Thursday, August 8, 2013

Special K

I just finished the book An Introduction to Kierkegaard by Dr. Peter Vardy.  This well-written, easy to understand and incredibly interesting book summarizes the writings and religious thought of Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish Lutheran Theologian who lived in the early 1800's. I highly recommend it. Dr. Vardy writes in a clear and engaging style and doesn't bog you down with endless theology and "big words."  He tries to systematically and thoughtfully guide you through the mind and heart of Kierkegaard by reviewing his works and touching on the main points of his life.

Kierkegaard is fascinating. He lived out-loud. He challenged Christians to break out of their religiosity and regimens and "get real." He brought philosophy, psychology and theology together, but rejected the objectification of knowledge. So what if you're smart? How are you and God these days? He continually focused on the importance of a personal, life-changing relationship with God. He believed that faith meant something. It wasn't just a word. It was a radical life-changing word that meant your decisions--in fact your whole life was based on God, not on your own selfish desires. Either live for God or deny Him. In fact, he wished Christians would reject God rather than live simple, comfortable lives wearing only the mask of Christianity. Kierkegaard died in the street, collapsing outside of the Danish Lutheran Church just six months after his strongest rant against it. As he died, he thanked God for showing him what it truly meant to be a Christian.

I am still struggling to understand some of his theological points, and a few I am not sure I agree with, but he wouldn't care if I agreed with his theology or not. He would not want me to walk away from his ideas wanting to learn more about my faith, but walk away asking myself  "Do I REALLY have faith?" and then to seek a closer walk with the God. He sincere commitment to a personal relationship with God and his challenge to live a life that centers around God is both inspiring and convicting.

Here are a few excerpts from the book (some I have paraphrased based on my notes):

If Jesus is God, then.. 

  • He can reveal Eternal Truths.
  • His birth is the moment when God decisively entered creation. (Accepting this is not like acquiring one more piece of information. It will have a decisive impact on the individual that will affect the whole of his or her life.)
  • Jesus brings Truth that could not be known elsewhere or otherwise.
Error = Having only a human understanding of truth (reason)
Faith = A willingness to trust that God intervened in human history out of a love for human beings and to accept the message that Jesus brings--that God wants human beings to enter into a two-way love relationship with God.

Jesus is either God or he is not.  Proof cannot be supplied either way. However, lack of proof does not mean that a claim is not true. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Modern speculative philosophy mocks faith and makes it out as something of no consequence which is held on to by the naive and the ignorant. This Kierkegaard refused to accept. If faith is the highest, then reason has no right to cheat people out of faith. It is not possible to go farther than faith. Faith is the highest and most difficult demand. It is not something that one can achieve and then move on.It has to be lived out hour by hour, day by day, month by month and year by year for one's whole life. It is totally demanding, challenging, uncomfortable and lonely.

"Depart from me damned assurance! Save me,O God, from ever becoming absolutely certain. Preserve me in the hinterland of uncertainty so that it may always be absolutely certain if I attain salvation I receive it by grace." - Kierkegaard

Faith requires individuals to stake their life on a claim (the incarnation) that may or may not be true. Faith therefore is an existential act." (Like when Indiana Jones stepped out on to the bridge that spanned the cavern in the Last Crusade movie. Remember the one that he couldn't see?)

The task of the Christian is not to strive for social equality so that everyone is equal in a worldly sense, but rather to recognize that everyone is equal irrespective of worldly differences...everyone must be loved equally as children of God. 

One artist travels around the world looking for someone to paint and never finds anyone adequate to his skill. The other artist stays home and finds something beautiful to paint in every person he encounters.
"Which," Kierkegaard asks, "is the true artist?" (He used this story to illustrate how Christians should love all.)

Kierkegaard attacked the church for its complacency and for focusing on buildings, sacraments and creeds instead of on loving others, obeying God and seeking a deep relationship with Him. He chastises Christians for sanitizing and diluting the New Testament:
The priests make a good living and acquire respect and admiration by talking in lofty terms on Sundays, but what they talk about is intended to bring comfort to their flock and security to themselves--they do not talk about Christ's message because it is too challenging and uncomfortable.

Religion is an individual living out a love relationship with God.

Faith is trusting one's whole life to God.

Kierkegaard wrote at length about the 3 stages of life (The three ways in which we "center" our lives.)

AESTHETIC STAGE - Focused on pleasure, ego. Decisions based on our desires. Self-centered and avoids commitment. Seeks to be loved, but not to love.  

ETHICAL STAGE - Seeks to belong to community, church, family, country. Wants conformation and confirmation. Community focused and driven to "be known" and to please.

Both the Aesthetic and Ethical stages ultimately fall short of giving us real satisfaction and lead to despair. Despair to Kierkegaard meant "not being conscious of my spiritual self. God is irrelevant."

RELIGIOUS STAGE - Focused on a personal relationship with God. We subordinate our worldly concerns and focus on the Eternal (God as the absolute/most important.) Only when we recognize our despair can we relate to God.

A person in the AESTHETIC STAGE does not see Jesus.
A person in the ETHICAL STAGE sees Jesus as a prototype. 
A person in the RELIGIOUS STAGE sees Jesus as Savior.

Christians are simple people who know they are sinners, believe God loves them anyway and put God first.

As you have lived, so you have believed.

-Hope A. Horner
Follow on Twitter @HopeNote
Email author on gmail at hopeh1122.
Order the book mentioned here on Amazon:   Introduction to Kierkegaard by Peter Vardy

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