Kierkegaard or a Cold Shower?

Every so often I need a dose of Kierkegaard to wake me up like a cold shower. If this doesn’t convict you, check your pulse.

When Christianity came into the world, it did not need to call attention (even though it did so) to the fact that it was contrary to human nature and human understanding, for the world discovered that easily enough. But now that we are on intimate terms with Christianity, we must awaken the collision.

The possibility of offense must be again preached to life. Only the possibility of offense (the antidote to the apologists’ sleeping potion) is able to waken those who have fallen asleep, is able to break the spell so that Christianity is itself again.

Woe to him therefore, who preaches Christianity without the possibility of offense. Woe to the person who smoothly, flirtatiously, commendingly, convincingly preaches some soft, sweet something which is supposed to be Christianity!

Woe to the person who makes miracles reasonable. Woe to the person who betrays and and breaks the mystery of faith, distorts it into public wisdom, because he takes away the possibility of offense! Woe to the person who speaks of the mystery of the Atonement without detecting in it anything of the possibility of offense.

Woe again to him who thinks God and Christianity are something for study and discussion. Woe to every unfaithful steward who sits down and writes false proofs, winning friends for themselves and for Christianity by writing off the possibility of offense. Oh, the learning and acumen tragically wasted. Oh the enormous time wasted in the enormous work of making Christianity so reasonable, and in trying to make it so relevant!…The more skillful, the more articulate, the more excellent the defense, however, the more Christianity is disfigured, abolished, exhausted like an emasculated man

…Therefore, take away from Christianity the possibility of offense or take away from the forgiveness of sin the battle of an anguished conscience. Then lock the churches, the sooner the better, or turn them into places of amusement which stand open all day long!

Works of Love: Some Christian Reflections in the Form of Discourses, pp. 199-200

Responses or Reactions?


10 thoughts on “Kierkegaard or a Cold Shower?

  1. James, thanks for connecting the dots for us between Kierkegaard and Barth.

    On the relationship between Barth and Kierkegaard, see Phil Ziegler, “Barth’s Criticisms of Kierkegaard – A Striking out at Phantoms?” in the International Journal of Systematic Theology, Vol. 9, Issue 4, pp. 434-451.

    Ziegler concludes, “[I]f we could espy the two theologians together at rest in that eschatological congregation Kierkegaard himself imagined, we might see on Barth’s visage that same ‘painful grin’ that crossed his face when he discovered in 1925 that someone had written a book length study of himself and Kierkegaard. In that pained grin, I think we might still recognize Barth’s grateful ambivalence towards his Danish tutor, perhaps made slightly less painful by the kinds of considerations reviewed in this article. Do we have any reason to doubt that the Dane might be sporting the same mixed expression ready with questions and criticisms of his own for his Swiss student?” (451)

  2. Thanks Kent for the post. I track with the heart of his message. The gospel by and large calls us to live a life that is antithetical to the world. By that definition, the Christian life and message does give offense. However, I would challenge the “woe” as far as making the faith more “reasonable.” Where does apologetic fit in? Where does biblical movements such as intelligent Design fit in – and for that matter, the new Ben Stein movie Expelled?

    There should be a place for making the gospel more tangible but at the same time staying true to the dictates and demands of the Spirit in making us a Holy nation.

  3. Derek, Hmmm. I wonder if we might distinguish between “apologetics of contextualization” and “apologetics of domestication”, the later being the kind that Kierkegaard rightly despairages.

    It seems “making the gospel more tangible”, as you said, would fall into the former category and fulfill our responsibility to witness to the Gospel in changing cultures.

    Keeping the two straight would seem to be the trick.

  4. Yep, keeping the two straight is helpful. Thanks Kent, your dialogue is indeed helpful and I can see Kierkegaard and others who rail against an “apologetics of domestication” as challenging enough for me. Admittingly, I find myself here more than in the “apologetics of contextualization” – much to my shame. Praise God for a God who is bigger than our “domestications” and continually sends His Spirit to “contextualize” our lives for His gospel.

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  6. Hi all, I just started reading “Kierkegaard for Beginners” and I’ve found it very interesting, especially his critical thought over the story of Abraham and Isaac (not his father’s penitent version anyway …). I think we at least have to appreciate his works despite his eccentricity and his “one sided-ness”.

    Can anyone give me another link about Kierkegaard?

  7. Zelig – Thanks for stopping in. I don’t have any good suggestions for internet sites on Kierkegaard beyond the link provided in the post itself. Maybe start there and see where it takes you.

    Another great resource is an Moore, “Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard” (Plough Publishing, 1999).


  8. Kent – thx for the info. I’ve already downloaded the pdf version of it. Have to read it now … thx once again

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