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Definition of Symbolic Language
· A symbol is something that has deep
communicative power and invokes
participation in the intended meaning.
· For Christians, symbols have become
powerful ways of communicating religious
ideas, particularly the cross, baptism and the
bread and wine. A sign however is often seen
as pointing you in a certain direction.…read more

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J.H. Randall
· Religious symbols serve four main
­ A motivational one; to fire up our emotions.
­ A social one; people have a common social
understanding of the symbols.
­ A communicative one; symbols express
religious faith better than religious language
ever has!
­ Religious symbols clarify and disclose our
experiences of the divine; trying to explain it
would be like trying to explain the Mona Lisa.…read more

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Paul Tillich- 20 Century
· Argued that religious language is symbolic and symbols communicate
something which is often difficult to put into words.
· Tillich says that symbols may be understood in two ways:
­ They point to something beyond themselves.
­ They participate in that to which they point.
· Also,
­ Symbols open up levels of reality which are otherwise closed for us.
­ They also open up levels and dimensions of the soul which
correspond to those levels of reality.
· Symbols themselves are independent of empirical criticism; therefore
belief in God can only be expressed through the use of symbolic
language. As a result, symbolism opens up a depth of reality that would
otherwise remain closed.
· Religious statements are symbolic but are nevertheless cognitive
statements. A symbol `participates in that which it points'. E.g. A flag is
symbolic of the nation that it represents.…read more

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Tillich continued...
· Words become symbolic rather than literal. We
are aware of religious symbols however what
Tillich is suggesting is that statements such as
`God is good' should not be taken literally but
should be used as a symbol.
· Symbols have both negative and positive
aspects as words cannot adequately describe
God but their meaning is always `partially
negated by that to which they point'.…read more

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Criticisms of Tillich
· His ideas are too vague.
· If religious statements are not literally true, then it's
difficult to see what content that they may have.
· It is difficult to be clear on what is meant by the idea of
a symbol participating in something.
· John Hick argues that Tillich never really explains
how the idea of `participation' works. Tillich would
argue that the statement `God is good' is symbolic.
Hick asks how the symbol of God being good
participates in `Being itself'? Similarly, taking the
example of the flag, how does this add any power to a
king's authority? Burning a flag is an act of national
hatred but it does not mean a loss of power.…read more

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