Reflections on: “The Avowed Irrelevance of Christian Preaching in the Contemporary Word” by Paul Tillich

This morning I read a lecture by Paul Tillich that was offered during the Earl Lectures at Pacific School of Religion in 1963 titled: The Avowed Irrelevance of Christian Preaching in the Contemporary World.  Tillich talks about preachers and theologians and philosophers throughout history who asked the questions of how can we present Christianity, the gospel, good news in a way that is relevant and how that might show up in our world today.

Here are a few of the quotes that especially jumped out at me and some brief reflections:

“These thinkers and movement have become chapters in the history of Christian thought. In terms of my theme; I propose looking at them as bearers of the history of trying to make the Christian message relevant to the always changing human situation.” (Paul Tillich)

I’m struck by the brief history lesson that proceeds this quote. People throughout the ages that are wrestling with the same questions we are today. It is a reminder to me that we will never “arrive” at the perfect way to worship, preach, lead, or be in spiritual community. It is an ongoing process, evolving, unfolding, changing and morphing. The question is less about arrival, and more about movement. Are we stagnant or are we fluid and alive? Am I stuck in a way of thinking or am I asking the questions and exploring what is being reveled?

Later in the talk Tillich speaks to the idea of learning from outside observers and critics of Christianity. He states:

“Of course, often those who are entirely outside do see the situation more clearly than those who still have ties with Christianity. But more often they lack any real understanding of what is going on in the religious realm. Nevertheless, they too must be heard by those who try to make Christianity relevant for those inside and outside the churches. Thus I made it a principle of my whole vocational life to listen to them eagerly—to find out why they not only deem Christianity irrelevant but totally deny it. In any case, it is encouraging that the churches have become officially and earnestly concerned about the possibility of a post-Christian period.” (Paul Tillich)

I really like this call to the broader conversations and individuals and groups reaching outside our comfort zones and our specific communities to engage in conversations with people of all sorts of backgrounds, faith and non-faith traditions, belief systems or not, etc. This is something I’m already appreciating about my time at ESR, a built in opportunity to be in conversation with a broad spread of people.  This quote also reminds me of the work Peter Rollins ( has been doing through his Dis-course seminars (which I mentioned in a previous post), programs that create spaces for dialog and space to explore beyond our comfortable boxes.

“Compounding the problem is the confusion between faith and belief. Faith is the state of being grasped by something that has ultimate meaning, and acting and thinking on the basis of this as a centered person. Beliefs are opinions held to be true, which may or may not really be true. We need beliefs in practical affairs all the time. But they are never a matter of life and death. One of the worst things making the Christian message irrelevant is the identification of faith with belief in doctrines. Especially bad is the demand to believe the unbelievable.  It would greatly help to use in all our preaching the gift of the English language—not available, for example, in German or French—of the two words “faith” and “belief.” We need to say clearly that faith is being grasped by a power that concerns us ultimately, and belief is being not certain, but accepting something preliminary.” (Paul Tillich)

I’m especially struck by Tillich’s statement: “Especially bad is the demand to believe the unbelievable”.  This resonates with my desire to build my deep faith, trust, connection and relationship with God, while simultaneously breaking down the boxes of rigid thinking, stagnant tradition and fear-based thought patters. It strikes me that the power of separating these two concepts gives space to receive the awe and wonder of an omnipotent and omnipresent God, while using and honoring the rational brain we’ve been given. Swedenborgian or New Church theology might refer to this as the gift of “freedom and rationality” and that this is a God-given gift to be used within the context of human existence and inter-connection with our Creator.

Morning Snapshot

The room was set in a circle—tables and chairs–all facing inwards, around a simple table with a candle burning. Students’ trickled in and gentle conversation eased around the room.

At 8:30 Dawn, one of the two co-professors of Preaching and Public Discourse, took a breath and began.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night to the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

“I have a dream…”

As she talked about the power of words and the depth of their beauty, and responsibility of those who venture to speak them, I found tears coming to my eyes.

Creator God, filled with endless wisdom and love.
Mould me. Shape me. Form me.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart,
Be acceptable in your sight oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

New Beginnings


I am now officially an Earlham School of Religion (ESR) Masters of Divinity Student—and I’ve got the student ID to prove it. It has been a wonderfully exhausting and energizing day. I’ve been oriented to campus, met my new fellow students, got set up with all the ID’s, gym passes, emails, etc. and have finished up my readings that are due for class in the morning.

It feels so good to be here. Already I’m finding connection with the people, the community, the spiritual climate, the conversations and God’s presence in this place. I simultaneously feel that I should be pinching myself to see if this is really real, while feeling like I’ve been here for years and it feels so normal and comfortable. I feel comfortable in my own skin today. Free to show up and be myself and see where the Lord is leading and what He will show me next. I’ll keep you posted…


Mercer Street

I turn and my eye is caught.
A corridor of skyscrapers.
Roadways teaming with vehicles.

Human after human walking,
moving by.

And the sunset.
Gently caressing the peaks,
Of the buildings.
Filling the spaces with a purple hue.

Casting a golden shimmer.
A shimmer that lights up the faces,
Of each being we pass.

Embracing the Questions | Learning from One Another

This evening I participated in a webinar (online audio/video/visual presentation) by Peter Rollins ( on a practice that he calls the Evangelism Project.  The purpose of the Evangelism Project is to visit different faith communities in order to BE evangelized. The basic idea is to gather a group of people together who are interested in truly learning about and experiencing people and faiths that are different from what they are used to and comfortable with. To purposefully enter into situations where people hold other faiths, other views and other ideas then we have held. The experience is about listening and observing. Not about defending or explaining one’s faith.

I’m intrigued and inspired by the conversation and find myself energized by the thoughts. Peter talked a lot about the process of doubt and humility and the willingness to let go of being right and to be open to being changed. This is a theme that I want to take into my seminary time. And a theme that I feel God has been working in me over the past 8 months particularly.

As I have allowed myself to question more, to doubt, to wonder, I am finding my spiritual path and awareness of the Lord growing and strengthening and unfolding. I am finding that as I embrace the questioning, I am simultaneously feeling more sure of and present with the Lord and with God’s presence in the Word. I am finding myself willing to open up to the Word being full of paradox AND being God with us. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God… (John 1:1). I am growing to see the Word less as a rulebook, and more of a Divine Narrative of how the human race and the Creator interface.  And for me, it’s coming alive with a growing Vibrancy and Life.

I find myself fearful at times, particularly as I put voice to pieces of my process. I wonder if exploring the paradox might break down the careful construct that I have built for exactly how I should build my life—and then what? And then the Still Small Voice comes… It’s in those moments where I let the Lord take over and surrender to all He’s revealing and creating in this present moment that I get a glimpse. A glimpse of I’m not even sure what. But it seems to be good.

This evening’s discussion was good. I’m intrigued to see what ideas and experiences the Lord will bring tomorrow.

Blogging Challenge for 2011

One of my goals for 2011 and for my time in seminary is to put my thoughts and reflections in written form and out in the world. One of the ways I am choosing to do that is by challenging myself to blog weekly throughout 2011.

I’m going to join the  The Weekly Post challenge and the community of other bloggers with similiar goals.

I’m looking forward to being part of the conversations and connections that are sure to come.

Here’s to 2011!


Santa’s “ho-ho-ho” collides with ribbons and wrapping paper, sale displays and flashing lights, as we grasp at conquering the calendar filling with obligations.  A friend states, “I hate Christmas. It’s all about the commercialism.” Some choose to avoid the holiday all together. Too painful to think of what it has been and is no longer?  I watch and listen as people ask the question, “How can we find the REAL meaning of Christmas?”  I observe a movement of frantically grasping for simplicity and filling up lives with events that promise to bring meaning to our Christmas season. I observe these stories in myself. And I wonder.

Star of wonder, star of light, star with royal beauty bright. Onward leading, still proceeding, guide us to the perfect light.

The word “advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”. Often the definition given is, “a coming into place, view or being; an arrival”.  Immanuel, God with us. The Creator God, the Divine Being of the universe, coming down to earth. Born as an innocent baby into this natural, secular, normal, ordinary world. Taking on a human body, coming into the natural human experience of life with the depth of Divinity and Sacredness. Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us. For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given. And the government shall rest on his shoulders and he shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). God come into the world not to separate the secular from the sacred, but to embody the natural and fill it with the Divine. We can look to the advent and remember the deep sacredness of all of God’s Creation.

I can look around and bemoan the amount of commercialism that surrounds this holiday. (And I can consciously choose how to spend my time and money this season). Or I can have gratitude for the reminders all around me of the coming, the advent of our Loving Lord. The twinkling Christmas lights can remind me of the message of the star—“guide us to the perfect light”. Taking the time to think about the people in my life who I love and what might bring them a joyful smile on Christmas morning, knowing that I thought about them and want to bring them joy. Taking moments of quiet and peace, inviting the Lord’s presence into my moments. Seeing the sacred in the bustle of people, the rawness of humanity. What if there is sacredness in all of it? Maybe I can look for it coming: The Lord’s continual Advent into our lives.


Why this blog?

January 24th 2011 I will be starting the Masters of Divinity program at Earlham School of Religion and working on my Swedenborgian Certificate with the Swedenborgian House of Studies. I’m looking ahead with joy and anticipation, thinking about the classes, conversations and world-expanding experiences I will have.

One of my goals is to discipline and encourage myself to reflect on and share the gems that I receive during this process. My intention is to blog on a regular basis and share some reflections with others and have conversations with others who are interested in the topics.

I may post occasionally in the next few months, and then come January you can expect to see regular postings.