Kierkegaard and the Common Bible

Are any of you familiar with the writings of Søren Kierkegaard? He was a deep Christian thinker and writer who lived not so long ago. Among his best known works is Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. In his journals, as quoted on Per Crucem ad Lucem, he says the following:

Fundamentally a reformation which did away with the Bible would now be just as valid as Luther’s doing away with the Pope. All that about the Bible has developed a religion of learning and law, a mere distraction. A little of that knowledge has gradually percolated to the simplest classes so that no one any longer reads the Bible humanly. As a result it does immeasurable harm; where life is concerned its existence is a fortification of excuses and escapes; for there is always something one has to look into first of all, and it always seems as though one had first of all to have the doctrine in perfect form before one could begin to live that is to say, one never begins.

Christendom has long been in need of a hero who, in fear and trembling before God, had the courage to forbid people to read the Bible.

If you aren’t familiar with Kierkegaard, you might be inclined to think he doesn’t value the Bible or take it seriously. In fact, he valued it highly. There is, of course, a context for this quote, just as there is a context for many Bible verses we sometimes read out of context.

We talk a lot about Scripture, maybe even quote it (and that, I have to admit, is better than not talking about it at all), but sometimes make it out to be what it isn’t. The Bible sometimes becomes an end in itself, so much God’s word that we don’t need God himself. We may look at the Bible like a scientifist, forming a hypothesis and then looking to find a verse that appears to support it, so we can then use that verse to support whatever we are arguing at the time.

Kierkegaard, among others, wrote about meditating and reflecting on God, the One Thing, with Scripture being a tool in that regard to get to know God better. Today, we often lose our sense of wonder for life, the mystery in the Bible, and our awe of God. As Kierkegaard also says, “The problem is not to understand Christianity but to understand that it cannot be understood.” We reduce our ‘faith’ into a manageable ideology and God and the Bible along with it. We come to think we know the Bible, God, and ourselves, and sometimes stop there. The Bible simply becomes a manual, dissected and categorized…and yes, I disagree with the notion that the Bible is primarily a handbook, manual, or guidebook. It’s worth noting that the parts of the Bible that most resemble a rulebook (Leviticus) and history (Chronicles) are among the least read and quoted portions of the Bible.

As Kierkegaard says, we need to read the Bible more humanly, with all that we are, to reflect on it, really reflect on it and absorb it, to let God speak through it to us, and to make not the Bible, but God, our focus.

That, in its simplicity, asks a lot from us…

One thought on “Kierkegaard and the Common Bible”

  1. Joshua Keel says:

    Thanks for this. I was just discussing the role of Scripture in our lives with a friend last night. I really need to read some Kierkegaard.

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