Friday, February 11, 2011
Søren Kierkegaard: What Does it Mean to be Christian?
A few posts ago, I wrote a reflection on Søren Kierkegaard's book Fear and Trembling, written under his pseudonym Johannes de Silentio. This book really changed the way that I had previously viewed Abraham. I highly recommend others to read this book as well. If nothing else, it will make you to read the story of Abraham and Isaac with fresh eyes. Is faith always reasonable? We would like to think so, but Scripture does not reflect this claim. What is reasonable about Abraham being called to sacrifice his son (an act that would have been in direct opposition to the standards of the Ethical), Hosea marrying a prostitute, God coming into the world as a human, Jesus resurrecting from the dead, Moses leading a whole group of people from Egypt into the desert where they have to wander for 40 years with only their faith to guide them...? Kierkegaard argues, that faith and reason are different spheres and that when reason is overemphasized, faith is sucked out of Christianity. In other words, when we make reason a prerequisite to having faith, we do not have faith. Intellectual gymnastics is not faith. Once again, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 comes to mind.
"For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength" (v.25).
Kierkegaard lived in Denmark at a time when the Hegelian System was highly regarded. Kierkegaard noticed that the so-called Christians of the Danish National Church felt that they belonged to a sort of Christian ethnicity: Christendom. They felt that going to church, getting baptized and confirmed, and being "good" made someone a Christian. But they did not have true faith. They thought that because they followed the "Universal" (the Natural Law, whatever that may be), they were Christians. They never really thought about their individual relationships with God. They failed to realize that once they died, they would stand alone before God and it would be to Him alone that they would have to render an account of their lives. Sound familiar? We fall for this daily.
What does it truly mean to follow Christ? Kierkegaard argued that true faith requires one to surrender oneself totally to God no matter the consequences. He wanted to reintroduce Christianity into Christendom. The Hegelians made faith something that immature people cling to, and that mature people go beyond (outgrow faith and cling instead to a reasonable form of Christianity at best). Kierkegaard was strongly against this. As he wrote in Fear and Trembling, "Faith is the highest passion in a human being. Many in every generation may not come that far, but none comes further." Kierkegaard's works are very thought-provoking not because he necessarily says anything new but because he brings us face-to-face with the Truth.