Wednesday, March 21, 2018

quotes from Kierkegaard's "Provocations" (and an overview)

Charles Moore provides an intro to the version of Provocations that I read/enjoyed. He discusses Kierkegaard’s primary goals: to be aware and to act—vs. merely to "know".

Moore: Kierkegaard’s task was not the introduction of new ideas, a theology or philosophy of life. Rather, he said “My task is in the service of truth; and its essential form is obedience.” Kierkegaard was fundamentally existential: “to keep people awake, in order that religion may not again become an indolent habit...” His aim was to provoke the individual so as to become an individual in the truth.

He also made an absolute demand that “idea” should be translated into existence (being and doing), which is exactly what his contemporaries, in his opinion, failed to do: “Most systematizers stand in the same relation to their systems as the man who builds a great castle and lives in an adjoining shack; they do not live in their great systematic structure. But in spiritual matters this will always be a crucial objection. Metaphorically speaking, a person’s ideas must be the building he lives in – otherwise there is something terribly wrong.”

His strategy was to help them take a decisive stand: “I wish to make people aware so that they do not squander and dissipate their lives.” Faith, therefore, requires a leap. It is not a matter of galvanizing the will to believe something there is no evidence for, but a leap of commitment. Christianity is not a doctrine to be taught, but rather a life to be lived.

Here's what Kierkegaard says on this topic:

I have wanted to make people aware and to admit that I find the New Testament very easy to understand, but thus far I have found it tremendously difficult to act literally upon what it so plainly says.

The three kings had only a rumor to go by. But it moved them to make that long journey. The scribes were much better informed. They sat and studied the Scriptures like so many scholars, but it did not make them move. Who had more truth? The three kings who followed a rumor, or the scribes who remained sitting with all their knowledge?

When Christianity becomes nothing but doctrine, the test is nothing but a scholarly examination.

If a person does not become what he understands, then he does not understand it either. Between understanding and willing [are] excuses and evasions.

When it comes to doing what we know to be God’s will, we do not dare to say: I will not! So we say: I cannot. Is this any less rebellious? If it is God’s will that you do it, how is it possible that you cannot?

What is needed is not professors but witnesses. No, if Christ did not need scholars but was satisfied with fishermen, what is needed now is more fishermen.

When we see someone holding an axe wrong and chopping in such a way that he hits everything but the block of firewood, we do not say, “What a wrong way for the   woodcutter to go about it,” but we say, “That man is not a woodcutter.” Now for the application. When we see thousands and thousands and millions of Christians whose lives do not resemble in the remotest way what – and this is decisive – the New Testament calls a Christian, is it not tampering with the meaning to talk as one does in no other situation and say: “what a mediocre way, what a thoroughly inexpressive way these Christians have.” In any other situation would one not say, “These people are not Christians.”

And finally, on the implications for apologetics: A king’s existence is demonstrated by way of subjection and submissiveness. Do you want to try and demonstrate that the king exists? Will you do so by offering a string of proofs, a series of arguments? No. If you are serious, you will demonstrate the king’s existence by your submission, by the way you live. And so it is with demonstrating God’s existence. It is accomplished not by proofs but by worship. Any other way is but a thinker’s pious bungling.

Miscellany from Provocations:

On commitments and keeping them (reminiscent of Seinfeld’sreservations): Now, what is the point of this parable? Is it not meant to show us the danger of saying “Yes” in too great a hurry, even if it is well meant? Though the yes-brother was not a deceiver when he said “Yes,” he nevertheless became a deceiver when he failed to keep his promise. In his very eagerness in promising he became a deceiver. When you say “Yes” or promise something, you can very easily deceive yourself and others also, as if you had already done what you promised. It is easy to think that by making a promise you have at least done part of what you promised to do, as if the promise itself were something of value.

On being lukewarm (Rev 3:16): The greatest danger to Christianity is, I contend, not heresies, heterodoxies, not atheists, not profane secularism – no, but the kind of orthodoxy which is cordial drivel, mediocrity served up sweet. There is nothing that so insidiously displaces the majestic as cordiality. Perpetually polite, so small, so nice, tampering and meddling and tampering some more – the result is that majesty is completely defrauded – of course, only a little bit. And right here is the danger, for the infinite is more disposed to a violent attack than to becoming a little bit degraded – amid smiling, Christian politeness. And yet this politeness is what our Christianity amounts to. But the very essence of Christianity is utterly opposed to this mediocrity, in which it does not so much die as dwindle away

On the Spirit (a la Jn 5:30, 15:5; Gal 3:2-3): Such self-knowledge we are referring to is really not complicated. But is one not able, then, to overcome oneself by oneself? How can I be stronger than myself? When we speak of overcoming oneself by oneself, we really mean something external, so that the struggle is unequal.

We should not, then, speak about one’s coming into debt by receiving love. No, it is the one who loves who is in debt. Because he is aware of being gripped by love, he perceives this as being in infinite debt.

On true/false repentance: Yes, in the temporal and social sense, repentance may come and go. But in the eternal sense, it is a quiet daily commitment before God. In the light of eternity, one’s guilt is never changed, even if a century passes by. Repentance, if it is forgotten, is nothing but immaturity. The longer and the more deeply one treasures it, however, the better it becomes.

All the objections to Christianity – what are they, after all, to the person who in truth is conscious of being a sinner and who has experienced belief in the forgiveness of sins and in this faith is saved from his sin? One conceivable objection might be: Yes, but is it not still possible for you to be saved in some other way? But how can one reply to this? One cannot. It is just like a person in love. If someone were to say: Yes, but you could perhaps have fallen in love with another – then he must answer: To this I cannot reply, for I know only one thing, that this is my beloved. As soon as the person who is in love tries to reply to this objection, he is by that very fact not a believer. It is claimed that arguments against Christianity arise from doubt. This is a complete misunderstanding. The arguments against Christianity arise out of rebellion, out of a reluctance to obey. The battle against objections is but shadow-boxing, because it is intellectual combat with doubt instead of ethical combat against mutiny.

The true Christian is one who becomes a sacrifice in order to call attention to the truth that Christ is the only true sacrifice.

On God’s word: My listener, how highly do you value God’s Word? Imagine a lover who has received a letter from his beloved. I assume that God’s Word is just as precious to you as this letter is to the lover. I assume that you read and think you ought to read God’s Word in the same way the lover reads this letter…If there are obscure passages but also clearly expressed wishes, he would say, “I must immediately comply with the wish – then I will see about the obscure parts.

On followers of Jesus: He never asks for admirers, worshippers, or adherents. No, he calls disciples. It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life Christ is looking for… A follower is or strives to be what he admires. An admirer, however, keeps himself personally detached. He fails to see that what is admired involves a claim upon him, and thus he fails to be or strive to be what he admires.

On forgiveness: Is it not pure conceit to believe in your own forgiveness when you will not forgive others? If we fail to understand that forgiveness is also a burden that must be carried, even though a light burden, we take forgiveness in vain. Forgiveness is never earned – it is not that heavy. But neither is it to be taken in vain, for it is not that light either. Forgiveness is not to be paid for – for it is not that costly and it cannot be paid for. But neither is it to be treated as nothing; it is bought at too high a price for that.

On grace: That Jesus Christ died for my sins certainly shows how great his grace is, but it also shows how great my sins are.

On good intentions: whenever things are really serious, honest good intentions never suffice…Good intention makes a person think that everything is settled by a resolution. But if anyone allows himself to be nourished by good intentions, the resolution itself becomes a seducer and deceiver instead of a trustworthy guide. It is a proud thing to dive into danger, and it is a proud thing to battle with untold horrors, but it is also wretched to have an abundance of intentions and a poverty of action, to be rich in truths and poor in virtues.

On politics: Politics is nothing but egotism dressed up as justice.

On prayer: He who prays knows how to make distinctions. Little by little he gives up what is less important, since he does not really dare to come before God with it, demanding this and that. In proportion as one becomes more and more earnest in prayer, one has less and less to say, and in the end one becomes quite silent. Indeed, one becomes quite a hearer. And so it is; to pray is not to hear oneself speak, but it is to be silent, and to remain silent, to wait, until the one who prays hears God.

On preaching: If it is assumed that speaking is sufficient for the proclamation of Christianity, then we have transformed the church into a theater. We can then have an actor learn a sermon and splendidly, masterfully deliver it with facial expressions, gesticulations, modulation, tears, and everything a theater-going public might flock to.

On solitude/silence: In a passionate age great events give people something to talk about. Talkativeness, on the contrary, also has plenty to talk about, but in quite another sense. In a passionate age, when the event is over, and silence follows, there is still something to remember and to think about while one remains silent. But talkativeness is afraid of silence, for silence always reveals its emptiness.

On the Kingdom and the “not yet”: This is the paradox of Christianity – namely, that a kingdom which is not of this world still wants to have a visible place, yet without becoming a kingdom of this world. This is why Christian collisions are produced. It is no good for you to say that the world is immersed in evil, and then slip through it easily. If you do this, your life expresses that it is really a very good world and simply cannot be done without your also being an accomplice in one way or another.


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