I don’t know what you think of Søren Kierkegaard. He has his good points and bad points, I suppose. On the positive side, he conveys in his writing a strong sense of the critical importance of encountering and responding to Christ as an individual. On the other side, he goes too far, I suppose, in bashing reason as playing a legitimate role in leading someone to faith. From my point of view, though, Kierkegaard, when he is good, is really good!
In his essay, “On the Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle” (written in 1847), Kierkegaard counters Adolf Peter Adler, a Hegelian philosopher. Adler had been deposed from his position through claiming to have had a personal “revelation”. However, he later changed his story and claimed that his work was that of genius, not revelation. Kierkegaard’s view was that a “genius” and a conduit of “revelation” are qualitatively different things. Adler was confusing the two.
On a higher level, Kierkegaard made two statements in his essay that really stand out to me for their truth and their relevance to today.
Here’s the first:
“If the sphere of paradox-religion is abolished, or explained away in aesthetics, an Apostle becomes neither more no less than a genius, and then – good night, Christianity!”
For Kierkegaard, the figure of the Apostle stands for authoritative revelation from God, which is in opposition to the mere genius, who only speaks for himself. The real strength of the Christian revelation is the powerful confrontation that is made in the Incarnation of God in Christ. The paradoxical nature of omnipresent God “confining” himself into a human body is something that no one in their so-called “right mind” would make up – it challenges our capacity to believe, too greatly. No, it is a paradoxical revelation that the Church is called to preach. Kierkegaard’s point, and a daring point at that, is that Christianity stands or falls on the ability to keep the lines drawn clearly between revelation and aesthetic concerns. When the emphasis is on the aesthetic rather than revelation, different questions come to mind. With revelation, the questions are: what is true? Do you believe? With the aesthetic, you encounter questions like: isn’t this profound? isn’t he a good speaker? isn’t this a gorgeous sanctuary? Aesthetics is not an illegitimate concern, but it must keep its place. When Christianity becomes a contest for the ability to sell someone on something through rhetoric, charisma, etc. at the expense of the declaration of truth, then you’ve got a problem, and, in Kierkegaard’s words, it’s “good night, Christianity!”
Here is a second quote from Kierkegaard, applying the same theme as above to the Apostle Paul:
“St. Paul has not to recommend himself and his doctrine with the help of beautiful similes; on the contrary, he should say to the individual: ‘Whether the comparison is beautiful or whether it is worn and threadbare is all one, you must realize that what I say was entrusted to me by a revelation, so that it is God Himself or the Lord Jesus Christ who speaks, and you must not presumptuously set about criticizing the form. I cannot and dare not compel you to obey, but through your relation to God in your conscience I make you eternally responsible to God, eternally responsible for your relation to this doctrine, by having proclaimed it as revealed to me, and consequently proclaimed it with divine authority.’”
Both of these quotes strike to the heart of what may be needed greatly today in the churches of the land. These are not concrete proposals; they are merely impressions I am formulating in my thought process:
- A refocusing on the Christian gospel as “revelation from God” in its essence, rather than a message whose success is dependent on being conveyed through the right medium
- Less of a dependence on “genius” (tactics, marketing, strategy, etc.) for the bearing of spiritual fruit; more of a dependence on truth-telling in a spirit of grace
- A move away from recruiting spiritual “geniuses” (pastors, leaders, etc.) as critical to church growth toward encouraging the emergence of leaders from within an existing community.
So, what do you think? Is Kierkegaard on to something?