Kierkegaard was first and foremost a Christian thinker, yet his specifically Christian writings are still relatively unfamiliar to many scholars and general readers, with the result that the attack on the established church of his time for which he is most famous has sometimes been regarded as antiChristian. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not since Luther has there been a Protestant thinker who has so uncompromisingly sought to define and present Christianity in its utmost integrity, casting into reflection the ideality of Christianity and what it means to be a Christian in the strictest sense in the interest of reintroducing authentic Christianity as an existential possibility for every individual in the modern age.
This study seeks to sift out the distinctive areas and nature of Kierkegaard's contributions, both critical and constructive, to modern Christian theology within an existential mode of thinking Christianly that characterizes his theological reflection and method of communication. While it is possible to understand Kierkegaard's construal of Christianity without reference to his life and the age in which he lived, it is impossible to read him properly without some knowledge of his life and the historical, philosophical, theological, and social contexts of his authorship. Chapter 1 will set the stage for reading Kierkegaard in context by presenting a biographical overview of his religious upbringing and theological education, the major intellectual influences and events in his life, and the nature and phases of his writings as they unfolded in the intellectual and historical milieu of his time. There has been a tendency of late to 'localize' Kierkegaard by emphasizing the Danish context of his authorship, but it must also be viewed in the broader arena of European intellectual and sociopolitical developments in the first half of the nineteenth century. Chapter 2 will flesh out Kierkegaard's distinctive understanding of Christianity as an 'existence-communication' and the existential mode of theological reflection appropriate to it in contrast to objective ways of doing theology in the modern age which in his view had turned Christianity into a doctrine, thereby falsifying the relation of both believers and nonbelievers to it. Chapters 3-7 will then focus on Kierkegaard's understanding of a number of theological concepts and issues that constitute some of his most original and most important contributions to Christian thought.
Kierkegaard was a dialectical thinker par excellence, construing Christianity as combining gospel and law, grace and works, leniency and rigour, positive and negative existential qualifications in a distinctive form of dialectic which he calls 'inverse dialectic' or 'the dialectic of inversion', according to which 'the essentially Christian is always the positive which is recognizable by the negative' (JP i. 760; iv. 4680; v. 5997, translation modified). Inverse dialectic pervades Kierkegaard's understanding of Christianity and Christian existence, so that an awareness of it is essential for a proper understanding of his theology. We shall have occasion in the chapters ahead to see more clearly how it functions in his thought.
Kierkegaard was also a master prose stylist and poetic writer, employing an array of pseudonyms, literary genres, and imaginative figures to present his own views as well as some with which he disagreed. No one can possibly express his thought as well as Kierkegaard himself does. Consequently, Kierkegaard and his pseudonyms will frequently be allowed to speak for themselves in this study. Readers encountering Kierkegaard for the first time can thus enjoy a taste of his artistry as a writer as well as his genius as a Christian thinker and hopefully acquire an appetite for more. No attempt has been made to alter the sometimes patriarchal character of Kierkegaard's language, which reflects the linguistic practice and social structure of his time. But I have taken the liberty of amending, where justified, the standard translations of terms that are gender neutral rather than masculine in Danish.
I wish to thank Princeton University Press for permission to reprint from the following works by Soren Kierkegaard:
• The Concept of Anxiety. © 1980 Princeton University Press.
• Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments (2 vols.). © 1992 Princeton University Press.
• Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus © 1985 Princeton University Press.
• Practice in Christianity. © 1991 Howard V Hong (published by Princeton University Press).
• The Sickness unto Death © 1980 Howard V Hong. Published by Princeton University Press, 1983 paperback edition.
• Works of Love. © 1995 Postscript, Inc. Published by Princeton University Press, 1998 paperback edition.
Thanks are also due to the Stetson University Interlibrary Loan Services for their help in securing resources for the preparation of this book. My indebtedness to my husband, Robert L. Perkins, is immeasurable, as he has been a constant support and constructive critic for this and all my academic projects.
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