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This morning I got into a brief discussion with a friend via email about Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). Kierkegaard was a 19th-century Danish philosopher who has been called the “Father of Existentialism,” and with those few words I have told you everything I knew about Kierkegaard. My friend suggested I do a Google search on Kierkegaard especially having to do with his writings regarding “leaps of faith“ as he said I tend to do that a lot (e.g., taking “leaps of faith”).
So, I decided to take my friend up on his suggestion this morning and here is what I found:
The phrase [leap of faith] is commonly attributed to Søren Kierkegaard; however, he never used the term, as he referred to a leap as a leap to faith. A leap of faith according to Kierkegaard involves circularity insofar as a leap is made by faith. In his book Concluding Unscientific Postscript, he describes the core part of the leap of faith, the leap. “Thinking can turn toward itself in order to think about itself and skepticism can emerge. But this thinking about itself never accomplishes anything.” Kierkegaard says thinking should serve by thinking something. Kierkegaard wants to stop “thinking’s self-reflection” and that is the movement that constitutes a leap. He’s against people thinking about religion all day without ever doing anything. But he’s also against external shows and opinions about religion and in favor of the internal movement of faith. He says, “where Christianity wants to have inwardness, worldly Christendom wants outwardness, and where Christianity wants outwardness, worldly Christendom wants inwardness.” But, on the other hand, he also says, “The less externality the more inwardness if it is truly there; but it is also the case that the less externality, the greater the possibility that the inwardness will entirely fail to come. The externality is the watchman who awakens the sleeper; the externality is the solicitous mother who calls one; the externality is the roll call that brings the soldier to his feet; the externality is the reveille that helps one to make the great effort; but the absence of the externality can mean that the inwardness itself calls inwardly to a person-alas, but it can also mean that the inwardness will fail to come.” The “most dreadful thing of all is a personal existence that cannot coalesce in a conclusion,” according to Kierkegaard. He asked his contemporaries if any of them had reached a conclusion about anything or did every new premise change their convictions. (Quote source here.)
In the middle of that pool of information, what I liked best about what is being said is the point Kierkegaard makes when he stated he’s “against people thinking about religion all day without ever doing anything. But he’s also against external shows and opinions about religion and in favor of the internal movement of faith.” And it is that “internal movement of faith” that transcends so much of the “talk” and “showiness” of Christianity we see on the surface so much of the time.
I also found some information on Kierkegaard on the philosophy website at Texas A&M University that I assume (from the URL) is written by a professor (or associate) by the name of S. Daniel (URL and source here). This is what he wrote:
Volitional Arguments for Religious Belief (continued):
Søren Kierkegaard (Religious Existentialism)
Søren Kierkegaard: religious beliefs are beliefs, not objective bits of knowledge. The confrontation with, and anguish (angst) over, the ambiguity of human existence–what is its point if one is going to die anyway?–raises the prospect of the meaninglessness of one’s existence. Since no convincing arguments can be given to justify existence itself, the only proper (i.e., authentic) response is unconditioned faith, belief that there is a God who has promised us his salvation.
Abraham is the embodiment of the religious mentality. He is not great because he is willing to sacrifice what he loves most but because he acts not knowing (in fear and trembling) whether he is right but nonetheless believes that this is what God asks of him. Indeed, humanly speaking, he is insane because his act is unintelligible and even contradicts what God has told him to expect as the father of a great nation: he acted “by virtue of the absurd.” That is, he took responsibility for his action, affirming his power rather than engaging in (Freudian) resignation.
The three enemies of authentic existence and faith are: (1) established Christianity (i.e., doing what the Church says is right); (2) middle-class, bourgeois culture (i.e., doing what society says is right); and (3) the dominant philosophy of the day (i.e., Hegelianism, in which truth is objective, rational, totalizing). The aesthetic life lies in doing what seems or “feels” right according to society because it is what we have been taught; the moral life consists in doing what can be rationally justified (philosophically); only the religious life entails acting on faith in doing this or that particular action.
Truth is subjectivity. Rationality and knowledge are based on the premise that truth is objective, impersonal, a relationship between a belief and the world. But the truth about human existence is not something about which we are simply intellectually curious but is rather something about which we care deeply. Our caring about it determines it as something different from other things; that is, what it is depends on how we feel about it. Our existence and salvation are meaningful not because they correspond to some objective fact but because our interest in them is unconditioned and passionate, without any inner reservations or doubt. This entails:
The leap of faith: there is ultimately no justification for the belief in eternal life and God’s existence; the gap between the finiteness of our comprehension and the infinity of the justification is incommensurable. Only a leap of faith can surmount the gap. Religious belief must be just that–a belief for which one cannot give rational justification. Knowledge of moral directives is rationally possible on a universal level but not on the personal level, and doing something because it is the socially acceptable (or aesthetic) thing to do involves no faith at all. Moral knowledge is general, faith in salvation is particular. The leap of faith is not irrational as much as beyond rationality. (Quote source here.)
Faith is not something that can be seen with the eyes or touched with the hands, and as stated above, it is not irrational as much as it is beyond rationality to those who do not understand or live by faith and only live by what they can see, experience, and manipulate.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church during the reign of Adolf Hitler in Germany (1933-1945), wrote a statement in his diary in 1939 that is an excellent example of his taking a “leap of faith.” I quoted it previously in a blog post titled, “Free At Last,” and it happened at a time when he was contemplating returning to Germany after spending only 26 days in New York City. While he was “safe” in New York City from the reach of Hitler, he was compelled to return to Germany in spite of Hitler’s growing reign of terror. While making the decision to return to Berlin, Bonhoeffer wrote the following in his diary:
It is remarkable how I am never quite clear about the motives for any of my decisions. Is that a sign of confusion, of inner dishonesty, or is it a sign that we are guided without our knowing, or is it both? . . . Today the reading [a passage of Scripture not noted in this diary entry] speaks dreadfully harshly of God’s incorruptible judgement. He certainly sees how much personal feeling, how much anxiety there is in today’s decision, however brave it may seem. The reasons one gives for an action to others and to one’s self are certainly inadequate. One can give a reason for everything. In the last resort one acts from a level which remains hidden from us. So one can only ask God to judge us and to forgive us. . . . At the end of the day I can only ask God to give a merciful judgement on today and all it’s decisions. It is now in his hand. (Quote source: “Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” (2014), by Eric Metaxas, p. 130).
This is a classic example of taking a “leap of faith.” On the surface, his decision to return to Germany seems quite irrational as it would be putting him squarely in the face of danger, and yet it was that “internal movement of faith” noted by Kierkegaard that compelled him to return anyway. God always has His reasons that we cannot understand (see Isaiah 55:8-9).
A minor prophet, Habakkuk, in the Old Testament spoke of days much like Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced when he returned to Germany from New York City back in 1939. I’ve written about Habakkuk in several previous posts, most notably in a post written three years ago titled, “The Problem of Evil–Habakkuk Revisited.” The theme of Habakkuk has repeated itself down through the pages of history, and Habakkuk lived during the death-throes of the nation of Judah before the Babylonians destroyed that nation. Bonhoeffer lived during the Nazi invasion of Germany, and died at the hands of Hitler a scant three weeks before WWII ended in 1945 (Hitler committed suicide at that time). I can’t help but think that Bonhoeffer, being a pastor and a theologian, might have remembered the words of Habakkuk while he was in prison awaiting his execution. Habakkuk was the only prophet recorded in the Old Testament who took our side in the conflict of why God allows evil to apparently ride roughshod over people who are just trying to live decent lives.
In Habakkuk, (see Habakkuk 1-3) the prophet asks God two questions, and God answers both questions, and it is in God’s answers that Habakkuk understood. In the answer to Habakkuk’s second question Habakkuk makes a statement at the end of the question, and God’s answer begins after his statement (See Habakkuk 2:1-4):
I [Habakkuk] will stand my watch
And set myself on the rampart,
And watch to see what He will say to me,
And what I will answer when I am corrected.
Then the Lord answered me and said:
“Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.
“Behold the proud,
His soul is not upright in him;
But the just shall live by his faith.”
But the just shall live by his faith. . . . The rest of Chapter 2 states what happens to the proud, and their end eventually comes even in the midst of chaos all around. Chapter 3 is Habakkuk’s prayer of worship to God for who He is, and a hymn of faith is given at the end of the chapter that states (in verses 17-19):
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.
Even in the midst of great trials, God is still in charge.
Hebrews 11 is the great “hall of faith” chapter in the Bible and it is full of examples of people who believed and put actions behind their faith and belief in God. “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (verse 1), and if we don’t put actions (that “internal movement of faith”) to our faith, we have no faith at all. And as Hebrews 11:6 states, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Therefore, “leaps of faith” are a normal and natural part of the genuine Christian experience, and true believers are compelled to take them, just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer was compelled to return to Germany in the summer of 1939.
We walk by faith . . . .
I’d like to end this blog post with the benediction found at the end of Hebrews 13 (verses 20-21):
Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him . . .
Through Jesus Christ . . .
To whom be glory for ever and ever . . .
Amen . . . .
YouTube Video: “Step by Step” sung by Whitney Houston (in “The Preacher’s Wife”):
Christianity without Christ–sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Yet with increasing regularity much of what we do in the Church-at-large today is man centered and/or works centered and not Christ centered, although it is often disguised as such. I remember reading the term, “Christless Christianity,” for the first time in a biography on Bonhoeffer. It was of great concern to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) before his death by hanging at the hands of Adolf Hitler (who committed suicide a scant 21 days later) at Flossenberg Concentration Camp two weeks before the American liberation of the camp, and three weeks before the end of World War II.
In Bonhoeffer’s book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” he states the difference between “cheap grace” (which is man centered), and “costly grace” (which is Christ centered) which is part of what is at the core of Christless Christianity:
Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?…
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God. (Quote source here.)
We don’t hear much about this kind of grace today–grace that is costly. As Bonhoeffer stated above, “It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because if justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son . . . Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
Dr. A.W. Tozer (1897-1963), who was also a contemporary of Bonhoeffer’s era, made the following statement regarding Christless Christianity in “Man: The Dwelling Place of God,” Chapter 29, “How to Try the Spirits”:
Christless Christianity sounds contradictory but it exists as a real phenomenon in our day. Much that is being done in Christ’s name is false to Christ in that it is conceived by the flesh, incorporates fleshly methods, and seeks fleshly ends. Christ is mentioned from time to time in the same way and for the same reason that a self-seeking politician mentions Lincoln and the flag, to provide a sacred front for carnal activities and to deceive the simplehearted listeners. This giveaway is that Christ is not central: He is not all and in all. (Quote source here.)
Dr. Michael S. Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, in his book, “Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church” (2008), makes the following statement regarding Christless Christianity in Chapter 1:
Christless Christianity. Sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it? A little shallow, sometimes distracted, even a little human-centered rather than Christ-centered from time to time, but Christless? Let me be a little more precise about what I am assuming to be the regular diet in many churches across America today: “do more, try harder.” I think that this is the pervasive message across the spectrum today. It can be exhibited in an older, more conservative form, with a recurring emphasis on moral absolutes and warnings about falling into the pit of worldliness that can often make one wonder whether we are saved through fear rather than faith. Heaven and hell still figure prominently in this version. Especially on the “high holy days” of the American church calendar (that is, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Father’s Day, and Mother’s Day), often complete with giant American flags, a color guard, and patriotic songs, this sterner version of “do more, try harder” helped get the culture wars off the ground. At the same time, more liberal bodies could be just as shrill with their “do more, try harder” list on the left and their weekly calls to action rather than clear proclamation of Christ.
Reacting against this extreme version of fundamentalist and liberal judgmentalism, another generation arose that wanted to soft-pedal the rigor, but the “do more, try harder” message has still dominated—this time in the softer pastels of Al Franken’s “Stuart Smalley” than in the censorious tone of Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady,” both of Saturday Night Live fame. In this version, God isn’t upset if you fail to pull it off. The stakes aren’t as high: success or failure in this life, not heaven or hell. No longer commands, the content of these sermons, songs, and best-selling books are helpful suggestions. If you can’t get people to be better with sticks, use carrots.
Increasingly, a younger generation is taking leadership that was raised on hype and hypocrisy and is weary of the narcissistic (i.e., “me-centered”) orientation of their parents’ generation. They are attracted to visions of salvation larger than the legalistic individualism of salvation-as-fire-insurance. Yet they are also fed up with the consumeristic individualism of salvation-as-personal-improvement. Instead, they are desperately craving authenticity and genuine transformation that produces true community, exhibiting loving acts that address the wider social and global crises of our day rather than the narrow jeremiads of yesteryear.
Despite significant differences across these generations and types of church ministry, crucial similarities remain. The focus still seems to be on us and our activity rather than on God and his work in Jesus Christ. In all of these approaches, there is the tendency to make God a supporting character in our own life movie rather than to be rewritten as new characters in God’s drama of redemption. Assimilating the disruptive, surprising, and disorienting power of the gospel to the felt needs, moral crises, and socio-political headlines of our passing age, we end up saying very little that the world could not hear from Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, or Oprah. (Quote source here.)
“The focus still seems to be on us and our activity rather than on God and his work in Jesus Christ.” And just as Horton stated, we tend “to make God a supporting character in our own life movie rather than to be rewritten as new characters in God’s drama of redemption.” Often we do this on an subconscious level because this type of attitude is pervasive in the church today. In fact, in our way of thinking it is almost heresy to think otherwise, and yet it is this very heresy that is at the core of much of what is done in the church. We tend to live our lives letting God know what we want or being active in the church because we think it is the right thing to do (a works-based salvation which is no salvation at all) instead of turning to him in repentance and seeking what he would have us to do with our lives every moment of every day. The genuine Christian life is a crucified life . . . it is not about us and what we want; it’s about God and Jesus Christ and what he would have us to do through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Just as the focus of cheap grace is on us, so is the focus of Christless Christianity on us–what we do, what we want, what we can get from God. Becoming “a new creation in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17) is often the last thing on our mind in our relationship with Jesus Christ.
“Christless Christianity” is anti-gospel error with a smile. It has enough truth, or perhaps words associated with the truth, to maintain plausibility, and enough error to pander to the cravings of our sinful hearts and minds. Our ability to obey is massaged, our spirituality is pampered, but our sins, true guilt, total helplessness, our need for Jesus Christ and his substitutionary death are neglected, ignored, and replaced.
So much of what I am calling “Christless Christianity” is not profound enough to constitute heresy. Like the easy-listening Muzak that plays ubiquitously in the background in other shopping venues, the message of American Christianity has simply become trivial, sentimental, affirming, and irrelevant…I think our doctrine has been forgotten, assumed, ignored, and even misshaped and distorted by the habits and rituals of daily life in a narcissistic culture (p. 21).
Instead of a gospel that is grace all the way down, “Christless Christianity” is “moralistic, therapeutic deism” (p. 40). Even though it may try to distance itself from the old legalism of the fundamentalists, it is in fact a gentler form of legalism with an irrepressible confidence in human ability. It is law, and not gospel. . . .
“Christless Christianity” leaves no orthodox doctrine untouched. God is reduced to our fellow sufferer, our sympathizer. Sin has become bad feelings and poor self image. Christ has become our example and our teacher. Eternity has become time, the world to come eclipsed by the here and now. Scripture becomes a self-help manual. The true biblical world-view has been inverted. God’s holiness no longer stands in such stark contrast with our sin, and therefore his justice and our eternal condemnation no longer remain our most pressing issue. By this route, atonement and justification need not be denied because, frankly, they are now irrelevant.
Let me end this review with a striking passage that I think encapsulates the reason why evangelical church life is so desperately faddish, frantically pursuing a boom and bust cycle of spiritual experience:
Similarly today, the preaching of the law in all of its gripping judgment and the preaching of the gospel in all of its surprising sweetness merge into a confused message of gentle exhortation to a more fulfilling life. Consequently, we know neither how to mourn nor how to throw a real party. The bad news no longer stands in such sharp contrast with the good news; we become content with so-so news that eventually fails to bring genuine conviction or genuine comfort but keeps us on the treadmill of anxiety, craving the next revival, technique, or movement to lift our spirits and catapult us to heavenly glory (p. 63). (Quote source here.)
More often then not, our current brand of Christianity often resembles a religious version of the “feel good” psychology that is so prevalent and holds us captive in our society today. As Horton states at the end of Chapter 1 in his book:
My aim is not to target any particular wing, movement, person, or group. We are all victims as well as accomplices in our captivity. In fact, my sense of urgency is motivated by my impression that “Christless Christianity” is pervasive, crossing the conservative-liberal spectrum and all denominational lines. In fact, when I wrote up some of the thoughts in this book for an article in a magazine recently, a Catholic editor exclaimed, “He’s writing about us!”
Actually, I am writing about “us”—all of us who profess the name of Christ both as ministers and witnesses. It would be easier if we could identify one particular writer, circle of writers, or movement as an isolated nemesis. However, no tradition is free of this captivity, including my own, and no person, including myself. There is therefore no position of antiseptic purity that I can pretend to occupy, from which I can mop up the rest of the floor. The most that any of us can do is to say with Isaiah, as he beheld a vision of God in his holiness, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). (Quote source here.)
I’ll end this post with one final brief statement from Horton in Chapter 1 of his book:
I think that the church in America today is so obsessed with being practical, relevant, helpful, successful, and perhaps even well-liked that it nearly mirrors the world itself. Aside from the packaging, there is nothing that cannot be found in most churches today that could not be satisfied by any number of secular programs and self-help groups. (Quote source here.)
And Jesus Christ is lost in the shuffle. . . .
The solution is found in Revelation 3:14-22 in a statement by Jesus Christ to the Church in Laodicea:
I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
He who has an ear . . .
Let him hear . . . .
YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac: