Christians have had an interest in western philosophy for pretty much as long as both existed. If you’re late to the game, you’d probably be surprised that many philosophers, at least post-Augustine, would have considered themselves Christians. The Enlightenment kind of gradually ruined that, but not before some significant thinkers emerged. One of those was Søren Kierkegaard.
When it’s comes to Kierkegaard, it is hard to imagine a philosopher simultaneously receiving as much love and disdain, both from Christian circles. Depending on who you ask, Kierkegaard is either super important and helpful or misguided and to be generally avoided.
Mark Tietjen is aware of these realities and tackles them head on in the first chapter of his recently published Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians. This is after a noted philosopher and Kierkegaard scholar (Merold Westphal) has foreworded and commended the book to us. In that first chapter, Tietjen says right off the bat, “My goal is to convince Christians as I have been convinced that Søren Kierkegaard is a voice that should be sought and heard for the edification of the church” (25).
From here, he briefly sketches Kierkegaard’s life before dealing with questions related to Christian appropriation of philosophy in general and Kierkegaard in particular. He then gives an overview of the general areas of Kierkegaard’s thought and how broad ranging and practical it can be.
The remaining four chapters are the core of the book and deal with Kierkegaard’s general thought on Jesus Christ, the human self, Christian witness, and the life of Christian love. Tietjen illustrates and illumines throughout by exposition from Kierkegaard’s writings. Here readers will be able to determine for themselves the value of Kierkegaard’s writings for us today.
I was particularly drawn to the motif in the subtitle. One may well wonder what being a Christian missionary to Christians entails. In the conclusion, Tietjen draws together the threads for why Kierkegaard would see the task as not only possible but necessary. He then lists out the rationale (161):
- If there are some who are Christian in name only, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
- If there are some who have inherited a perverted form of Christianity and know nothing better, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
- If there are Christians who value created goods over the Creator, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
- If there are Christians who struggle to trust in God and his goodness, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
- If there are Christians who fail to believe God can redeem even the least redeemable person, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
- If there are Christians who lose hope that God’s kindness, forgiveness, and redemption extend even to them, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
- If there are Christians who “speak in tongues of angel,” and so on, but have not love, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
Given what I see in our contemporary culture, it’s not hard to suggest there is a still a need for this kind of role. One might call it a “prophetic” type role, but I like the idea of a Christian missionary to Christians. In some sense, I feel like my calling involves a bit of that, especially as it relates to youth and college culture. Kierkegaard can serve as a model and template for how to pursue this calling.
Buy it: Amazon
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!