I recently turned forty-two, and just this morning, I learned that Søren Kierkegaard died at forty-two. I knew he died young, but I never took note of his age.
Kierkegaard wrote numerous books and pamphlets, often under pseudonyms, writing in different “voices,” taking different points of view, writing experimentally, with some writings being enigmatically philosophical and others, often written under his own name, being explicitly Christian. And the question that people had was, “Why?”
Philosophers (especially atheist philosophers) have grown to love a “version” of Kierkegaard—i.e., Kierkegaard as an early “existentialist” or postmodern deconstructionist. But other scholars have said that misconstrues Kierkegaard’s work. What was Kierkegaard trying to achieve?
In one of his last books, My Point of View for My Work as an Author, he explained what he was doing: he was a missionary.
He thought of himself a Christian missionary to Christendom.
Kierkegaard lived at a time (the early 19th century) when all Danes were considered Christian because they were Danish! It was the state religion. You were baptized as a baby, and that became your religion. Kierkegaard went to seminary to become a pastor and realized that for most of the fellow students, being a pastor was just a profession, a way to make a middle-class living without there being a connection to a living faith.
“The apostasy from Christianity will not come about by everybody openly renouncing Christianity; no, but slyly, cunningly, by everybody assuming the name of being Christian” (Provocations, p. 232).
That’s what he saw: people calling themselves Christian who had no faith.
Given that hypocrisy, Kierkegaard could not bring himself to become a pastor. Instead, he chose to become a missionary to nominal Christians living in Christendom. He wrote religious works to build up Christians, and he wrote philosophical works to “seduce” nominal Christians into thinking more deeply about existence and perhaps lead them to God.
Although I’ve read a good deal of Kierkegaard, it has mostly been his philosophical works, not his theology. Frankly, I can’t say what Kierkegaard thought about the saving message. Did he believe in faith alone or faith plus works? I don’t know (I’ve seen quotes that could go either way). But my point is not to defend Kierkegaard’s theology. Rather, my point is, like Kierkegaard, you and I are missionaries, too, aren’t we?
After all, we live in Christendom. Is America a Christian nation? No more than was Denmark in the 19th century. Plenty of people take the name “Christian”—but are they?
We live at a time when millions of people think of themselves as Christian by default, without a real understanding, still less a real faith, in Jesus as their Messiah.
Just this week, I saw a picture of a priest “baptizing” a baby from a distance using a squirt gun (see here)! That’s Christianity and becoming Christian according to many (e.g., Catholics, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, United Methodist, Presbyterian, and so on). That kind of Christendom is very, very sick.
Who is going to tell them about the promise of everlasting life? Who will disciple them to live a life pleasing to the Lord? Who is going to teach them about the hope of reigning with Christ in the kingdom?
It can’t only be pastors who are busy reaching in and caring for their flock. It will be missionaries who are reaching out—people like you and me—who can share the grace message with cultural Christians.
Kierkegaard saw the need for missionaries to cultural Christians and took it upon himself to reach out—will you?