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Barrett, Lee C. [Ed.]
T & T Clark Reader in Kierkegaard as Theologian.
London u. a.: Bloomsbury T & T Clark 2018. IX, 285 S. Kart. £ 29,99. ISBN 978-0-567-67038-0.
Anthologies have long played an important role in introducing new readers to Kierkegaard. Gottsched’s 1905 selection from the journals, Das Buch des Richters, played a major role in the reception of Kierkegaard’s thought in the German-speaking world. Different collections have inevitably given very different emphases. Like Gottsched’s, Alexander Dru’s selection from the Journals brings out the Romantic-existential Kierkegaard, whilst Ronald Gregor Smiths’ The Last Years focuses on the late Kierkegaard’s attack on the established Church. The specific aim of Lee C. Barrett’s Kierkegaard as Theologian is clear from the title – although, as B. states in the opening sentence, »Any book that attempts to present Kierkegaard’s work as an exercise in theology requires some explanation and justification, for Kierkegaard’s writings do not resemble anything remotely like a collection of standard theological texts« (1). For this reason the first section is devoted to texts illustrating »Kierkegaard’s Elusive Theological Style« and draws attention to the whole complex of issues around the Dane’s strategy of indirect communication.
As B. points out, instead of offering definitions and systematic expositions of theological concepts, Kierkegaard’s writings often have a more ›literary‹ feel (19). Yet, unavoidably, the editorial steer means that readers will not encounter many passages marked by Kierkegaard’s own engagement with literature and the arts, wheth-er as critic or novelist, nor much evidence of the introspective soul-searching that yielded some of his most sensitive psychological analyses – not to mention his critical response to modern culture and politics. But that is not B.’s task and one could easily turn the criticism round and argue that to read Kierkegaard without being attentive to his theological concerns is to miss something essen-tial– and for those who are persuaded that they must school themselves in this side of his thought, B.’s collection is an extremely helpful starting-point.
Each section and each text within sections has an editorial introduction. Sections are rounded off with questions encouraging further reflection. From the opening section on style, B. proceeds through »Knowing and Experiencing God«, »The Christian Life and the Human Journey«, the »edifying possibilities« of sin, »Salvation as Human Task and Divine Gift«, Jesus Christ and the new way of life consequent on the revelation of God in Christ, the dialectic of faith and love and, lastly, Christendom and the Church.
As several of these titles indicate, B. is keenly attentive to the way in which a Kierkegaardian theology stands at and tests the limits of its Protestant heritage. A guiding thread is that theology, starting with the very concept of God, does not »make sense« apart from »a nexus of personal hopes, longings, and fears« – Christian life is a »passional life« (43). As such, the Christian self is »a pilgrim, always restless, and perpetually in motion« (97) and it is from the perspective of Christian life as lived in passion that doctrines such as sin, salvation, and Christology are to be understood and appraised.
Crucial for a Protestant theological reckoning with Kierkegaard is the question of grace and works and B. (who is also author of a well-regarded monograph on Kierkegaard and Augustine), situates Kierkegaard in relation to the Augustine-Pelagius debate. How-ever, he judges that, once more, it is from the exigency of the Chris-tian life itself both »to rely upon God« and »to diligently strive« (178) that a Kierkegaardian approach proceeds. Both here and with regard to the theme of discipleship (where the encounter with Christ is said to »make available a new way of life, including a new set of emotions and passions« ), critics may see Kierkegaard as leaning to Pelagianism, but B. shows him as attempting to do jus-tice to the inseparable experiential givens of dependence on God and the need for striving. The same pattern emerges in relation to faith and love where, again, some might see Kierkegaard as effec-tively downgrading faith in relation to love. But, as B. explains, what is at issue is accounting for »two countervailing passions: rejoicing in God’s free forgiveness apart from all human works and joyful striving to enact love for God and neighbour« (249).
Finally, B. comes to the potential »scandal« of Kierkegaard’s vitriolic attack on the Church, concluding that »Kierkegaard was not so much disillusioned with the doctrines and liturgies of the Church as he was with its personnel« (265).
Broadly, this is a timely and useful collection. It is my own ex-perience in teaching that undergraduate students are less and less equipped with the relevant cultural tools for plunging directly into Kierkegaard’s works. Basically, he scares them off – and this is as true of theological students (who might be expected to recognize his bib-lical and doctrinal concerns) as with those who come with minimal knowledge of Christian life and doctrine. Perhaps – as my opening remarks about anthologies might suggest – it has always been so. But, in any case, Kierkegaard as Theologian offers a valuable teaching support. It is clearly set out, B.’s editorial introductions are based on a solid and extensive familiarity with the sources, and the texts are well-chosen to match the themes. I value the fact that good use is made of the sometimes neglected devotional (or »upbuilding« or »edifying« works). I shall certainly add it to my student reading lists.
Even an anthologist must interpret and whilst B.’s interpreta-tion has much going for it, I would query the emphasis on Kierkegaardian faith being a matter of emotions and passions. As a corrective to a purely conceptual or philosophical reading this may be valid and these terms may help point us in the right direction. The problem is that contemporary ideas of what emotions and passions are may be significantly misleading and need qualifying in the light of such categories as ›affections‹, which may extend to emo-tions but also apply to mental and volitional states that are not in themselves emotional. There are also further issues to probe re-garding the nature of the attack on the Church. However, these are not perhaps problems with which the students for whom this work is destined will need to grapple.
A typo in the bibliography gives John Lippitt and myself un-earned credit for David Law’s Kierkegaard’s Kenotic Christology and this should be corrected in subsequent additions.