How Do You Know What You Know? (A Brief Examiniation of the Life and Theology of Faith of Soren A. Kierkegaard)

Introduction

Perhaps the most important Christian characteristic on this side of heaven is faith. The Apostle Paul taught that any action with the negation of faith is displeasing to God. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Romans 14:23. Paul also teaches that we are “justified” by faith in Romans 5:1. We learn in the Holy Scriptures that it is by grace alone through faith alone that one is saved (Eph. 2:8-9). And the writer of Hebrews instructs the church that “without faith it is impossible to please Him [God]” Hebrew 11:6a. Needless to say, faith is not important for life, it is crucial.
However, some would argue that the Biblical view of faith has been hijacked by philosophers and is now being presented incorrectly all across the Western World. This paper is intended to serve in presenting a Biblical lifeview of faith in light of Kierkegaard’s presentation of what faith is. The thesis of this paper is, “Kierkegaard’s view of faith is deficient for the health of the church.”

A Biblical Lifeview of faith

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1. Here is the most accurate definition of faith one can find for it is directly from the lips of God. This is God’s dictionary definition of the word faith. John Calvin working off of this definition takes it apart well and defines faith as,
“A firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us, founded upon the truth of the freely-given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”

The writer of Hebrews uses the word “assurance” first when defining faith. The word assurance has the same connotation or idea of certainty or knowledge accompanied by a deep affection that molds and shapes the man’s view of life and therefore his actions. What is this certainty in? It is in “things hoped for.” It is obvious that the hope here being talked about is significantly more than the wishful hope often spoken of today in contemporary speech. The hoping in this promise is certain! The one believing in this promise is assured at the deepest core of himself of what he is hoping for.
But an important question needs to be asked here, “what is the person’s hope based upon?” In Hebrews it is clear that the person’s hope is not based upon simply what that person desires or longs for, but rather the person’s longing and desires are shaped and magnified by the revelation of God speaking. In other words, God tells Abraham His plan for him and Abraham forms a deep conviction, longing, and hope in what is promised by God’s word. So faith is based upon propositional truths promised, “things hoped for,” from God. Faith is based upon evidences from God which are communicated to His audience two-fold. Externally in the objective truth (God’s word) man is convicted.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness. To bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but he came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:6-9)

Internally by the convicting of the Holy Spirit which is based upon the external, we are convinced. For it (God’s word) is what He (the Holy Spirit) is communicating internally. “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness,” John 15:26-27 (italics added for emphasis). “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Romans 8:16 (italics added for emphasis).
So, although faith causes one to drastically change one’s lifestyle to crucify the now in assurance of the hope of tomorrow, it does not mean faith is irrational or merely subjective. For it is more proper to think of faith as the (spiritual) eyes of man that see life as God sees it. Man with faith, actually is seeing (faithing?) logically. We see this in numerous texts. Ephesians 1:17-19a states:
[T]hat the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe… (italics added for emphasis).
In the Old Testament it states the LORD appeared to Samuel “by the Word of the LORD” (I Samuel 3:21). There seems to be a “seeing” done that is not done with our eyes! This is what faith is, Biblically speaking. This can also be proven when looking at the antithesis of faith. Paul equates unbelief as being “blinded”, not seeing, or in the dark, while the believer is equated as not blinded and in the light. Paul states in II Corinthians 4:3-4, 6:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing (or believing) in the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (Italics added for emphasis and parenthesis added for argument).

Scripture is also clear that God thinks orderly, structurally, and logically. This can be most simply displayed in the law. Take for example the law to “not bear false witness” Exodus 20:16. This essentially is similar to rational laws. A is not non-A. Or stealing (Exodus 20:15), because God states that it is wrong for someone to take something that is not theirs. Essentially the person is saying this thing is not my thing and it is my thing. In fact, all of ethics and logic exist because those things flow from God’s nature and therefore, He demands that we act and think as He does.
One objection must be dealt with before moving forward. If faith comes from revelation (Romans 10:17) and all are given revelation from God (Romans 1:18-20) why do not all have faith (John 6:36)? One reason is that not all have been given enough revelation to save them but only to damn them (Romans 1:18-32).
Secondly, earlier it was stated that faith is based upon evidence from God that is revealed both externally and internally. In other words faith in the evidence/revelation from God must be granted to man from God. Faith is a gift of God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV, italics added for emphasis). “…And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18b, italics added for emphasis). “And when the Gentiles heard this (the Gospel), they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48, italics and parentheses added for emphasis). I Thessalonians 2:13 says, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the Word of God, which is at work in you believers.” As God (Jesus) had to open the eyes of the man born blind (John 9) due to the fall of man, so also it requires a miracle of God for one to believe.
Typically man thinks that there is evidence that is neutral and from that common ground man can build up enough arguments that will cause the evidence to way in his favor. However, this is contrary to what the Bible teaches. There is no such thing as neutral ground. The whole earth is the LORD’s and everything in it. All things exist and come from God (Romans 11:35-36; Colossians 1:16-17 ), so there is no such thing as neutral evidence. All evidence is arguing that God is and that He has spoken. The problem is not the evidence; the problem is the rebellious heart of man who is not willing to receive counsel from God. Romans 1:18b-20 states,
… who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Italics added for emphasis)

This is why the Bible calls this man a fool. “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1).
So faith though it is affectionate, it is not merely nor based upon emotions or deep convictions. But is based upon, and possesses, objective truth which stimulates the experience of deep conviction in what is promised by God in His word.

Kierkegaard’s view of faith

Soren Aaby Kierkegaard lived from 1813-1855. He was born in Copenhagen, and was the seventh child of his mother. Kierkegaard is difficult to understand when reading him. Many today disagree on what exactly he believed. For years many have thought him of being an existentialist. Some have gone so far as to refer to him as the Father of modern existentialism. Although this maybe controversial, this paper will take the traditional stance that Kierkegaard was indeed an existentialist. This being said, it is possible to have misunderstood Kierkegaard for Brown notes,
In its own way Kierkegaard’s writing is no less difficult to follow than Hegel’s, but for a different reason. Hegel just did not bother to express himself plainly. Kierkegaard deliberately sets out to be tortuous. For to him truth is not something objective that can be handed out on a plate. It is only discovered personally and subjectively in the course of long and sometimes painful self-analysis. And in order to bring his reader to the desired goal, Kierkegaard often found it necessary to be devious.

The idea that Kierkegaard made his writing difficult does make good sense with the idea of Him being an existentialist. Kierkegaard definitely had the ability to be clear, but he wasn’t. This is largely one of the reasons this paper is taking the stance that Kierkegaard was an existentialist. Baker’s Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics also takes the viewpoint of Kierkegaard being an existentialist as well. This is not stated as an appeal to authority but rather to make the point that this seems to be the most common or normative understanding of Kierkegaard. Also, upon reading His journals it seems that this is indeed the stance he had of reality and truth. Kierkegaard writes, “It is perfectly true, isolated subjectivity is, in the opinion of the age, evil; but ‘objectivity’ as cure is not one whit better. The only salvation is subjectivity, i.e. God, as infinite compelling subjectivity.”
Again I could be misunderstanding him but I do not think I am. There are a number of quotes similar to this one which makes it too difficult to understand him any other way.
This is not to say Kierkegaard was all bad, but simply that he was an existentialist. Sproul when speaking of existentialism states, “In existentialism, becoming tends to swallow up being; the finite, the infinite; the temporal, the eternal; and secular, sacred.” In other words, stronger emphasis is placed upon becoming rather than essence or being.
Kierkegaard saw and taught that there were three stages to life. They were: Aesthetic Stage, pursuing sensuousness or in common vernacular “living life”; Ethical Stage, when that person experiences guilt and shame for moral principles broken; Religious Stage, where one gets there by leap of faith and so becomes passionate about obeying and loving him.
Here is where the question comes in, “what does Kierkegaard mean by leap of faith?” Perhaps the best book to understand what he meant is found in His book, Fear and Trembling.
In this book he deals with the account of Abraham being told by God to, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2) Schaeffer commenting on this book and Kierkegaard stating, “Kierkegaard said this was an act of faith with nothing rational to base it on or to which to relate it. Out of this came the modern concept of a “leap of faith” and the total separation of the rational and faith.” Schaeffer attempts to explain this idea of faith and reason as dichotic. He explains,
Modern man is a dichotomy. By dichotomy we mean a total separation into two reciprocally exclusive orders, with no unity or relationship between them. The dichotomy here is the total separation between the area of meaning and values, and the area of reason. Reason leading to despair must be kept totally separate from the blind optimism of non-reason. This makes a lower and an upper story, with the lower story of reason leading to pessimism and men trying to find optimism in an upper story devoid of reason.

And here lies within the problem of Kierkegaard’s view of faith for the health of the church. It is not to say that Kierkegaard did not believe in reason or logic but rather there is no connection between the intellect and the faith of a man. This is what Schaeffer means by the “upper story” and “lower story.” Faith, in other words, is not reasonable. Faith is in its own category. Faith, although it may have ideas being trusted in, is foolish. And yet, faith is the more admirable attribute.

Problems with Kierkegaard’s view of faith

One may ask, “Well what is the problem with this view of faith, because one is still trusting in the promises of God?” There are three problems with this view which will hinder the health of the church.
First, this view of faith asks man to deny the very way God made him. God is a thinking being. And we see in Scripture that God has also made man a thinking being. This is shown in something as simple as Adam exorcising dominion over the earth by naming all the animals in the garden (Genesis 2:20). God also speaks to Adam and expects from him to be able to comprehend and obey what God commands him(Genesis 2:16-17). Man is a thinking, rational creature. This is the way God has made him. In fact this is largely how man relates to God.
The point being made is that Kierkegaardian faith is not allowing a harmony and functionality of man fully and completely relating to God. Rather the rational relation to God is only a stage of life (the second stage in Kierkegaard’s three) for the man and merely a stepping stone to leave the rational and to leap to the faith stage.
In other words, man is to relate to God on a rational basis but is truly called to leave the rational (pessimistic) and live truly in relating to God non-rationally (optimistic). Perhaps Kierkegaard is simply “fleshing out” the common idea that the “heart” and “mind” of man are distinct. That the two are not only ever meant to work together but are entirely separate (the upper = heart and lower story = mind).
However, this is not what Scripture teaches. Rather the heart and mind of man are seen as interchangeable. Scripture teaches that man: loves, speaks, understands, wishes, meditates, trusts, plans, imagines, grows in wisdom, devises, directs, and deceives all from the heart (Duet. 6:5; 7:17; Job 17:4, 11; Ps. 44; 28:7; 33:11; 73:7; Pr. 2:10; 6:18). All of these actions speak of a perfect harmony of the heart and mind of man. In fact, many of the Hebrew and Greek words are the same for “heart” and “mind.” The point is that Scripture seems to teach the affections and the rational of man work together and not independently. So Biblically man is never called to leave the rational to believe. This is not to say that rational and faith are mutually the same. One may have faith and not all his questions answered. But rather that rational and faith work cooperatively.
The second problem with Kierkegaard’s view of faith is that this idea calls faith to function in a way it was never called to function. Jerram Barrs states:
We do not need to say to the unbeliever, “Don’t ask questions – just believe!” We do not need to say when a Christian has struggles and doubts, “Just pray harder!” Francis Schaeffer would say, “If you try to load every doubt, objection, and question on the donkey of devotion – eventually the donkey will lay down and die, for it is being asked to bear a load God never intended it to bear.”

This analogy wonderfully communicates the real problem here with a dichotic view of faith and reason. It calls for faith to labor without its partner, reason. Eventually the faith of the person may grow weary and die.
This is exactly the opposite of Kierkegaard’s intention when he fought for this view of faith. In fact, he was fighting against the dead faith of many. However, in an age of modern philosophy and many question unanswered he turned to this response: “faith is optimistic while reason is pessimistic.” But by thinking this way Kierkegaard seems to be presupposing that all truth is not God’s truth. Or that truth cannot be known. The latter is what Kierkegaard seems to believe from his writings.
Perhaps Kierkegaard positioned too much weight in philosophy and less weight in the Scriptures. Colossians 2:8 warns Christians of this danger, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”(Italics added for emphasis).
If Kierkegaard did not place so much weight in philosophy maybe he would have realized that truth all though transcendent, has a voice. Truth speaks! The eternal Son of God is the truth in flesh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1; 14. Italics added for emphasis). And this Son of God has spoken, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and now is here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25 Italics added for emphasis). And this Son of God is truth with a capital “t.” “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” (John 14:6 italics added for emphasis). And finally, Jesus in His High Priestly prayer asks of the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth. Your Word is truth.” (John 17:17 italics added for emphasis). In other words this truth is to be known and understood and therefore changes us.
Again, the problem is not that there is not rational evidence for faith in God and His promises, but rather the rebellious heart that refuses to acknowledge the “clearly perceived” evidence given. Unbelief is not rooted in ignorance as much as it is in stubbornness. In other words, the problem is not as though it does not make sense to believe in God, but rather man is sinful and is unwilling to believe. Even the Christian has indwelling sin and so, has to fight and wage war with his flesh; that strives to make him unbelieving.
This leads into the third reason why Kierkegaardian faith is deficient for the health of the church. Practiced out, this view of faith will eventually call for the man to make one of two choices: live in a way that is completely irrational and mindless, or become a coward and reluctant to obey God.
The first is because of the separation made between faith and reason. The second because without reason one cannot possess faith with true deep conviction. Of these two options, the latter is more plausible. The first, although exist hypothetically, does not seem to be able to truly be real as a practical option. This does not mean that none will attempt this route. When considering faith Bahnsen states, “Some people have been so misled as to feel that Christians actually elevate the value of one’s personal faith in direct proportion to the degree that it must be dubious, blind, or mystical.” This kind of faith demands for man to step out of the reality God has placed him in.
The fruit of this vision of faith is apathy. This is fundamentally because passion is based upon understanding. Abraham was “fully convinced” of the promises of YAHWEH (Romans 4:21); this is what leads Abraham to do extraordinary sacrifices like the offering of his dearly loved son. Hodge comments on Romans 4:21 stating:
Giving glory to God; that is, the strength was manifested in his giving glory to God. To give glory to God, is to take him to be what he really is, almighty and faithful. It is to show by our conduct that we give him credit, (so to speak,) that he will and can do what he says. Therefore the apostle adds, and being fully persuaded; that is he gave glory to God by being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform.

Kierkegaard looks at this account and perceives the tossing and turning and fight to obey God as the coming to the truth. Rather the truth being the driving force that causes him to submit. He literally turns the episode on its head. Abraham already believed the promises (15:6). Waltke defined faith in this context as: “‘Believed’, the Hebrew is better translated ‘trusted.’ Abraham considers God true, reliable, and trustworthy.”
However, Abraham was fighting to grow in his faith for the commitment it demanded. This does not mean Abraham was irrationally obeying the call of God. Abraham was commanded by the God to sacrifice his son that God provided through a nearly dead wife (Genesis 18:11; Hebrews 11:12). Knowing what Scripture teaches Abraham had plenty of rational reasons to obey God and trust Him with the outcome. Indeed, in Hebrews we find that Abraham believed that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead. “He (Abraham) considered that God was able to even raise him from the dead,” Hebrews 11:19a (Italics added for emphasis). Again, this was not a foolish thing to think, Abraham had good reason to believe this. This is not to undermine the sacrifice Abraham made, but rather to demonstrate that faith works with reason.
This is the point of the book of Hebrews. The writer is given propositional statement after another concerning Jesus and His work. The point is to stimulate the listeners to live radical, risk-taking lives! Their recompense is not here on earth but after death, which they cannot make out with their physical eyes. So the author paints them a depiction with terminology that would communicate to the “eyes of their heart” that these things are true! “Therefore let us go to Him outside the camp and bear the reproach He endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:13-14.

Where did Kierkegaard go wrong?

Kierkegaard lived in the time of the rise of modern man. This cannot be forgotten when reading and seeking to understand Kierkegaard. Since Kant, philosophers have strived to know how to interact with the “noumenal world.” The noumenal world for lack of better words is reality, as it truly is. The “phenomenal world” is the world one experiences. How does one interact truly with the noumenal, and if one does, how does he know he did? This is the foundation for Kierkegaard’s lower and upper floors. Kierkegaard agreed that there was no way of truly knowing how to get from the phenomenal to the noumenal. This is why one must take a “leap of faith.”
Faith in Kierkegaard’s mind was the way from traveling between the two worlds. This is where Kierkegaard makes another oversight. Kierkegaard seemingly confuses faith with its fruit. In other words, faith is faithfulness. This makes sense however, because, Kierkegaard was an existentialist. As quoted earlier by Sproul, the existentialist places a bigger or unhealthy emphasis on becoming over being. In this case, what faith is is swallowed up by what it does.
J. Gresham Machen comments on this topic in his book “What is Faith?” “We believe that Christianity flourishes not in the darkness, but in the light.” He also stated concerning revival that, “one of the means which the Spirit will use…is an awakening of the intellect.” Perhaps it is this confusion of what faith actually is that has lead to so many false doctrines such as: Liberal Theology, Emergent Theology, New Perspective on Paul, and others. As stated earlier in this paper, faith is crucial. So when faith is misunderstood, one can be sure that it will not be long before many other fundamentals of the faith begin to get tempered with.

What to take from Kierkegaard.

Kierkegaard was a brilliant man who struggled deeply with the contemporary thoughts of his day. He was an apologist seeking to defend the Christian faith. Men like Kant and Hegel had left devastating blows to the church and this perhaps left Kierkegaard a little dumbfounded. His response to these two skeptics was an intelligent system to abandon reason. Kierkegaard saw in his day perhaps only evil come from skepticism and reasoning. Kant had left man in the dark, with no door handle or light switch. The churches in Europe had become largely lethargic and unmoved and he desired to see the church rise up with passion and life.
His response to this was the upper floor. There was a better floor up and one had to take a leap to get there. This leap could not be done with reasoning or logical formulas.
Kierkegaard exhibited trust in God in a time when perhaps it was most difficult and for this he should be commended. He rose up and spoke like a prophet in many ways against the sins of his time. Sadly, he failed to see where his ideas would take the Western world. Today, many Christians are following in the same footsteps as Kierkegaard and sadly, not learning from his mistakes.

Conclusion

This paper has sought to present a research and presentation of the life and views of faith according to Soren Kierkegaard. This paper has also presented the Biblical lifeview of faith in response to the inadequacies of Kierkegaardian faith.
The truths learned and gathered from the examination of nature and life of faith cannot be overstressed. Martin Luther gave his life recover the meaning of one word that word was “repentance.” For after a long age of darkness, God was gracious to shine the light once more in the common language of the people. Perhaps God will allow for His light to shine brightly on the proper definition of the other side of the coin for that word, that is, “faith.”
May the LORD rise up men and women who hunger and thirst for righteousness and preach faithfully the Gospel of Jesus Christ! That salvation is: in Christ alone, through faith alone, by grace alone, revealed authoritatively through scripture alone, for the glory of God (the Father of faith, truth, and speech) alone! It is then, and only then, that light will, once more, break forth into yet another revival. This is my hearts desire, even so, “Come Lord Jesus, Come!” (Revelation 22:20b-21).

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One thought on “How Do You Know What You Know? (A Brief Examiniation of the Life and Theology of Faith of Soren A. Kierkegaard)

  1. Usually I don’t read post on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up was very compelling for me to check out! Your writing has amazed me. Thanks for a very great post.

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