Paul Tillich’s Dynamics of Faith describes faith as an act of personality, and examines how faith participates in the dynamics of the personality. The book also examines the conflict between faith and doubt. The six chapters of the book are entitled: “I. What Faith Is,” “II. What Faith is Not,” “III. Symbols of Faith,” “IV. Types of Faith,” “V. The Truth of Faith,” and "VI. The Life of Faith.”
Tillich defines and explores faith as ultimate concern. Faith is a centered act of being ultimately concerned.
This definition is ambiguous, and needs further explanation. If faith is ultimate concern, with what is it ultimately concerned? To be concerned, we must be concerned with something. Tillich says that the content of faith does not matter for the definition of faith. But, to resolve this ambiguity, Tillich’s definition of faith may be interpreted to mean that faith is a concern with ultimate reality.
According to Tillich, faith is an act of the total personality. Thus, the dynamics of faith must account for the dynamics of personality. Faith is the freedom to choose to believe in something. Faith is ‘ecstatic’ in that it is a centered act of the total personality.
Faith is not simply the will to believe, says Tillich. It is a cognitive affirmation of the transcendent nature of ultimate reality. This is achieved, not simply by a process of intellectual inquiry, but by an act of acceptance and surrender.1
Religious faith brings an awareness of the sacred. Tillich says that faith is certain, insofar as it is an experience of the sacred, but that it is uncertain, insofar as it brings finite beings into relation with an infinite reality. The element of uncertainty in faith cannot be avoided, and must be accepted.2
Tillich argues that doubt is included in every act of faith.3 The dynamic concept of faith helps to explain the interaction between faith and doubt. Every act of faith recognizes that there may be a possibility for doubt.
If civil or religious authority enforces conformity among members of a community of faith, then faith loses its uncertainty, and the element of risk is removed from the act of faith. This may also happen if a law, creed, or doctrine excludes any possibility for uncertainty or doubt.
Faith as ultimate concern requires the courage to make a personal commitment. The risk involved in faith is related to the presence of uncertainty. Faith may become non-dynamic, or static, when the risk of uncertainty is excluded by a law, creed, or doctrine. Thus, faith may be either: dynamic, when uncertainty is recognized and overcome by faith, or nondynamic, when the possiblity of any uncertainty is excluded by faith.
According to Tillich, faith is not a belief that something has a certain degree of probability. Faith is not a type of theoretical knowledge that is based on probability. Tillich says that many historical conflicts have resulted from the misunderstanding of faith as a type of knowledge supported by religious authority.4
Faith is not an act of knowledge related to uncertainty, explains Tillich, nor is it a belief based on incomplete evidence. Because it is not an act of knowledge, it does not have to be supplemented by an act of will. Thus, the will to believe does not create faith.5
Ultimate reality transcends any atttempt to describe it adequately, and can only be described by the use of symbols. The language of faith, says Tillich, is a symbolic language used to describe ultimate reality. For example, the word “God” is a symbol for ultimate reality. Therefore, to argue about whether God exists or does not exist is futile and meaningless.6 The question is not whether God exists, but whether we are concerned with, or indifferent to, the nature of ultimate reality.
Tillich argues that myths are symbols of faith, which tell stories to portray situations of ultimate concern. Myths may be ‘broken’ or ‘unbroken.’ Unbroken myths are myths which are accepted as literal statements of reality. Broken myths are myths which are interpreted as myths, as symbolic statements of reality.7
According to Tillich, the primitive mythological consciousness is convinced of the literal truth of myth, and resists any attempt to demythologize the mythological world, because it believes that the broken myth is deprived of its truth and power. But this insistence upon the literal truth of myth actually attempts to restrict ultimate reality to the level of the finite and conditional.8
In discussing the truth of faith, Tillich examines the relation between faith and reason. Faith is not in conflict with reason. Tillich says that reason is a precondition for faith, and that faith is an act in which reason ecstatically transcends itself.9 Ecstacy does not deny rationality, but fulfills it. Reason fulfills itself when it brings an awareness of the presence of ultimate reality.
Tillich believes that the truth of faith does not conflict with scientific truth, unless faith claims to express scientific truth, or unless science expresses faith in a particular model of reality. The truth of faith is also independent of historical truth, and historical truth is independent of the truth of faith.
Tillich says that the truth of faith can neither be affirmed nor denied by scientific, historical, or philosophical truth. Faith is true insofar as it adequately expresses a concern with ultimate reality.10
The dynamics of faith are evident in the conflict between participation in, and separation from, ultimate reality. Tillich explains that faith by its nature includes separation If there is no separation from the object of faith, then it becomes a matter of certainty, and not of faith. Participation in ultimate reality brings certainty to faith, but separation from ultimate reality brings uncertanty to faith.11
Doubt can be suppressed by conventional, or nondynamic, faith. But nondynamic faith can become dynamic faith.
Tillich concludes that the triumphant aspect of the dynamics of faith is that faith cannot be rejected or denied, unless another faith attempts to replace it. Thus, faith is necessary and universal.
Dynamics of Faith is an insightful and thought-provoking work of religious philosophy. While explaining how the meaning of faith has been misunderstood, Tillich also defines what faith is, how faith is possible and necessary, and what dynamics are required for the life of faith. In describing the life of faith, he clearly explains what gives faith its power.
An opposing argument may be presented to the concept of participation and separation in faith. Tillich says that there can be no faith without separation from ultimate reality. But it can be argued, to the contrary, that if we have faith in ultimate reality, we are no longer separated from it. If we have faith in God, then we are no longer separated from God.
Another problem is the question of what gives truth to faith. Tillich says that faith can have both subjective and objective truth. But it can be argued that faith is subjective and not objective as an act of concern, because it would not be necessary if there were objective certainty.
In determining the truth of faith, it is also necessary to distinguish between the act of faith, and the content of faith. By Tillich’s criteria, it is possible to have true faith, but to have false beliefs. It is also possible to have true beliefs, but false faith. This may lead to an irresolvable argument about what is true or false faith.
1Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1957), p. 7.
2 Ibid., p. 16.
3 Ibid., p. 20.
4 Ibid., p.33.
5 Ibid., p.38.
6 Ibid., p.46.
7 Ibid., p.50.
8 Ibid., pp.51-52.
9 Ibid., p.76.
10 Ibid., p. 96.
11 Ibid., p. 100.