Worship as “boundless confidence,” and a note on Paul Tillich

Every page from Tozer contains a passage worth quoting, so I’ve exhibited great restraint since this is only my second post on Tozer.

Now what are the factors that you will find present in worship? Let me give you a few of them as I go along. First there is boundless confidence. You cannot worship a Being you cannot trust. Confidence is necessary to respect, and respect is necessary to worship. …

Then there is admiration — that is, appreciation of the excellency of God. Man is better qualified to appreciate God than any other creature because he was made in His image and is the only creature who was. This admiration for God grows and grows until it fills the heart with wonder and delight. “In our astonished reverence we confess Thine uncreated loveliness,” said the hymn writer.

[A. W. Tozer, “Worship: The Normal Employment of Moral Beings,” from The Best of A. W. Tozer / Book One, pp. 218, 220.]

He goes on to describe other factors in worship (such as “fascination” and “adoration”), but I am most impressed by his grasp of the importance of confidence. I’ve been reading Paul Tillich again lately, which is always enlightening, but I’m convinced that Tillich’s conception of faith as “including doubt”* was/is a toxic seeped into the mainline churches, slowly poisoning their ability to worship. “You cannot worship a Being you cannot trust. Confidence is necessary to respect, and respect is necessary to worship.” You cannot have confidence in a God whose existence and attributes are uncertain, nor are you likely to worship, with awe and reverence, an uncertainty.

*In Tillich’s estimation, the more doubt, the greater the faith. Such doubt reveals a greater concern for faith’s object. Moreover, doubt is virtuous because it requires the casting aside of idols (finite projections) which were once considered God. For Tillich, the quality of one’s “ultimate concern” is at the center of theological reflection, instead of the perfections of God displayed in classical constructions based on divine revelation.

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7 comments

  1. Good insight on Tillich and doubt and the baneful influence his theology has had on mainstream churches, Kevin. Early on in my auto-didactic learning I appreciated his ‘History of Christian Thought’ (basically typed lectures) and delved into his systematics, but after I learned of his personal life I could never again take him seriously as a Christian theologian.

    • Thanks, Mark.

      I think Tillich is still worth reading. I respect his scholarship — in general, he is vary fair to the classical tradition, and he clearly articulates where he is departing from it. In particular, his grasp of the history of doctrine is one of the clearest and illuminating in contemporary theology. In addition to his Systematic Theology, I highly recommend an earlier collection of his essays, The Protestant Era, which you can find used on Amazon for a good price.

  2. Touche, Stephen (with the accent on the e, I don’t have it on my keyboard); but we know David repented (and paid a price!) Not that I’m making any judgment on Tillich’s salvation, ‘where sin abounds…’.
    OK, maybe I’m being a bit harsh – just accept it as my subjective response. Sure, we can still learn from Tillich regardless. But this raises the interesting question which comes up with some other well-known theologians too (and little known ones, for that matter): how do we regard the teaching of those whose life was/is manifestly inconsistent with their professed beliefs? In light of John 2:4-5, for e.g.? It seems to me that Tillich’s personal demons are reflected in his theology, as Kevin pointed out.

    • Yeah, this is a difficult issue for me. I hesitate to make judgments, one way or the other, because I don’t know how Tillich personally viewed his demons (whether he even considered it “demonic” — a category he affirmed, even if stripped of its mythology). Regardless, it’s hard not to make connections between his theology and personal life. At the least, we can say that his theology is not conducive to a life of worship and prayer. It is conducive to a life of reflection and intellectual merit, but that’s not prayer.

  3. I never got the idol-casting conclusions Tillich draws. Surely the journey from comforting but hollow depictions of “god” into the real object of faith is a journey of increasing trust, not doubt?

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