tillich’s Religiöse Verwirklichung and published it in the Journal of Liberal Religion.\[Footnote:] “The Religious Symbol,” Journal of Liberal Religion, 2 (Summer, 1940), 13—34.\ W. M. Urban was asked to give a critique of this article which appeared in the same issue of the journal under the title, “A Critique of Professor Tillich’s Theory of the Religious Symbol.”\[Footnote:] Journal of Liberal Religion, 2 (Summer, 1940), 34—36.\5
In 1952 a very fine dissertation was done in this school by Jack Boozer entitled, The Place of Reason in Tillich’s Conception of God.
Since the publication of his Systematic Theology, the investigators of Tillich’s thought have almost tripled. Numerous articles have appeared in theological and philosophical journals dealing with some phase of his thought. The most obvious evidence for the growing interest in Tillich’s thought is the fact that the editors of The Library of Living Theology chose him as the subject for the first volume.\[Footnote:] Kegley and Bretal (ed.), TPT. This series is consciously imitative of Paul A. Schilpp’s, The Library of Living Philosophers. The editors admit that they are seeking to do for present–day theology what Schilpp has done and is continuing to do so well for philosophy. Each volume of The Library of Living Theology, like The Living Philosophers, will be devoted to the thinking of a single living theologian, and will include (1) an intellectual autobiography; (2) essays on different aspects of the man’s work, written by leading scholars; (3) a “reply to his critic” by the theologian himself; and a complete bibliography of his writings to date.6\ This volume contains fourteen essays on various aspects of Tillich’s thought by men like W. H. Horton, T. M. Greene, George F. Thomas, John Herman Randall, Jr., Charles Hartshorne, Reinhold Niebuhr and J. L. Adams. At the end of the volume Tillich himself gives a reply to the interpretations and criticisms of his thought. If the enthusiasm of the contributors to this volume is an index of what is to come, we may expect even more extensive investigations of Tillich’s thought in the future.
Wieman’s thought has also been investigated quite extensively. Ever since he published his first book in 1927, Wieman’s thought has been interpreted and criticised by thinkers of all shades of opinion. Throughout the nineteen thirties and early forties theological and philosophical journals abounded with interpretations of Wieman’s thought, and with the publication of his magnum opus, The Source of Human Good, in 1946, such interpretations and criticisms continued with tremendous strides. It is probably no exaggeration to say that hardly a volume has appeared in the last twenty years in the fields of philosophy of religion and systematic theology, which has not made some reference to Wieman’s thought, particularly to his conception of God.
The present inquiry will utilize from these valuable secondary sources any results which bear directly on the problem, and will indicate such use by appropriate footnotes.
4. Methods of investigation
Several methods of procedure will be employed in the investigation of the problem stated for this dissertation. They are as follows:
A critical evaluation of their conceptions of God will be given. In seeking to give this critical evaluation two norms will be employed: (i) adequacy in expressing the religious values of historic Christianity; and (ii) adequacy in meeting the philosophical requirements of consistency and coherence. We shall also seek to discover the extent to which Tillich and Wieman claim to measure up to the standards by which they are here criticized, thus making the criticism internal as well as external. As a rule, critical appraisal will be preserved until a thorough elaboration of Tillich’s and Wieman’s positions has been made.7
Perhaps it is appropriate at this point to say a word concerning the general philosophical and theological orientation of Wieman and Tillich. For Wieman, God, or “creativity,” or “the creative event,” is the producer, or the production of unexpected, unpredictable good. In specifying the nature of the creative event Wieman is both eloquent and illuminating.
Throughout Wieman’s thought it is very easy to see the influence of Whitehead and Dewey. His naturalism and empiricism are quite reminiscent of Dewey. Like Dewey, he speaks of processes of creation, and also describes the production of good as issuing from a context of events. On the other hand, he goes beyond Dewey by insisting that the emergence of value is the work of God. Wieman sees a great deal of value in Whitehead’s “principle of concretion,” but he is generally skeptical of his metaphysical speculations. Disagreeing both with Whiteheadian metaphysics and Dewey’s humanistic naturalism, Wieman’s thought lies between these systems, containing a few features of both, and some few emphases foreign to both.
The immediate background of Tillich’s philosophy is the ontological and historical strains of nineteenth century German speculation. The later, post-Böhme philosophy of Schelling, the various mid-century reactions against the panlogism of Hegel, like Feuerbach and the early Marx, Nietzsche and the “philosophy of life,” and the more recent existentialism, especially of Heidegger—all these have contributed to Tillich’s formulation of philosophic problems.8
There is also a monistic strain in Tillich’s thinking which is reminiscent of Plotinus, Hegel, Spinoza and Vedanta thought. In his conception of God he seems to be uniting a Spinozistic element, in which God is not a being, but the power of being, with a profound trinitarian interpretation of this, which allows for what is traditionally called transcendence.
5. The structure of the dissertation
The Introduction presents the main problem of this study and presents a brief summary of what other investigators have contributed to it. The materials on which this study is based and the methods which it follows are also set forth.
Since the question of method is of such vital importance in theological and philosophical construction, it will be necessary to discuss the methodologies of Tillich and Wieman. This will be done in Chapter II. In Chapter III an exposition of Tillich’s conception of God is presented. In this Chapter it will be necessary to devote a few pages to a discussion of Tillich’s ontology as a whole, since it is his ultimate conviction that God is “being-itself.” In Chapter IV an exposition of Wieman‘s conception of God is given. In Chapter V the conceptions of God in the thinking of Wieman and Tillich will be compared and evaluated. Chapter VI will give the conclusions of the dissertation.
1 Horton, “Tillich’s Role in Contemporary Theology,” p. 36: “A high point in the conference was a three-cornered discussion on the nature of God, in which all the lecturers took part.”
2 Horton, “Tillich’s Role in Contemporary Theology,” pp. 36-37: “It is probable that neither of the two understood the other very fully at this first meeting.… A few years later, in The Growth of Religion (1938), Wieman grouped Barth, Brunner, Niebuhr, and Tillich together as ‘neo-supernaturalists.’ In his review of this book, Tillich rejected Wieman’s interpretation of all four, while also objecting to the grouping. ‘What we all have in common,’ he says, ‘is simply the attempt to affirm and to explain the majesty of God in the sense of the prophets, apostles and reformers—a reality which we feel is challenged by the naturalistic as well as the fundamentalistic theology.’”
3 Horton, “Tillich’s Role in Contemporary Theology,” p. 37: “This affirmation does not put God ‘outside’ the natural world, as Wieman claims, even in the case of Barth.… ‘With respect to myself, I only need point to practically all my writings and their fight against the “side by side” theology even if it appears in the disguise of a “super.” The Unconditioned is a qualification of the conditioned, of the world and the natural, by which the conditioned is affirmed and denied at the same time.’”
4 Horton, “Tillich’s Role in Contemporary Theology,” p. 37: “The Divine, as he sees it, does not inhabit a transcendent world above nature; it is found in the ‘estatic’ character of this world, as its transcendent Depth and Ground.”
5 Boozer, “Place of Reason,” pp. v-vi: “James Luther Adams of the Federated Faculty of the University of Chicago has been the chief interpreter of Tillich to American readers. Adams selected and translated the essays contained in The Protestant Era which was published in 1948.… In addition to selecting and translating the essays Adams writes as the final chapter in the book a splendid interpretation of Tillich’s thought entitled ‘Tillich’s Concept of the Protestant Era.’ … Adams translated a chapter of Tillich’s Religiöse Verwirklichung and published it in the journal, asking W. M. Urban to write a critique which appeared in the same issue of the journal under the title, ‘A Critique of Professor Tillich’s Theory of the Religious Symbol.’”
6 “Introduction” to Kegley and Bretall, eds., Theology of Paul Tillich, pp. vii-viii: “[Schilpp’s] idea was original and unique: to devote each volume in the series to the thinking of a single living philosopher, and to include in each (1) an intellectual autobiography; (2) essays on different aspects of the man’s work, written by leading scholars; (3) a ‘reply to his critics’ by the philosopher himself; and (4) a complete bibliography of his writings to date.… Our aim, quite simply, is to do for present-day theology what he has done and is continuing to do so well for philosophy.”
7. Boozer, “Place of Reason,” p. vii: “As a rule, critical appraisal has been reserved until a thorough elaboration of his position has been made.”
8. Randall, “Ontology,” p. 132: “The immediate background of Tillich’s philosophy is certain of the more ontological and historical strains of nineteenth century German speculation. The later, post-Böhme philosophy of Schelling, the various mid-century reactions against the panlogism of Hegel, like Feuerbach and the early Marx, Nietzsche and the ‘philosophy of life,’ and the more recent existentialism, especially of Heidegger—all these have contributed to his formulation of philosophic issues and problems.”
MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.