The Shaking of the Foundations: This is the first of Tillich’s three volumes of sermons, preceding The Eternal Now and The New Being. These volumes of sermons are his most accessible works, as he shows an ability to concretely display how his radical reinterpretation of Christian faith can be practical and meaningful to all persons of faith. While they are certainly a tad more difficult to read and understand than the average sermon you are likely to hear at your local church, whoever persists will find innumerable treasures and insights that are intellectually and spiritually nourishing.
Dynamics of Faith: In this short book, Tillich redefines faith not as uncertain belief in something that cannot be proven, but as ultimate concern. By doing so, Tillich is able to shift the conversation on faith away from issues of credibility and rationality to something more creative and, for many, more meaningful. Speaking for myself, it was this little book on faith that inspired a love for his work that has not dissipated nearly seven years later; perhaps it will do the same for you.
The Courage to Be: Probably Tillich’s most popular book outside of seminaries, it became an unlikely classic of existential thought in the mid-twentieth century, and deservedly so. Tillich, by looking at classic and modern conceptions of courage, shows the unique contributions Christian thought makes to the discussion and why religious faith may be a privileged way of confronting, accepting, and transcending existential estrangement. This would be the perfect place to start if not for the first few chapters, which are largely devoted to summations of previous philosophical conceptions regarding the topic at hand. Nevertheless, the book’s final chapter is one of the greatest sections Tillich ever wrote and still seems revelatory over half a century later.
Love, Power, and Justice: For those wondering what made Martin Luther King, Jr., appreciate Tillich’s work so much, this book may provide the best answer. Here, Tillich writes about the concepts of love, power, and justice, noting just how feeble each is individually, needing the contributions of the others in order to be fully and holistically actualized. It is a work that displays tremendous theological, philosophical, and ethical acumen, and one that is ever relevant in our contentious political climate.
Where Not To Start
Systematic Theology: This is Tillich’s masterwork and magnum opus, but I would caution anyone who wants to read this without having previously read any of his previous writings, which make his three volume Systematic Theology far easier to make sense of. Its language relies on previous works, and is more academic and difficult than in other works, which may quickly discourage first-time readers from continuing to explore his oeuvre. A first-time Tillich reader would be wise to consider this the capstone of their exploration into his thought rather than the entry-point. Nevertheless, its brilliance can hardly be overstated and anyone who falls in love with his thought should attempt to read it at some point.