Kierkegaards Achievement

It is hardly surprising that a thinker who placed such great emphasis on the task of each single individual becoming a self before God and who abhorred the idea of attracting "followers" should not have established a school or movement. Kierkegaard can hardly be said to have created a theological agenda. What he has bequeathed to theology is a series of impulses that have fed into theological and philosophical thinking. But it was not for professional theologians that Kierkegaard wrote his works, nor was it his intention to make a contribution to theological and doctrinal development. His task, as he saw it, was to compel his contemporaries to take the Christian faith utterly seriously, namely, existentially. Indeed, as he puts it in Postscript, "Christianity is not a doctrine, but ... is an existence-communication."48 In short, we only "know" Christianity when we live it.

Other than his unquantifiable impact on the existential and religious development of his readers, Kierkegaard's influence has been to provide subsequent thinkers with impulses for their own thought. The disparate, fragmentary, and unsystematic nature of his writings has been answered by an equally diverse reception of his thought that cuts across disciplinary boundaries. His influence can be detected in the works of Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Rainer Maria Rilke, Franz Kafka, and Albert Camus, all of whom owe a literary debt to Kierkegaard. It is, however, in theological and philosophical circles that his thought has had perhaps its greatest impact.

In Britain, it was the Scottish theologians H. R. Mackintosh and P. T. Forsyth who did more than anyone to introduce Kierkegaard to the British public. In Britain and America, however, Kierkegaard's influence remained insignificant until after the Second World War, when the translations undertaken by Alexander Dru, David F. Swenson, and Walter Lowrie made Kierkegaard known in the English-speaking world. It was above all in Germany, however, that Kierkegaard's influence was most keenly felt. Although the first German translations of Kierkegaard's works had begun to appear in the 1860s, the First World War and the subsequent disintegration of the optimism and historicism of prewar liberal theology lent a new significance to Kierkegaard's work and led to him becoming a significant figure on the German theological and philosophical landscape. Kierkegaard's exposition of the human condition, his emphasis on the transcendence of God, the paradoxical nature of the incarnation, and the leap of faith struck a chord in a generation deeply traumatized by the horrors of the war.

Kierkegaard is considered to be a forerunner of existentialism. Thinkers such as Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, and Jean-Paul Sartre owe much to Kierkegaard's emphasis on the single individual and his development of such concepts as existence, freedom, choice, and anxiety. These thinkers, however, exploit Kierkegaard's thought in a way of which Kierkegaard would hardly have approved, for they remove the ultimate goal of Kierkegaard's authorship, namely, that of educating the human being into a Christ-centered God-relationship.

In part via existential philosophy, Kierkegaard came to exercise a significant influence on twentieth-century theology. The Jewish theologian Martin Buber, the Catholic thinker Gabriel Marcel, and the Protestant theologian Paul Tillich all owe a significant debt to Kierkegaard. Barth's theology also bears the mark of Kierkegaardian influence, above all in his appropriation of Kierkegaard's concept of an infinite qualitative abyss between God and humankind. Barth, however, later distanced himself from Kierkegaard on the grounds that the latter's emphasis on subjectivity supported the anthropocentrism that, in his opinion, had plagued Christian theology since Schleiermacher. Moreover, Kierkegaard's emphasis on the demands of the Gospel left insufficient space for divine grace, a criticism which, in light of the world-negating tone of the later works, has some justification.

More recently, Kierkegaard has come to be seen as a forerunner of postmodernism and has been taken up in the postmodernist critique of logocentrism. There is indeed much in Kierkegaard's critique of modernity, suspicion of objectivity, and awareness of the problematic nature of language that ties in with postmodernist themes. There is, however, an essential difference between

Kierkegaard and postmodernism. Underlying the apparently postmodernist strands of Kierkegaard's thought is the conviction that there is an authentic voice to be heard, a voice that is heard only when the individual withstands the pressures of modernity and embarks upon Christian discipleship.

Kierkegaard saw himself as a "corrective," and this is perhaps still the most appropriate way to understand his relationship to the Christian faith. He was consciously opposed to "systematization" and did not produce a dogmatic or systematic theology. Kierkegaard wished to educate and, in the last years of his life, provoke his contemporaries into taking the claims and challenge of the Gospel seriously. In our age, which has to a large degree lost touch with the Christian demands advanced so vigorously by Kierkegaard, he can still provide us with an insight into the existential struggle that is faith. In a fragmented, pluralistic world in which there yet still exists an unfulfilled spiritual yearning, Kierkegaard may provide us with the resources for thinking through and, still more importantly, appropriating faith in a postmodern, post-Christian world.

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