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)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Soren Kierkegaard: Postmodern Prophet #5 (Final Post)

5. SK for the Twenty-First Century

So what does Soren have to say to the church today in between this modern and post-modern world?

There are, of course, ways in which SK is so thoroughly modern. He has been claimed by existentialist thinkers and yet he also seems so postmodern in that he refers to truth as subjectivity. And although the subjective/objective distinction is in itself a modern dichotomy, postmodernity has not quite been able to escape that distinction as it places truth on the subjective side of the line because it assumes there is a line. So what can the church learn from Soren as it finds itself in the muddle, muck, and mire of a world weaving in and out, back and forth between the modern and the postmodern?

First, SK reminds us that the truth of the faith is not simply to be found in rationality. Reasoned argument has an important place in apologetics; those who reject it do so at their peril. But in the final analysis, the most powerfully reasoned argument will fail to convince if the church does not practice what it preaches. SK was quite disturbed with what he saw in the Danish Lutheran Church as all talk and no action. It is certainly the case that his critique of the DLC was too harsh, but nevertheless, it could not be ignored, as it cannot today. What is proclaimed must not be divorced from what is lived. In reading SK one gets the strong impression that he has swallowed the book of James.

Second, SK's work insists that the church engage in critical self-examination. More confession and less affirmation, more repentance and less rationalization is necessary. In too many churches today, the preaching of the power of the Gospel is focused on the power of positive thinking rather than on the power of the cross. Too much affirmation is given to human potential instead of the affirmation of victory found in the resurrection of Jesus. It is not that positive thinking and human potential are to be ignored, but they can only find their true context, their true meaning in the central claim of the New Testament that cannot be held captive to the categories of modernism and postmodernism: God's new work in the cross and resurrection of Jesus makes it possible for human beings to live life in a new and transformed way, and it is that work of God that truly has the ability to unleash human potential. When the theology of cross and resurrection is replaced by the psychology of self-focused humanity, then the church has nothing unique to offer in a world searching for more than present and frail options.

Third, SK reminds us that there is an inherent incompatibility between Christianity and the status quo. This is perhaps the most unnerving of SK's critiques; for who among us in the church in America does not qualify as status quo? In his reading of the New Testament, Soren clearly understood that Christianity offered social revolution to the world. Revolution is a dangerous notion to those who are status quo, to those who have a stake in things staying as they are. When the church has a vested interest in the culture as it currently exists, it can consciously and unconsciously support the very injustice that it has been called to reject.

It was SK's position that the DLC became and remained status quo only through compromise. His aim was to stir the church out if its idleness and cause the kind of unrest that would motivate it to move forward, which was only possible when the church died to itself in order to live for Christ.

Soren tells the story of a very wealthy man who bought a team of excellent horses at a great cost. He wanted them for his own enjoyment as he personally drove them wherever he chose. After a year or so, the horses had changed almost completely. They were not the horses he had originally purchased. Their eyes had lost their luster and they moved in a sluggish manner. They had very little endurance and could not even stand for extended periods of time. The horses had been adequately fed, but they had acquired all sorts of bad habits. Their condition continued to deteriorate.

The owner finally called upon the king's coachman. The coachman drove them for a month, and by its end there wasn't a team of horses in the land who held their heads so proudly, whose eyes were so full of fire, and who galloped over the land with great endurance. They had no rivals.

SK asks, "What is the secret of this amazing difference?" The owner of the horses drove the horses according to the horses whims and desires. The royal coachman drove them according to the way they should have been driven. The coachman drove them according to his own desires.

Soren's point is simple: Human beings have many capacities and powers and capabilities, but they must have a driver to be lead correctly, to be led according to their nature. SK believed the Danish Lutheran Church was moving acording to its own conception or how it should move, which caused complacency, apathy, and lack of zeal. He believed that if the church allowed itself to be driven by Christ, its potential would be unleashed and it would embody in its life and ministry what he called "biblical Christianity."


Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for this good work on Kirkegaard.

I think the thought of God directing us according to our natures, so that we thrive, is a powerful one. In Christ we certainly are coming back to our true home and reason for being.

Allan R. Bevere said...


I think it is powerful as well. SK grabbed hold of the idea that what it means to be human is found only in fulfilling our true nature as God intended. The problem with human beings is not that we are human, but that we are less than human.