Theology: The God Is Dead Movement

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Symbolic Language. Some God-minded Protestant thinkers concede that this new radical theology has considerable merit. Gordon Kaufman of the Harvard Divinity School believes that the movement is forcing other thinkers to undertake a long-overdue re-examination of the doctrine of God. And Paul Tillich, whose own writings point to a "God above God" that stands beyond the man-made deity of traditional theism, concedes: "I say yes to this movement insofar as it points to something above the symbolic language concerning God." Tillich also says no to the new theologians on the ground that they are abandoning all symbolic language about God.

Harvard's Harvey Cox, 36, another radical young thinker whose book The Secular City concludes with the idea that Christianity may have to stop talking about God for a while, complains about the writers' imprecise language. "Is it the loss of the experience of God, the loss of the existence of God in Christianity, or the lack of adequate language to express God today?" he asks. The Union Theological Seminary's Daniel Day Williams sums up the inner contradictions of the movement with an aphorism: "There is no God, and Jesus is his only begotten son." Many ministers, moreover, complain that the death-of-God thinkers reduce Christianity to just another kind of humanism with a Jesus-inspired morality.

The Godless Christian thinkers admit that they are a long way from working out a coherent theology. Understandably, they feel a certain anguish because the direction of their thought leads them to feel greater sympathy for Camus than for clergymen of their own churches. Nonetheless, they argue that God's disappearance from human history cannot be denied, and that there is nothing wrong with a Christian accepting this as a fact. As Hamilton asks, in his book The New Essence of Christianity: "If Jesus can wonder about being forsaken by God, are we to be blamed if we wonder?"

Those who are still with God, on the other hand, are likely to reply by quoting that old play on Nietzsche's statement. It goes thus:

GOD is DEAD! (Signed) Nietzsche.

NIETZSCHE is DEAD! (Signed) God.

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