Sometimes it seems like the Church is asleep at the wheel. Some Christians cheerfully abandon cherished beliefs and live as if the gospel didn’t matter. Others act like forgiveness is for wimps and neighbor love is best expressed by yelling arguments to someone securely wrapped up in a headlock. Søren Kierkegaard may part of an answer to some of these problems.
I know that the answer to many modern conundrums can be found in Church History. However, I must say that I’m surprised to find so much that speaks directly to the present situation in Kierkegaard.
Like many evangelicals, I have avoided Kierkegaard. First, there is the eternal problem of how to say his name without sounding like an idiot. Second, I’m really not a big fan of philosophy. This is mainly because I see a lot of philosophy that has abandoned the pursuit of knowledge and has drifted into a pursuit of esoteric and sometimes solipsistic niggling. Third, everyone has always told me that Kierkegaard is a liberal. Combine these three things together and you have a recipe for bypassing Kierkegaard.
But Kierkegaard may be just what the doctor ordered for 21st century Christianity. According to Mark Tietjen, he’s much more orthodox than I’ve been led to believe and he’s always trying to be faithful. Most importantly, the main thrust of his work was intended to revive the gospel in Denmark. It had simply become too easy to be a Christian and play along. One became Christian by simply by being Danish and occasionally participating in churchish activities.
In addition to the laity presuming their Christianity, the clergy seemed to have lost sight of the purpose of preaching. The Danish church leaders talked about the Bible, but were ineffective in bringing it to bear on the lives of their congregants. There are some circles even among my strongly orthodox peers where that is the present condition. Frankly, it’s the sort of error that I am drawn to.
In his recent book Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians, Mark Tietjen shows how Kierkegaard’s writing can be used to help call Christians back to a more faithful life in Christ. According to this book, Kierkegaard can be best understood as a prophet explaining the weaknesses of the faith of the people of God. This is not an introduction to Kierkegaard’s work, but an apology for his usefulness for the contemporary Christian Church.
After a brief introduction, the book contains five chapters. In Chapter One, Tietjen gives a biographical overview of Kierkegaard, an apology for philosophy, an apology for Kierkegaard, and a brief overview of his work. In the second chapter the topic of conversation is Kierkegaard’s Christology. Tietjen highlights the fact that Kierkegaard was calling his readers to understand the radical, offensive truth of Christ as God-man. This is a truth that was being (and is again) overwritten by the redefinition as sin and.
Chapter Three discusses how Kierkegaard is helpful in showing what it is to be human. The psychological influence of Kierkegaard is highlighted here and the sinfulness of despair. Kierkegaard calls for the Christian to hope all things, even when things are hard. In the fourth chapter the topic is the Christian witness. Kierkegaard’s work was designed to rouse Christians to live rightly and allow the gospel to permeate their every day lives. In fact, as Tietjen describes it, Kierkegaard felt that right living was the most effective apologetic. In Chapter Five, Tietjen outlines Kierkegaard’s position on Christian love built around the three theological virtues. In a world that tends to misunderstand the nature of love, the refined nuance of Kierkegaard’s position could well be valuable.
Summary and Conclusion
As someone who has read a little of Kierkegaard, I cannot evaluate how accurate Tietjen is. I’ll leave that to other reviewers. However, Tietjen states that his goal “is to convince Christians as I have been convinced that Søren Kierkegaard is a voice that should be sought and heard for the edification of the church.” In my opinion, he has met his goal. I am encouraged to read more Kierkegaard and will recommend that to my friends.
This book met my expectations. I am intrigued by Kierkegaard and will read him soon. Tietjen provides a suggestion for secondary sources that introduce Kierkegaard, so there is a place for me to begin my understanding. In reading this book, I was encouraged, once again, by a figure from Church History that there is nothing new under the sun. The Church has been down this road before and, in this case, Kierkegaard helps to provide the necessary answer. This was an encouragement in a time when I needed some, so I’m thankful for the book.
Note: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.