Søren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855) was a significant Danish philosopher who is widely considered to be the father of modern existentialism. A trenchant critic of the German thinker G. W. F. Hegel, Kierkegaard believed that the former’s philosophy poisoned the well of civil, ecclesial, and philosophical discourse. Kierkegaard saw the Church of his day as cold and lifeless, a victim of Hegelian rationalism. His frustration emerged in his scathing Attack Upon Christendom, which, despite appearances, was written by someone who deeply cared about vital Christianity.
Kierkegaard has received well-deserved criticism from modern evangelical theologians.1 Nevertheless, the following passage taken from his Journal powerfully exposes the terrible problems that develop when the Church fails to understand the seriousness of her task in the world. To the Church of his day, Kierkegaard exhorted: your battle is spiritual, and war is grim business: get on with it. To the preacher, he underscored the need for risky sermons, which could cost him his comfort, his position, and even his life.
“We all know what it is to play warfare in mock battle, that it means to imitate everything just as it is in war. The troops are drawn up, they march into the field, seriousness is evident in every eye, but also courage and enthusiasm, the orderlies rush back and forth intrepidly, the commander’s voice is heard, the signals, the battle cry, the volley of musketry, the thunder of cannon–everything exactly as in war, lacking only one thing . . . the danger.
So also it is with playing Christianity, that is, imitating Christian preaching in such a way that everything, absolutely everything is included in as deceptive a form as possible–only one thing is lacking . . . the danger.”2
For some, the danger about which Kierkegaard speaks is physical. The lives of Christians in places like Syria and Nigeria bear sober and clear testimony to this. For most of us however the danger has more to do with our social status and image. Perhaps our allegiance to Christ will cause us to be viewed as someone who doesn’t belong to this world. What a great danger it is.
1 See, for example, Edward John Carnell, The Burden of Søren Kierkegaard (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965).
2 Søren Kierkegaard, Attack Upon Christendom, trans. Walter Lowrie (1944; reprint, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 180.