Tillich on Barth

I’ve been reading Langdon Gilkey’s Blue Twilight, a collection of essays on religion in America (broadly speaking) that covers topics like religious pluralism, the environmental crisis, creationism and evolution, and the rise of the Religious Right. Gilkey was a student of both Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich and was in many ways trying to carry on the spirit of their work. He also includes some interesting and at times amusing anecdotes about these theological giants. For example, here’s Tillich on Karl Barth (the two were arguably rival candidates for most important Protestant theologian of the 20th century):

Tillich liked to invite a few special students to his apartment to what he called a privatissimum, a quiet theological conversation accompanied by some splendid Moselle wine. One time we asked him about Barth. He put down his glass carefully and said with immense seriousness: “Venn you fight a dictator and he has swallowed up all of culture, zenn you wish to have Barth on your side to defend you; he gives you the ground on which to stand. But I was right about theology and correlation; all theology, even Barth’s, reflects its culture, and so you had better think theologically about that. Also, I left Germany for the right reason: to protest the persecution of the Jews, and not to defend the Lutheran pulpit! Thirdly, he went home; I left home–and I left on an earlier train!” With that Tillich picked up his glass, smiled, and we resumed our conversation. (p. 100)

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