Saturday, January 06, 2007

Ten Propositions on Kierkegaard

Over at Faith and Theology, Kim Fabricius has written several "ten propositions" posts on topics ranging from the Trinity to Karl Barth to Hell (a nearly complete list can be found here). I have enjoyed these posts immensely and now it's time for me to rip-off the idea. So here, without further ado, are my ten propositions on Kierkegaard:

1. To fully understand and appreciate Kierkegaard, one must share his faith in the God-human [Gud-Menneske] Jesus Christ. This is because SK, in many of his works, is not writing for the general public; he is writing so that the “single individual” may develop a deeper commitment to New Testament Christianity. To approach these works in a detached manner is to miss the point entirely.

2. Kierkegaard's second (i.e., Christian) authorship should be given priority over his first authorship, and thus his early works should be read in the light of his latter works, and not vice versa. A SK novice should therefore begin with For Self-Examination/Judge for Yourself and work back to Either/Or (never, never start with Fear and Trembling).

3. It is a fatal mistake to assume that the various pseudonyms speak for Kierkegaard himself. To know what SK really thought, go to his Upbuilding/Christian Discourses or to his Journals.

4. Kierkegaard was a very good Lutheran - a "theologian of the cross" par excellence. He never wavered with respect to solas of the Reformation - sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide. And his Communion Discourses make it clear that he was a firm believer in the real presence. By stripping off the metaphysical baggage that had accumulated during Lutheran orthodoxy and Hegelian idealism, Kierkegaard liberated the essence of Luther's theology for the modern world.

5. Kierkegaard's theological brilliance was equalled by his literary genius. No other theologian in the entire history of the Church has been so skillful with the pen, so witty and imaginative. I dare you to name another theologian or philosopher that is as fun to read as SK (Thomas Oden has issued a similar challenge in this book).

6. While Kierkegaard was certainly the first existentialist (and perhaps the first postmodernist), his Christian faith makes his identification with these latter-day movements problematic. Bultmann and Barth are his true 20th-century heirs, not Heidegger, Sartre, or Derrida.

7. Anyone who claims to completely understand Fear and Trembling or Repetition is either a liar or an idiot (or both).

8. Kierkegaard's Attack on Christendom was a justified assault against the liberal, bourgeois Christianity of his day, and it is relevant wherever the Church transforms itself into the "established order". However, the shrill and bitter tone adopted in these final writings should not be emulated.

9. Kierkegaard's life and his writings are intimately intertwined - it is impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. For this reason, virtually none of writings cannot be read apart from his Journals. If you don't know about his relationship with his father, his aborted engagement to Regine, or the Corsair affair, you will miss a great deal.

10. Anyone who thinks that Kierkegaard was an acosmic misanthrope should read Works of Love. And even if you don't think that about SK, you should still read Works of Love!!


George said...

You're the man. Couldn't have said it better myself.

1. Many philosophers (and some rational theologians), just can't accept this faith. To that, they tend to ignore Kierkegaard's second authorship, in favor of the first authorship like F&T, PF and CUP.

2. As with 1.

3. A common problem among many.

4. Ok, I'd like to believe this one, although I haven't read a lot of Luther, so I have to hold off judgment on this one.

5. Amen.

6. Bonhoffer too; he died for his beliefs against the Nazis, Kierkegaard's martyr. I also like to think Wittgenstein got some Kierkegaard right.

7. Isn't that the case with most philosophy?

8. Right

9. Also, sadly, right; although it is against his wishes for us to combine his life and works.

10. Purity of Heart also speaks to me on this matter.

Thomas Adams said...

George -- Thanks for your comments. With regards to #6, I agree that Bonhoeffer is the true heir of Kierkegaard's legacy, since he lived-out his theology in actuality and became what SK always wanted to be - a true martyr. I don't know why he slipped my mind while I was writing the original post.

As with #9, I agree that SK often warns his readers against combining his life and works, but he wasn't really consistent on this point. After all, a central premise of the Kierkegaardian project is that peoples’ intellectual lives cannot be separated from their concrete existence. So he was only being faithful to himself when he “wrote himself into his works.”

Mickey said...

Damn, I knew it -- that stupid Existentialism intro course at Berkeley not only taught "Fear and Trembling" first, that was the only Kierkegaardian work they taught.

Really, I just knew there was something deeply wrong!

::aaron g:: said...

Thanks for this. It is very helpful.

I just picked up a stack of Kierkegaard at a used sale, but have only skimmed through them.

Anonymous said...

These are pretty spot on, though I'd have to disagree with the first one. I believe I have a very strong understanding of his work yet I'm not a Christian. Besides, K himself writes in various places that he has never quite manifested the kind of faith that some of his pseudonyms claim to possess, so how are we to be on some shared level of faith with him as his readers?