As I culminate my book study of Søren Aabye Kierkegaard’s Practice in Christianity, I have grown to really appreciate his philosophy. That is not to say I agree with him at every point, or that I concur with all of his theological conclusions. However, woven into his philosophy are personal conflicts he was experiencing and that adds intrigue to his writing. It is apparent from the opening pages that Kierkegaard’s mission is to offend complacent Christians who have been drawn into spiritual deadness by the Lutheran Church in Denmark. The question Kierkegaard is asking is: How does genuine, earnest faith in Christ take root and grow when church appears to be saturated in dead formalism?
The question is an interesting one. Recall from previous posts that the Danish Lutheran Church was spiritually corrupt and that was added to the fact that Hegel’s philosophy (all reality is thought or mind) was influencing Danish culture. Kierkegaard, frustrated with both Hegel and the Church, sought to show that though true doctrine is taught, there must also be teaching on choosing what is good. So, Kierkegaard sets out to speak to both issues while also commending Christ. The method Kierkegaard uses to achieve this is quite unique.
John Frame writes,
Kierkegaard’s thought is very different from anything that has come before. He does not line up philosophical treatises on the traditional topics of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, nor does he present systematic views on theological matters such as divine attributes, the Trinity, Christ, atonement, and the sacraments. Rather, he meditates on dread, anxiety, despair, choice, decision, stages of life, communication, and many other subjects that have become part of philosophy in later eras. These have implications both for philosophy and for theology, but those implications have to be teased out from between the lines of Kierkegaard’s writing, rather than read off the surface of it. – A History of Western Philosophy and Theology, p. 313
Kierkegaard’s philosophy is so tied to the issues, both personal and social, he was battling. In some ways, Kierkegaard reminds me of Friedrich Nietzsche. Both were extreme nominalists and both had grave concerns with traditional religion, but their conclusions were polar opposites. Whereas Nietzsche proclaimed God was dead and asserted the ludicrousness of man’s quest for the meaning of life, Kierkegaard held no such view. Kierkegaard believed deeply in the person and work of Christ and Scriptural integrity.
Lord Jesus Christ, there is so much to draw us back: empty achievements, meaningless pleasures, unworthy concerns. There is so much to scare us back: a pride that is too cowardly to let itself be helped, a cowardly timidity that shirks to its own ruin, an anxiety of sin that shuns the purity of holiness as illness shuns the remedy. But you are still the strongest – so draw us, and even more strongly, to yourself. We call you our Savior and Redeemer, and you came to earth in order to free us from the chains in which we were bound or in which we had bound ourselves and in order to rescue the redeemed. This was your task, which you have completed and which you will complete until the end of time, for just as you yourself have said it, so will you do it: lifted up from the earth, you will draw all to yourself. – Practice in Christianity p.151
And this was Kierkegaard’s mission: to find genuine faith and growth in the Gospel in the midst of stale religiosity. I do not think that Kierkegaard was anti-church, but what he was longing for was a church that would be so much more for those whom Christ had drawn to himself. He loathed the routine of the religious life as dictated by the church and wanted to replace it with real substance and growth in grace.
Kierkegaard is a challenging, yet enjoyable read. This will not be the last of his works on my reading list.