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Brief Notes on the Orthodoxy of Sřren Kierkegaard According to Historic Creeds of Christianity

 

"Kierkegaard's debts to the Bible are so great that Paul Minear and Paul Morimoto, in the first extensive English-language translation of Kierkegaard's use of the Bible, boldly claimed that 'we do not hesitate to that coming generations will increasingly reckon with him not so much as a philosopher, as a poet, as a theologian, or as a rebel against Christianity, but as an expositor of Scripture."  (The Oxford Handbook of Kierkegaard, p. 150)

 

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Note: I did the following research at the request of a brother in Christ who was interested in whether Kierkegaard was an orthodox Christian.  The following is my letter to him.

 

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Dear __________:

 

When I mentioned to you of Soren Kierkegaard’s “orthodoxy” and agreed to send you evidence of that claim, I did not realize the effort that it would take.  Not that I have in any way changed my mind about what I said, but trying to summarize SK is not an easy task.  The totality of his writing (in 14 years) totals about one-third to one-half the shelf space of Calvin’s Commentaries.  But I agreed to try, so here goes. 

 

(1) SK never disparaged Scripture, as many of the more recent Christian existentialists (CE) do.  He never talked about anything like Scripture being an “encounter” or its being truth for each individual, as he sees it.  He always spoke of Scripture as having a clear message and commonly referred to it as truth.

 

(A) I have included a short paper that I wrote on SK in a class that I took on him: “Kierkegaard’s Leap of Faith: Finding Objectivity in his Subjectivity!” 

 

(B) A quote from SK. “In the New Testament the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ, represents the situation thus: “The way that leads unto life is straightened, the gate narrow—few be they that find it.”  (Attack on Christianity, 105)  Most CEs prefer the “broader gate.”

 

(C) Of the idea of a State Church, SK said: “The most dreadful sort of blasphemy is that of which ‘Christendom’ (the idea of everyone who is a citizen is a Christian) is guilt: that of transforming God of Spirit into ludicrous… twaddle (his ellipsis).  And the most “spiritless” divine worship, more stupid than anything that is or was to be found in paganism…. (my ellipsis) Under the assumed conditions, the New Testament neither is nor can be a guide for Christians…”  (AoC, 110-111) 

 

(2) To “What Christ’s judgment about official Christianity” is, he answers with Matthew 23:29-33!  His “official Christianity” was the dead state-sponsored Lutheran Church of his time.  That is a powerful indictment that I don’t think can be found of other CEs who embrace virtually anything with the name “Christian” except Biblical Christianity. (AoC, 117-121)

 

(3) For me, perhaps the strongest argument for SKs orthodoxy was his clear belief that one could not become a Christian unless God brought about the transformation.  In fact, his “leap” was not a leap at all, but a movement to faith that could only be caused by God.  (Incidentally, he nowhere, ever uses the phrase “leap of faith.”  He only uses “leap” as a noun without object, as he was quoting Lessing, a contemporary philosopher. An example of how he has been so erroneously represented.)  He was overtly anti-Pelagian! (Sickness Unto Death (SUD), 81.  “What do you think of Christ,” is actually the most crucial of all questions.”  (SUD, 131)

 

“A great man is great because he is a chosen instrument in the hand of God.”  (AKA, 2)  Concerning God’s Providence, he uses the words “Governance” (AKA, 339).

 

He describes God’s Providence as “unending pageantry of life with its motley display of colors and its infinite variety” (AKA, 3). 

 

God must make “the first movement of faith” (AKA, 118)  “Faith … is a movement that I am unable to make” (AKA, 128)  “But the next thing astonishes me, it makes my head swim, for after making the movement of resignation (fully committing oneself to the ethical life by my own effort), to get everything, to get the wish (the fullness of human development) whole and uncurtailed—that is beyond human power.”  (AKA, 127)  This idea of finite man not being able to attain the infinite on his own pervades SK’s writing.  While the idea is embedded within everything else that he says, it is clearly and without question present.  In a university class that I took on SK, it was obvious that the nonchristians in the class could not grasp this idea because they could not understand how man could not come to faith in his own understanding.

 

(4) How’s this for rejecting evolution?  “The world has stood now for 6000 years” (stated twice in this context).  (A Kierkgaard Anthology, 201)

 

Shortcomings.  There is no doubt that SK over-emphasized the individual.  He had  no idea of the church as a corporate body—the unique individual as a building block of the body of Christ and the bride of Christ. 

 

Truth as subjectivity.  He wrote at great length on “truth as subjectivity.”  But within the context of the whole of his writing and the powerful, almost suffocating influence of Kant, Hegel, and others in European culture of that time, his hyperbole can be understood.  Which of us has not engaged in such exaggeration to make our points?

 

Further, there is a real truth with which to be reckoned here.  The individual, not the Church, will stand before Christ.  The individual is regenerated and embraces the truth of Scripture by the Holy Spirit.  There are no two individuals, even with the most conservative of Christian beliefs, who agree “jot and tittle” about every matter.  Hilton Terrell and I worked together for 30 years, and the agreement of our minds was nothing short of phenomenal, but we differed on a few things.  In SK’s Concluding Unscientific Postscripts (the title itself contra Hegel’s complete, scientific, unamendable, final triumph of Reason), he actually devotes the first, shorter section to an argument for objectivity.

 

Finally, the “truth” that he wanted the “subject” to embrace was the truth of Scripture, Jesus Christ, and what Christ would have us “do.”  His final aim of the “religious” person was one who (virtually without consciousness) lived the Christlike life—his explicit example being a “tax collector” whom he called a “knight of faith.”  SK would never have endorsed the nebulous “subjectivity” of more recent Christian existentialists.  Reading further, I found that his “individuality” was a stepping stone to “an objective faith” found in the church. (AKA, 8)

 

For sure SK writes is a style that is difficult to understand.  Neither does he write in evangelical language.  While he does have certain insights into some Biblical truths, these have to be ferreted out with some effort.  I am not advocating him as a “must-read” for a Christian, but I do think that his philosophy has forced many philosophers after him to read and study the Christianity that drove him to write as he did.  Paul said “In every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

 

That is no question in my mind that in his core beliefs, he was orthodox in the historical creedal sense, and possibly even orthodox in the strict Lutheran sense.  I started my study in this class with virtually a closed mind to his Christianity.  But once I saw his orthodoxy underneath his panoply of terms, his passion to stir the Christians of Denmark, and his publically scathing attack on the sterile state-priesthood, his orthodoxy comes though clearly, even if not overt.

 

He has confused many people writing most of his works under pseudonyms, such as “Johannes Climacus”, a non-Christian critiquing Christianity, when he wrote of the passion of a pagan and citizen-Christian at prayer that has been so distorted.  Later, he wrote under “Anti-Climacus,” a Christian at a greater level than SK though that he could attain.

 

My few remarks and quotes may not persuade you, but I said that I would send you some notes.  I am enclosing my class paper mentioned above and another paper which is an Introduction to a book on SK—you need only read 4-5 pages.  On page 5, he briefly discusses how Francis Schaeffer misread SK and set many Christians against him.

 

Blessings in Christ,

 

Ed

 

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More notes after letter was sent...

 

Kierkegaard styled himself above all as a religious poet. The religion to which he sought to relate his readers is Christianity. The type of Christianity that underlies his writings is a very serious strain of Lutheran pietism informed by the dour values of sin, guilt, suffering, and individual responsibility.

 

For Kierkegaard Christian faith is not a matter of regurgitating church dogma. It is a matter of individual subjective passion, which cannot be mediated by the clergy or by human artifacts.  Faith is the most important task to be achieved by a human being, because only on the basis of faith does an individual have a chance to become a true self. This self is the life-work which God judges for eternity. 

 

There is no mediation between the individual self and God by priest or by logical system (contra Catholicism and Hegelianism respectively).

 

Christian dogma, according to Kierkegaard, embodies paradoxes which are offensive to reason. The central paradox is the assertion that the eternal, infinite, transcendent God simultaneously became incarnated as a temporal, finite, human being (Jesus). There are two possible attitudes we can adapt to this assertion, viz. we can have faith, or we can take offense. What we cannot do, according to Kierkegaard, is believe by virtue of reason. If we choose faith we must suspend our reason in order to believe in something higher than reason. In fact we must believe by virtue of the absurd.

 

Much of Kierkegaard's authorship explores the notion of the absurd…. See text for specifics…

 

According to Johannes Climacus, faith is a miracle, a gift from God whereby eternal truth enters time in the instant….

 

… we must realize that we are always in sin. This is the condition for faith, and must be given by God. The idea of sin cannot evolve from purely human origins. Rather, it must have been introduced into the world from a transcendent source.

 

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kierkegaard/#Reli

 

 

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