Faith is a big word which points towards an even bigger concept. In the New Testament, faith stands for a deep trust and belief. In Dynamics of Faith, Tillich offers his take on this concept. Put succinctly:
Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned (1).
This, of course, is an expansion on the New Testament’s idea of deep trust and belief in a person—Tillich’s faith comes from a philosophical viewpoint which engages all religions. While Christian faith in the person of Jesus Christ falls under his definition of “being ultimately concerned,” so do many other faiths, even secular and national faiths.
Dynamics of Faith is a very thoughtful book which deserves a careful reading. There are elements on every page to evaluate theologically.
Tillich does a fine job at clearing away some of the misunderstandings of faith. Faith is no mere “act of knowledge that has a low degree of evidence” (31), nor is it “the feeling of unconditional dependence” (38) à la Schleiermacher.
Another strength of this book is Tillich’s acceptance of doubt as part of faith. Consider this argument (that has been picked up today by Peter Rollins):
If faith is understood as belief that something is true, doubt is incompatible with the act of faith. If faith is understood as being ultimately concerned, doubt is a necessary element in it. It as a consequence of the risk of faith (18).
What a powerfully pastoral idea! Doubt could actually be part of faith rather than an enemy of it.
My biggest problem with Tillich’s argument came with his separation between the ultimate and other fields of study. When explaining potential conflicts between faith and science, history, and philosophy, he strongly asserted the need to keep these realms separate:
Science has no right and no power to interfere with faith and faith has no power to interfere with science. One dimension of meaning is not able to interfere with another dimension (81-2).
Of course, if you understand the incarnation as the hypostatic union between God and humanity, then dimensional interference is precisely what happened!
Dynamics of Faith was published in 1957. Now, over 50 years later, it is still a good way to spark meaningful theological discussion and thought on one of the biggest theological categories in scripture.
—Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (New York, NY: Harper Torchbooks, 1957).