A Study of Tillich's Theology of Theonomy as an Effective Synthesis of Pure Autonomy and Heteronomy
Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
John R. Sheets
W. Taylor Stevenson
The purpose of this dissertation is to demonstrate that Paul Tillich's postulation of theonomy is an effective synthesis of the dialectic between autonomy and heteronomy. As a theologian of culture, Tillich observed that within culture there is a dialectic operating. wherein man in his search for the ultimate moves from one extreme of complete self-sufficiency (pure autonomy) to another extreme (heteronomy). On the one hand, man assumes a posture of complete independence and creates cultural forms without any reference to anything
beyond the finite. The resulting culture is characterized
by empty forms and a meaningless existence. Then man reacts to the desperation of his situation and is willing to forfeit his autonomy and subject himself to an absolute law outside of himself in an effort to regain substantial meaning in his culture. Culture at this point is characterized by tyranny and a loss of personal freedom.
Theonomy is proposed as a solution to this cultural dilemma. Its aim is to create a culture wherein God is the law of man's existence, a culture which honors man's need of personal autonomy and authority. It is a solution that comes from within man himself, and it is baaed on the conviction that God ts the ground of man's being, the ultimate about which man is concerned if he is genuinely human.
Concern for such a theonomous synthesis of autonomy and heteronomy is a thread which runs through Tillich's theology. Indeed, this concern is at the very heart of his theology of culture. And yet, Tillich never wrote at any length on this dialectic. Nor did he synthesize this thought on theonomy in such a way as to systematically locate the abuses arising from pure autonomy and heteronomy. Such a systemization is necessary in order to understand precisely how theonomy proposes to correct these aberrations and yet sustain genuine autonomy and valid authority. Working with this method in mind our problematic is this: Does theonomy effectively correct the abuses of pure autonomy and heteronomy and yet sustain authentic authority and authority through synthesis?
James Luther Adams, in his excellent study, Paul Tillich's Philosophy of Culture, Science and Religion, (the only significant study on Tillich's theology of culture) discusses this dialectic, but not systematically, nor with this problematic in mind. Moreover, his study is limited to Tillich's work before 1945. In our study we have had the opportunity of using the entire body of Tillich's writings up until his death in 1965. Therefore, we have been able to give a complete overview of this dialectic and the theonomous synthesis.
Although there are some references in this study to development and sources, this is not the focus of our work. Our focus is on the discovery and systematic arrangement of the problem areas in autonomy and heteronomy, and then an examination of how theonomy offers correctives and, through synthesis, brings both to their proper depth and meaning. We will proceed by first examining the autonomy and heteronomy, two extremes, and then move on to examine the theonomous synthesis, the ultimate dimensions of theonomy, and the fundamental principle that is operative in this synthesis.