Kierkegaard is good for cleaning out the system. He’s like prune juice for the soul. Kierkegaard cleans out the system of dead orthodoxies and bland generalities. The scandal of God’s particular Word Jesus confronts each and all of us and calls for a response of faith. Will we dare to draw near?
We cannot hide behind clerical collars and pimp Jesus for profit; bourgeois Christendom must bow the knee to Christ (See my piece, “Can’t Pimp Jesus”). Nor can we hide behind logical syllogisms that are once for all delivered to universal mind from all eternity. Jesus does not help us get in touch with ourselves, as if he were some midwife helping us bring to birth what lies within each of us (See my post, “Jesus Is No Midwife”). Jesus came at a particular time to a particular place in history and addresses each of us in our moments of crisis when we realize that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. He alone can save us. He alone is the Mediator between God and us (1 Timothy 2:5).
All too often each of us tries to present ourselves as utterly unique; the more we do, the more we look just like one another—various shades of grey (Here I refer to the entry “Jesus’ Uniqueness and Various Shades of Napoleon Gray”). Jesus alone is utterly unique. Unlike those of Hegelian vintage who see Jesus as the symbolic vehicle for the Absolute’s entrance into history, Kierkegaard rejected the notion that history serves as the copy of a pre-existing union between God and humanity. For Kierkegaard, the incarnation does not make explicit what has always been the case implicitly and abstractly, and which will be perfected by all conscious subjects through whom the Absolute comes to self-consciousness in history. With these points in mind, there can be no compromise with Strauss, for whom the particularity of Jesus evaporates, where “it becomes as the faint image of a dream which belongs only to the past, and does not, like the idea, share the permanence of the spirit which is absolutely present to itself.” [David F. Strauss, The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined, trans. Marian Evans (New York: Published by Calvin Blanchard, 1855), p. 896; see also my discussion of this theme in The Word of Christ and the World of Culture: Sacred and Secular through the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003, pp. 66-67]
Barth, who had been influenced by Kierkegaard in his early work, wrote, “I consider him to be a teacher whose school every theologian must enter once. Woe to him who misses it — provided only he does not remain in or return to it.” [Karl Barth, “A Thank-You and a Bow—Kierkegaard’s Reveille,” in Fragments, Grave and Gay, ed. Martin Rumscheidt, trans. Eric Mosbacher (Glasgow: William Collins Son & Co., Ltd., 1971), pp. 100-101] For Barth, Kierkegaard is like a detox drink that removes harmful substances from the body. Something more is needed to replenish the system—the new wine of Jesus’ covenant.
I have entered Kierkegaard’s bartending school and have drunk his nectar. While I could not drink his medicine on a daily basis, it still does wonders. It’s not like Jim Jones’ kool-aid or Socrates’ hemlock. It’s more like prune juice that cleans out the system. Bottom’s up!