By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning
The collection of articles that comprise Religion in the New Millennium: Theology in the Spirit of Paul Tillich, are from presentations given at the gathering of international scholars of religion meeting in New Harmony, Indiana in June 1999. The writers were challenged to address current issues of faith and culture through the lens of Tillich’s theology, especially as developed in his classic work The Religious Situation (1926). Not all presenters and writers were students or experts on Tillich or his theology, and that makes for a frustrating sense of unevenness in reading through this volume.
The challenge to the presenters was to think about the then entering new millennium in the spirit and thought of Paul Tillich, one of the most significant theological interpreters of culture in the twentieth century. That most writers took this challenge to heart is evident in the tone and substance of the better chapters. Most of the essays use a Tillichian analysis in their treatment and analysis of contemporary cultural issues, including several cultural and societal issues that did not exist as critical theological concerns during Tillich’s lifespan: gender issues, cybernetics, genetics, robotics, global ecological issues, and a more varied and global spirituality. However, several writers treated their topics from their own theological or conceptual frameworks, with only passing comments on Tillich’s thought. Again, this lack of consistency to the exercise at hand is disappointing. Some of the chapters are stellar examples of responsible, rigorous theological thinking (like that of Robert John Russell in the chapter titled “The Relevance of Tillich for the ‘Theology & Science’ Dialogue”). Others read more like thought pieces from the New Yorker. Whether this makes for a balanced or unbalanced volume the reader will have to decide. This reviewer would have preferred a more selective inclusion of essays in this volume.
Langdon Gilkey’s opening chapter, titled “The Religious Situation at the End of the Twentieth Century” sets the tone for the book. He begins by highlighting Tillich’s relevance in treating four critical issues that have appeared in the last century: religious pluralism, ecology, radical heteronomy (especially as manifested in the “Religious Right”), and ethnic cleansing. Gilkey, as do others in their essays, provides anecdotes about his personal experiences and relationship with Paul Tillich. These sometimes light and touching sketches help to bring warmth and humanity to one’s idea of Tillich, the great thinker.
The remaining essays fall under the topical section headings of: Economy, Society and Religion; Women and Religion; Religion and the Arts; Spirituality and Interreligious Dialogue (a section that includes a panel discussion on “Spirituality Spirituality for the Twenty-First Century”); and Science and Religion.
For the most part, the writers communicate the hopefulness that informed Tillich’s theology. Their varied treatment of a broad range of cultural and theological topics leaves open room for the working of the Spirit in the domains of culture, politics, science and technology, and complex global societal change.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.
His books on Christian education include The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H).