“Kill the Commentators” and if you have time the propositionalists too

“Kill the Commentators” and if you have time the propositionalists too November 12, 2014

Soren Kierkegaard series



The Soren Kierkegaard (SK) series has sought to present some of the major theological/cultural concerns associated with the philosopher/theologian in light of our current situation in protestant Christianity. Although SK lived more than 150 years ago his thought is just as relevant today, perhaps even more, than when he first wrote.

In Part one I gave a brief introduction to SK as a Christian thinker who has been significantly misunderstood and misarticulated. In Part two we explored SK’s view of truth and its relationship to the individual’s subjectivity and how that impacts a person’s faith.

Next we will look at one of SK’s most significant essays titled “Kill the Commentators”. You can read the essay in a compilation called “provocations”. You can download a .pdf version for free HERE. You can read the essay HERE.

“Kill the commentators” (KTC) is one of the most important essay’s Kierkegaard wrote, and yet, it is highly overlooked. The purpose of this essay is not only show the inevitable flaw in an absolutist’s view of the bible, but to also provide an elegantly simple argument for how one should understand scripture.

Neither the people who SK wrote to; nor SK himself could have ever imagined to what extent his philosophical and theological concerns would turn out to be true. Not only was his prophetic genius unappreciated during his time, his concerns still ring hollow today.

KTC Summary:

To my knowledge SK has no real problem with commentators per se, but like professors, he had a problem with their task and what they represented. SK begins by using an illustration of a play where the spectator is treated to only small parts of the play; instead of experiencing it in its entirety. In other words, commentators have broken the overall narrative into small parts that although may make sense in themselves are incoherent to the reader (spectator).

SK attempts to show the absurdity of the situation through a parable. In this story a women has written a letter to her lover. This is meant to illustrate the absurdity that exists when we read the bible with commentaries.

For example, when the lover receives the letter he reads it in its entirety. He does not read only small portions of the letter. He does not take small portions of text and consult with commentaries or with experts on what his beloved might mean by “meet me at the train station”. We can take this further and demonstrate what happens when the man gets so caught up in consulting on the issue of the train that he is never moved to actually meet his lover at the train.

So has been the case with how we read the bible. We have become so obsessed by certainty that it oftentimes prevents us from moving to action. The problem is that this form of Christianity (obsessed with intellectualism) is no different than how the Pharisees practiced Judaism. What’s worse is that we have become so entrenched in practicing Christianity this way, that we are both unaware and unchangeable.

SK’s suggestion is radically profound (even more profound to the Lutherans within his country – also the state church). SK suggests that perhaps we need a new reformation. A reformation whereby we set aside the bible altogether. SK goes on to state that this has as much validity as Luther breaking with the pope (ouch!)

SK states that the reason for such a radical suggestion is:

“…the current emphasis on getting back to the Bible has, sadly, created religiosity out of learning and literalistic chicanery – a sheer diversion. Tragically this kind of knowledge has gradually trickled down to the masses so that no one can read the Bible simply any more. All our Bible learning has become nothing but a fortress of excuses and escapes…When it comes to obedience there is always something else we have to first take care of. We live under the illusion that we must first have the interpretation right or the belief in perfect form before we can begin to live.”

In a profoundly comedic expression SK suggests we should just round up all of the bibles and pile them up in the center of town. We should then fall to our knees and request that God take back this book for we are unfit to possess it.

Our Current situation:

If you had not known SK had written this brief essay you would think it had been written today. The shock is that this is written before the rise of modern Evangelicalism, and yet, it is one of the most significant concerns of postmodern Christianity.

I imagine that if SK was able to see how Christianity has turned out with the rise of modern Evangelicalism he would say “I told you so”. Modern Evangelicalism had become the “poster child” for what SK sees as being the problem with the Church. Moreover, much of everything he says in this essay has come to pass.

You may think by reading KTC that SK is all over the place and as a result is painting an unfair caricature. However, this would be a misreading. SK sees how everything is connected – unlike many today. For example, the church’s obsession with certainty and absolutism has resulted in a propositional reading of scripture. A propositional reading of scripture annihilates the narrative and forces the individual to draw unwarranted conclusions. These conclusions become a part of theology and eventually trickle down through preaching to the people. From here it becomes a part of the culture. And, since there exists a culture of absolutism, these beliefs become emblazoned upon the stone tablets of the individuals heart.

God speaks his word:

God spoke his word through the incarnation of his Son. The Son set the example for how one is to practice Christianity (as opposed to how the Jews had understood it, which ironically is very similar to how modern Evangelicalism understands it).

When we fail to read scripture apart from our presuppositions (or the presuppositions of others) we fail to hear the Word being spoken. This is what the ancients had that we do not. They didn’t have automobiles, televisions, or even electricity. Moreover, they were forced to hear God’s Word. The chaos in our lives prevent us from being able to do this. What a terror it must be to be with God’s Word in the silence; for then we are forced to confront our own sins; we are without excuse for inaction.

The commentators in KTC are analogous to anything that prevents us from hearing God’s Word.

We must break the bondage we have to certainty. If ones faith depends on the ability to apprehend absolutes, then God’s Word will always remain silent because humans are fallible. It is only when we embrace the humility that accompanies our subjectivity that God becomes “real”; instead of just “true”.

God is not greater because he works in absolutes; he is greater because he does not have to.

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