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Chapter V, "A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman"

Author: 
King, Martin Luther, Jr. (Boston University)
Genre: 
Essay
Topic: 
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Education

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Chapter V

A COMPARISON AND EVALUATION OF THE CONCEPTIONS OF GOD IN THE THINKING OF WIEMAN AND TILLICH

We turn now to a discussion of the basic problem of this dissertation, viz., comparing and evaluating the conceptions of God in the thinking of Wieman and Tillich. Up to this point we have attempted to interpret the conceptions of God held by Wieman and Tillich separately, without any mention of their points of agreement or disagreement. Now we will look at their conceptions of God together, with a view of determining their convergent and divergent points.

We shall see as the discussion develops that Wieman and Tillich have much more in common than is ordinarily supposed. It has been a not too infrequent tendency to group Wieman with the naturalistic thinkers and Tillich with the neo-supernaturalistic thinkers. As we have seen, even Wieman himself attaches the neo-supernaturalist tag to Tillich. In The Growth of Religion, Wieman grouped Barth, Brunner, Niebuhr, and Tillich together as neo-supernaturalists. A close analysis of Tillich, however, will reveal that he cannot so easily be grouped with the neo-supernaturalists. There is much in his thinking that smacks of religious naturalism. His opposition to supernaturalism is much more pronounced than his opposition to naturalism. He is forever revolting against the view that there is a world behind the world.

Yet despite these similarities between Wieman and Tillich which are often overlooked, we must recognize that there are important differences between the two. Any adequate comparison of Wieman and Tillich will recognize their differences along with their points of concurrence.

1. God’s existence

One of the basic points at which Tillich and Wieman concur is in affirming that God is an undeniable reality. Both are so convinced of the reality of God that they would dismiss all arguments for the existence of God as futile and invalid. As we have seen, Tillich contends that theologians and philosophers should have said something about the ontological implications of finitude rather than present elaborate arguments for the existence of God. “The arguments for the existence of God,” contends Tillich, “neither are arguments nor are they proof of the existence of God. They are expressions of the question of God which is implied in human finitude.”* In a similar vein Wieman affirms the futility of the traditional arguments. He says: “No one has less interest than I in trying to prove the existence of God. . . . I hold such procedure folly.”†

Although Tillich and Wieman agree in the assertion that all arguments for the existence of God are invalid, they differ in reasons given for the invalidity of these arguments. Wieman thinks that the existence of God is as certain as any reality in the physical world; this God is capable of being perceived through the senses. Hence any attempt to prove the existence of God is as futile as attempting to prove the existence of the physical world or the people about us. Wieman laconically states: “All the traditional arguments to prove the existence of God are as much out of place in religion as arguments to prove the existence of nature would be in science.”‡

On the other hand, Tillich finds the traditional arguments invalid because of his contention that God transcends the category of existence. To say “God exists” is, for Tillich, the basest blasphemy. “It is as atheistic to affirm the existence of God,” asserts Tillich, “as it is to deny it.”§ Tillich feels that it would be a great victory for Christian apologetics if the words “God” and “existence” were very definitely separated. God does not exist. He transcends the categories of essence and existence. Therefore, to argue that God exists, affirms Tillich, is to deny him.#1

* Tillich, ST, I, 205.
†Wieman, Art. (1932)3, 84.
‡ Wieman, Art. (1932)3, 284.
§ Tillich, ST, I, 237.
# Tillich, ST, I, 205.

Wieman is far more willing to apply the term existence to God than Tillich. Wieman never wearies of pointing out that God exists. Tillich’s insistence that God transcends the category of existence grows out of his basic conviction that God is being-itself. This means that God is not a being, not even the most powerful or most perfect being. All discussions of the existence of God start out with the assumption that God is something or someone, i.e. a being. But this objectification or “thingification” of God, asserts Tillich, is blasphemy.2

So Tillich finds it necessary to say “God does not exist” because his ontological analysis leads him to define God as being-itself. Wieman, on the other hand, finds it necessary to say “God exists” because his naturalistic position leads him to define God as the creative event within nature. However, at bottom Tillich and Wieman are seeking to convey the same idea, viz., that the reality of God is an indubitable certainty. They are seeking to lift the question of God out of the arena of debate.

There is a further point at which Tillich and Wieman seem to be in agreement on the question of God’s existence. Both seek to assure the reality of God through the definition of God. As we have seen, Wieman seeks “so to formulate the idea of God that the question of God’s existence becomes a dead issue, like the question of the other inescapable forms of initial existence.”* To accomplish this he has offered as a “minimal” definition of God the following: “God is that something upon which human life is most dependent for its security, welfare, and increasing abundance . . . that something of supreme value which constitutes the most important conditions.”† If God be defined as supreme value or as that process which underlies and makes possible the maximum achievement of value, then the fact of his existence is “inescapable,” he feels. “The best there is and can be . . . is a self-proving proposition.”‡ So Wieman feels that just as it is folly to attempt to prove the existence of nature to natural creatures, or the United States to its citizens, it is equal folly to try to prove to human beings, whose essential nature consists in seeking, adoring, and serving whatever has greatest value, that there is something which has greatest value. He says: “Never in any of my writings have I tried to prove the existence of God except by definition.”§ So Wieman is confident that he has solved the problem of proving God’s existence by a definition.

* Wieman, Art. (1932)3, 276.
† Wieman, RESM, 9.
‡ Wieman, Art. (1931)2, 171.
§ Wieman, Art. (1932)3, 284.

Like Wieman, Tillich seeks through his definition of God to assure the reality of God and make it virtually impossible to deny him. Tillich’s position at this point is clearly set forth in the following statement:

The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is God. This is what the word God means. . . . If you know that God means depth then you know much about him. You cannot then call yourselves atheists or unbelievers. For you cannot think and say: “There is no depth in life! Life itself is shallow. Being itself is surface.” Only if you could say this in complete seriousness you would be atheists—otherwise not.*

Thus Tillich, like Wieman, is seeking so to formulate the idea of God that the question of God’s existence becomes a dead issue.† As we have seen, Tillich’s basic definition of God is “being-itself” or “power of being.” God as being-itself neither needs nor can receive proof. He is that ultimate—Tillich’s term is das Unbedingte—which is a certain quality of the world man encounters and which analysis reveals as “presupposed” in all his encountering. In other words, Tillich is seeking to say that God is presupposed in the question of God. One cannot deny him without affirming him. God as the “power of being,” as Seinsmachtigkeit is the source of all power. Thus the power of thought is derived from the ground of power. So far as one has power, contends Tillich, he cannot escape God. For God as “power of being” is that power by which one doubts, feels, thinks, knows, exists.

So by defining God as “being-itself’’ or “power of being,” Tillich has made it virtually impossible for one to deny the reality of God. Even to deny him is to affirm him, because he is the power by which the denial is made.

Wieman and Tillich are at one in seeking to define God in such a way that even the sceptic and atheist cannot deny his existence. They believe they have solved the problem of proving the reality of God by a definition.

We may raise the question at this point whether Wieman and Tillich have been successful in their endeavors to make the question of God’s existence a dead issue. In criticising Wieman’s general procedure at this point, Macintosh suggests that an easy way to prove the existence of God to the satisfaction of everyone, is to reduce the definition of the term until everyone, even the confessed atheist will have to admit his existence. Macintosh questions this procedure on the ground that it gains assurance that God is by drastically subtracting from what God means.‡3

* Tillich, Art. (1944)4, 320.
† In a very interesting article Tillich expresses definite agreement with Wieman’s attempt to make the question of God’s existence a dead issue. Tillich feels that such an approach is in line with the ontological method of the philosophy of religion, the method which he (Tillich) feels is most adequate. Tillich states: “If the idea of God is to be formulated in such a way that the question of God’s existence becomes a dead issue” (Wieman), . . . we are in an ontological atmosphere, although the ontological approach is not clearly stated and its relation to the cosmological approach and to faith is not adequately explained.” (Art. (1946)2, 9).
‡ Macintosh, Art. (1932), 24.

This criticism is basically sound, and it applies to Tillich’s procedure as well as Wieman’s. Both Wieman and Tillich, in their attempt to formulate the idea of God so as to make the question of God’s existence a dead issue, have given up much that is most essential from the religious point of view in the idea of God. As we shall see subsequently, both Tillich and Wieman reject the conception of a personal God, and with this goes a rejection of the rationality, goodness and love of God in the full sense of the words. An impersonal “being-itself” or “creative event” cannot be rational or good, for these are attributes of personality.

It seems that in the Christian message, “God” means “a being,” not “being-itself.” He is of course, not a being “alongside” others, but He is a being “above others.” Therefore “existence” can be predicated of Him, though not the contingent finite existence of His creatures. He is not merely “the ground of everything personal”; He is personal Himself.4

Moreover, the Christian God is not merely an impersonal process within nature. He is a personal being above nature, forever giving meaning and direction to process. If this is the Christian view, it is clear that Tillich’s and Wieman’s statement of it has been weakened at points by their attempt to make the question of God’s existence a dead issue. Both Wieman and Tillich sacrifice too much for the sake of getting rid of a troublesome question.

Another question that we must raise at this point is the accuracy of making the question of “proof” of God’s existence irrelevant by definition. In this procedure both Wieman and Tillich, whether they realize it or not, are employing a version of the ontological argument. This raises the perennial question whether the being of anything can be “proved” by definition, by the refinement of a concept.

It must be pointed out that the versions of the ontological argument set forth by Tillich and Wieman are quite different from the Anselmic version of the ontological argument. Anselm sought to prove the existence of the being with the richest conceivable attributes, while Wieman and Tillich seek to prove by definition “a being of minimum specifications.” In other words, Anselm sought to prove the existence of God by a definition with maximum specification of attributes, while Tillich and Wieman seek to prove the reality of God by definitions with minimum specifications. In all three cases, however, the reality of God is involved in the definition of God, and hence is a necessary truth of reason. So Tillich’s and Wieman’s versions of the ontological argument present some of the same difficulties that men like Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant found in the Anselmic version.

2. The personality of God

Tillich and Wieman are in one accord in denying the category of personality to God. They feel that to refer to God as a person is to limit him. Both would agree that “God towers in unique majesty infinitely above the little hills which we call minds and personalities.”*

They differ somewhat, however, in the reasons given for objecting to the claim of a personal God. The basic reason for Wieman’s objection is to found in his general naturalistic and empiricistic positions. We have seen that, for Wieman, the basic things in the world are events, happenings, or processes. There is nothing transcending or undergirding events. Everything that exists is either an event, an aspect of an event, or a relation between or within events. This means that God must be found in the natural order. Like everything else that exists, God is a material being, a process with an enduring structure which distinguishes his character from that of other processes.5 God is the “creative event” within nature rather than the “creative event” above nature. There is not the slightest empirical evidence, contends Wieman, that God as the creative event within nature is personal in character. Empirical observation reveals that personality is limited to creatures.

Wieman feels that it is much more empirical to refer to God as process than as personality. Throughout his definitions of God there is the persistent affirmation that God belongs to the category of process. He refers to God as an “integrating process,”† an “interaction,”‡ a “pattern of behavior,”§ and the “creative event.”# In each of these definitions, Wieman is seeking to say that God is not a concrete object; he is a process in which concrete objects affect one another; he is an event, not a continuing entity. So Wieman is certain that empirical observation points more to process and interaction as the basic character of the “creative event” than to personality.

* Wieman, Art. (1936)2, 432.
† Wieman, MPRL, 22, 46, 47.
‡ Wieman, Art. (1932)3, 13.
§ Wieman, WRT, 62.
# Wieman, SHG, 58f.

Tillich’s objection to the claim of a personal God, unlike Wieman’s, grows out of his general ontological analysis. This leads him to affirm that personality is a characteristic of beings, not of being-itself. Personality might be applied to being-itself in a symbolic sense, meaning that God is the ground of everything personal, but never can it be applied to him in a literal sense. Being-itself transcends the categories of finitude, and is prior to the split of subject and object. To speak of God as a person would mean making him an object besides other objects, a being among beings, maybe the highest, but anyhow a being.6 But to objectify God in such a sense is, for Tillich, the basest blasphemy.

Tillich’s objection to the conception of a personal God does not lead him to affirm with Wieman that God is process. Tillich feels that a God who is merely process is as limited as a God who is merely a person. God as being-itself is infinitely more than process or interaction.

It is interesting to note that Wieman and Tillich concur on the point that God is not impersonal. The fact that they deny that God is personal does not mean, for them, that God is impersonal. Wieman insists that God responds to personal adjustments in a “personal” manner, and that his nature must be so conceived that it accounts for the existence of personality.* Tillich, in a similar vein, insists that God is the ground of everything personal and that he carries within himself the ontological power of personality.†7 Because of this, God cannot be impersonal. In brief, Wieman and Tillich are certain that God is not sub-personal but supra-personal. Therefore they use the personal pronoun in referring to God, being at the same time conscious of its inadequacy.‡8

In spite of their insistence that the idea of a personal God is confusing, Tillich and Wieman agree that the symbol is of vital importance for religious worship. Wieman says that “the mythical symbol of person or personality may be indispensable for the practice of worship and personal devotion to the creative power, this need arising out of the very nature of creative interaction. . . .”§ Tillich finds the symbol of a personal God indispensable for living religion, if for no other reason than that, as the philosopher Schelling says, “only a person can heal a person.”9 He further contends that this kind of symbolism must be maintained against pantheistic and naturalistic criticism, lest religion fall back to the level of a primitive-demonic pre-personalism.#

* Wieman, GOR, 359-362.
† Tillich, ST, I, 245.
‡ Wieman, IOL, 219-230. Tillich’s position on this point is clearly set forth in the following statement: “The supra-personal is not an ‘It,’ or more exactly, it is a ‘He’ as much as it is an ‘It,’ and it is above both of them. But if the ‘He’ element is left out, the ‘It,’ element transforms the alleged supra-personal into a sub-personal, as it usually happens in monism and pantheism.” (Art. (1940)2, 10).
§ Wieman, SHG, 267-268.
# See Chap. III, sec. 10.

It must be pointed out that Tillich and Wieman use the word “symbol” in a somewhat different sense. Wieman uses symbol to mean little more than a sign. It is the creation of a subjective desire. Tillich, on the other hand, insists that a symbol is more than a technical sign. The basic characteristic of the symbol is its innate power. The genuine symbol participates in the reality of that which it symbolizes. Moreover, true symbols indicate something about the nature of God, but that indication is never precise, unambiguous, literal. So when Tillich speaks of personality as a symbolic expression of God’s nature, he is sure that here is an implicit indication of the nature of God.

Several points require comment.

1. How sound is Wieman’s view that God is process instead of personality? Wieman sees God as unifying activity seeking to bring about an organic unity as yet very incompletely actualized. This means that there is a gap between actual existence and unrealized possibility, between timeless forms and fluent process. Now this gap must be filled by God if he is properly performing his unifying activity. But in order to fill the gap, God must transcend the process and yet be active and actual. In other words, in order for God to perform his unifying activity, he must be more than process. He must have some unwavering grasp or vision of forms not yet actualized. This means that he must transcend the flux of events.

2. Wieman speaks of God as a system of events. The question still remains, however, what it is that generates the system. What is it that stands behind the system to account for its systematic character? Wieman leaves this problem unsolved because he refuses to see God as a concrete object or entity. He has tried to get away from metaphysics by defining God as a system of interactions, but he has merely succeeded in posing the problem of accounting for the system.11

3. Tillich affirms that God is personal in the sense that he is the ground of personality. God lives in that he is the ground of life. God is good in that he is the ground of goodness. Now since it is Tillich’s conviction that God as “being-itself” is the ground of all being, it logically follows from this type of thinking that God is also evil and impersonal since he is the ground of these.

4. Both Tillich and Wieman contend that God is “supra-personal.” Now if this means that Deity represents a higher type of consciousness and will than that represented by human personality, it simply states what has been maintained by almost every theistic personalist. As Thomas Aquinas says: “The name person is fittingly applied to God; not, however, as it is applied to creatures, but in a more excellent way (via eminentiae).”*

But it is one thing to say that personality which is in part known includes experiences which we do not yet know; and it is quite another thing to say that there is an entity of some sort which is lacking in consciousness and rationality. It is in the latter sense that Wieman and Tillich seem to speak. Such a position never reveals to us whether an unconscious “supra-personality” is better or worse than personality.

Certainly it seems more empirical to ascribe personality to God than to ascribe “supra-personality’’ to him. In the world of experiences the basic source of personality production and sustenance has been personality. Now when we are confronted with the fact of personality production and sustenance on a cosmic scale, why not ascribe the source to cosmic personality? It would be better by far to admit that there are difficulties with an idea we know—such as personality—than to employ a term which is practically unknown to us in our experience.

The “supra-personal” is a term without any concrete content; it is at best but a label for the unknown, and not a definable hypothesis. If we are, therefore, to think of God, it must be either under the personal or some impersonal form. There is no third alternative. But even though this be admitted, Wieman and Tillich would still insist that personality involves limitation and so is inapplicable to God. This idea, however, rests upon a false conception of the nature of personality. It is certainly true that human personality is limited, but personality as such involves no necessary limitation. It means simply self-consciousness and self-direction. The idea of personality is so consistent with the notion of the absolute that we must say with Bowne “that complete and perfect personality can be found only in the Infinite and Absolute Being, as only in him can we find that complete and perfect selfhood and self-expression which is necessary to the fullness of personality.”† The conception of God as personal, therefore, does not imply limitation of any kind.

* Quoted from Knudson, DOG, 300.
† Bowne, PER, 266f.

5. All the conclusions of Tillich and Wieman seem to point to an impersonal God. Despite their warnings that God is not less than personal, we see traits throughout their thinking that point to a God that is less than personal. Wieman’s God, for instance, is an interaction, that is, a behavior process. Just as the psychological behaviorist takes man’s behavior as man himself, Wieman takes God’s behavior as God himself.* Thus God is not a concrete object or a continuing entity. He is a process. In short, Wieman’s God is an unconscious process devoid of any true purpose.

Tillich’s God is “being-itself” or the “power of being.” But “being-itself,” as we have seen, is little more than a sub-personal reservoir of power, somewhat akin to the impersonalism of Oriental Vedantism.† “Being-itself” suggests a pure absolute devoid of consciousness and life. Even Tillich himself unconsciously recognizes that “being-itself’’ is such an absolute. Concerning a living God he says:

Most of the so-called anthropomorphisms of the biblical picture of God are expressions of his character as living. His actions, his passions, his remembrances and anticipations, his suffering and joy, his personal relations and his plans—all these make him a living God and distinguish him from the pure absolute, from being-itself.‡

Here Tillich is saying what we have been implying all along, viz., that “being-itself” is an impersonal absolute devoid of life.

So Wieman and Tillich conclude by choosing the less-than-personal to explain personality, purpose and meaning.

* Cf. Morrison, Rev. (1946), 1374-1376.
† See Chap III, sec. 10.
‡ Tillich, ST, I, 242.

6. What can be said concerning the positive religious value of the conceptions of God held by Wieman and Tillich? Is it possible to worship a behavior process or an impersonal absolute? It hardly seems so. The impersonal may be an object of thought. But before thought, which is subjective activity, can pass into worship, which is a process of communion and intercourse between living minds, the impersonal must be personalized.13

The religious man has always recognized two fundamental religious values. One is fellowship with God, the other is trust in his goodness.* Both of these imply the personality of God. No fellowship is possible without freedom and intelligence. There may be interactions between impersonal beings, but not fellowship. True fellowship and communion can exist only between beings who know each other and take a volitional attitude toward each other. If God is a mere “interaction” or “process” as Wieman would say, or merely “being-itself” as Tillich would say, no communion with him would be possible. Fellowship requires an outgoing of will and feeling. This is what the Scripture means when it refers to God as the “living” God. Life as applied to God means that in God there is feeling and will, responsive to the deepest yearnings of the human heart; this God both evokes and answers prayer.14

It may be true that on the impersonal plane religion seeks union with the Divine Being.15 But this type of union is vastly different from that of personal beings. As Knudson has so well put it:

There is a vast difference between a mystical, metaphysical union with an impersonal Being and the kind of union with the Divine taught us in Scripture. Here we have to do not with the union of absorption, but with a union that grows out of reciprocal intercourse, a union of heart and will and intellect; and such a union is possible only between personal beings. Only the personality of God makes possible the union of communion with him.†

* See Knudson, DOG, 304-308.
† Knudson, DOG, 307.

God’s personality is also the presupposition of his goodness. There can be no goodness in the true ethical sense without freedom and intelligence. Only a personal being can be good. Wieman talks a great deal about the goodness of God and so does Tillich to a lesser extent; but this is goodness in an abstract impersonal sense, not in a genuine ethical sense. Goodness in the true sense of the word is an attribute of personality.16

The same is true of love. Outside of personality loves loses its meaning. Tillich speaks of God as being love. But it is not love in the full sense of the word. Love, for Tillich, is just the dialectical union of opposites. Tillich’s use of the word love is hardly different from the meaning given it by Empedocles, who meant by “love” no more than the attraction of the elements for one another.*

Wieman writes a great deal about the need for loving God. But we may ask, How can one truly love an interaction? Wieman would reply that it is always an interaction that we love. He affirms: “When I love Mr. Jones it is not Mr. Jones in the abstract, but the fellowship of Mr. Jones. Fellowship is a kind of interaction. . . . It is the interaction which generates love and is the real object of love.”† Now it is certainly true that the interaction generates the love, but it does not follow from this that we love interactions. What we love deeply is persons—we love concrete objects, persistent realities, not mere interactions. A process may generate love, but the love is directed primarily not toward the process, but toward the continuing persons who generate that process.18 In the words of H. H. Dubbs,

If God is to really be worthy of love, he must be more than a system of interactions-he must be an object, an enduring object, who can enter into interactions. A God who is merely interactions cannot really be love, so that religious devotion cannot attach to him.‡

So we must conclude that Tillich’s “being-itself’’ and Wieman’s “creative event” are lacking in positive religious value. Both concepts are too impersonal to express adequately the Christian conception of God. They provide neither the conditions for true fellowship with God nor the assurance of his goodness.

* See Chap. III, sec. 10.
† Wieman, Art. (1932)3, 17, 18.
Dubbs, Art. (1943), 260.

3. The transcendence and immanence of God

In a very real sense Wieman may be referred to as a prophet of God’s immanence. He never wearies of pointing out that God is within nature. This emphasis grows out of his basic naturalistic position. As we have seen, Wieman holds that there is nothing more fundamental or elemental than events. Everything that exists is either an event, an aspect of an event, or a relation between or within events. This means that there are no floating transcendental principles which explain the world in terms of something outside the world. Principles, descriptions, and explanations refer to events and their relations (structures).*

Like everything else that exists, God is found within the natural order. Whatever may be his several other attributes, his transcendence is not of the noumenal or completely independent variety. Whatever transcendence he has will be seen to arise out of his very immanence in the world of events.20

Tillich’s thought at this point has often been considered the direct antithesis of Wieman’s. He has been interpreted as a neo-supernaturalist, who affirms that God is above, before, and behind nature. As we have seen, Wieman himself so interprets Tillich’s thought. But a close scrutiny of Tillich’s view in this respect reveals that he is probably as near the naturalistic position as he is to the supernaturalistic. Tillich is forever revolting against the view that there is a world behind the world. His aversion for supernaturalism is clearly brought out in the following passage in which he answers Wieman’s claim that he is a supernaturalist:

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.†

In other words, Tillich is saying that in no sense can he be labeled a supernaturalist. He is convinced that the Divine does not inhabit a transcendent world above nature; it is found in the “ecstatic” character of this world as its transcendent depth and ground.21

* See chap IV, sec. 1.
† Tillich, Rev. (1940)3, 70.

God’s immanence is also expressed in the fact that everything finite participates in being itself and in infinity. If this were not the case, everything finite would be swallowed by non-being, or it never would have emerged out of non-being. So in a sense Tillich is as zealous to preserve the immanence of God as Wieman.

But this is only one side of Tillich’s thought at this point. His desire to protect the majesty of God and his complex ontological analysis cause him to stress the transcendence of God as much as his immanence. Indeed, at times Tillich seems to stress the transcendence more than the immanence. It is at this point that Tillich goes beyond Wieman, for Wieman is more impressed with the immanence of God than the transcendence.

Tillich finds a basis for God’s transcendence in the conecption of God as abyss. God is transcendent in the sense that he, as the abyss of being, transcends every being and also the totality of beings-the world. God is beyond finitude and infinity, insists Tillich. “There is no proportion or gradation between the finite and the infinite. There is an absolute break, an infinite ‘jump’.”? As we have seen, the abyss is the inexhaustible depth of God’s nature. This is the unknowable side of God. In so far as God is abyss he is unapproachably holy, infinitely distant from man.22

Interestingly enough, Wieman agrees with Tillich that there is an uncomprehended element in God’s nature. Wieman speaks of “the uncomprehended reality of God’s total being.”* Despite his insistence that God is a knowable entity within nature, Wieman affirms that God is transcendent, “not in the sense of being wholly unknown, but in the sense of being unknown with respect to his detailed and specific nature.”† In other words, Wieman seems to be saying that although we have some knowledge of God, we can never know his ultimate nature, Le., his “detailed and specific nature.” Wieman is attempting to stress a functional transcendence rather than a metaphysical one.

So we see that Tillich and Wieman have quite a bit in common on the question of the immanence and transcendence of God. But there is a distinct difference in emphasis. Wieman’s attempt to be a thoroughgoing empiricist and naturalist causes him to stress the immanence of God much more than the transcendence. On the other hand, Tillich’s desire to protect the majesty of God causes him to stress the transcendence of God much more than his immanence. This emphsis is so strong in Tillich’s thinking that he goes to the extreme of saying that it is the abyss that makes God God. This is his way of saying that it is God’s transcendence rather than his immanence that makes him God.

Whenever Wieman and Tillich stress the immanence of God, they must be commended. Such an emphasis sounds a much needed note in the face of a supernaturalism that finds nature so irrational that the order of creation can no longer be discerned in it, and history so meaningless that it all bears the “minus sign” of alienation from God.23 The emphasis comes as a necessary corrective to a supernaturalism that has overstressed the transcendence of God.

However, there is always the danger that in revolting against any extreme view one will go the opposite extreme, failing to see the partial value inherent in the former. It is possible, for instance, so to stress the immanence of God that the truth in the doctrine of the divine transcendence will be completely overlooked. This is what happens in the case of Wieman. In his attempt to confront modern skepticism with a God who is immanent in nature, Wieman leaves out many basic Christian principles that are preserved in the doctrine of transcendence. God cannot be reduced to natural processes, because he is the ground and creator of the natural order. To make God merely a process in nature is to rob him of his divinity. If God is to be truly God, he must be more than a behavior process; he must, in some sense, be above and before nature. Wieman fails to affirm this because of his bias toward a naturalistic philosophy which is alien to the spirit of Christianity.

There is an unnecessary ambiguity in Tillich’s thought concerning the transcendence and immanence of God. On the one hand he speaks as a religious naturalist making God wholly immanent in nature. On the other hand he speaks as an extreme supernaturalist making God almost comparable to the Barthian “wholly other.” In other words Tillich seems to stress the absolute immanence of God on the one hand and the absolute transcendence of God on the other. But it is hardly possible to reconcile these two views. If God is absolutely immanent he cannot be absolutely transcendent, and conversely, if he is absolutely transcendent he cannot be absolutely immanent. Even Tillich’s dialectical principle cannot come to his aid at this point because the presupposition of the dialectical principle is that there is a point of contact between the “yes” and “no.” Tillich himself realizes this. In one of his most succinct criticisms of Barth, Tillich writes: “A dialectic theology is one in which ‘yes and ‘no’ belong inseparably together. In the so-called ‘dialectic’ theology they are irreconcilably separated, and that is why this theology is not dialectic.”‡24 The dialectical principle, which balances the “yes” of God’s immanence with the “no” of his transcendence, is totally disrupted when either the “yes” or the “no” is considered exclusive or absolute.

The basic weakness of Tillich at this point is that he fails to maintain the tension between the transcendence and immanence of God which is necessary for a meaningful theistic position. God must be both “in” and “beyond” the world. If he is absolutely beyond, then he is not in; if absolutely in, then not beyond; but remove the absolutely, and he may be both. The doctrines of transcendence and immanence are both half-truths in need of the tension of each other to give the more inclusive truth.

* Wieman, Art. (1936)2, 436.
† Wieman, Art. (1936)2, 437.
‡ Tillich, Art. (1935)1, 127.

4. The super-human character of God

Tillich and Wieman have at the forefront of their thinking a deep theocentric concern. Both are convinced that God is the most significant Fact in the universe. However much they disagree on the nature of God, they are at one in affirming the significance of God. Both are convinced that man’s ultimate devotion is due to God and God alone. Tillich expresses this idea in the assertion that God is what ultimately concerns us. This ultimate concern is the abstract translation of the great commandment: “The Lord, our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”* This ultimate concern is unconditional, total and infinite. For any preliminary concern to be elevated to ultimacy, is for Tillich, the height of idolatry. It is also the source of many tragedies. When something essentially partial is boosted into universality, and something essentially finite is given infinite significance, almost anything can occur.†25 Only God warrants man’s ultimate concern.

Like Tillich, Wieman feels that nothing should be placed before God. He contends that man should give himself, all that he is and all that he desires, all that he possesses and all that is dear to him, into the control of creative good to be transformed in any way that it may require.‡ He is convinced that the chief tragedies that befall man and his historic existence stem from man’s tendency to elevate created good to the rank of creative good (God). Just as Tillich sees the elevation of preliminary concerns to the status of ultimacy as idolatrous, Wieman sees the elevation of created good to the rank of creative good as idolatrous. Wieman feels that the best in Christianity is the reversing of the order of domination in the life of man from domination of human concern by created good over to domination by creative good (God).§26 So Wieman’s emphasis, like Tillich’s, is theocentric throughout.

This theocentric concern leads Tillich and Wieman to the further assertion that God is not man. Both are averse to anything that smacks of humanism. As we have seen, Tillich’s ontological analysis leads him to affirm that God must not be confused with man in any sense. God as being-itself infinitely transcends all beings. He is not a being, not even a “highest being” or a “most perfect” being. He is the power of being in everything that has being.#

This idea is more concisely expressed in the assertion that God is the unconditional. The unconditional is not a section of reality; it is not an object among objects. The unconditional transcends the distinction between subject and object. Instead of God being an object for us as subjects, he is the prius of the separation into subject and object, that which precedes the division. As we have seen in the earlier part of the discussion, this prius of separation is not a person. It is power, power of being.28

All of this is Tillich’s way of saying that God infinitely transcends human existence. He is convinced that there is a qualitative distinction between God and man.

Wieman, like Tillich, never wearies of pointing out that God is superhuman. It is probably no exaggeration to say that Wieman’s objectivistic, realistic, theocentric trend developed in opposition to religious humanism. He feels that the deification of man is the pitiable absurdity man has ever perpetrated. He is convinced that the work of God is totally difference from the work of man. The difference is not merely of degree or magnitude. It is a difference of kind.$ So Wieman, like Tillich, sees a qualitative difference between God and man. God operates in ways over and above the plans and purposes of man, and often develops connections of mutual support and mutual meaning in spite of or contrary to the efforts of men.30

For all that Wieman and Tillich have said about the primacy of God over everything else in the universe, we have nothing but praise. In spite of the fact that we have found it necessary to raise some questions as to the adequacy of their conceptions of God to speak to the deepest yearnings of the religious soul, we do not in the least want to minimize the importance of their messages as a cry against the humanism of our generation. They do insist that religion begins with God and that man cannot have faith apart from him. They do proclaim that apart from God our human efforts turn to ashes and our sunrises into darkest night. They do suggest that man is not sufficient to himself for life, but is dependent upon God. All of this is good, and it may be a necessary corrective to a generation that has had all too much faith in man and all too little faith in God.31

* Tillich, ST, I, 11.
† Tillich uses the contemporary idolatry of religious nationalism as an example.
‡ Wieman, SHG, 80.
§ Wieman, SHG, 25, 26.
# See Chap. III, sec. 2.
$ This is one of the points at which Wieman is unalterably opposed to Dewey. Man is regarded by Wieman as a passive factor in the event from which good emerges, so that it is not really man who clarifies and carries forward the ideal. It is God, the creative event. Dewey, on the other hand, attributes the emergence of value to the co-working of men plus more general factors.29

5. The power and knowledge of God.

Tillich places a great deal of emphasis on the omnipotence of God. He continually speaks of God as the power of being. The one word that stands in the forefront of Tillich’s God-concept is the word power. Power is that which makes God God. God is the underlying “ground” or “power” behind everything that exists. God as power of being resists and conquers non-being. It is because of this power to resist non-being that God warrants man’s ultimate concern. As we have seen, Tillich does not mean by omnipotence that God has the power to do anything he wishes. Nor does it mean omni-activity in terms of causality. Omnipotence means, rather, “the power of being which resists nonbeing in all its expressions.”*32

Unlike Tillich, Wieman places little emphasis on the power of God. As we shall see subsequently, Wieman is much more impressed with the goodness of God than the power of God. He emphatically denies that God is omnipotent. If God has any power, it is the power of process or growth. Wieman writes:

Process is power. Activity is power. I do not know of any kind of power except that of process, activity, movement, growth, fulfillment, on-going. The power of God is the power of this growth.†

Wieman considers it quite erroneous to look upon power as “back of” the process or growth, making it go from the outside. Power is one essential constituent of the process of growth, which is God.33

So Wieman would totally disagree with Tillich’s assertion that God is a sort of reservoir of power that empowers every being that comes into existence. Wieman, contrary to Tillich, emphatically denies that God is the underlying “ground” or “power” behind everything that exists. For Wieman, God is only the source of the good.

* Tillich, ST, I, 273. In spite of his persistent stress on the power of God, Tillich places considerable limitation on God’s power in his conception of God as “abyss”. There is a basic ambiguity in Tillich’s thought at this point. This ambiguity is found in the fact that Tillich’s language and method suggest an extreme absolutistic theism, while his conception of God as “abyss” suggests finitistic theism. This phrase of Tillich’s thought will be discussed and evaluated in the section on God and evil.
† Wieman, Art. (1936)2, 429.

When it comes to the question of the omniscience of God, both Wieman and Tillich are at one in refuting its traditional formulation. In traditional theology omniscience is the faculty of a highest being who is supposed to know all objects, past, present and future, and beyond this, everything that might have happened if what has happened had not happened. Tillich looks upon this interpretation of omniscience as absurd because of the impossibility of subsuming God under the subject-object scheme. Wieman sees it as absurd because there is not the slightest empirical evidence for the existence of such a “highest being” who knows all objects, past, present, and future. It is Tillich’s attempt to remain true to his ontological assertion that God is being-itself that causes him to deny the omniscience of God. It is Wieman’s attempt to be a thoroughgoing empiricist that causes him to deny the omniscience of God.

Despite his concurrence with Wieman on the absurdity of the traditional doctrine of the omniscience of God, Tillich goes beyond Wieman by seeking to set forth the qualitative and symbolic meaning of the doctrine. Herein lies a great distinction between Wieman and Tillich on the attributes of God generally. Tillich, while rejecting the traditional meaning of attributes, seeks to give them a qualitative interpretation and thereby to accept them—at least symbolically. Wieman, on the other hand, finds the attributes out of harmony with his naturalistic and empiricistic views, and therefore rejects them outright. This accounts for the fact that he nowhere gives a systematic treatment to the attributes of God.

The omniscience of God means, for Tillich, that

nothing is outside the centered unity of his life; nothing is strange, dark, hidden, isolated, unapproachable. Nothing falls outside the logos structure of being. The dynamic element cannot break the unity of the form; the abysmal quality cannot swallow the rational quality of the divine life.*

This has tremendous implications for man’s personal and cultural existence. In personal life it means that there is no absolute darkness in one’s being. The divine omniscience is ultimately the logical foundation of the belief in the openness of reality to human knowledge. We are able to reach truth because the divine life in which we are rooted embodies all truth.†

We shall reserve critical comment on this phase of Wieman’s and Tillich’s thinking until the section on the goodness of God.

* Tillich, ST, I, 279.
† See Chap. II, sec. 8.3

6. The eternity and omnipresence of God

On the questions of the eternity and omnipresence of God, Tillich again gives clearer expression than does Wieman. Here, as in other instances, Wieman’s naturalism prevents him from going all of the way with Tillich. As we have seen, Tillich affirms that two interpretations of eternity must be rejected, that of timelessness, and that of endlessness of time. Rather than meaning timelessness, eternity means “the power of embracing all periods of time.”* The eternal keeps the temporal within itself by maintaining “the transcendent unity of the dissected moments of existential time.”† There is a similarity between the eternality of God and the eternality of a mathematical proposition.

A symbolic indication of the meaning of the eternity of God may be found in human experience, in the unity of remembered past and anticipated future in an experienced present. As the present is predominant in human experience, eternity is symbolized as an eternal present. But this present is not simultaneity. Simultaneity would erase the different modes of time. The eternal present is moving from past to future but without ceasing to be present.35 In this sense God is eternal in such a way that the distinctions within the flow of time are preserved. So Tillich includes within the divine life both temporality and eternality.

Wieman’s stress is on the temporality of God rather than the eternality. Indeed his idea of God has been referred to as “extreme temporalistic theism.”‡ His very definitions of God—“growth,” “creative event” and “process”—point to something that is temporal and passing rather than eternal. An event or a process of growth is neither a continuing entity nor a persistent reality. It is something forever in a state of becoming. It is quite apparent that Wieman’s characterization of God as “process” or “creative event” is due to his desire to abandon the scholastic notion of substantial being. Like Whitehead, he has preference for dynamic terminology. He seeks to stress the activity of God as against a static ens necessarium, absolute Being.36 So, unlike Tillich, Wieman is so determined to make God a temporal reality that he almost completely overlooks his eternity.

* Tillich, ST, I, 274.
† Tillich, ST, I, 274.
‡ See Hartshorne’s and Reese’s chapter on Wieman in PSG, 395-408.

When it comes to the question of God’s omnipresence, both Tillich and Wieman are at one in denying its traditional meaning. However, Tillich goes beyond Wieman in seeking to interpret the attribute of omnipresence in qualitative terms. God is omnipresent in the sense that he creates extension out of his nature as ground and that he is the ground in which all space is rooted. Space is in God, not God in space. So Tillich concludes that God cannot be spatial, although he must be temporal.

Now a word of critical comment. Certainly Wieman and Tillich are on sound ground in affirming the temporality of God. It is often supposed that if God is nonspatial, he must be nontemporal. But this does not necessarily follows. The two categories are sufficiently different to stand on their individual footing. If God is a living God he must include temporality, and with this a relation to the modes of time.

This stress on the temporality of God, however, must not obscure the fact that there is some permanence in God’s nature. Herein lies the weakness of Wieman. He stresses the temporality of God to the point of minimizing his eternality. As stated above, Wieman’s characterization of God as “process” or “creative event” is due to his desire to abandon the scholastic notion of substantial being. He seeks to stress the activity of God as against a static absolute being. But this attempt to avoid one sort of abstraction, namely, one which leaves out becoming, leads directly into another, namely, one that leaves out that which becomes.37 Tillich sees this and therefore attempts to preserve in God, at least symbolically, both dynamics and form, temporality and eternality.*

Wieman’s temporalistic view of God comes as a proper revolt against a misconceived and one-sided substance philosophy. But his whole doctrine of God is weakened by his failure to emphasize the factor of permanence in the idea of God. The religious worshiper is in quest of a God who is not only the increaser of value, but also the conserver of value. We have seen how Wieman continually identifies God with the production or emergence of values. Production of value, we are told, is also destruction of value. New values displace old. But what happens to these displaced values? Are they simply destroyed as though they never existed? In this case all of man’s objectives must in the long run prove futile.38

Wieman would probably retort that values are conserved in works of art and in many forms of conscious and unconscious memory. But what happens when human life no longer inhabits the earth? Even if we concede that the earth will be inhabitable forever—an astronomical impossibility—we still have to confront the fact that the human attention span is too limited to house, at any given human present, any appreciable proportion of the values of past generations. So without an eternal conserver of values our efforts are worthless, and no act can in the long run have better consequences than any other.†39 In such a situation the rivalry of values is meaningless. In order for value-experience to be meaningful, then, there must be a God eternal enough to conserve values. God must be identified not only with the production or emergence of values, but also with the indestructibility of them.‡

* Cf. Calhoun, Art. (1936), 345.
† This argument can be used in favor of the doctrine of personal immortality—a doctrine which Wieman rejects. At bottom personal immortality represents the faith that good purpose never fails to all eternity. The basis of all human endeavor is in the hope that purpose can achieve values. Without personal immortality all of our efforts are worthless and the whole universe seems to be destructive of supreme value.
‡ CF. Hartshorne and Reese, PSG, 404-405.

7. The goodness of God

The question of the goodness of God is one that stands in the forefront of Wieman’s thinking. Tillich, as we have seen, is more impressed with the power of God. For Tillich it is power that makes God God. But, for Wieman, it is goodness or value that makes God God. These are the important words in Wieman’s discussion of God. God is the “source of human good”; He is “supreme value.” Says Wieman: “I maintain . . . that the basic category for God must be goodness and value.”*

Wieman contends that God is the only absolute good. As we have seen, he seeks to defend this claim by defining absolute in a fivefold sense.† First of all, absolute good refers to that which is good under all circumstances and conditions. It is good that is not relative to time or place or race or class or need or desire. It is good that remains changelessly and identically the same. A second mark of absolute good is that its demands are unlimited. God is good in this sense because he demands our wholehearted surrender. A third mark of absolute good is its infinite value. Fourth, absolute good is unqualified good. Finally, absolute good is entirely trustworthy.

God’s goodness meets all these requirements. His goodness is not relative to time or place or desire or even human existence. He demands our wholehearted surrender. His worth is incommensurable with any finite quantity of created good. There is no perspective from which his goodness can be modified. God is entirely trustworthy. Wieman is certain that the outcome of the working of God will always be the best possible under the conditions, even when it may seem to be otherwise.

Wieman holds that God is supreme value because he brings lesser values into relations of maximum mutual support and mutual enhancement. This mutual support and enhancement is not only between contemporaries but also between successive generations, ages and cultures. All of this is Wieman’s way of stressing the fact that God is supreme value and the only absolute Good.

Tillich, like Wieman, uses the terms goodness and value in referring to God. In one passage he says:

The very fact that the one God is called “good” gives him a divine character superior to that of the evil god, for God as the expression of man’s ultimate concern is supreme not only in power but also in value.‡

In another context Tillich speaks of true being as the ultimate good.§ Yet, in spite of these passages, instances in which he refers to the goodness of God are very scanty. In his whole Systematic Theology one can hardly find a page of references in which Tillich affirms the essential goodness of God. Even when the terms goodness and value are used, they are defined in terms of being. Herein lies a basic difference between Wieman and Tillich. Wieman is basically concerned with the goodness of God. Tillich, on the other hand, is basically concerned with the power of God. Wieman’s basic emphasis is axiological while Tillich’s is ontological.

* Wieman, Art. (1943)3, 266.
† See Chap. IV, sec. 1.
‡ Tillich, ST, I, 225.
§ Tillich, TPE, 27.

Now we may give some critical comments on the questions of God’s power and goodness as treated by Wieman and Tillich. In the judgement of the present writer, both Wieman and Tillich are partially correct in what they affirm and partially wrong in what they deny. Wieman is right in emphasizing the goodness of God, but wrong in minimizing his power. Likewise Tillich is right in emphasizing the power of God, but wrong in minimizing his goodness. Both Tillich and Wieman overstress one aspect of the divine nature to the neglect of another basic aspect. God is not either powerful or good; he is both powerful and good. Matthew Arnold’s simple, almost trite, phrase contains the gist of the matter: God is a power, not ourselves, making for righteousness. Not power alone, nor righteousness alone, but a combination of the two constitutes the meaning of God. Value by itself is impotent; being by itself is morally indifferent. On the one hand, there is the view of Wieman which erects the idea of value as the sole utlimate principle. On the other hand, there is the view of Tillich which erects power or being-itself as the sole ultimate principle. Neither viewpoint adequately formulates the Christian doctrine of God.41

Wieman talks continually about the goodness of God. But one is forced to wonder whether Wieman’s God is capable of bringing this goodness into being. As we stated above, value in itself is impotent. Hence a God devoid of power is ultimately inacapable of actualizing the good. But if God is truly God and warrants man’s ultimate devotion, he must have not only an infinite concern for the good but an infinite power to actualize the good. This is the truth expressed in the somewhat misleading doctrine of the divine omnipotence. It does not mean that God can do the nondoable; neither does it mean that God has the power to act contrary to his own nature. It means, rather, that God has the power to actualize the good and realize his purpose. Moral perfection would be an empty possession apart from a corresponding and sustaining power. It is power that gives reality to the divine being. Wieman’s failure to see this causes us to doubt the adequacy of his conception of God as a meaningful theistic position.

One may well question the adequacy and significance of Tillich’s statement that God is being-itself. Everybody knows that there are existing things, and if one wants to become more philosophical, one can go on and say that there is an existing ground of the existence of everything. But this is saying little more than the tautology that the universe exists. Every intelligent person admits that the universe is immense, infinite and awesome; but this does not make him a believer. What one wants to know is whether the universe is good, bad, or indifferent. It is the failure to grapple sufficiently with this question that seriously weakens Tillich’s God-concept. It is true that Tillich uses the terms goodness and value, but he defines these in terms of being. To be good means to be. It will be recalled that Spinoza speaks of the perfection of the universe, but defines perfection in terms of substance. So, too, Tillich speaks of value, but defines it in terms of being. (We have noticed already that divine love is declared to be a wholly ontological concept.)42

Tillich’s tendency to relegate value to an almost insignificant rank is clearly manifested in his analysis of value-categories in relation to being-itself. Structure, according to Tillich, is derived from being-itself; in turn, value is derived from structure. So to this point value is at a second remove from reality. But this is not all; value-concepts presuppose the contrast between ideal and actualities, and hence a split between essence and existence.* In other words, value is now a third remove from reality. Value-categories are relegated to the realm of finite being.†43

Tillich speaks continually of the holiness of God, but even here he is not endowing being-itself with moral perfection. The holy means the sacred, and not the righteous or the morally good.‡44

So in almost all of Tillich’s references to God it is power that stands in the forefront. In a real sense, this emphasis is dangerous, because it leads toward a worship of power for its own sake. Divine power, like any other power, can become despotic power if it is not controlled by divine goodness. In short, neither Tillich’s notion of being-itself, nor any other purely ontological notion is adequate for the Christian idea of God. The latter is a synthesis of the two independent concepts of value and being.45

We have quoted above two passages in which Tillich referred to the goodness of God. These passages reveal that he is at least aware of the significance of the category of value for an adequate God-concept. But his definition of God as being-itself prevents him from affirming it. He realizes that if he refers to God as good, he thereby conditions the unconditioned, and drags God into a subject-object relationship making him a being beside others. So in order to be consistent with his ontological analysis, Tillich talks of God as being good in the sense that he is the ground of goodness. This, however, gives rise to the same criticism that was raised concerning the personal status of God. If God is good only in the sense that he is the ground of goodness, it follows that he is evil since he is the ground of evil. If the attribute of goodness means anything it must have content and it must be a quality of some rational substance. To state that God is the ground of goodness is merely an abstraction. One wishes to get behind this abstraction to an ontological substance in which the attribute of goodness inheres. So here again we see the inadequacy of Tillich’s being-itself for the Christian idea of God.

To sum up, neither Tillich nor Wieman gives and adequate conception of God’s nature. The former places an undue emphasis on being to the neglect of value; the latter places an undue emphasis on value to the neglect of being. A more adequate view is to maintain that both value and being are basic in the meaning of God, each blending with the other but neither being reduced to the other.”46

See Tillich, ST, I, 202-204.
† Cf. Demos, Rev. (1952), 707.
‡ See Tillich, ST, I, 216-217.

8. God’s creative activity

In traditional theology creation referred to the act whereby the underived self-existent God brought into being what had no form of independent existence hitherto. So strong was the Christian, theistic belief in an absolute, transcendent God who worked under no external limitation, that creation was said to be ex nihilo, i.e. generation out of nothing. With this traditional concept both Wieman and Tillich are in radical disagreement. Wieman contends that the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is self-contradictory; moreover, it would be impossible for Wieman on the basis of his method to get any knowledge of such an initial generation, supposing it ever occurred. Tillich disagrees with this traditional theory because it looks upon creation as an act or an event which took place “once upon a time.” Creation, for Tillich, does not refer to an event, it rather indicates a condition, a relationship between God and the world.47

So, for Tillich, as for Wieman, there is no supernatural being before and above all beings as their creator. Instead of being a supernatural creator, Tillich’s God is “the ground of Being.”* Tillich’s desire to place all theological matter under the scrutiny of strict ontological analysis causes him to go beyond Wieman in interpreting the meaning of the traditional doctrine. Thus he is able to find some meaning in the traditional doctrine of creation ex nihilo. The phrase is taken to mean that God creates the world out of not-being; hence human nature (and all nature) is constituted by not-being; natural existence is a limitation of being; and man, just because of his heritage of not-being, is afflicted with anxiety, striving, and imperfection. We have already seen how Tillich uses all three modes of time to symbolize God’s creative activity. All of this gives evidence of the fact that creation, for Tillich, does not refer to an event; it is rather the word given to the process which actualizes man in existence.

In spite of his rejection of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, there is a sense in which Wieman speaks of God as creator. God is the creator of all created values. God is the sum-total of all the natural conditions of value-achievement.

Many problems arise from these analyses of God’s creative activity. The basic problem in Wieman is whether or not he has raised more problems in his denial of creation than he has solved. The basic problem in Tillich is whether the man who is actualized in existence is properly “man” or “God”; whether the view of Tillich is an ultimate monism or pluralism. These problems will be discussed in the next two sections. Suffice it to say at this point that neither Wieman nor Tillich has taken seriously the scriptural witness to God’s creation of man, God’s imparting to man a center of consciousness with freedom and responsibility, a will with co-creative powers.†

* Ground, according to Tillich, is neither cause nor substance, taken literally, but something “underlying” all things in a manner which we can only symbolize through causation or substantiality. Literal causes always are also effects, something conditioned (whereas God is unconditioned), while “substance” and “accidents” lack the freedom with respect to each other which Christianity affirms both of God and of creatures.48
† Gen. 1:27-31; 2:7-8; Psalms 8; Mark 12:30, Mt. 23:37.

9. God and evil

Wieman looks upon the “problem of evil” as a false problem; it arises only when one departs from the empirical evidence for God as “the good,” or the chief factor for good in nature, and begins to speculate about God as also something the creator of all existence. When the idea of God as creator is relinquished, the problem disappears. The more empirical problem is to define the actual nature and scope of evil, and not to indulge in unempirical speculation as to its origin. We have already seen above how Wieman takes pains to describe the nature and scope of evil.*

This view of God is avowedly finitistic. God is only the source of good. He is therefore limited by evil forces external to his nature. He is not the ultimate ground of all existence because of the very existence of these evil forces. Wieman asks:

Why is God not the ultimate ground of all existence? Because he is not the ultimate ground of murder, lust, treachery and all the horrors of existence. To try to revere such a reality as God, is to try to initiate a religion that is worse than voodooism.†

Thus Wieman avoids the problem of evil by positing a finite God who is in no way the creator of all existence.

* Wieman, Art. (1932)2, 111.

Tillich cannot dismiss the problem of evil as easily as Wieman, because of his contention that God is the ultimate ground of all reality. As we have seen, Tillich divides evil into three classes.* (a) Physical evil, pain, and death), according to him, offer no real problem because they are natural implications of creaturely finitude. (b) Then there is moral evil which is the tragic implication of creaturely freedom. (c) Finally, there is the apparent fact of meaninglessness and futility—and this, according to Tillich, is the only sort of evil which offers genuine difficulty for theological belief. Tillich’s solution to the problem of evil of this third sort is very difficult to understand, partly because of its excessive conciseness. Such evil is described as “the negativities of creaturely existence.”50

Tillich hints at another solution to the problem of evil. This solution is found in his positing a nonrational aspect in God’s nature. This is set forth in the concept of God as “abyss.” As we have seen, the abysmal nature of God is a nonrational, unformed dimension of incalculable power.† There are two aspects to God’s nature, viz., the logos and the abyss. The former is the rational aspect and the latter is the nonrational. It is this nonrational aspect that accounts for much of the evil in the world. So Tillich attempts to solve the problem of evil by finding a nonrational aspect in God’s nature. Like Wieman, he ends up with a finitistic view of God. His language and method seem extremely absolutistic, but his stress on the abysmal aspect of God’s nature is definitely finitistic. Tillich’s finitism is to be distinguished from Wieman’s in one significant respect: in Wieman’s conception the limitation of God’s power is external to his nature, while in Tillich’s thought the limitation is an aspect within God’s nature.

How adequate are these views? Wieman seeks to avoid the problem of evil by a complete denial of creation. He holds to the finiteness of God, yet without being subject to the criticism which may be directed against belief in a Creator-God. But the denial of a Creator-God raises more problems than it solves. Such a denial gives no explanation of the source of consciousness and value. Moreover, it fails to explain the unity of nature. This easy solution of the problem of evil fails to grapple thoroughly with the problem of good. Its impersonalism is philosophically inadequate.

Some questions may be raised concerning Tillich’s solution to the problem of evil. At one point he says that physical evil offers no real problem because it is a natural implication of creaturely finitude. But this is no solution to the problem. Physical evils are surely evil, and the fact that they are implicated in the finitude of all creaturely being does not help at all. For if creation is finite, and finitude be evil, then God is the creator of evil.52

By attributing evils in the world to some nonrational aspect in God’s nature, Tillich introduces a dualism into the divine nature that can hardly be regarded as satisfactory either religiously or intellectually. This conception suffers from all of the inadequacies of any ultimate metaphysical dualism. Tillich leaves such a tremendous gap between God as abyss and God as logos that there hardly appears to be a point of contact between the two. Nowhere does Tillich adequately explain the relationship of these two aspects of God’s nature. So great is the mystery between the abyss and the logos that one is compelled to wonder why the two should be called God.‡53

* See Chap. III, sec. 5.
† See Chap. III, sec. 4.
‡ Cf. DeWolf, TLC, 134.

10. The question of monism versus pluralism

As we have seen above, Wieman seeks to maintain an ultimate pluralism in which God is in no way responsible for evil. Wieman is emphatic in the assertion that God is not the ultimate ground of all existence. He is probably one of several ultimate realities.*54 With this ultimate pluralism Tillich would not concur. For Tillich God is the one ultimate reality, the ultimate ground of all existence. Tillich, then, is monistic in his emphasis, while Wieman is pluralistic. As we attempted to show above, Tillich’s monism is not only qualitative, but also quantitative.† Tillich holds to an ultimate ontological monism, both qualitative and quantitative. God is ultimately the only metaphysical reality. The life of man is a phase of the actualization of God and not a separate metaphysical reality.

If there is any one point at which Wieman and Tillich are in basic disagreement, it is here. Wieman holds to an ultimate pluralism, both quantitative and qualitative. Tillich, on the other hand, holds to an ultimate monism, both qualitative and quantitative.

Here again we find Wieman and Tillich each overstressing one phase of reality while minimizing another. Wieman is so impressed with manyness that he overlooks oneness. Tillich, on the other hand, is so impressed with oneness that he overlooks manyness.

Neither of these views is basically sound. Wieman’s ultimate pluralism fails to satisfy the rational demand for unity. Sense-experience is manifold and pluralistic; but reason is unitary and systematic. Monism, as Kant recognized, is the deepest demand of reason. A unitary world-ground is implied in the principle of causality. Moreover, there is system in this universe; cognition would be impossible without it. Further, no ultimate system can be made up of independent units. If the system be real, the units must be subordinated to the system.‡56

* Wieman, Art. (1932)2
† See Chap. III, sec. 11.
‡ Cf. Knudson, POP, 202.

Certainly this quest for ultimate unity haunts the religious man. One of the main things that the religious worshiper is seeking is a Being who is able to reduce all multiplicity to unity. Wieman’s failure to discover this unity leaves him with a conception of God that is both religiously and intellectually inadequate.

As Wieman’s ultimate pluralism is unsatisfactory, so is Tillich’s ultimate monism. There is much in Tillich that is reminiscent of Spinoza and Hegel. In each of these systems finite individuality is swallowed up in the unity of being. Individual persons become merely transitory modes of the one substance, having no substantial character of their own.

One of the greatest dangers of Tillich’s system is that it tends toward pantheism. This type of thinking makes God impersonal and breaks down the separateness and independence of finite personality. In this sense it brings havoc to true religion. True religion is not concerned about metaphysical union of the human with the divine, but with a relation of mutual understanding between them, a relation that expresses itself in worship and love. Such a relationship is possible only between persons who maintain their distinct individuality. To make human personality a mere phase or mode of the absolute is to render real religious experience impossible. Pantheism is both practically and theorectically disastrous.

Tillich talks a great deal about the freedom of man. The most pervasive idea in all of Tillich’s utterances about man is that man is free. In numerous instances man’s nature is spoken of as “finite freedom.” He says: “Man is man because he has freedom.”* Again he says: “Freedom makes man man.’’†57 Man has in a sense left the divine ground to “stand upon” his own feet. He is to some extent “outside” the divine life. “To be outside the divine life means to stand in actualized freedom, in an existence which is no longer united with essence.”‡58 But the question that inevitably arises at this point is, how can Tillich have both his monism and human freedom? We have seen how he tries to maintain both, and thereby presents a contradiction which he never completely resolves. The fact is that freedom is nonexistent in a monistic system. Freedom requires metaphysical otherness. But in a monistic system there is no otherness on the part of finite persons. Finite beings are parts of the Infinite or absolute and issue forth from its being by a kind of logical necessity.

In order for freedom to exist there must be distinct individuality and independence on the part of the finite soul. This the individual is deprived of in a thoroughgoing monism. Such monism breaks down the exclusiveness of personality, and erases the boundary lines between personal beings, making the finite person simply a part of the absolute. All of this reveals the futility of Tillich’s attempt to stress the freedom of man in his monistic system. When taken in all of its logical implications, Tillich’s system provides no place for finite freedom.

A final weakness of Tillich’s system, as with all monistic systems, is its failure to grapple with the problem of error. It makes error as necessary as truth, and thus leaves us with no standard that would enable us to distinguish between them and no means of using the standard if we had it.

To sum up, both Wieman’s pluralism and Tillich’s monism are inadequate as philosophical and religious world-views. Each overemphasizes one phase of reality while totally neglecting another important phase. Here again, the solution is not either monism or pluralism; it is both monism and pluralism. Tillich and Wieman fail to see that both positions can be meaningfully maintained. It is possible to hold a quantitative pluralism while holding a qualitative monism. In this way both oneness and manyness are preserved. Neither swallows the other. Such a view defends, on the one hand, individuality against the impersonalism and all-engulfing universalism of any type of ultimate monism. On the other hand, it vindicates the idea of a basal monism against the attacks of any ultimate pluralism.

* Tillich, Art. (1940)3, 123.
† Tillich, ST, I, 255.

1. King used the quotation from Systematic Theology, p. 237 in chapter 3. The next four sentences also appear in chapter 3, but as part of a larger quotation from Tillich. Cf. Tillich, Systematic Theology, p. 205: “It would be a great victory for Christian apologetics if the words ‘God’ and ‘existence’ were very definitely separated except in the paradox of God becoming manifest under the conditions of existence, that is, in the christological paradox. God does not exist. He is being-itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore, to argue that God exists is to deny him.”

2. This paragraph is similar to a passage in chapter 3; footnote reference 90.

3. D. C. Macintosh, “Is There a God?” in Morrison, ed., Is There a God? pp. 22-23: “Eager to demonstrate the existence of God to the satisfaction of everybody, one might begin by reducing the definition of God until the term means no more, to begin with, than everyone, even the confessed atheist, will have to admit to exist. . . . What I question . . . is his adding to the assurance that God is by subtracting so drastically and, it would seem, so permanently, from what God means.”

4. Thomas, “Method and Structure,” p. 104: “It seems to me that in the Christian message, ‘God’ means ‘a being,’ not ‘being-itself.’ He is, of course, not a being ‘alongside’ others, but He is a being ‘above others.’ Therefore ’existence’ can be predicated of Him, though not the contingent finite existence of His creatures. . . . He is not merely ‘the ground of everything personal’; He is personal Himself.”

5. The previous five sentences also appear in chapter 4; after footnote reference 40.

6. This sentence also appears in chapter 3, but as part of a quotation from Tillich. Cf. Tillich, “Idea of the Personal God,” p. 9: “The concept of a ‘Personal God,’ . . . makes God a natural object besides others, an object amongst objects, a being amongst beings, maybe the highest, but anyhow a being.”

7. This sentence also appears in chapter 3, but as part of a quotation from Tillich. Cf. Tillich, Systematic Theology, p. 245: “It means that God is the ground of everything personal and that he carries within himself the ontological power of personality.”

8. This paragraph is similar to a passage in chapter 4; footnote reference 120.

9. Tillich, “Idea of the Personal God,” p. 10: “For as the philosopher Schelling says: ‘Only a person can heal a person.’ This is the reason that the symbol of the Personal God is indispensable for living religion.”

11. Homer H. Dubs, “Religious Naturalism—An Evaluation,” Journal of Religion 23, no. 4 (1943): 260: “If God is a system of events, we must still inquire what it is that generates this system; what it is that stands behind the system to account for its systematic character. But Wieman conceives of no such concrete object or entity. . . . He has tried to get away from metaphysics by defining God as a system of interactions; he has merely succeeded in posing the problem of accounting for that system.”

13. Andrew Martin Fairbairn, The Philosophy of the Christian Religion (New York: Macmillan, 1902), p. 241: “No impersonal Being whether named fate or chance, necessity or existence, the soul or the whole, can be an object of worship, though it may be an object of thought. . . . The impersonal must be personalized before thought, which is a subjective activity, can pass into worship, which is a reciprocal action, or a process of converse and intercourse between living minds.”

14. Albert C. Knudson, The Doctrine of God (New York: Abingdon Press, 1930), pp. 305-306: “There are two fundamental religious values. One is fellowship with God, the other is trust in his goodness; and both of these imply his personality. No fellowship is possible without freedom and intelligence. There may be interactions between impersonal beings, both organic and inorganic. But true communion can exist only between beings who know each other and take an emotional and volitional attitude toward each other. If God were pure intellect, as Aristotle conceived him to be, no communion with him would be possible. . . . Fellowship . . . requires an outgoing of feeling and will. This it is that underlies the moving word of Scripture, the ‘living’ God. Life, as applied to God, . . . means that in God there are a heart and will, responsive to human need, an attitude of mind that both evokes and answers prayer.” In the early 1960s King used similar language in describing how his religious beliefs had changed during his years of civil rights activism; see King, Strength to Love (New York: Harper, 1963). pp. 141-142: “In the past the idea of a personal God was little more than a metaphysical category that I found theologically and philosophically satisfying. Now it is a living reality that has been validated in the experiences of everyday life. God has been profoundly real to me in recent years. . . . So in the truest sense of the Word, God is a living God. In him there is feeling and will, responsive to the deepest yearnings of the human heart: this God both evokes and answers prayer.”

15. Knudson, Doctrine of God, p. 307: “Even on the impersonal plane religion seeks union with the Divine Being.”

16. Knudson, Doctrine of God, p. 307: “His personality is also the presupposition of his goodness. There can be no goodness in the ethical sense of the term without freedom and intelligence. In other words, only a personal being can be good. . . . Goodness is an attribute of personality.”

18. Dubs, “Religious Naturalism—An Evaluation,” p. 260: “[According to Wieman] we can deal only with interactions or systems of interactions: ‘When I love Mr. Jones, it is not Mr. Jones in the abstract, but the fellowship of Mr. Jones. Fellowship is a kind of interaction. . . . It is the interaction which generates love and is the real object of love.’ Of course, the interaction generates the love, but I am afraid Wieman errs when he asserts that we always love interactions. . . . No, what we love deeply is not these memories or expectations, it is the person who brings them about—we love concrete objects, persistent realities, not mere interactions. . . . A process may generate love, but the love is directed primarily not toward the process, but toward the continuing persons (concrete objects) who generate that process.” First set of ellipses in original.

20. This paragraph also appears in chapter 4; between footnote references 40-41.

21. The quotation and the sentences following it also appear in chapter 1; footnote reference 4.

22. This paragraph is similar to passages in chapter 3; footnote references 83 and 152.

23. Horton, “Tillich’s Role in Contemporary Theology,” p. 30: “[Barth and Gogarten] find nature so irrational that the order of creation can no longer be discerned in it, man’s spirit so perverted that the image of God is lost, history so meaningless that it all bears the ‘minus sign’ of alienation from God.”

24. Horton introduced this quotation with the phrase “Tillich’s most succinct criticism of Barth runs as follows” (“Tillich’s Role in Contemporary Theology,” p. 29).

25. Tillich, Systematic Theology, p. 13: “Idolatry is the elevation of a preliminary concern to ultimacy. Something essentially conditioned is taken as unconditional, something essentially partial is boosted into universality, and something essentially finite is given infinite significance (the best example is the contemporary idolatry of religious nationalism).

26. Parts of this paragraph also appear in chapter 4; footnote references 30 and 46-49.

28. This paragraph also appears in chapter 3; footnote reference 122.

29. Charles Hartshorne and William L. Reese, Philosophers Speak of God (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), p. 396: “Man is regarded by Wieman as a passive factor in the event from which good emerges so that it is not really man who clarifies, carries forward, and implements the ideal; this is the function of God or creativity. Where Dewey would attribute the emergence of value to the co-working of men plus more general factors, Wieman would say that this emergence is the work of God.”

30. Parts of this paragraph also appear in chapter 4; 1.iii., “God as supra-human.”

31. A version of this paragraph appears in several other essays that King wrote at Boston University. See “Karl Barth’s Conception of God,” 2 January 1952, p. 106 in this volume; “Contemporary Continental Theology,” 13 September 1951-15 January 1952, p. 138; and “A Comparison and Evaluation of the Theology of Luther with That of Calvin,” 15 May 1953, p. 191. Cf. George W. Davis, “Some Theological Continuities in the Crisis Theology,” Crozer Quarterly 27, no. 3 (July 1950): 217-218.

32. The preceding five sentences also appear in chapter 3; footnote references 81 and 82.

33. Wieman, “God Is More,” p. 429: “To speak of power as ‘back of’ the process or growth or activity, making it go from the outside, is an error, I think. . . . Power is one essential constituent of the process of growth, which is God.”

34. Chapter 11, section 8 does not exist.

35. This paragraph is similar to a paragraph in chapter 3; footnote reference 191.

36. Robert Lowry Calhoun, “God as More than Mind,” Christendom 1, no. 2 (Winter 1936): 344-345: “I welcome the evident values of this preference for ‘dynamic’ terminology which Wieman shares with Mead, Dewey, and Whitehead. . . . But with whatever gain there may be in their declaration of independence from the scholastic notion of substantial being, there is danger of a serious loss of precision. . . . These are terms which Wieman employs to signalize the actuality of God as against abstract form or ideal, and the activity of God as against a static ens necessarium, absolute Being.”

37. Calhoun, “God as More than Mind,” p. 345: “But in avoiding one sort of abstraction, namely, one which leaves out ‘becoming,’ they fall into another, and leave out that which ‘becomes.’”

38. Hartshorne and Reese, Philosophers Speak of God, pp. 404-405: “Production of good, we are told, is also destruction of good. New goods displace old. . . . But what about the displaced goods? Are they simply nullified and as though they had never been? In that case all our specific objectives must in the long run prove vain.”

39. Hartshorne and Reese, Philosophers Speak of God, p. 405: “Even if the earth were to be inhabitable forever—an astronomical impossibility, one gathers—or if man may hope to escape to another planet, still there just is not room, with the limitations of the human attention span, for any appreciable proportion of the values of past generations . . . to house themselves in the consciousness of any given human present. . . . It would really mean that our efforts are worthless, that no act can in the long run have better consequences than any other.”

40. This paragraph, and the two following it, are condensed from passages in chapter 4; 1.iv. “God as absolute good.”

41. Demos, Review of Systematic Theology, p. 706: “Matthew Arnold’s simple, almost platitudinous, phrase contains the gist of the matter: God is a power, not ourselves, making for righteousness. Not power alone, nor righteousness alone, but the blend of the two constitutes the meaning of God. Value by itself is impotent; being by itself is morally indifferent. On the one side, there is Platonism which erects the Idea of the Good (Value) as the sole ultimate principle. On the other side, there is the view of this book which erects beingness as the sole ultimate principle. Neither viewpoint adequately formulates Christian theology.”

42. Demos, Review of Systematic Theology, pp. 706-707: “One may well question what of genuine significance there is in the author’s statement that God is being-itself. Everybody knows that there are existing things, and if one wants to speak causally, one can go on and say that there is an existing ground of the existence of everything. But this essentially amounts to no more than the tautology that the universe exists. . . . All sensible people grant that the universe is grand, infinite, immense, awesome; but this does not make them believers. What one wants to know is whether the universe is good or bad or worse (i.e., morally indifferent). . . . It will be recalled that Spinoza speaks of the perfection of the universe, but defines perfection in terms of substance. So, too, our author uses the terms goodness and value (incidentally, how scanty are such references in this book!) but then defines these in terms of being. (To be good means to be; we have noticed already that divine love is declared to be a wholly ontological concept.)”

43. Demos, Review of Systematic Theology, p. 707: “Structure (meaning) according to the author is derived from being-itself; in turn, value is derived from structure. Thus value is at a second remove from reality. This is not all, however; value-concepts presuppose the contrast between ideals and actualities, and hence a split between essence and existence; they apply in the creaturely and finite world (pp. 202-204). In other words, value is at a third remove from reality. Value-categories are relegated to the realm of finite being.”

44. Demos, Review of Systematic Theology, p. 707: “Professor Tillich speaks of God as holy. . . . God is not just pure being; he is a being endowed with moral perfection. But wait: the holy means the sacred essentially; it stands in contrast with the ‘righteous’ or the ‘morally good,’ or with ‘moral perfection’ (pp. 216-217).”

45. Demos, Review of Systematic Theology, p. 707: “All this seems to me dangerously romantic—dangerous because it easily slips into a worship of power for its own sake. If we are to save divine power from becoming despotic power we must cling to the notion of the goodness of God as an irreducible element in his essence. To sum up, neither the Thomistic notion of complete actuality, nor the author’s notion of being-itself, nor any other purely ontological notion is adequate for the Christian idea of God. The latter is a synthesis of the two independent concepts of value and being.”

46. Demos, Review of Systematic Theology, p. 706: “It will be noticed that, for Plato, the Idea of the Good is a source of being; and as we will see, our author regards being as a source of value. I would maintain that the notions of value and being are coördinate in the meaning of God; each blending with the other but neither being reduced to the other.”

47. The first four sentences of this paragraph appear in chapter 4; footnote reference 89, and the last two are in chapter 3; footnote reference 155.

48. Hartshorne, “Tillich’s Doctrine of God,” p. 165: “‘Ground’ is neither cause nor substance, taken literally, but something ‘underlying’ all things in a manner which we can only symbolize through causation or substantiality. Literal causes always are also effects, something conditioned (whereas God is unconditioned), while ‘substance’ and ‘accidents’ lack the freedom with respect to each other which Christianity affirms both of God and of creatures.”

50. This paragraph is similar to a paragraph in chapter 3; footnote reference 175.

52. This paragraph is similar to a paragraph in chapter 3; footnote reference 175.

53. L. Harold DeWolf, A Theology of the Living Church (New York: Harper, 1953), p. 134: “In Tillich’s view the relation between God as abyss and God as logos is left so completely in mystery that it is unclear why the two should both be called God.”

54. Wieman, “Theocentric Religion,” p. 111: “The only point we want to make is that God is not the one ultimate reality. He may be one of several ultimate realities.”

56. Albert C. Knudson, The Philosophy of Personalism (New York: Abingdon Press, 1927), p. 202: “But there is at least system; cognition would be impossible without it. And no ultimate system can be made up of independent units. If the system be real, the units must be subordinated to the system.”

57. Boozer, “Place of Reason,” p. 10: “In numerous instances man’s nature is spoken of as ‘finite freedom.’ . . . Tillich writes again: ‘Man is man because he has freedom.’ . . . ‘Freedom makes man man.’”

58. Boozer, “Place of Reason,” pp. 62-63: “Man has in a sense left the divine ground to ‘stand upon’ his own feet. He is to some extent ‘outside’ the divine life. ‘To be outside the divine life means to stand in actualized freedom, in an existence which is no longer united with essence.’”

Source: 

MLKP-MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.