Restatements Of Answers Given In Volume I

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1. Beyond Naturalism and Supranaturalism

The rest of this section will be devoted to a restatement and partial reformulation of those concepts of the first volume which are especially basic to the ideas to be developed in the second. It would be unnecessary to do so if one could simply refer to what has been said in the earlier parts. This is not possible because questions have arisen in public and private discussions which must be answered first. In none of these cases has the substance of my earlier thought changed, but formulations have proved to be inadequate in clarity, elaboration, and emphasis.

Much criticism has been made concerning the doctrine of God as developed in the second part of the system, "Being and God/' Since the idea of God is the foundation and the center of every theological thought, this criticism is most important and welcome. For many, the stumbling block was the use of the term "Being" in relation to God, especially in the statement that the first thing we must say about God is that he is being-itself or being as being. Before speaking directly on this issue, I want to explain in a different terminology the basic intention of my doctrine of God. This is more simply expressed in the title of this section: "Beyond Naturalism and Supranaturalism." An idea of God which overcomes the conflict of naturalism and supranaturalism could be called "sclf-transcendent" or "ecstatic." In order to make this (tentative and preliminary) choice of words understandable, we may distinguish three ways of interpreting the meaning of the term "God."

The first one separates God as a being, the highest being, from all other beings, alongside and above which he has his existence. In this position he has brought the universe into being at a certain moment (five thousand or five billion years ago), governs it according to a plan, directs it toward an end, interferes with its ordinary processes in order to overcome resistance and to fulfil his purpose, and will bring it to consummation in a final catastrophe. Within this framework the whole divine-human drama is to be seen. Certainly this is a primitive form of supra-naturalism, but a form which is more decisive for the religious life and its symbolic expression than any theological refinement of this position.

The main argument against it is that it transforms the infinity of God into a finiteness which is merely an extension of the categories of finitude. This is done in respect to space by establishing a supranatural divine world alongside the natural human world; in respect to time by determining a beginning and an end of God's creativity; in respect to causality by making God a cause alongside other causes; in respect to substance by attributing individual substance to him. Against this kind of supranaturalism the arguments of naturalism are valid and, as such, represent the true concern of religion, the infinity of the infinite, and die inviolability of the created structures of the finite. Theology must accept the antisupranatural criticism of naturalism.

The second way of interpreting the meaning of the term "God1* identifies God with the universe, with its essence or with special powers within it. God is the name for the power and meaning of reality. He is not identified with the totality of things. No myth or philosophy has ever asserted such an absurdity. But he is a symbol of the unity, harmony, and power of being; he is the dynamic and creative center of reality. The phrase dcus sivc natura, used by people like Scotus Erigena and Spinoza, does not say that God is identical with nature but that he is identical with the natura naturans, the creative nature, the creative ground of all natural objects. In modern naturalism the religious quality of these affirmations has almost disappeared, especially among philosophizing scientists who understand nature in terms of materialism and mechanism. In philosophy proper, in so far as it became positivistic and pragmatistic, such assertions about nature as a whole were required. In so far as a whole philosophy of life involving dynamic processes developed, it again approached the religious forms of naturalism.

The main argument against naturalism in whatever form is that it denies the infinite distance between the whole of finite things and their infinite ground, with the consequence that the term "God" becomes interchangeable with the term "universe" and therefore is scmantically superfluous. This semantic situation reveals the failure of naturalism to understand a decisive element in the experience of the holy, namely, the distance between finite man, on the one hand, and the holy in its numerous manifestations, on the other. For this, naturalism cannot account.

This criticism of the supranaturalistic and the naturalistic interpretations of the meaning of "God" calls for a third way which will liberate the discussion from the oscillation between two insufficient and religiously dangerous solutions. Such a third way is not new.

Theologians like Augustine, Thomas, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and Schlciermacher have grasped it, although in a restricted form. It agrees with the naturalistic view by asserting that God would not be God if he were not the creative ground of everything that has being, that, in fact, he is the infinite and unconditional power of being or, in the most radical abstraction, that he is bcing-itsclf. In this respect God is neither alongside things nor even "above" them; he is nearer to them than they arc to themselves. He is their creative ground, here and now, always and everywhere.

Up to this point, the third view could be accepted by some forms of naturalism. But then the ways part. At this point the terms "self-transcendent" and "ecstatic," which I use for the third way of understanding the term "God," become meaningful. The term "self-transcendent" has two elements: "transcending" and "self." God as the ground of being infinitely transcends that of which he is the ground. He stands against the world, in so far as the world stands against him, and he stands for the world, thereby causing it to stand for him. This mutual freedom from each other and for each other is the only meaningful sense in which the "supra" in "supranaturalism" C3n be used. Only in this sense can we speak of "transcendent" with respect to the relation of God and the world. To call God transcendent in this sense does not mean that one must establish a "superworld" of divine objects. It docs mean that, within itself, the finite world points beyond itself. In other words, it is self-transcendent.

Now the need for the syllabic "self" in "self-transcendent" has also bccomc understandable: the one reality which we encounter is experienced in different dimensions which point to one another. The finitude of the finite points to the infinity of the infinite. It goes beyond itself in order to return to itself in a new dimension. This is what "self-transcendence" means. In terms of immediate experience it is the encounter with the holy, an encounter which has an ecstatic character. The term "ecstatic" in the phrase "ecstatic idea of God" points to the experience of the holy as transcending ordinary experience without removing it. Ecstasy as a state of mind is the exact correlate to self-transcendence as the state of reality. Such an understanding of the idea of God is neither naturalistic nor supranaturalistic. It underlies the whole of the present theological system.

If, on the basis of this idea of God, we ask: "What does it mean that God, the ground of everything that is, can stand against the world and for the world?" wc must refer to that quality of the world which expresses itself in finite freedom, the quality we experience within ourselves. The traditional discussion between the naturalistic and the supranaturalistic ideas of God uses the prepositions "in" and "above," respectively. Both arc taken from the spatial realm and therefore are unable to express the true relation between God and the world—which certainly is not spatial. The self-transcendent idea of God replaces the spatial imagery—at least for theological thought—by the concept of finite freedom. The divine transcendence is identical with the freedom of the created to turn away from the essential unity with the creative ground of its being. Such freedom presupposes two qualities of the created: first, that it is substantially independent of the divine ground; second, that it remains in substantial unity with it. Without the latter unity, the creature would be without the power of being. It is the quality of finite freedom within the created which makes pantheism impossible and not the notion of a highest being alongside the world, whether his relation to the world is described in dcistic or theistic terms.

The consequences of the self-transcendent idea of God for concepts like revelation and miracle (which are decisive for the christological problem) have been fully developed in the part entitled "Reason and Revelation." These do not need restatement, but they do show the far-reaching significance of the ecstatic interpretation of the relation between God and the world.

However, there is one problem which has moved into the center ot the philosophical interest in religion since the appearance of the first volume. This is the problem of the symbolic knowledge of God. If God as the ground of being infinitely transcends everything thar is, two consequences follow: first, whatever one knows about a finite thing one knows about God, because it is rooted in him as its ground; second, anything one knows about a finite thing cannot be applied to God, because he is, as has been said> "quite other" or, as could be said, "ecstatically transcendent." The unity of these two divergent consequences is the analogous or symbolic knowledge of God. A religious symbol uses the material of ordinary experience in speaking of God, but in such a way that the ordinary meaning of the material used is both affirmed and denied. Every religious symbol negates itself in its literal meaning, but it affirms itself in its self-transcending meaning. It is not a sign pointing to something with which it has no inner relationship. It represents the power and meaning of what is symbolized dirough participation. The symbol participates in the reality which is symbolized. Therefore, one should never say "only a symbol." This is to confuse symbol with sign. Thus it follows that everything religion has to say about God, including his qualities, actions, and manifestations, has a symbolic character and that the meaning of "God" is completely missed if one takes the symbolic language literally.

But, after this has been stated, the question arises (and has arisen in public discussion) as to whether there is a point at which a non-sym-bolic assertion about God must be made. There is such a point, namely, the statement that everything we say about God is symbolic. Such a statement is an assertion about God which itself is not symbolic. Otherwise we would fall into a circular argument. On the other hand, if we make one non-symbolic assertion about God, his ecstatic-transcendent character seems to be endangered. This dialectical difficulty is a mirror of the human situation with respect to the divine ground of being. Although man is actually separated from the infinite, he could not be aware of it if he did not participate in it potentially. This is expressed in the state of being ultimately concerned, a state which is universally human, whatever the content of the concern may be. This is the point at which we must speak non-symbolically about God, but in terms of a quest for him. In the moment, however, in which we describe the character of this point or in which we try to formulate that for which we ask, a combination of symbolic with non-symbolic elements occurs.

If we say chat God is the infinite, or the unconditional, or being-itself, we speak rationally and ecstatically at the same time. These terms precisely designate the boundary line at which both the symbolic and the non-symbolic coincide. Up to this point every statement is non-symbolic (in the sense of religious symbol). Beyond this point every statement is symbolic (in the sense of religious symbol). The point itself is both non-symbolic and symbolic. This dialectical situation is the conceptual expression of mans existential situation. It is the condition for man's religious existence and for his ability to receive revelation. It is another side of the self-transcendent or ecstatic idea of God, beyond naturalism and supranaturalism.

2. The Use of the Concept of Being in Systematic Theology

When a doctrine of God is initiated by defining God as bcing-itsclf, the philosophical concept of being is introduced into systematic theology. This was so in the earliest period of Christian theology and has been so in the whole history of Christian thought. It appears in the present system in three places: in the doctrine of God, where God is called being as being or the ground and the power of being; in the doctrine of man, where the distinction is carried through between man's essential and his existential being; and, finally, in the doctrine of the Christ, where he is called the manifestation of the New Being, the actualization of which is the work of the divine Spirit.

In spite of the fact that classical theology has always used the concept of "being," the term has been criticized from the standpoint of nomi-nalistic philosophy and that of personalistic theology. Considering the prominent role which the concept plays in the system, it is necessary to reply to the criticisms and at the same time to clarify the way in which die term is used in its different applications.

The criticism of the nominalists and their positivistic descendants to the present day is based on the assumption that the concept of being represents the highest possible abstraction. It is understood as the genus to which all other genera are subordinated with respect to universality and with respect to the degree of abstraction. If this were the way in which the concept of being is reached, nominalism could interpret it as it interprets all universals, namely, as communicative notions which point to particulars but have no reality of their own. Only the completely particular, the thing here and now, has reality. Universals are means of communication without any power of being. Being as such, therefore, does not designate anything real. God, if he exists, exists as a particular and could be called the most individual of all beings.

The answer to this argument is that the concept of being does not have the character that nominalism attributed to it. It is not the highest abstraction, although it demands the ability of radical abstraction. It is the expression of the experience of being over against non-being. Therefore, it can be described as the power of being which resists non-being. For this reason, the medieval philosophers callcd being the basic transcendentale, beyond the universal and the particular. In this sense the notion of being was understood alike by such people as Parmenides in Greece and Shankara in India. In this sense its significance has been rediscovered by contemporary existentialists, such as Heidegger and Marcel. This idea of being lies beyond the conflict of nominalism and realism. The same word, the emptiest of all concepts when taken as an abstraction, becomes the most meaningful of all conccpts when it is understood as the power of being in everything that has being.

No philosophy can suppress the notion of being in this latter sense. It can be hidden under presuppositions and reductive formulas, but it nevertheless underlies the basic conccpts of philosophizing. For "being11 remains the content, the mystery, and the eternal aporia of thinking. No theology can suppress the notion of being as the power of being. One cannot separate them. In the moment in which one says that God is or that he has being, the question arises as to how his relation to being is understood. The only possible answer seems to be that God is being-itself, in the sense of the power of being or the power to conquer non-being.

The main argument of personalistic theology against the use of the concept of being is derived from the pcrsonalism of man's experience of the holy as expressed in the personal figures of the gods and the person-to-person relation of man to God in living piety. This person-alism is most pronounced in biblical religion. In contrast to many Asiatic religions and to Christian mysticism, the question of being is not asked. For an extensive discussion of this problem I refer to my little book Biblical Religion and the Search for Ultimate Reality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955). The radical contrast of biblical personalism and philosophical ontology is elaborated without compromise. And it is emphasized that no ontological search can be found in the biblical literature. At the same time, the necessity to ask the onto-logical question is taken with equal seriousness. There is no ontological thought in biblical religion; but there is no symbol or no theological concept in it which does not have ontological implications. Only artificial barriers can stop the searching mind from asking the question of the being of God, of the gap between man's essential and existential being, of the New Being in the Christ.

For some, it is mostly the impersonal sound of the word "being" which produces concern. But suprapcrsonal is not impersonal; and I would ask those who are afraid to transcend the personalistic symbolism of the religious language to think, even if only for a short moment, of the words of Jesus about the hairs on our head being counted—and, we could add, the atoms and electrons constituting the universe. In such a statement there is at least as much potential ontology as there is actual ontology in the whole system of Spinoza. To prohibit the transformation of the potential into an actual ontology—of course, within the theological circle—would reduce theology to a repetition and organization of biblical passages. It would be impossible to call the Christ "the Logos."

In the last chapter of my book The Courage To He (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952) I have written of the God above the God of theism. This has been misunderstood as a dogmatic statement of a pantheistic or mystical character. First of all, it is not a dogmatic, but an apologetic, statement. It takes seriously the radical doubt experienced by many people. It gives one the courage of self-affirmation even in the extreme state of radical doubt. In such a stale the God of both religious and theological language disappears. But something remains, namely, the seriousness of that doubt in which meaning within mean-inglessness is affirmed. The source of this affirmation of meaning within mcaninglessness, of certitude within doubt, is not the God of traditional theism but the "God above God," the power of being, which works through those who have no name for it, not even the name God. This is the answer to those who ask for a message in the nothingness of their situation and at the end of their courage to be. But such an extreme point is not a space within which one can live. The dialectics of an extreme situation are a criterion of truth but not the basis on which a whole structure of truth can be built.

3. Independence and Interdependence of Existential Questions and Theological Answers

The method used in the theological system and described in the methodological introduction of the first volume is called the "method of correlation," namely, the correlation between existential questions and theological answers. "Correlation," a word with several meanings in scientific language, is understood as "interdependence of two independent factors." It is not understood in the logical sense of quantitative or qualitative co-ordination of elements without causal relation, but it is understood as a unity of the dependence and independence of two factors. Since this kind of relation has become an object of discussion, I want to try to give some clarification conccrning the independence and interdependence of existential questions and theological answers in the method of correlation.

In this method, question and answer are independent of each other, since it is impossible to derive the answer from the question or the question from the answer. The existential question, namely, man himself in the conflicts of his existential situation, is not the source for the revelatory answer formulated by theology. One cannot derive the divine self-manifestation from an analysis of the human predicament. God speaks to the human situation, against it, and for it. Theological supra-naturalism, as represented, for example, by contemporary neo-orthodox theology, is right in asserting the inability of man to reach God under his own power. Man is the question, not the answer. It is equally wrong to derive the question implied in human existence from the revelatory answer. This is impossible because the revelatory answer is meaningless if there is no question to which it is the answer. Man cannot receive an answer to a question he has not asked. (This is, by the way, a decisive principle of religious education.) Any such answer would be foolishness for him, an understandable combination of words —as so much preaching is—but not a revelatory experience. The question, asked by man, is man himself. He asks it, whether or not he is vocal about it. lie cannot avoid asking it, because his very being is the question of his existence. In asking it, he is alone with himself. He asks "out of the depth," and this depth is he himself.

The truth of naturalism is that it insists on the human character of the existential question. Man as man knows the question of God. He is estranged, but not cut oil, from God. This is the foundation for the limited right of what traditionally was called "natural theology." Natural theology was meaningful to the extent that it gave an analysis of the human situation and the question of God implied in it. One side of the traditional arguments for the existence of God usually does this, in so far as they elucidate the dependent, transitory, and relational nature of finite human existence. But, in developing the other side of these arguments, natural theology tried to derive theological affirmations from the analysis of man's finitudc. This, however, is an impossible task. None of the conclusions which argue for the existence of God is valid. Their validity extends as far as the questioning analysis, not beyond it. For God is manifest only through God. Existential questions and theological answers are independent of each other; this is the first statement implied in the method of correlation.

The second and more difficult problem is that of the mutual dependence of questions and answers. Correlation means that while in some respects questions and answers arc independent, they are dependent in other respects. This problem was always present in classical theology (in scholasticism as well as in Protestant orthodoxy) when the influence of the substructure of natural theology upon the superstructure of revealed theology, and vice versa, was discussed. Since Schlciermach-er, it has also been present whenever a philosophy of religion was used as an entering door into the theological system, and the problem arose of how far the door determines the structure of the house, or the house the door. Even the antimetaphysical Ritschlians did not escape this necessity. And the famous "No" of Karl Barth against any kind of natural theology, even of man's ability to ask the question of God, in the last analysis is a self-deception, as the use of human language in speaking of revelation shows.

The problem of the interdependence of existential questions and theological answers can be solved only within what, in the introductory part, was called the "theological circle." The theologian as theologian is^ committed to a concrete expression of the ultimate concern, religiously speaking, of a special revelatory experience. On the basis of this concrete experience, he makes his universal claims, as Christianity did in terms of the statement that Jesus as the Christ is the Logos. This circle can be understood as an ellipse (not as a geometrical circle) and described in terms of two central points—the existential question and the theological answer- Both are within the sphere of the religious commitment, but they are not identical. The material of the existential question is taken from the whole of human experience and its manifold ways of expression. This refers to past and present, to popular language and great literature, to art and philosophy, to science and psychology. It refers to myth and liturgy, to religious traditions, and to present experiences. All this, as far as it reflects man's existential predicament, is the material without the help of which the existential question cannot be formulated. The choice of the material, as well as the formulation of the question, is the task of the systematic theologian.

In order to do so, he must participate in the human predicament, not only actually—as he always does—but also in conscious identification/ lie must participate in man's finitud<£ which is also His own, and in its anxiety/as though he had never received the revelatory answer of "eternity." He must participate in man's estrangement, which is also his own, and show the anxiety of guilt as though he had never received the revelatory answer of "forgiveness." The theologian does not rest 011 the theological answer which he announces. He can give it in a convincing way only if he participates with his whole being in the situation of the question, namely, the human predicament. In the light of this demand, the method of correlation protects the theologian from the arrogant claim of having revelatory answers at his disposal. In formulating the answer, he must struggle for it.

While the material of the existential question is the very expression of the human predicament, the form of the question is determined by the total system and by the answers given in it. The question implied in human finitude is directed toward the answer: the eternal. The question implied in human estrangement is directed toward the answer: forgiveness. This directedness of the questions does not take away their seriousness, but. it gives them a form determined by the theological system as a whole. This is the sphere within which the correlation of existential questions and theological answers takes place.

The other side of the correlation is the influence of the existential questions on the theological answers. But it should be reaffirmed that the answers cannot be derived from the questions, that the substance of the answers—the revelatory experience—is independent of the questions. But the form of the theological answer is not independent of the form of the existential question. If theology gives the answer, "the

Christ," to the question implied in human estrangement, it docs so differently, depending on whether the reference is to the existential conflicts of Jewish legalism, to the existential despair of Greek skepticism, or to the threat of nihilism as expressed in twentieth-century literature, art, and psychology. Nevertheless, the question docs not crcate the answer. The answer, "the Christ," cannot be created by man, but man can receive it and express it according to the way he has asked for it.

The method of correlation is not safe from distortion; no theological method is. The answer can prejudice the question to such a degree diat the seriousness of the existential predicament is lost. Or the question can prejudice the answer to such a degree that the revelatory charactcr of the answer is lost. No method is a guaranty against such failures. Theology, like all enterprises of the human mind, is ambiguous. But this is not an argument against theology or against the method of correlation. As method, it is as old as theology. We have therefore not invented a new method, but have rather tried to make explicit the implications of old ones, namely, that of apologetic theology.

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