The problem of theological method: A study of Kierkegaard and Tillich

Wardlaw, Henry R (1963) The problem of theological method: A study of Kierkegaard and Tillich. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This study of the problem of theological method is in feet an investigation of the dichotomy between those who understand the import of theology in terms of 'metaphysics' or 'ontology', and those who understand it 'existentially'. Theologians of the idealist party tried to comprehend God end reality in a metaphysical system, but Kierkegaard denied that this was possible. In the first place reality an a whole cannot be comprehended systematically. In the second place faith cannot be comprehended in the abstract categories of objective thought. Kiorkegaard argues that both empiricism and idealism fail to discover any absolute truth, but ho thinks that the problem of faith remains. Some fixed point of 'truth' is necessary for living, for without such a 'truth' our life will be without any foundation. This truth must be found in subjectivity. Yet Kierkegaard does not mean that this truth, which rests in subjective integrity, has no object. The subject must be related to some truth out himself. But his point in that this truth is not to be discovered, or authenticated, by objective speculative discussion. In the end it must in some sense be self-authenticating. Man stands in need of a divine revelation, and the authority of such a revelation relates not to the truth of a sum of sentence m, but to a truth which is a life. But does Kierkegaard allow any apologetic function to philosophy and the philosopher? Does he reject all philosophy, or only idealist philosophy? Is there another kind of philosophy possible which devotes itself to existential awakening? Perhaps there in, but we should remember that such awakening would not be an awakening to the reality of faith, but only to the possibility of faith. Such considerations point us towards the theological method proposed by Paul Tillich. Tillich proposes a method which proceeds by correlating existential questions with the answers of revelation, the question and answer being independent, and yet inter-dependent. But how can two factors be both independent and inter-dependent? Perhaps it is a case of partial independence. In any case both the answer and the question are said to be enclosed within the theological circle, although the material out of which the question is formulated is collected independently. How is this material to be discovered then? It seems that we must begin with some kind of investigation of the phenomenon of personal existence. (But such a description of a phenomenon in not necessarily the same as Kierkegaard's attempt to increase, our awareness of existence, though this question of increasing our awareness of existence certainly has a close parallel in Tillich's thought. In fact we could say that both Tillich and Kierkegaard see this task of increasing awareness as a preliminary to preaching the gospel. But of course this leaves us with a problem as to how this is related to our knowledge about the phenomenon of man. But in the end the, main problem facing us concerns the relationship between existential and ontological formulations. Does Kierkegaard's existentialism really dismiss ontology from the field of theological discourse? And if it does, can we really maintain that Tillich's method is carrying on in the same tradition? I think Tillich would certainly deny the possibility of finding God through ontological reason, even though we might discover some question to which God era s the answer. Yet even the question of God sometimes seems to become a matter of subjective concern in Tillich's thought. So God is spoken of as that which concerns us ultimately. And in the end his methodological proposals seem to leave little or no room for ontological questions to arise within the province of theology. It seems that the theologian is concerned with the actual possibility, and the significance for the subject, of existence in faith. But can theologians confine discussions of the nature of God to this existential level? Is the theist/atheist discussion a matter of indifference to theological formulation? Perhaps if we took up Tillich's hint that God should be defined in terms of 'ultimate concern' it is. This point seams to be explored even more thoroughly by H. Richard Niebuhr than by Tillich. But when we follow Niebuhr's discussion to its end, we find he brings us back to the concept of being, though not perhaps to any clear ontology of transcendence. Nevertheless this passing glance at Niebuhr's argument does seem to help us understand TiIlich's position better. In the end Tillich's methodology seems to point towards an existential theology which leaves ontology to the philosophers. And this conclusion is of no small importance to the theologians.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: R Gregor-Smith
Keywords: Philosophy of Religion, Theology
Date of Award: 1963
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1963-73103
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2019 08:56
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2019 08:56

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