Encountering God in the theologies of Paul Tillich and Karl Rahner
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionBjørnaas, T. M. I. (2016). Encountering God in the theologies of Paul Tillich and Karl Rahner. Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa, 40(1), 69—83.
Widely regarded as the most influential theologians of the 20th century, Paul Tillich and Karl Rabner are existentialists rooted in the tradition of classical German idealism. Although they come from two different religious traditions, both of them are principally interested in the interrelationship of humanity and God. In this paper I explore that interrelationship as it is reflected in Paul Tillich's ontological approach and Karl Rahner's anthropological one. For both theologians, divine transcendence is at once the ground of being itself and beyond human comprehension, and a matter of ultimate concern, a goal of one's life quest. This transcendence is manifested in a person's yearning for truth and meaning in life. Since for both theologians a person's existence cannot be divorced from God, they start by positing a natural relationship between God and the human subject. While both view philosophy as a means to discover the truth, both also hold that this truth rests in the Christian revelation of God. A key question for each is "How does the question of God arise and come into being?" While Rabner approaches this question by positing that we are metaphysically constituted, and applies the principle of transcendence, Tillich understands our relationship to God in the context of existential crisis and applies the method of dialectics. Moreover, Tillich's emphasis on the ontology of the world contrasts with the central role of human preapprehension in Rabner. I contend that while both theologians situate the question of God in the context of human experience, differences in their principles and methods lead them to markedly different conceptions of God and the world.