Wednesday, August 21, 2013

On reading Kierkegaard: Information vs. Transformation

I've been reading Kierkegaard's Works of Love for the last few weeks. It's a slow read, but only because it is incredibly dense in the best possible way--a great book to bring on a backpacking expedition and read before sunrise by a mountain lake (speaking from experience). The blurb on the back says it is "the kind of book that will change your life", and so far I agree. Kierkegaard's meditations on the Biblical teaching about love and the distinctness of Christian love are equal parts beautiful, enlightening, and convicting. Dozens of quotes I've underlined could spark their own subsequent posts. Maybe they will.

What most impresses me about Kierkegaard is how he is able to take a short Bible passage--like Jesus' command to love your neighbor--and expound on it for dozens of pages, examining it from every angle and laying out its manifold meanings in a way that prevents any possibility of escape. It's a vivid proof-by-demonstration of how the word of God is "living and active" (Hebrews 4:12), its meaning and applicability never confined to a few terse words on a page.

I think I'm unhealthily obsessed on this blog with thinking things that no one has thought before, or saying things that no one has ever said before. I take X common question or Y discussion in the Christian blogosphere and try to take a step or two back from everyone else, trying to nail that one crucial insight that no one thought of so the conversation will be transformed and everyone will fall silent and think I'm brilliant (or something like that). I'm never content to just "pick a side" on virtually anything, not without at least tweaking it first. At best this response-oriented approach is interesting and eye-opening; at worst, it is smug, denigrating, and utterly lacking in Christian love.

But Kierkegaard has been a poignant reminder that we really need is not new information at all, but inward transformation through the 2000-year-old message of Christianity. The words of the Bible don't help us if we keep them confined to neat theological systems out of a need for control via certainty and complete understanding; they must take root in us and grow into fruit we bear in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23). Kierkegaard's meditations are like watching this growing process in action as he takes the simple words of Jesus and Paul pertaining to love and powerfully demonstrates how they are to pervade every corner of our lives. Excessively focusing on Christian truths merely as information can lead us to forget that they are supposed to be arrows that pierce our very souls. When that happens, I'm thankful for authors like Kierkegaard to remind me of the truth.

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