Recently I have had more than passing thoughts about the importance (or lack thereof) of doctrine to living the life of a Christian. The tomes of theology do not seem to bring me any closer to acting on charity, compassion, mercy, justice, or love. If it is less important to pass on in-depth theology than to model the life of Christ, what then is the role of preaching to Christians? Why do Christians sit and listen to it every week?
Christ did not establish any doctrine; he acted. He did not teach that there was redemption, he redeemed. Christ’s relationship to God, nature, and the human situation was conditioned by his activity. Everything else is to be regarded only as introduction.
I have been reading Provocations – spiritual writings of Kierkegaard off and on for the last 6 months (warning, PDF download). It really is provocative, and I cannot read too much at a time. The goal of much of his writing is to incite the reader to choose, and to force the reader into self-examination. This makes it a book that cannot easily be read straight through.
Kierkegaard was famous for his “Attack on Christendom” and as such, is often dismissed by modern Christians as a “non-Christian”. He is also sometimes called the father of Existentialism, although he would burn with anger if he were alive to hear it. Kierkegaarg’s central passion was to “make people aware of what is essentially Christian.” His aim was to provoke the individual to become a true individual. He did not think much of intellectual enlightenment, and rather sought to evoke inward change.
He lived in a “Christian” country, where the Church leaders were wealthy, owned land, and held political clout. People were born into church, and church was just a part of life. Everyone went to church, but it did not necessitate a change in behavior. Kierkegaard reacted to a culture that studied, lectured on, and talked about God and the Christian life, yet did not seem to imitate Christ. It is in this that I find resonance.
So I will begin posting a quote from the book, and maybe a little bit of response. Here is the first:
This is Christianity: Let a person begin seriously to realize his need for Christ. Let him literally give all his fortune to the poor, literally love his neighbor, and so forth, and he will soon learn to need Christ. Christianity is a suit that at first glance seems attractive enough, but as soon as you actually put it on — then you must have Christ’s help in order to live in it.
Everything that needs numbers in order to become significant is by that very fact insignificant. Everything that can be arranged, executed, completed only with the help of numbers, the sum of which startles people in amazement, as if this were something important – precisely this is unimportant. The truly important is inversely related, needs a progressively smaller and smaller number to implement its completion. And for the most important of all, that which sets heaven and earth in motion, only one person is needed. And what is most important of all? What interests angels and demons most is that a person is actu- ally involved with God – for this one single human being is enough.
Provocations are taken from Provocations: The Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard