Paul Tillich’s Definition Of Sin Is Beyond The Pale

I’m not that well versed in the theology of Paul Tillich, but I know people who are and who adore him. From what I’ve heard explained and from what I’ve read, I don’t get it. Two courses from John Frame at Reformed Theological Seminary didn’t help my opinion of the man and what I just read from Bill Craig has sealed the deal. Next time I hear the man’s name mentioned in a positive light I’m going to start braying at the heavens a la Michael J Fox in Teen Wolf II.

Similarly in the 20th century, a very prominent 20th century theologian was Paul Tillich. Tillich really could not even be called a theist, I don’t think. He didn’t really believe there is a personal mind or being distinct from the world who has created the world. Tillich referred to God as “the ground of being.” He is the sort of ultimate reality that is the foundation or the ground of everything else, and everything else is simply a manifestation of this fundamental reality which is difficult to characterize called “the ground of all being.” So for Tillich sin is alienation from the ground of being. Rather than recognizing your unity with the world and with the ground of being you are estranged from it. You don’t recognize that and so you are alienated from the ground of being. So Tillich reinterpreted the traditional characteristics of sin in line with this philosophy. For example, what was unbelief for Tillich? Unbelief is the failure to recognize your unity with God. You really are one with God. God is the ground of your being and you are one with God but unbelief is a failure to recognize that oneness with God. So you need to get rid of that alienation and estrangement by recognizing your fundamental unity with God. What is pride? Pride is self-exaltation. Rather than being oriented toward God, you are oriented toward yourself and exalt yourself. It is a refusal to recognize yourself as finite. You are just a finite creature that is ultimately doomed to perish and pass away and pride is thinking of yourself as somehow more significant than you really are; failing to recognize your finitude in face of the ground of being. Concupiscence he interprets to be, again, just self-seeking – seeking your own goods and interests. Again, for Tillich I think you can see, as with Schleiermacher, you have this same tendency to obscure the moral aspects of sin. We don’t hear anything here about guilt or punishment or the need for redemption. It is just a sort of failure of human consciousness to realize its oneness with God or dependency upon God.

Craig speaks more to this in the Q&A:

Question: It seems as though the modern position here is nothing more than a repackaged form of Pelagianism. Is that correct?

Answer: I think it is worse than that because – we’ll talk about Pelagianism when we get to original sin – but Pelagius did think that we need redemption, we need forgiveness, even if he thought that we have the ability to come to God and the ability to live a sinless life on our own in virtue of God’s gifts that he has given us. But it still is a moral failing on Pelagius’ view. So I think this is much worse than that. To me this is more like pantheism really. It is more like Buddhism, I think, in a sense. If you think of the ground of being as just being Brahman or The All or The Absolute, it seems to me that this is very alien to a monotheistic conception of God and sin.