Christ As Prototype

Recognizing that 'times are different and different times have different requirements', Kierkegaard observes that in the Middle Ages the gospel of grace was changed into a new law more rigorous than the old and everything became a matter of works and merit (FSE 15). Then Luther appeared on the historical scene with the corrective that a person is saved by faith alone, strategically shoving aside the New Testament epistle of James with its warning that faith without works is dead in order to restore faith to its rightful place. The secular mentality, however, was quick to take Luther's words in vain, appropriating grace in such a way as to free itself from works altogether. In the present age, in which everyone is a Christian as a matter of course, Kierkegaard imagines that if Luther were alive today he would no doubt bring the Apostle James forward a little, not against faith and grace but for their sake, so that the need for them might be felt more deeply and not taken in vain (FSE 24; cf. JFY 192-4).

Similarly, with respect to Christ, Kierkegaard remarks in his journals: 'It is entirely clear that it is Christ as the prototype which must now be stressed dialectically, for the very reason that the dialectical (Christ as gift), which Luther stressed, has been taken completely in vain, so that the "imitator" in no way resembles the prototype but is absolutely undifferentiated, and then grace is merely slipped in' (JP ii. 1862). Kierkegaard is quite conscious of having moved 'in the direction of Christ as pattern' in his writings and even cautions himself not to 'go astray by all too one-sidedly staring at Christ as the prototype' (JP iii. 2503; ii. 1852). Thus, while recognizing that 'the present situation calls for stressing "imitation" ', he insists that 'the matter must above all not be turned in such a way that Christ now becomes only prototype and not Redeemer,... No, the Atonement and grace are and remain definitive , for several reasons (JP ii. 1909, emphasis added). One is that all our striving will be shown to be 'sheer paltriness' when we stand before God for judgement at the moment of death (1909). Another is that grace is needed in order to prevent our striving from being transformed into an 'agonizing anxiety' that prevents us from striving (1909). Perhaps the most important reason, however, is that we continue to sin while striving and therefore remain in unconditional need of the atonement. Kierkegaard even interprets the atonement itself as pointing to Christ as our prototype and example inasmuch as the vicarious satisfaction with which we 'put on Christ' means not only to appropriate his merit for the forgiveness of our sins but also to seek to be like him, to borrow his clothes, so to speak, so as 'to re-present him' (JP ii. 1858). Another reason why Christ as prototype must be advanced in the present age is because Christianity has been turned into a doctrine, throwing the situation in Christendom into 'utter confusion' and making the definition of what it means to be a Christian 'almost indistinguishable' (JFY 209). Consequently, the prototype must be advanced in order at least to procure some respect for Christianity, to make somewhat distinguishable what it means to be a Christian, to get Christianity moved out of the realm of scientific scholarship and doubt and nonsense (objective) and into the realm of the subjective, where it belongs just as surely as the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ, did not bring any doctrine into the world and never delivered lectures, but as the prototype required imitation, yet by his reconciliation expels, if possible, all anxiety from a person's soul.

JFY 209)

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