Tillich, “What Faith Is” from The Dynamics of Faith
Course Presentation and Discussion


Our Task: to grasp Tillich’s theological understanding of “ultimate concern.:


Tillich’s task in this volume: to allow readers to know “the hidden power of faith within themselves and of the infinite significance of that to which faith is related.”

Ultimate Concern


1.    “Faith” has been trivialized.  Reduced to belief.  Defined by contrast to science.


2.    Ultimate from above vs. ultimate from below:  Instead of talking about “God”, i.e., from the top down,, he talks about the ground of being, i.e., from the groun up.


3.    Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned, the dynamics of faith are the dynamics of man’s ultimate concern.

a.    The ultimate concern demands complete surrender of the person, even in the face of total sacrifice (i.e., of one’s own life).

b.    A total reaction of the person.  Faith as a centered act of being ultimately concerned with one’s whole personality

c.    “God” is not just the object of a person’s faith but the subject as well.

                                              i.     Faith transcends rationality and emotion, conscious and unconscious, subjectivity and objectivity, without destroying any of these.

4.    Rudolf Otto’s descriptive notion of The mysterium tremendum et fascinans the experience of “the holy” or “sacred” as mysterious, terrifying, fascinating.  An experience that grasps a person ultimately.  Lies in a substratum below good and evil, appearing as both creative and destructive.

a.    “Our ultimate concern can destroy us as it can heal us, but we can never be without it.”

The Symbolic Language of Religion

5.    The finite  and the infinite – faith arises out of a person’s awareness that she is a part of the infinite yet not the owner of this infinity.

a.    God, the ultimate being, is infinite.  We are finite.

b.    Faith is distorted when one approaches finite things – like a nation, an ideology or any belief system (such as science – as infinite.

c.    Faith involves the risk or wager of existential courage – the acceptance of uncertainty within the element of certainty.  Finitude and the infinite.

                                              i.     When we collapse the whole of faith into only one of the functions of the person – e.g., rationality, emotion – we distort the meaning of faith.

                                             ii.     Faith cannot be collapsed into cognitive belief without evidence.

6.    Symbolic language is the only language sufficient to express faith and God.

a.    A symbol is not a sign – a sign points beyond itself to something known, it stands for something.  

b.    A symbol points beyond to something not fully known, it leads us to greater understanding, from lack of knowledge to knowledge.

c.    Symbolism plays a part in what it represents

7.    Symbols do the following:

a.    They allow us to experience other levels or aspects of reality that normally lie outside our awareness.

b.    They allow us to experience aspects of ourselves, our “souls,” that we were not previously conscious of.

8.    Symbols as such cannot be intentionally produced.  They come about and end in their own time.   They might come about in response to a need and end when that need is no longer.  We can create any range of ideas, images, forms, but whether something acts as a symbol that leads to ultimate concern does not depend upon us.