Saturday, March 23, 2013

A final ramble on Kierkegaard

I may have been wrong on the extent of Kierkegaard's influence on Barth, but I'm in good company. Although there are some influences on Barth's early work, it seems he broke with him in some ways later on. This is Barth:

I consider him to be a teacher into whose school every theologian must go once. Woe to him who has missed it! So long as he does not remain in or return to it!

I'm probably going to take a little break from Kierkegaard, although I may return at some point because he's for grown ups too. But I should end on a high...

Kierkegaard is piercing in his analysis of humanity and Christians in particular. His uncompromising, rigerous hammering of the radical, even impossible, call to faith and Christian living is an experience in itself if you read his work. And it is his work that you should read, even if you need a good deal of support to make heads or tails of it (I recommend Stephen Evans and Sylvia Walsh as guides). As Sylvia Walsh ends her book:

it is important to read his works first of all on their own terms, that is, as indirect communications to the reader, 'that single individual', for the sake of personal appropriation, rather than as theological fodder that must be translated into some other theological framework in order to have contemporary relevance. Only then will Kierkegaard be truly read for the first time, even though we may have read him many times previously (p.206 - something that could also be said of the Bible).

So after that ramble, here is a passage which gave me hope after he'd skewered me with his Biblical idealism of what it means to be a Christian:

And what does all this mean? It means that everyone for himself, in quiet inwardness before God, shall humble himself before what it means in the strictest sense to be a Christian, admit candidly before God how it stands with him, so that he might yet accept the grace which is offered to everyone who is imperfect, that is, to everyone. And then no further; then the rest let him attend to his work, be glad in it, love his wife, be glad in her, bring up his children with joyfulness, love his fellow men, rejoice in life. If anything further is required of him, God will surely let him understand, and in such case will help him further; for the terrible language of the Law is so terrifying because it seems as if it were left to man to hold fast to Christ by his own power, whereas in the language of love it is Christ that holds him fast. So if anything further is required of him, God will surely let him understand; but this is required of everyone, that before God he should candidly humble himself in view of the requirements of ideality...

"But if the Christian life is something so terrible and frightful, how in the world can a person get the idea of accepting it?" Quite simply, and, if you want that too, quite in a Lutheran way: only the conciousness of sin can force one into this dreadful situation - the power on the other side being grace. And in that very instant the Christian life transforms itself and is sheer gentleness, grace, loving-kindness, and compassion. Looked at from any other point of view christianity is and must be a sort of madness or the greatest horror. Only the consciousness of sin is the entrance to it, and the wish to enter in by any other way is the crime of lese-majeste against Christianity.

(pp. 61-62, Training in Christianity)

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