Kierkegaard & the Christian Faith | Karen Wright Marsh

In order to prepare us for our upcoming Capps Lecture with Stanley Hauerwas on Kierkegaard, we thought it appropriate to remind us a little about who he was and what he said.

Christ never asks for admirers, worshipers, or adherents. No, he calls disciples. It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life Christ is looking for.  Christ claimed to be the way and the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6). For this reason, he could never be satisfied with adherents who accepted his teaching – especially with those who in their lives ignored it or let things take their usual course. His whole life on earth, from beginning to end, was destined solely to have followers and to make admirers impossible.

What then, is the difference between an admirer and a follower? A follower is or strives to be what he admires. An admirer, however, keeps himself personally detached. He fails to see that what is admired involves a claim upon him, and thus he fails to be or strive to be what he admires.

-Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Søren Kierkegaard, best known as the founder of existentialist philosophy, was familiar to everyone in his home town of Copenhagen. Denmark--a spindly, comical figure with hair that stuck up nearly six inches from his forehead. He walked for many hours each day, stopping to talk with random folks along the way, entertaining them with is caustic wit. But inside he suffered greatly.

Søren was the youngest of Michael Kierkegaard’s seven children. His pietistic father was convinced that their family was cursed and took his kids on treks to the cemetery to dwell on their own horrific sins. 

No wonder Søren described himself as an intense boy in the power of a “monstrously brooding temperament.”

As a teenager he was both repelled by and attracted to his father’s fierce religion. He wrestled with faith as a theology student at the University of Copenhagen and turned to philosophy in his intense quest for meaning.  

Søren couldn’t shake his suspicion there actually was a divine reality: the person of Jesus who would demand a startling commitment of him. At 25 years old, Søren had a decisive spiritual experience, a feeling of “indescribable joy” that he couldn’t understand with his rational mind. He arrived at his life’s central truth at last—the realization that, at his core, he was a person found by God.  He threw himself into an inward, ardent Christianity—and gave us that expression “leap of faith. “

But Søren continued to reject the way of the “parsons’ trash” peddled by his own state church, the jaded institution that counted all Danish citizens as automatic Christians from birth.   Don’t just be a Christian, he said, as if “Christian” is some assigned identity that means nothing to you. No, take all of your life to become a Christian: choose, again and again with each new day to live a wholehearted life of faith in Christ. 

Once Søren experienced the faith that reached beyond abstract knowledge, it was the practice of prayer that kindled his inner transformation. Søren’s daily encounters with the eternal became as essential to him as breathing.  He recorded his prayers in a journal, writing out his his questions, confidence, doubts, joys, pains, con- solation, suffering, love, longing, depression—and gratitude. “The function of prayer is not to influence God,” he said, “but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”