This past Sunday Jen read a sermon by a dead German-American guy, one of Paul Tillich’s most famous sermons, “You Are Accepted”. I have to confess, when I heard she was going to read a sermon from someone most people have never heard of, I was a little wary. But, I was pleasantly surprised.
[from JenTB now, because Steven’s uber-sick. Take a sec and remind God to take care of Steven and to take care of Jennie while she takes care of Steven.]
This upcoming Sunday we’ll spend some time discussing Tillich’s sermon, and his thoughts on the meaning and experience of “sin” and “grace.” Here are some questions to think about as we reflect on the sermon and our own experiences of sin and grace. I hope that our discussion will cover everything from the intellectual to the personal…so come prepared for, well, pretty much anything.
1. What do you think Tillich means when he says that the words “sin” and “grace” are “strange, because they are so well-known” (93)? Do you agree?
2. Tillich’s method for “rediscovering” the meaning of the “strange words” sin and grace is a process of introspection—in his words, to contemplate “the depth of our human existence” (93). How often do we do this? Is this a necessary part of the Christian life? How might we incorporate this kind of reflection into our lives more regularly? What are the different ways or strategies we might employ to lead ourselves into “that depth?”
3. Tillich also says that these words are irreplaceable, and substitutions—including his own!—fail (93). Do you think so? What “substitutions” or synonyms for “sin” and “grace” might you suggest? How do these other words change our understanding of the concepts of sin and grace? How does Tillich’s interpretation of sin as separation (94) shift or change our understanding of the concept of sin? How does the corresponding interpretation of grace as “reunion” (95) shift or change our understanding of grace?
4. What do you make of Tillich’s complaint that we should never use the word sin in the plural (94)? What do you think he means?
5. Does Tillich’s existential understanding of sin and grace seem overly individualistic to you? Why or why not?
6. Tillich’s uses Paul’s description of the experience of sin as an “alien power” to claim that sin results in separation, or estrangement, not just from others but from one’s own self (97). Have we too experienced what the apostle describes, and what Tillich talks about as estrangement from the self?
7. Tillich writes, “It would be better to refuse God and the Christ and the Bible than to accept them without grace” (99). What do you think that means, and do you think you might agree with that? Why or why not?
P.S. 8. Is Tillich depressing or encouraging to you? Just curious…