I reviewed a volume not too long ago in which Mark Tietjen presents the thought of Soren Kierkegaard in an attempt to convince the reader that reading Kierkegaard is a worthwhile activity for the contemporary church. I am inclined to agree with him based on his book.
What struck me as perhaps the most significant lesson from the book was the call to be a Christian missionary to Christians. This is the subtitle of the book and it largely describes how Kierkegaard saw himself. It is, in our day, perhaps a necessary task.
Seven Ways to Be a Missionary to Christians
The following extended quotation, drawn from the conclusion of his book outlines some ways Tietjen sees that Christians can be missionaries to other Christians, which is Kierkegaard’s overall ministry:
- If there are some who are Christians in name only, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians.
- If there are some who have inherited a perverted form of Christianity and know nothing better, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians.
- If there are Christians who value created goods over the Creator, then one can be a missionary to such Christians.
- If there are Christians who struggle to trust in God and his goodness, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians.
- If there are Christians who fail to believe God can redeem even the least redeemable person, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians.
- If there are Christians who lose hope that God’s kindness, forgiveness and redemption extend even to them, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians.
- If there are Christians who ‘speak in tongues of angels,’ and so on, but have not love, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians.
Thus to be a missionary is not simply to convert the lost but to incarnate divine love in obedience to and imitation of Jesus Christ, the God incarnate. This could involve a fresh gospel message, works of love, words of nurture or the trust of one who construes me as neighbor who bears God’s image. The truth is that just as all Christians are called to mission, so too could all Christians use the message and love of the Christian missionary. Mission work quite simply calls others, all others, to God. (161-162)
Reshaping Missions to Mission
A necessary step into understanding what Tietjen is proposing, and what he claims Kierkegaard supports, is altering the concept of "missions." This is by no means a new conversation, but it is one that hasn't always found escape from the halls of academia.
In general terms "missions" refers to the concept of going out to evangelize, do good works, and spread the good news of Christianity. When you think "missions" think vocational missionaries, evangelistic meetings, and a focused effort to reach people who have not previously accepted the gospel.
The term "mission" encompasses those things, but it is an umbrella term that defines a broader range of activity. Advocates of the concept of "mission" are affirmative of focused evangelistic efforts, but also see the gospel importance of daily living. The faith and work integration movement has this vision. Every action has the potential to preach the gospel in some way.
Behind Tietjen's explanation of Kierkegaard as a Christian missionary to Christians is this understanding of the purpose of the Christian life. It broadens the pool of gospel workers to include all truly converted Christians and broadens the work that is considered to promote the advance of the gospel.
Speaking Truth to a post-Christian America
We live in a post-Christian America. Perhaps even a post-reality America. Although I do not believe that America was ever a "Christian nation" in the sense that the nation had a divine mandate or was especially blessed because of its faithfulness, I do see in the pages of history a general Christian consensus.
Obviously that consensus has decayed. And yet, a form of cultural Christianity continues on. This is the sort of Christianity that allows people voting for an immoral, authoritarian candidate for the highest office in the country to claim that he is somehow chosen by God for the office. (Which he may be, just not for the reasons they suppose.) Many of these people claim to be "Evangelical Christians," but do not darken the doors of any church on a regular basis. This is the sort of Christianity that needs Christian missionaries.
Or, on the other side of the political spectrum there are individuals who brand every form of social deconstruction a form of "progress" and make public arguments that adherence to any sense of moral law outside of "judge not" is sub-Christian. There is a large block of such professed Christians in the United States that need the gospel as much as your Buddhist neighbor. They need a vision of the transformative power of conversion, where the Lordship of Christ is apparent over every corner of life.
This is the sort of application that Tietjen is calling for. The gospel must be evident in every area of the life of every Christian. I must say that on this point I agree with him wholeheartedly.