A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Soren Kierkegaard: Postmodern Prophet #4

4. A Brief Critique of SK's Attack

How are we to understand Soren's furious attack on the Danish Lutheran Church? When one looks at the history, it does not appear that Bishop Mynster was the worldly ecclesiastic that SK made him out to be. In fact, historians suggest that he was a man of intellectual power and spiritual discernment. Mynster's successor, Bishop Martensen, who also found himself to be the focal point of SK's critical pen, was an able theologian whose works have been widely translated into several languages, and in many respects he appears to have been a man of integrity.

It appears that SK believed that these bishops, for all their abilities, lacked something necessary if they and the church were to be witnesses to the truth of the Gospel. What was this necessary element? Soren was a deep and difficult writer, so this question is not easy to answer. Perhaps the solution lay in SK's standard of judgment: the absolute standard of the divine life as revealed in Jesus Christ. When judged by this standard, all human beings are guilty before God. God's righteous judgment must be a conscious reality in the life of the Christian, which, for SK, makes justification by faith an absolute necessity.

Soren wanted to emphasize the Christian ideal so that the church would be humbled into recognizing that it had failed to live up to that ideal. While SK was no perfectionist, he would not, however, have, as he said, "the Christian law of love," and self-sacrifice watered down into a comfortable bourgeois ethic. All Soren wanted from the DLC was its admission of its mediocrity so that it would find comfort in God's grace and then receive divine strength to make progress in the right direction. The church would not admit to this and so he launched his attack. SK believed this lack of admission was the necessary element missing from Bishop Mynster and the Danish Lutheran Church. They had become comfortable within Christendom.

Another of Soren's harsh and somewhat unjustified claims was that the Christianity of the DLC was not the Christianity of the New Testament. There were sociological difference between the church in the age of the New Testament and the era in which SK lived, which he failed to take into account. In the New Testament, Christianity was a new movement and just beginning to have influence. It seems almost expected, therefore, that martyrdom was inevitable and the highest form of testimony. The continued specter of persecution and suffering was also an almost to be expected outcome of the church's witness. The culture of SK's day had already been influenced by Christianity in many ways. These different sociological environments present two different situations that cannot be compared in every respect. SK failed to recognize this.

The different situation, however, should not be used by the modern church to justify complacency. SK grasped an important truth when he argued that the Christianity of his day was not the Christianity of the New Testament. In spite of the sociological differences, there is an aspect to this claim that SK felt should disturb the DLC; for it is precisely the claims of the New Testament that continue to be authoritative for the church in every century.

So what does SK teach the church today as the sun moves just over the horizon of the twenty-first century? That will be the subject of the final post.


Anonymous said...

Allan (I guess I just lost my comment, so I'll have to shorten it).

Fascinating. Thanks!

I wonder how Kirkegaard practiced his faith. He was such a loner and an enigma. Also I wonder in what sense his thought is a precursor to existentialism and how his message critiques modernism (I imagine those two go together).

Allan R. Bevere said...


He was a loner but was still actively involved in worship as far as I know.

In many ways he is certainly an existentialist, which mkaes him a critic of modernity and thoroughly modern in many ways.

John said...

Have you thought about submitting this to Christianity Today or some other publication?

Allan R. Bevere said...


I haven't thought anything about submitting it for publication, but I will think on it.