Kicking It With Kirkegaard

Soren Kirkegaard was a 19th Century Danish theologian who still has a great influence on Chrisitanity today. During Kirkegaard’s lifetime Christianity was under serious attack. Biblical archeology weighed strongly against the Bible being a real, historical account. So in defense of Christianity, Kirkegaard began arguing that faith really has nothing to do with reason. Faith is something wholly different and we’re mistaken to try to confuse the two. Evidence isn’t important, it’s a person’s spiritual experience that explains the truthfulness of faith. The historical Jesus isn’t nearly as important as the Jesus we encounter in our hearts. There’s a Protestant hymn that says “You ask me how I know he lives; he lives within my heart,” this is perhaps the strongest evidence of Kirkegaard’s influence on the church, that people still sing this song or give this answer to critics.

I think Kirkegaard was wrong. I think spiritual experiences are important to the faithful. But I do not believe it’s all we have. Since his time Biblical archeology has gone the opposite direction. The Bible has shown itself to have an incredible amount of accurate detail. We can know that the Bible is authentic and credible.

I think Kirkegaard was also wrong because it’s not the apologetic pattern we see in the New Testament. Here are some references showing how Paul defended his faith.

Acts 17:1
As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3explaining and proving that the Christ[a] had to suffer and rise from the dead.

Acts 17:17
So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.

2 Corinthians 10: 3-5
3For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

I Corinthians 15 is the big, money-where-your-mouth-is passage in the Bible. It was written no more than 15 years after Easter. Most of the major players were still alive. If you ask Paul how he knows Christ lives, he doesn’t say he lives within my heart. He says go ask all the people who saw him alive after Easter Sunday. He ties the truthfulness of our faith to a historical event. And then he says, if it didn’t happen we should not believe.

1 Corinthians 15:14
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

The last time I heard a strong defense for Kirkegaard’s ideas was in a debate between an atheist and a Christian. It was the atheist who desperately argued that faith should be unreasonable not the Christian. I don’t think we should take advice from the faithless on what our faith should look like. Can we absolutely prove Christianity to be true, no of course not (we can’t absolutely prove anything), but we can show that it is reasonable and intelligent.

10 thoughts on “Kicking It With Kirkegaard

  1. I’ve corrected the Danish thing. Thanks.

    I can concede that I might be overstating Kirkegaard’s position. More than Kirkegaard, I’m attacking fideistic epistemology (the idea that true faith is blind). So I’m reacting to what Fideist have done with with Kirkegaard.

    I also agree that Paul’s approach may not be what we all should do. But we can’t form a philosophy of faith or knowledge that excludes Paul’s approach.

  2. He was Danish, by the way.

    I’m not sure you’re acccurately representing Kirkegaard’s position, though. Have you atualy read his work?

    I also think you’re overcrediting the credibility and authenticity of the Bible. In looking for that kind of thing, I think there’s usually an incredible amount of conformation bias. People have inevtitably decided beforehand what they want to find, so they overmphasize evidence that supports their position (no matter how scanty is might objectively be) and they unreasonably minimize or outright ignore evidence that contradicts their position (no matter how damning it might actually be).

    Also, your multiple Biblical references are all from the same source: Paul. They show that Paul was consistent in his approach, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that his approach was the only appropriate one, that it was the one universally taken by the early Church, or that it was necessarily the approach that God sanctioned.

    In other words, the actions of Paul do not consitute a Biblical pattern; they constitute a pattern in Paul’s actions.

    Paul never met Jesus, aftter all. He was a mystic.

  3. kullervo

    i dont agree that paul was a mystic, but rather that he had mystical experiences. however, he spent the majority of his life with other people, not in the wilderness alone. i think mystic experiences for short duration can be great, but long term, God doesnt call people to isolation but rather to love other people. but otherwise you are very right about kierkegaard.


    i am with kullervo on this one. i used to have the same opinion as you about kierkegaard. but that was when i had only read parts of his works and only the most famous parts. however, i have since read other things that kierkegaard wrote, which make me believe he wasnt so black and white about the illogical nature of faith.

    i think he instead, tried to point out that reason alone didnt reach faith, which i agree with. the issue is really in the balance. i think soren had that balance.

    however, the reason he is known for such thinking is because of those who read his philosophy and took his position to an extreme. this happens with many people. for instance, descartes didnt intend to reduce man to machine, but he set the stage through his “meditations”.

    by the way, i highly recommend “fear and trembling” by soren, very good stuff.


  4. Well, I guess it all depends on what you call “mystic.” Certainly Paul had mystical experiences (one in detail, and at least one more is alluded to), and those were the basis for his conversion.

    Without those experiences, would reason have convinced Paul of the truth of Christianity?

  5. kullervo

    i do agree it depends on what “mystic” means. but in the traditional sense, in line with catherine of sienna or anthony the great, paul was not very similar. however, if “mystic” means more something along the lines of chrysostom, basil of caesarea, augustine, Jesus, etc, then i agree paul would be considered a mystic.

    as far as wouldve paul believed by reason. i am not sure, because he didnt. i know some great people who believed by reason. others need experience. that is why God is so amazing, He reaches each of us in the way that we need to be reached. at least that is my thoughts


  6. Incidentally, I’ve heard some in my church (usually the well-read) refer to Kirkegaard as an “honorary Mormon.” Right up there with C.S. Lewis (who is almost an honorary Mormon General Authority considering how much he gets quoted in General Conference). Apparently his existentialist approach to Christianity resonates with the Mormon psyche.

    I wouldn’t know, since I’ve never read him.

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