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Book Review: Dynamics of Faith by Paul Tillich

Author: Peter Menkin

Remarkable and still contemporary statement on Ultimate Concern

Many years ago, about 35, I was talking on the phone to a friend who told me “God is love.” This shocked and surprised me so much that I had to get off the phone. The idea was new to me, a child of atheist parents. Now I find that Paul Tillich in his book, “Dynamics of Faith,” writes of the ultimate concern (God) in terms of love. Imagine that I was so unknowing and ignorant, in a way lost, and presently continue in my discoveries of God. And of love.

Paul Tillich is someone who will help a reader on the way to know and learn about what God is and who he is to mankind. This includes who he is to the individual man or woman. I have started at the end of the book to work my way to introduce the reader of this review to Paul Tillich’s wonderful book.

First, who was Paul Tillich. This from the Encyclopedia Brittanica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite (the Brittanica designed for the computer):

German-born U.S. theologian and philosopher whose discussions of God and faith illuminated and bound together the realms of traditional Christianity and modern culture. Some of his books, notably The Courage to Be (1952) and Dynamics of Faith (1957), reached a large public audience not usually concerned with religious matters. The three-volume Systematic Theology (1951-63) was the culmination of his rigorous examination of faith.

The writer is a man with a powerful way with words, imaginative gift of communicating theological ideas, and a teacher with a strong mind. His writing will strengthen the reader’s mind and provide means to approach ideas. He says there is “…the healing power of the state of the ultimate concern.” In the last chapter, “The Life of Faith,” he goes on, “The concern of faith is identical with the desire of love: reunion with that to which one belongs and from which one is estranged. In the great commandment of the Old Testament, confirmed by Jesus, the object of ultimate concern, and the object of unconditional love, is God.” This is a book for people who like ideas. We are, each of us, being reconciled to our ultimate concern throughout our lives. This is the dynamic.

Published in 1957 by Harper & Brothers Publishers of New York, this one of a series of books planned and edited by Ruth Nanda Anshen, is a first edition. I do not know what it is worth as such, perhaps a few dollars more than a new copy. I found mine in my Church library, an Episcopal Church. The book is a statement in favor of the Protestant way of faith. He is unabashed in his favor for this way of religion. It is even an argument for Protestantism. Catholics will find this an informative and useful book, even one required as reading in many seminaries. A woman friend who attended Nashota House told me she had to read it when she was a seminary student, though the seminary is Protestant it is part of the Episcopal Church catholic tradition.

The other books in this series by the publisher are part of what was called World Perspectives. I cannot speak to the other works, but this work remains contemporaneous, as you could guess by what I have written so far. Editors in that series: Niels Bohr, Richard Courant, Hu Shih, Ernest Jackh, Robert M. MacIver, J. Robert Oppenheimer, I.I. Rabi, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Alexander Sachs. Many of these names I know, but then these are more of my parent’s generation in some ways than mine (I was born after the Second World War). But though unchurched in their lifetime, my parents were educated people, if just by their own devices: intellectuals and artists.

You’ll find the book takes off right at the beginning. The first chapter is titled, “What Faith Is,” and the first sentence goes: “Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned: the dynamics of faith are the dynamics of man’s ultimate concern. Man, like every living being, is concerned about many things, above all about those which condition his very existence, such as food and shelter.” Not the first to say it, nor the most important, I will add my voice to others and declare the writer writes so very well. It is a pleasure to read for the writing is so good.

This remarkable and brilliant book, I cannot go without praising it again, talks about courage. Paul Tillich finds courage an important ingredient to faith, the kind he explains and extols. He says it is in doubt that we find faith, for faith without doubt is static. We are all with some doubts, and from doubt we grow faith and renew our faith in the ultimate concern.

Not so long a book, but 127 pages, I think a reader will find it edifying. Edifying is a good word for this work. We are destined to have faith, for the writer says we are a species with a spiritual nature and desire. “”Faith sees in a concrete piece of reality the ultimate ground and meaning of all reality. No piece of reality is excluded from the possibility of becoming a bearer of the holy; and almost every kind of reality has actually been considered as holy by acts of faith in groups and individuals”– a graceful book.

–Peter Menkin, Easter 2007

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About the Author

Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA (north of San Francisco).

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