Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought

Reformation Sects. Luther’s Teachings – Faith, Concept of God.

We spoke yesterday of the doctrine of the Evangelical Radicals, or Enthusiasts, as they are often called. I gave you some of their main doctrines. The main difference is the emphasis on the presence of the Divine Spirit not only in the Biblical writings but also in every individual in every moment, giving even counsels for daily-life activities.

Now Luther had another feeling. His feeling was basically the feeling of the wrath of God, of God who is Judge. This was his central experience. Therefore when he speaks of the presence of the Spirit, he speaks of it in terms of repentance, of personal wrestling, which makes it impossible to have the Spirit as a possession.

This seems to me the difference between all perfectionist and pietistic attitudes, that in Luther and the other Reformers the main emphasis is on the distance of God from man. Therefore the Neo-Reformation theology of today, people like Barth, emphasize again and again that God is in Heaven and you are on earth. This feeling of distance — or as Kierkegaard has said, repentance, is the normal relationship of man to God.

The second point in which the Reformation theology differs from the theology of the radical evangelistic movements, is the different meaning of the cross. For the Reformers, the cross is the objective event of salvation and not the personal experience of creatureliness. This is a fundamental difference. Therefore the participation in the cross either in terms of human weakness or in terms of human moral endeavor to take one’s own weakness upon oneself, is not the real problem with which the Reformation deals. This is presupposed. But this is something which we often have today as a nuance, even in our place here, that some of us emphasize more – following the Reformation theology – the objectivity of salvation through the cross of Christ; and others the taking the cross upon oneself. These two are, of course, not contradictions in any way, but in most important problems of human existence it is not a matter of exclusiveness but of emphasis. And it is clear that those of us who are influenced by the Reformation tradition emphasize more the objectivity of the cross, as the cross of Christ, as the self-sacrifice of God in man, etc.; while others who come from the evangelistic tradition – which is so strong in this country – emphasize more the taking upon oneself one’s cross, namely the cross of misery, etc. The next point is that in Luther the revelation is always connected with the objectivity of the historical revelation, i. e., with Scripture, and not in the innermost center of the human soul, which as Luther felt was the pride of the sectarian movements that they believed that in the real human situation it is possible to have immediate revelation, apart from the historical revelation as embodied in the Bible.