Why the Church Needs Kierkegaard

If you’ve ever wondered why Søren Kierkegaard carries something of a “reputation” within the Church, it’s probably because–when describing the Church–he sometimes said things like this:

Think of a hospital. The patients are dying like flies. The methods are altered in one way and another. It’s no use. What does it come from? It comes from the building, the whole building is full of poison. That the patients are registered as dead, one of this disease, and that one of another, is not true; for they are all dead from the poison that is in the building.[1]

Kierkegaard penned this arresting passage on 7th July 1855, four months before his death. It is one of many vividly scornful depictions of the Lutheran state church in nineteenth-century Denmark that characterised his final years. By this point, Kierkegaard believed Christianity had been fully co-opted as an illusory ecclesial idol. He ceased attending church and publically called upon the people of Copenhagen to participate in a full church boycott.[2] As far as Kierkegaard was concerned, the Church was now infected with the disease of Christendom: “the whole building is full of poison” and so the building must be condemned.

Pastors come in for special rebuke and are to be avoided at all costs. Kierkegaard compares them to cannibals who keep the bodies of Christian martyrs in brine tubs for winter provision, living off the martyrs’ sacrificial legacies without being prepared to follow them personally.[3] Indeed, Kierkegaard even said savage cannibals are nobler than the pastors because at least they eat their people in an up-front manner, whereas the pastors do so calculatingly, imperceptibly, and with the pretence of holiness.[4] These pastors “apply Christianity tranquillizingly”[5] rendering their congregational victims deadened to Christianity rather than awakened by it.

For many, Kierkegaard went too far with the “attack upon Christendom,” leaving a red flag against his enduring ecclesiological value.[6] How could somebody so apparently anti-Church possibly inform the Church about what it is or ought to be? Where Kierkegaard warned against the “poison” of Christendom, Karl Barth warned against “the poison of a too intense pietism” in Kierkegaard’s own work.[7] Kierkegaard can certainly be critiqued for his excessively negative ecclesial stance, his accentuation of some New Testament motifs over others, and his prizing of individual decision over corporate unity. Yet it should be noted that his polemical “attack” literature was an important homiletical “moment” within a broader theological and ecclesial vision.

I. Taking Kierkegaard Back to Church

In my book, Taking Kierkegaard Back to Church: The Ecclesial Implications of the Gospel (2022), I reflect on various ways in which Kierkegaard’s voice remains paradoxically insightful for the Church. I discuss the significance of his primarily “diagnostic” approach to the Church’s condition alongside his more conceptually positive expressions. I also introduce his nuanced conception of the role of the individual in and for the congregation, as well as his robust reflections on ecclesial reformation. A chief argument is that Kierkegaard is essentially a kerygmatic missionary thinker whose proclamatory telos was awakening the modern Church from its worldly slumbers.

This kerygmatic heart is why Kierkegaard’s voice remains so important for the Church. Kierkegaard’s commitment to Christian proclamation often gets lost amid the elusive caves of his complex authorship, particularly his multiple pseudonyms expressing varying points of view. It has often been easier for the anti-theist to claim Kierkegaard for their own deconstructive purposes, and for the evangelical to decry him for similar reasons.[8] Re-situating Kierkegaard as a kerygmatic thinker unlocks his potential to both critique and encourage the Church’s reception of the Gospel we profess to proclaim.

Kierkegaard is essentially a kerygmatic missionary thinker

In an early chapter, “Kierkegaard’s Imaginary Rural Parish,” I consider his serious considerations of the call to pastoral ministry, piecing together how he and his congregants might have fared under week-to-week Kierkegaardian sermons! This includes some theological reflection on his corrective approach to Luther’s sola fide, where Kierkegaard essentially argued that to be faithful in his own time to Luther’s Gospel might mean saying very un-Luther-like things about “works.”[9] In the next chapter, “Waddling Geese in the Pulpit,” I showcase Kierkegaard’s insightful reflections on the ironical situations which stem from an over-dependence upon the kind of biblical scholarship that “protects” hypocritical preachers from the existential demands of Scripture. This “subjective” focus often leads some to underplay Kierkegaard’s grasp of objective truth, as shown in the chapter, “What Barth Got Wrong About Kierkegaard.” Here, I compare Karl Barth’s subjectively alert prison sermons with one of Kierkegaard’s doctrinally objective sermons, and investigate the interplay between their respective homiletical theologies.

The theme of Kierkegaard’s kerygmatic expression is further developed in “Is Kierkegaard an Extremist?,” highlighting the oft-forgotten connection between the nuance and radicality inherent to a theology of sin and Gospel. This is further expounded in “Socratic Street Preaching,” interrogating Kierkegaard’s intriguing comments about street preaching as an essential mode of Gospel proclamation alongside his paradoxical advocacy for maieutically subtle “indirect communication.” In “The Image of Love and the Ideal of Christendom,” I discuss the infamous segment of his most famous pseudonymous book, Either/Or, interpreting a theological allusion to the “seductive” draw of Christendom’s imagined image. The final chapter then addresses the aforementioned ecclesiological issues more directly, imagining how Kierkegaard’s message might apply within a “post-Christendom” or newly imagined Christendomian context. It is to these latter themes I now turn in the hopes of arguing for at least one key aspect of Kierkegaard’s ecclesiological value, beginning with his mission in and to Christendom.

II. Kierkegaard the Missionary to Christendom

Kierkegaard saw the Christendom he was chastising as a worldly veil for secular bourgeois society. Whilst many proclaimed great things about God, their desire for any meaningful connection with God was only ever “to a certain degree” and on human terms rather than God’s.[10] By perpetually rearticulating this essential problem Kierkegaard became something of a “missionary” to Christendom. He did not seek to preach the Gospel to those who had no access to Scripture, or no knowledge of Christian doctrines, virtues, or values. Rather, he came to re-emphasize precisely what this “Christian” society was supposed to have known all along and yet did not seem to know at all.

Even as a missionary to professing Christians, however, Kierkegaard is hardly a straightforward candidate. A missionary within a nominally Christian religious culture might normally be called a “revivalist.” Such movements were not unknown within Kierkegaard’s Denmark. But contrary to what we might expect given the pietistic influences within his upbringing, Kierkegaard was suspicious of revivalism. In his discourse “Against Cowardliness,” for example, he critiques the man returning home from a revivalistic meeting with uproarious enthusiasm and ideas for future change, only to spend his time remarking upon the passion and eloquence of the preacher and to “sit there surrounded by lofty resolutions.”[11] As Kierkegaard saw, such abstract resolutions can often act as yet another subterfuge for the cowardly reluctance to enact them. In Concluding Unscientific Postscript, we hear of the man whose personal revival–occurring in a fit of emotive existential excitement–leads him to “run around and proclaim Christianity,” “and yet he demonstrates–the busier he is propagating and propagating–that he himself is not Christian.”[12] As much as Kierkegaard stressed the importance of existential decision and proclamation, he knew that outward fervour was no guarantor of integrity.

Kierkegaard was arguably an “anti-evangelist”–but only because he believed this to be the most appropriate evangelistic apologia for Christianity within Christendom

Although it is still true to say that Kierkegaard’s missionary efforts were “outward” (in actively propagating a return to the Gospel), he did not seek to achieve mere outward “conversion” but to inculcate what he called “inwardness:” the existential appropriation of decisive faith in one’s life, irrespective of social, political, or ecclesial entrapments. To do this within a context in which Christianity was so thoroughly integrated within the socio-political sphere, Kierkegaard’s missionary task sought to evoke a truly existential response to the Gospel via indirect communication. This was the primary purpose behind his pseudonymous authorship, what he referred to as “a godly satire.”[13]

Echoing the contextually alert missionary approach of the Apostle Paul, Kierkegaard’s conscious missionary strategy was “to utilize everything, to get as many as possible, everyone if possible, to accept Christianity.”[14] The fact that his context was Christendom, however, excluded straightforward evangelism: “a missionary within Christendom will always look different from a missionary in paganism.”[15] In Christendom, unlike early paganism, everybody thought they had already been evangelised. Yet Kierkegaard would also describe Christendom itself as “a pleasant, sentimental paganism,” in which Christianity itself had become an idol, a human construction worshipped in place of the true “God-man.”[16] The phenomenal impact of Christian missionaries over the generations had turned in on itself: “Now, since it has been demonstrated, and on an enormous scale, that Christianity is the truth, now there is no one, almost no one, who is willing to make any sacrifice for its sake.”[17]

Because of the extreme condition of nominal faith within Christendom, Kierkegaard’s missionary strategy meant, in practice, “to utilize everything to make clear what in truth Christianity’s requirement is–even if not one single person would accept it.”[18] This was, in fact, a reverse outworking of his aforementioned desire “to get as many as possible, everyone if possible, to accept Christianity.” Any successful mission within Christendom actually meant making the reception of Christianity not easier but more difficult. Thus, Kierkegaard was arguably an “anti-evangelist”–but only because he believed this to be the most appropriate evangelistic apologia for Christianity within Christendom.

Kierkegaard’s “anti-evangelist” persona was a necessary corrective to the failures of the Chritendomian clergy, who sought socio-cultural prestige above the true demands of the kingdom. This led to a “socialised” or “public” conception of the pastorate, in which civic virtue or social affability alone was the criterion:

Pastors have finally ceased to be what they actually ought to be to the point that, in relation to what it really means to be a pastor, the factors by which they make a big hit and become honored, respected, and esteemed etc. are completely irrelevant––namely, that they are good mixers, people who can take part in anything, administer, deliver occasional addresses, in short, be a sort of more elegant edition of an undertaker.[19]

The professionalisation of the pastorate in Danish Christendom contrasted drastically with the pastoral demands of the New Testament. Christendom produced pastors who were little more than “elegant undertakers,” charming the world in Christianese whilst despising Christianity’s world-denying demands, thus effectively “burying” Christianity beneath the world–and all in the name of Christianity.

In Christendom there was no shortage of sermons to hear, and no shortage of grand buildings in which to hear them.[20] What Christendom lacked was the heart to do something about what was heard in those sermons. Kierkegaard’s warning was that such a masquerade was not only untruthful and unfaithful, but that it would not survive. He was right. Kierkegaard actually predicted the dawn of a post-Christendom era. It would be, he warned, “a dreadful Reformation…identified by people ‘falling away’ from Christianity by the millions.”[21] He perceived that, given the pervasive “success” of the Christendom way, once the church-going public actually realised what Christianity entailed for them as individuals, a mass outward exodus from the Church was inevitable. If Kierkegaard had been alive to see this happen, he would likely have said the outward exodus merely reflected the inward exodus that had been happening all along.

Given Kierkegaard’s eerily accurate prediction about the fall of Western Christendom, then, where does that leave Kierkegaard now? Has the vast decline of the Church across the Western world rendered Kierkegaard’s anti-Christendomian missionary voice obsolete to the Church’s very different challenges today?

III. The Reimagining of Christendom

It was Paul Tillich’s student, Harvey Cox, who said: “the process of secularisation [has] alleviated Kierkegaard’s problem.”[22] Barring some unlikely re-Constantinisation of the West, it would seem that much of Kierkegaard’s ecclesiological critique no longer applies. Even if one considers the complexities of what “secularism” actually entails,[23] or indeed whether various forms of “neo-Christendom” may still exist,[24] a theological position so acutely targeted towards a pre-secular context seemingly cannot relate as effectively to its aftermath. This is only the case, however, if one conceives of “Christendom” merely historically rather than theologically.

Christendom, as Kierkegaard saw it, though certainly corrupted by the Church-state alliance, need not be synonymous with it. Its ill effects may continually afflict the Church in any epoch and in many ways.[25] Kierkegaard is primarily concerned with the implications of the Christendom situation. When Christian faith is societally en vogue, “becoming a Christian” becomes a theological problem because the Christian faith becomes allied to an external “source” that is not God. If “Christendom” refers to any such situation in which Christian faith becomes axiomatic by appeal to mass social forces beyond the individual, then, for Kierkegaard, the authenticity of such Christianity is potentially corrupted or at the very least, highly questionable. This means that Kierkegaard’s conception of Christendom, though based on an actual historical situation, rests more determinatively upon the content of Christian faith than any particular set of ecclesio-political circumstances.

We must tread very carefully around Kierkegaard when attempting to reimagine a positive view of Christendom

Christendom, literally, is the manifestation of Christ’s “dominion” in the world. But what does Christ’s lordship actually look like within particular aspects of the socio-political sphere? In a more particular sense, Christendom could be described as a “Christening” of earthly “domains”; that is, a baptising and annexing of earthly institutions and powers under Christ. This may sound straightforward in theory, but what about when someone starts trying to do it within a particular socio-political context? That’s when all the trouble starts. One obvious barrier to “applying” a Christendom logic today is the impossibility of recreating Western Christendom as it was. The Roman Empire was a unique and inimitable socio-political institution which–even well beyond its eventual collapse–continued to inform how much of medieval Christendom was imagined and structured. It is difficult to imagine what the modern-day equivalent of the conversion of Constantine would look like.

We also have living evidence in many established churches of the kind of inherited Christendomian problems to which Kierkegaard drew attention. Michael Hampson’s Last Rites: The End of the Church of England (2006) highlighted the absurdity of the effects of “Christened” domains upon the Church’s faithfulness. Even amid the ravages of secularization, Anglican clergy are still “required by law to use Christian ceremonies to baptise, marry and bury people” in the full knowledge that most of these people “do not come seeking the church: they come seeking the shrine and the shrine keeper and they want nothing to do with the congregation or its strange life and beliefs.”[26] Where Kierkegaard quipped that Christians in Christendom participated in a metaphorical “paganism,” many of the contemporary vestiges of Christendom have become a very literal form of actual paganism.

To be sure, we must tread very carefully around Kierkegaard when attempting to reimagine a positive view of Christendom. Yet the “post-Christendom” narrative, so beloved of the modern Western academy, has become suspiciously vogue. As Joseph Boot notes, to be anti-Christendom is now “a way to score easy points in academic circles, since it conforms to the orthodox conventions of critical theory in the universities.”[27] What might Kierkegaard say if he knew that to be happily “post-Christendom” in outlook was the new bourgeois? Could being “pro-Christendom” (whatever that might mean) be more conducive to faith in our time, with our “anti-Christendomians” resembling Kierkegaard’s Christendomians? At the very least, these are questions worth pondering.

Oliver O’Donovan notes the eschatological possibilities of a post-Christendom situation which further curtail the notion of a purely historical interpretation of Christendom, relating its effects far more closely with the implications of mission:

The conversion of Constantine, with all that followed from it, was only an intermediate frontier which developed from the effective mission of the church to society and led back to it…Christendom has ended, we say–but in what sense of the word “end”? Has it fulfilled itself in transition from the rule of the kings to the rule of the Christ, or has it simply been eclipsed by the vicissitudes of mission, perhaps to return in another form or, if not return, to provide a standing reminder of the political frontier which mission must always address?[28]

Within some forms of the “post-Christendom” narrative there can indeed be a kind of self-congratulation at the decline of the Church and a denigrating of Gospel proclamation, as though the Church’s diminished public influence was wholly beneficial to the purposes of mission.[29] Such perspectives miss O’Donovan’s qualified concession that, although imperfect, Christendom was simply the result of the kind of effectiveness in mission which we are now unaccustomed to seeing in the West. This is a perspective James K. A. Smith has also observed. Following O’Donovan’s cautiously positive account, he argues that the impetus to influence society with the virtues inherent to the Gospel means that it must be possible, on some level, to see the project of Christendom as “a missional endeavour.”[30]

These are interesting alternatives to the usual narrative around the legacy and/or meaning of Christendom. Indeed, one wonders whether it might even be possible to construct a missional understanding of “Christendom” for our secular era which was somehow more congenial to Kierkegaard’s existential concerns than the Danish manifestation with which he was primarily engaged. I expect it would be a difficult task to convince Kierkegaard himself that Christendom was redeemable, however nuanced, but given the very different situation of the Western Church in the twenty-first century, it is certainly worth imagining the potential implications of his own dictum that “times are different, and different times have different requirements.”[31]

Whether one views Christendom-as-epoch as having been a generally good or bad thing,[32] just as Christendom-as-mission can recur in other forms of the Church’s political frontier, so too can Christendom-as-sickness. As much as Kierkegaard definitely did see the Church-State connection as the root of Danish Christendom’s problem, this sickness need not be limited to “national” or “established” Church situations. The “poison in the building” may have cause to return in new forms, re-armed against the antibodies that fought it off, with or without state powers. This happens whenever the Church–local or universal–is content to rest in its crowds, comforts, or cultural capital, rather than resting in God’s protection alone: “But woe to the Christian Church when it has been victorious in this world, for then it is not the Church that has been victorious but the world.”[33] Such a condition can even occur for a Church that believes itself to be threatened by rampant secularity beyond its walls, or for a Church in self-imposed retreat.

The illusion of Christendom, as Kierkegaard saw it, allows the Church to trust in its comforts and numbers–however large or small–and to count upon its people as numerical resources rather than individuals in need of ongoing faith and formation. Beyond its walls, the issue of the Church’s faithful witness before an increasingly apathetic Western religious climate renders Kierkegaard’s voice all the more essential in spelling out what ecclesial faithfulness means at a time when the Church must be especially clear and especially sharp about whom it really stands for and what it is really willing to say about it.[34] Yet for Kierkegaard, outward witness without inward integrity was the very epitome of the illusion.

IV. The Church Interior

Kierkegaard’s antidote to Christendomian idolatry was to emphasize the importance of the Church’s spiritual interiority or “inwardness.” This is one very clear way in which Kierkegaard’s critique of Christendom continues to apply to the contemporary church. Many modern churches–especially those focussed upon evangelism, cultural engagement, and social action–are primarily focussed on their exteriority. Whilst such outward activities remain perennially essential to the Church’s mission, there is a modern tendency for a perpetually external focus to undermine the spiritual integrity of the Church’s “interior” life.

The spiritual impulses germane to Kierkegaard’s semi-pietistic leanings (such as contemplation, prayer, virtue formation, etc.) are easily lost in the perpetual pursuit of public statements, marketing strategies, congregational numbers, financial budgets, and reputational safeguarding. Perpetually outward-facing inclinations may appear “missional” but too often resemble the problem Kierkegaard saw in the perpetually “public” trajectory of Christendom, where social perception trumped spiritual integrity. Kierkegaard even saw this problem manifest in the very architecture of churches:

Even our churches express how superficial and externalized everything becomes. When one enters one of the old churches with those closed pews, with the old gallery, one unconsciously gets an impression of how much can lie hidden in a man’s deep inwardness––of which those closed pews were indeed a symbol. But now everything is a lounge; churches are also built this way nowadays. It is awkward and bad taste for someone to have an interior life of his own; it is an affectation––“Why should he have something like that for himself”––no, we are a public.[35]

Kierkegaard saw that even the trappings of ecclesial furniture can speak of formerly vital existential-ecclesial practices now dormant, with the old closed pews now a physical relic of bygone existential fervour. This critique chimes in with the many ways interiority is forgotten in contemporary market-driven churches, where indeed “everything is a lounge” in the effort to maximise attendance at the expense of existential participation. Here we see how Kierkegaard’s “individualism” differs radically from that of modernity.

Perhaps more clearly than any other modern theological thinker, Kierkegaard highlights what can go awry existentially and ecclesiologically when individual decision is subsumed into the ideal of “the crowd.”[36] Kierkegaardian individualism is built upon the call for subjective confession of faith upon which Christ built builds his Church (cf. Matt. 16:16–18). The Church is tempted to diminish the implications of its confession in different ways in every generation. Whether faced by the ruthless threat of the Assyrian sword or the charming invitation to the Babylonian banquet, she is perpetually enticed to forsake the cost of discipleship for something more temporally rewarding.[37] This is the poison from which any vision of Christendom is never too far away.

Evangelicals presently animated with rehabilitated visions for Christendom (or something like it) need not be entirely discouraged.[38] To reinhabit the Church’s socio-political frontiers with Christ’s lordship ought not mean an automatic sleepwalk into worldly compromise. But Kierkegaard is here to warn any Christendomian venturers about the perennial temptations awaiting them if and when such visions become “realised.” If our eternal hope becomes realisable entirely in the realm of the “seen,” our faith-filled vision for eternal unseen hope (cf. Heb. 11:1) will grow dim. And however militant, triumphant, or persecuted the Church may become in future decades, Kierkegaard’s inconvenient voice will always have something to say whenever we seem prone to forget what is truly at stake when the Church confesses its faith altogether and all at once: “The situation is this. If everyone around defines himself as being a Christian just like ‘the others,’ then no one, if it is looked at this way, is really confessing Christ.”[39] Whatever else Kierkegaard may or may not offer to the Church, awkward questions like this are those from which we the Church should never dare to graduate.

Aaron Edwards is an academic theologian, author, and preacher. He is the author of various academic articles and books, including A Theology of Preaching and Dialectic (T&T Clark, 2018), T&T Clark Companion to the Theology of Kierkegaard (T&T Clark, 2019) and Taking Kierkegaard back to Church (Cascade, 2022).

  1. Kierkegaard, Attack Upon Christendom, 1854–1855 ,trans. Walter Lowrie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1944), 139.

  2. Kierkegaard, Attack Upon Christendom, 59–60.

  3. Kierkegaard, Attack Upon Christendom, 268.

  4. Kierkegaard, Attack Upon Christendom, 269.

  5. Kierkegaard, Attack Upon Christendom, 262.

  6. See David R. Law, “Kierkegaard’s Anti-Ecclesiology: The Attack on Christendom, 1854–1855,” International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 7 (2007), 86–108.

  7. Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, trans. E. C. Hoskyns, 6th ed (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), 276.

  8. The most notable negative reading of this kind was Francis Schaeffer, one of the most influential evangelical voices of his generation, who once questioned whether Kierkegaard was even a “real” Christian at all. See Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 22. Although Schaeffer later revised his view, seeing the value of Kierkegaard’s devotional writings, he nonetheless saw Kierkegaard’s thought as an essential separation between faith and reason. For Schaeffer, Kierkegaard’s thought catalysed the modern existentialist “turn” which had led to the many erosions of objective truth with which Schaeffer was contending in the mid-late twentieth century.

  9. Søren Kierkegaard, Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, vols. 1–6, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967–78). 2:1923, 364.

  10. Kierkegaard, Journals and Papers 2:1405, 123.

  11. Søren Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 348.

  12. Søren Kierkegaard, Søren, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, vol. 1, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 614.

  13. Søren Kierkegaard, The Point of View, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 17.

  14. Kierkegaard, Point of View, 16.

  15. Kierkegaard, Point of View, 47.

  16. Søren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 143.

  17. Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity, 144.

  18. Kierkegaard, Point of View, 16.

  19. Kierkegaard, Journals and Papers 3:3157, 446.

  20. See Aaron P. Edwards, “Kierkegaard the Preacher” in T&T Clark Companion to the Theology of Kierkegaard, ed. Aaron P. Edwards and David J. Gouwens (London: T&T Clark, 2020), 140–145.

  21. Kierkegaard, Journals and Papers 3:3737, 733.

  22. Harvey Cox, The Secular City: Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspective (London: SCM, 1965), 91.

  23. See Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, ed. Michael Warner et al (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010).

  24. See Jason A. Mahn, Becoming a Christian in Christendom: Radical Discipleship and the Way of the Cross in America’s “Christian” Culture (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2016), 3–27.

  25. See Tilley’s fairly open-ended construal of Kierkegaard’s view of Christendom: “a geographical and sociological construct that misunderstands the church, faith, and how a Christian ought to relate to the world.” J. Michael Tilley, “Christendom” in Kierkegaard’s Concepts, vol. 1, Absolute to Church, ed. Steven M. Emmanuel et al (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2014), 210.

  26. Michael Hampson, Last Rites: The End of the Church of England (London: Granta, 2006), 15–17.

  27. Joseph Boot, Ruler of Kings: Toward a Christian Vision of Government (London: Wilberforce Publications, 2022), 144.
  28. Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 243–44.

  29. See, for example, Stuart Murray, Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2004), 217–50.

  30. James K.A. Smith, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 162–63.

  31. Søren Kierkegaard, For Self-Examination and Judge for Yourself!, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), 15.

  32. For a representative example of the negative view from a Kierkegaardian perspective, see Westphal: “Today’s task is different. But not entirely. For after Christendom is not the same as before Christendom. Remnants or traces of that Christendom still exist, and…there is a strong nostalgia for a Christendom partly remembered and partly imagined. What Kierkegaard helps us see is that theology need not mourn the steady demise of Christendom. Whatever advantages it may have brought to the Christian churches came at a high price. Too high.” Merold Westphal, “Kierkegaard, Theology, and Post-Christendom” in T&T Clark Companion to the Theology of Kierkegaard, 507.

  33. Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity, 223.

  34. See my reflections on radical inculturated proclamation in Aaron P. Edwards,“Secular Apathy and the Public Paradox of the Gospel: Towards Radical Inculturated Proclamation,” International Journal of Public Theology 13 (2019), 413–31.

  35. Kierkegaard, Journals and Papers 1:594, 241.

  36. See Kierkegaard, Journals and Papers 2:2078, 438.

  37. Notably, Kierkegaard’s critique of Lutheran Christendom and his focus on true discipleship had no small influence on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology of discipleship and even his ecclesiology. See Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church, ed. Clifford J. Green, trans. Reinhard Krauss and Nancy Lukens (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009), 249.

  38. See for example, Douglas Wilson, Mere Christendom (Moscow: Canon Press, 2023).

  39. Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity, 219.


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