Retrieving the Radical Tillich

His Legacy and Contemporary Importance

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Russell Re Manning
Radical Theologies
  • New York, NY: 
    Palgrave Macmillan
    , June
     274 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Palgrave Macmillan’s twenty-one book series “Radical Theologies and Philosophies” brings to us Retrieving the Radical Tillich. This text is a collection of thirteen scholarly essays examining Tillich’s theology and its contribution to contemporary theology and philosophy. Divided into two parts, the first section considers Tillich’s legacy whereas the second examines Tillich in relation to radical contemporary theologies. Brevity prevents a summary of every chapter, but I summarize a few essays below and offer some general remarks.

In the introduction to this text, its editor, Russell Re Manning, justifies the inclusion of Tillich among radical theologians. Although contemporary theologians generally regard Tillich as “a safe (albeit never an entirely uncontroversial) theologian,” Re Manning maintains that academia should reassess Tillich’s thought and resituate it within the domain of radical philosophical theologies (1). He recognizes that radical theology is indebted to several strains of thought, including the death of God theologians of the 1960s and F. W. J. von Schelling, but he also proposes that radical theologians can (and should) draw from Tillich as well. In his opinion, Tillich’s emphasis upon a theology of culture makes him a unique voice, moving theological focus beyond God to include contemplation of politics, economics, and world religions—among other topics.

Certainly the extent of Tillich’s radicalness is debatable, and even the authors of this book differ in their perspectives. In chapter 2, titled “Paul Tillich and the Death of God,” Daniel J. Peterson argues that Tillich should be understood through the lens of Thomas J. J. Altizer. He reiterates a personal conversation between Tillich and Altizer in which the former supposedly stated, “The real Tillich is the radical Tillich.” According to Peterson, “This means … that in Christ the transcendent God ‘dies’ to become immanent” (32). In a later chapter, though, Richard Grigg seems to challenge Peterson’s notion. He writes, “Tillich wanted no part of killing off God. Yet it is easy enough to understand how Tillich can be seen as preparing the ground for the death of God theology” (49). As is apparent, this volume leaves room for tension between interpreters and effectively displays varying ways to understand Tillich’s theology.

Part 1 also includes essays by Christopher Craig Brittain, Matthew Lon Weaver, and Christopher D. Rodkey. Brittain contends that despite common analyses, Tillich significantly influenced German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno. Weaver describes Tillich as a theologian on the boundaries, meaning that he often lived with and worked among tensions, as evidence by his wartime addresses. Rodkey’s chapter, which I will summarize more fully, addresses feminist theologian Mary Daly and argues that Tillich impacted her writings more than any other thinker. He describes Daly’s theology as “piracy” since she “often appropriates and misappropriates [theological/philosophical] ideas for her own playful usage” (63). She takes Tillich’s notion of “the courage to be” and radicalizes it into “the Courage to Sin.” As Rodkey explains, “The Courage to Sin is to revolt and reverse patriarchal pseudo-realities and to construct new ones” (68). Daly replaces Christian apocalypticism, which has been anti-feminist, with the Second Coming of Women whereby gender diversity is celebrated. This appropriation is one of several ways in which Tillich’s mark on Daly’s work is evident.

The second part of Retrieving the Radical Tillich brings Tillich’s thought into dialogue with contemporary radical theologies. Mike Gimshaw, Jeffrey W. Robbins, Thomas A. James, Clayton Crockett, Daniel Whistler, and Mark Lewis Taylor offer essays that deal with a variety of topics and philosophers, including ontotheology, radical theology, and Slavoj Žižek. Furthermore, several of these essays engage with Tillich’s view of socialism and its relevance for contemporary society. Here I provide a summary of two examples.

Grimshaw also addresses the theme of Tillich as a theologian of the boundaries and suggests that Tillich “moves against yet within Christianity and other religions while keeping a Christian distinctiveness” (114). Tillich demonstrates this approach by challenging traditional boundaries and by arguing that socialism must have a religious dimension and vice versa; otherwise, both will be irrelevant—which, in Grimshaw’s opinion, is the current state of human affairs. For Grimshaw, Tillichian method challenges theologians to go beyond Tillich as much as they work within Tillich. He argues that a secular theology is needed today, and this can be mediated through Tillich without limiting ourselves to his theology. According to Grimshaw, Tillich can assist us in recovering key themes of the Christian message, specifically emphasis upon human situatedness and concern for the other, which are necessary values for meaningful contemporary existence. In this sense, Tillich’s message is both prophetic and relevant in the 21st century. 

In the chapter “Socialism’s Multitude,” Taylor focuses upon Tillich’s radical political vision as expressed in his book, The Socialist Decision. Taylor raises concerns about US imperialism and proposes that Tillich’s theology may offer valuable insights and challenges to post-9/11 foreign policy. He maintains that US imperialism is “haunted” by past injustices while it continues to carry out further injustices within the world. Tillich’s theology, however, incorporates a Judeo-Christian prophetic ideal that calls for equality and justice for all people—in other words, a classless society. According to Taylor, enacting this prophetic vision may require socialists to engage in conversations with new partners who can help to restore the revolutionary impulse embraced by Tillich.

Retrieving the Radical Tillich is more than simply a recapitulation of Tillich’s theology; thus, it offers new perspectives on Tillich by taking his thought into previously unexplored horizons. I contend that seasoned Tillichian scholars will also encounter provocative ways of appropriating Tillich’s thought. Given the essays’ independence, each will need to be evaluated on its own terms. Nevertheless, I formed a few general critiques during my reading of the text. Throughout the book several authors interact with feminist theology, yet no women contributed to this volume. I propose that firsthand contributions from women’s perspectives would have significantly enriched its scope. Similarly, voices from the Global South were markedly absent and could have made notable contributions as well. Finally, I observed that the demonic was not addressed in this book, besides a single passing reference. Considering the prominence that Tillich placed upon a theology of the demonic, I wonder if one can fully grasp his radical nature without delving into this topic. Nevertheless, this collection of essays highlights both Tillich’s enduring influence upon academia and points toward his continued impact in the 21st century.

About the Reviewer(s): 

David Bradnick is Lecturer in Philosophy at Millersville University of Pennsylvania.

Date of Review: 
August 19, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Russell Re Manning is the Lord Gifford Fellow in Natural Theology at the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, UK. He is an Affiliated Lecturer at the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge, UK and holds a Visiting Fellowship at St Edmund's College, University of Cambridge, UK. He is the past-President of the North American Paul Tillich Society. 



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