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Christianity & Existentialism

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Alright, we might as well have a thread to go to when discussing this sort of thing. For Arts and Faith references to date, looks like we already have threads [url="http://artsandfaith.com/index.php?showtopic=1231"]"Existential movies?"[/url] and [url="http://artsandfaith.com/index.php?showtopic=5291"]"Quote help! Did Kierkegaard say ... ?"[/url] Also for future reference, this separate topic has arisen out of the most recent discussion in the [url="http://artsandfaith.com/index.php?showtopic=4354&st=160"]Ordet[/url] thread, pretty much because the film makes the joke that Johannes became insane by studying Kierkegaard, and some A&F'ers view [i]Ordet[/i] as somehow promoting Kierkegaardian themes.

Just for clarification, I'm mostly interested in Christian Existentialism (since the atheist forms of existentialism as explored by the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus & Franz Kafka, [i]and[/i] turned to nihilism by the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, are more easily refuted). I understand that guys like Kierkegaard and Shestov would by no means reach the same conclusions of Sartre & Nietzsche, and that therefore, there is a form of existentialist philosophy that is inherently informed by the Christian beliefs of it's adherents. Christian existentialists, to my knowledge, would include the writing of Soren Kierkegaard, Lev Shestov, Karl Jaspers, and Karl Barth, among others. Obviously, these fellows do not always agree, but there are still certain and particular ideas advocated by all of them as a group, reacting against rationalist philosophy and theology.

Beginning -
[quote name='tenpenny' date='13 February 2011 - 10:54 AM' timestamp='1297623282' post='243619']
Anyway, yes, we probably should discuss this in some new thread, although another reason why I haven't tried to argue in detail on Kierkegaard's behalf, besides the untopicality of it in this thread and its flammabilty, is because I don't by any means consider myself an expert on Kierkegaard. I kinda, sorta, do consider myself one on Shestov, because I've spent a great deal of time reading and studying him, but these two thinkers are only similar, not identical.[/quote]
To be clear, I by no means consider myself an expert in philosophy or on any particular philosopher. I'm completely a layman on the topic who simply does a large amount of reading, and so out of many of each of the major philosophers, I've read one or two of their books. However, I don't think we have to be "experts" to benefit from discussing the ideas discussed by these men. And, if you read a book or two by one philosopher, I think you're qualified enough to explain whether you agree or disagree with that author's main points, and why.

As to the topic's flammability, simply don't worry about offending me, man. I can't remember the last time I let sarcastic or pointed or passionate remarks in a good rollicking theology/philosophy discussion offend my personal feelings (if that happened, I might as well forget about trying to think about anything at all). I'll do my best to take all your discussion comments in the spirit of I Corinthians 13:5 - not be easily provoked and slow to take offense. And, part of why I'm interested in the topic is it touches upon subject matter that I too am passionate about, but I do not mean to offend you or anyone here on anything we may happen to disagree about. The goal of discussion here is to learn, and at least for me personally, to help think through and figure some things out that I admittedly have not finished thinking through.

[quote]I think your knowledge of Shestov is shallow and probably skewed by the axe you have to grind - not meaning to sound rude here, but I think it's just a fact. I have a suspicion that the same [i]could[/i] be true of your knowledge of Kierkegaard, but I'm sure not the one who is qualified to make any judgment on that, like I am with Shestov. I know this may sound like I'm equivocating here, because I'm sure there are strong similarities between Kierkegaard and Shestov, but I come back to the fact that they are in fact two different thinkers. Also, it's worth pointing out that the amount of scholarly literature on Kierkegaard is vastly greater than that on Shestov, and thus far more time-consuming to get a handle on.[/quote]
Right, so you should at least be able to address concerns or disagreements others may have from reading Shestov. I refuse to believe we can't address specific ideas that could be contained in a single philosopher's book. For example, if I were to cite a single proposition from C.S. Lewis that you believe to be unBiblical, I do not believe that you would have to read "all of C.S. Lewis' works" in order to understand whether you'd agree or not with that single proposition. Having an axe to grind, btw, is not always a bad thing, but I'd also like to keep my knowledge from being skewed by bias at the same time.

[quote]With that very important qualification established, I did just find two articles on Kierkegaard's conception of subjectivity that might challenge your opinions on the subject, [url="http://www.quodlibet.net/articles/johnson-truth.shtml"]here[/url] and [url="http://www.nobts.edu/Faculty/ItoR/LemkeSW/Personal/kierkegaard.html"]here[/url]. Also, not to toot my own horn, but my series of eight posts on the Fall of Man, over at my blog [url="http://extravagantcreation.wordpress.com/category/fall-of-man-series-of-posts/"]here[/url] (the posts are listed in reverse chronological order - read them from the bottom up), lays out using lots of extended quotes the critique of rationality that Shestov, Dostoevski, etc., made in the context of the Fall. I have no illusions about changing your mind, but you might it interesting.[/quote]
Cool. I'll comment more after I've read all of that. For starters, if you, or anyone else friendly to Christian existentialistism, would like to explain how they believe existentialism is different or valueable to regular Christian theology, and/or how "rationalism" within Christianity is bad, that would be a good place to start. Just remember that I get that there are truths we can learn from these guys (or any philosopher, hell, there are even truths we can learn from reading Nietzsche), that doesn't mean that they didn't still make a name for themselves by advocating particular ideas. Ideas that are either consistent with Biblical Christianity or are not.

Again, just so you know what I'm working with, I have so far read Kierkegaard's [i][url="http://www.amazon.com/Philosophical-Fragments-S%C3%B6ren-Kierkegaard/dp/1449505899/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1297635449&sr=1-2-spell"]Philosophical Fragments[/url][/i] and [i][url="http://www.amazon.com/Concluding-Unscientific-Postscript-Philosophical-Kierkegaards/dp/0691020817/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1297635512&sr=1-1"]Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments[/url][/i], Shestov's [i][url="http://shestov.by.ru/dtn/dn_1.html"]The Philosophy of Tragedy, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche[/url] [/i]and about half of [i][url="http://www.amazon.com/Kierkegaard-existential-philosophy-Lev-Shestov/dp/0821400606/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1297635648&sr=1-3"]Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy[/url], [/i]and selections here and there from Karl Barth's [i][url="http://www.amazon.com/Church-Dogmatics-Karl-Barth/dp/1598564420/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1297635836&sr=1-1"]The Church Dogmatics[/url][/i] and Karl Jaspers' [i][url="http://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Existence-Works-Continental/dp/0812210107/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1297635876&sr=1-1"]Philosophy of Existence[/url][/i]. I've also read a few Nietzsche and Sartre books, not that that's too relevant here. I'm coming from a point of view where I've mostly agreed with what I've read of [url="http://www.amazon.com/History-Philosophy-7-Modern/dp/0385470444/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1297635316&sr=8-5"]Frederick Copleston[/url], C.S. Lewis and Norman Geisler, and mostly disagreed with every existentialist writer that I've ever read. I see what appears to be considerable Existentialist influence in the modern day church and it always seems harmful to me. I think that there are things to be learned and appreciated from reading these guys, but if I could, I would still kick their main ideas out of the pulpits ASAP. Edited by Persiflage

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[quote name='Persiflage' date='13 February 2011 - 02:32 PM' timestamp='1297636335' post='243630']
Alright, we might as well have a thread to go to when discussing this sort of thing. For Arts and Faith references to date, looks like we already have threads [url="http://artsandfaith.com/index.php?showtopic=1231"]"Existential movies?"[/url] and [url="http://artsandfaith.com/index.php?showtopic=5291"]"Quote help! Did Kierkegaard say ... ?"[/url] Also for future reference, this separate topic has arisen out of the most recent discussion in the [url="http://artsandfaith.com/index.php?showtopic=4354&st=160"]Ordet[/url] thread, pretty much because the film makes the joke that Johannes became insane by studying Kierkegaard, and some A&F'ers view [i]Ordet[/i] as somehow promoting Kierkegaardian themes.

Just for clarification, I'm mostly interested in Christian Existentialism (since the atheist forms of existentialism as explored by the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus & Franz Kafka, [i]and[/i] turned to nihilism by the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, are more easily refuted). I understand that guys like Kierkegaard and Shestov would by no means reach the same conclusions of Sartre & Nietzsche, and that therefore, there is a form of existentialist philosophy that is inherently informed by the Christian beliefs of it's adherents. Christian existentialists, to my knowledge, would include the writing of Soren Kierkegaard, Lev Shestov, Karl Jaspers, and Karl Barth, among others. Obviously, these fellows do not always agree, but there are still certain and particular ideas advocated by all of them as a group, reacting against rationalist philosophy and theology.

Beginning -
[quote name='tenpenny' date='13 February 2011 - 10:54 AM' timestamp='1297623282' post='243619']
Anyway, yes, we probably should discuss this in some new thread, although another reason why I haven't tried to argue in detail on Kierkegaard's behalf, besides the untopicality of it in this thread and its flammabilty, is because I don't by any means consider myself an expert on Kierkegaard. I kinda, sorta, do consider myself one on Shestov, because I've spent a great deal of time reading and studying him, but these two thinkers are only similar, not identical.[/quote]
To be clear, I by no means consider myself an expert in philosophy or on any particular philosopher. I'm completely a layman on the topic who simply does a large amount of reading, and so out of many of each of the major philosophers, I've read one or two of their books. However, I don't think we have to be "experts" to benefit from discussing the ideas discussed by these men. And, if you read a book or two by one philosopher, I think you're qualified enough to explain whether you agree or disagree with that author's main points, and why.

As to the topic's flammability, simply don't worry about offending me, man. I can't remember the last time I let sarcastic or pointed or passionate remarks in a good rollicking theology/philosophy discussion offend my personal feelings (if that happened, I might as well forget about trying to think about anything at all). I'll do my best to take all your discussion comments in the spirit of I Corinthians 13:5 - not be easily provoked and slow to take offense. And, part of why I'm interested in the topic is it touches upon subject matter that I too am passionate about, but I do not mean to offend you or anyone here on anything we may happen to disagree about. The goal of discussion here is to learn, and at least for me personally, to help think through and figure some things out that I admittedly have not finished thinking through.

[quote]I think your knowledge of Shestov is shallow and probably skewed by the axe you have to grind - not meaning to sound rude here, but I think it's just a fact. I have a suspicion that the same [i]could[/i] be true of your knowledge of Kierkegaard, but I'm sure not the one who is qualified to make any judgment on that, like I am with Shestov. I know this may sound like I'm equivocating here, because I'm sure there are strong similarities between Kierkegaard and Shestov, but I come back to the fact that they are in fact two different thinkers. Also, it's worth pointing out that the amount of scholarly literature on Kierkegaard is vastly greater than that on Shestov, and thus far more time-consuming to get a handle on.[/quote]
Right, so you should at least be able to address concerns or disagreements others may have from reading Shestov. I refuse to believe we can't address specific ideas that could be contained in a single philosopher's book. For example, if I were to cite a single proposition from C.S. Lewis that you believe to be unBiblical, I do not believe that you would have to read "all of C.S. Lewis' works" in order to understand whether you'd agree or not with that single proposition. Having an axe to grind, btw, is not always a bad thing, but I'd also like to keep my knowledge from being skewed by bias at the same time.

[quote]With that very important qualification established, I did just find two articles on Kierkegaard's conception of subjectivity that might challenge your opinions on the subject, [url="http://www.quodlibet.net/articles/johnson-truth.shtml"]here[/url] and [url="http://www.nobts.edu/Faculty/ItoR/LemkeSW/Personal/kierkegaard.html"]here[/url]. Also, not to toot my own horn, but my series of eight posts on the Fall of Man, over at my blog [url="http://extravagantcreation.wordpress.com/category/fall-of-man-series-of-posts/"]here[/url] (the posts are listed in reverse chronological order - read them from the bottom up), lays out using lots of extended quotes the critique of rationality that Shestov, Dostoevski, etc., made in the context of the Fall. I have no illusions about changing your mind, but you might it interesting.[/quote]
Cool. I'll comment more after I've read all of that. For starters, if you, or anyone else friendly to Christian existentialistism, would like to explain how they believe existentialism is different or valueable to regular Christian theology, and/or how "rationalism" within Christianity is bad, that would be a good place to start. Just remember that I get that there are truths we can learn from these guys (or any philosopher, hell, there are even truths we can learn from reading Nietzsche), that doesn't mean that they didn't still make a name for themselves by advocating particular ideas. Ideas that are either consistent with Biblical Christianity or are not.

Again, just so you know what I'm working with, I have so far read Kierkegaard's [i][url="http://www.amazon.com/Philosophical-Fragments-S%C3%B6ren-Kierkegaard/dp/1449505899/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1297635449&sr=1-2-spell"]Philosophical Fragments[/url][/i] and [i][url="http://www.amazon.com/Concluding-Unscientific-Postscript-Philosophical-Kierkegaards/dp/0691020817/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1297635512&sr=1-1"]Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments[/url][/i], Shestov's [i][url="http://shestov.by.ru/dtn/dn_1.html"]The Philosophy of Tragedy, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche[/url] [/i]and about half of [i][url="http://www.amazon.com/Kierkegaard-existential-philosophy-Lev-Shestov/dp/0821400606/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1297635648&sr=1-3"]Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy[/url], [/i]and selections here and there from Karl Barth's [i][url="http://www.amazon.com/Church-Dogmatics-Karl-Barth/dp/1598564420/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1297635836&sr=1-1"]The Church Dogmatics[/url][/i] and Karl Jaspers' [i][url="http://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Existence-Works-Continental/dp/0812210107/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1297635876&sr=1-1"]Philosophy of Existence[/url][/i]. I've also read a few Nietzsche and Sartre books, not that that's too relevant here. I'm coming from a point of view where I've mostly agreed with what I've read of [url="http://www.amazon.com/History-Philosophy-7-Modern/dp/0385470444/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1297635316&sr=8-5"]Frederick Copleston[/url], C.S. Lewis and Norman Geisler, and mostly disagreed with every existentialist writer that I've ever read. I see what appears to be considerable Existentialist influence in the modern day church and it always seems harmful to me. I think that there are things to be learned and appreciated from reading these guys, but if I could, I would still kick their main ideas out of the pulpits ASAP.
[/quote]

I'm a big hesitant posting this. Mostly because I feel like that guy that just jumps in to clarify what is perhaps an unimportant point. But with that being said, I wouldn't classify Barth as an existentialist in any meaningful fashion. Especially in his later writings, he was "existential" in affirming that the response of faith must be an "I" response. But beyond that, he was highly critical of it in its variety of forms (theological and non-theological). Particularly he was critical of Bultmann and Tillich--the later of which is a much better representative of a Christian existentialist thought than Barth could ever be.

This wasn't meant to be a flame--I'm particularly protective of Barth who I feel has been a huge aid to pulpits (my own included) and would hate to see kicked out of any pulpit.

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[quote name='Persiflage' date='13 February 2011 - 05:32 PM' timestamp='1297636335' post='243630']I see what appears to be considerable Existentialist influence in the modern day church and it always seems harmful to me.[/quote]
Which fragments of the "modern day church"? 'Cause no church I've attended or visited has ever had a strong existentialist influence.

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[quote]With that very important qualification established, I did just find two articles on Kierkegaard's conception of subjectivity that might challenge your opinions on the subject, [url="http://www.quodlibet.net/articles/johnson-truth.shtml"]here[/url] and [url="http://www.nobts.edu/Faculty/ItoR/LemkeSW/Personal/kierkegaard.html"]here[/url]. Also, not to toot my own horn, but my series of eight posts on the Fall of Man, over at my blog [url="http://extravagantcreation.wordpress.com/category/fall-of-man-series-of-posts/"]here[/url] (the posts are listed in reverse chronological order - read them from the bottom up), lays out using lots of extended quotes the critique of rationality that Shestov, Dostoevski, etc., made in the context of the Fall. I have no illusions about changing your mind, but you might it interesting.[/quote]
Thank you so much for this, tenpenny. These excerpts are wonderful. I hope to read them all. I just the Shestov excerpts, and one Shestov quote struck me as flat out wrong:
[i]
The theologians, even those like St. Augustine, have feared this secret, and instead of reading what was written in the Bible, viz: that man became mortal because he ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they read that man became mortal because he disobeyed God. [/i]

Well, strictly speaking, man [i]is[/i] already mortal in the Genesis account--he is sustained through the Tree of Life--and it is God's denial of the Tree of Life to man that condemns him to death. So it's not really the tree of knowledge that makes man mortal. And, as such, much of Shestov's comments about the Genesis account ring false afterward. As far as we can tell, nothing inherent to the Tree of Knowledge brings death, despite Shestov's comments to the contrary.

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[quote name='Kyle' date='13 February 2011 - 03:59 PM' timestamp='1297641573' post='243641']
I'm a big hesitant posting this. Mostly because I feel like that guy that just jumps in to clarify what is perhaps an unimportant point. But with that being said, I wouldn't classify Barth as an existentialist in any meaningful fashion. Especially in his later writings, he was "existential" in affirming that the response of faith must be an "I" response. But beyond that, he was highly critical of it in its variety of forms (theological and non-theological). Particularly he was critical of Bultmann and Tillich--the later of which is a much better representative of a Christian existentialist thought than Barth could ever be.

This wasn't meant to be a flame--I'm particularly protective of Barth who I feel has been a huge aid to pulpits (my own included) and would hate to see kicked out of any pulpit.[/quote]
Thanks for the input Kyle, please don't feel hesistant to contribute to the discussion further. I'm completely willing to be convinced that Karl Barth is not a Christian existentialist, but from what I have read (admittedly probably less than what you've read), he certainly sometimes sounds quite friendly to the ideas of Kierkegaard. It'd be interesting to flesh out why Barth does or does not primarily align with the main tenants of Christian existentialism.

[quote name='Ryan H.' date='13 February 2011 - 04:20 PM' timestamp='1297642806' post='243648']
[quote name='Persiflage' date='13 February 2011 - 05:32 PM' timestamp='1297636335' post='243630']I see what appears to be considerable Existentialist influence in the modern day church and it always seems harmful to me.[/quote]
Which fragments of the "modern day church"? 'Cause no church I've attended or visited has ever had a strong existentialist influence.[/quote]
Well, given that it sounds like you either come from or have joined a Reformed/Calvinist background, I understand that. Within Christian Protestantism in America, [url="http://www.barna.org/faith-spirituality/447-reformed-movement-in-american-churches"]it looks like about 30% would identify themselves as Reformed[/url]. From my experience attending both Reformed and nonReformed churches, it's the more Calvinist churches that are less prone to be influenced by Christian Existentialism. Also, I have no idea what the percentages would be, but some of the most thoughtful critiques that I've read of the likes of Kierkegaard are of Catholic origin - from what I can tell, most Christian existentialists come from a Protestant rather than a Catholic background. So generally speaking, I'm suggesting that Christian Existentialism has a harmful effect on approximately 70% of modern Protestant churches. These estimates are of course open to debate.

But I view the influence as harmful partly because of nonChristian friends I've talked to who have been exposed to teachings about what they might mischaracterize as "blind faith" in the Christian church. But however mischaracterized, they are still referring to a certain type of teaching. I've run across it regularly. I love to ask questions. And if there is one kiss of death to asking questions in church, it's being told that, whatever science or rationalism or enlightenment philosophy has to say on the subject, there are certain aspects of Christianity that you just have to accept and believe. I've been told over and over again, that I need to stop being critical and just need to "have faith." A good friend of mine who has read far more Kierkegaard than I have (and likes it), has given me some very good arguments for why the truths of Christianity are really just based ultimately on faith, not on reason.

In fact, he argued that there is really nothing you can know 100% for sure without at least having faith first. He said that even the most simple logical argument, a syllogism for example -

A = B
B = C
A = C

- is impossible to make without first taking the first two presuppositions solely on faith. (It's impossible to conclude that A = C without having faith that A = B and B = C). Therefore, to believe Christianity is true, you are just going to have to make a "leap of faith" or "leap into faith" at some point in your thinking. I think that ultimately the answer to his argument is the Biblically based natural law position on self-evident truths. And it is certainly no coincidence that Christian existentialists do not like the idea of self-evident truth.

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[quote name='Persiflage' date='14 February 2011 - 03:56 PM' timestamp='1297716985' post='243828']
Thanks for the input Kyle, please don't feel hesistant to contribute to the discussion further. I'm completely willing to be convinced that Karl Barth is not a Christian existentialist, but from what I have read (admittedly probably less than what you've read), he certainly sometimes sounds quite friendly to the ideas of Kierkegaard. It'd be interesting to flesh out why Barth does or does not primarily align with the main tenants of Christian existentialism.
[/quote]

If A&F has anyone resembling a Barth expert, it's Kyle. I'd love to see him chime in too. Edited by Jason Panella

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[quote name='Persiflage' date='14 February 2011 - 03:56 PM' timestamp='1297716985' post='243828']Well, given that it sounds like you either come from or have joined a Reformed/Calvinist background, I understand that.[/quote]
Not necessarily. My turn towards Reformed theology came outside of the context of my church experiences. I've never belonged to an expressly Calvinist/Reformed church.

[quote name='Persiflage' date='14 February 2011 - 03:56 PM' timestamp='1297716985' post='243828']Also, I have no idea what the percentages would be, but some of the most thoughtful critiques that I've read of the likes of Kierkegaard are of Catholic origin - from what I can tell, most Christian existentialists come from a Protestant rather than a Catholic background.[/quote]
As far as I'm aware, there are a number of Catholics who are quite fond of Kierkegaard, too.

[quote name='Persiflage' date='14 February 2011 - 03:56 PM' timestamp='1297716985' post='243828']But I view the influence as harmful partly because of nonChristian friends I've talked to who have been exposed to teachings about what they might mischaracterize as "blind faith" in the Christian church.[/quote]
But is this necessarily Kierkegaardian influence or just some part of broader anti-intellectualism? It does seem that, in your conversations, it's come back to Kierkegaard. But in my experience, this kind of "you just have to believe" talk isn't really rooted in any fully-fledged intellectual standpoint. It's just that, well, these folks aren't very intellectual, aren't very interested in being intellectual, and thus their faith is of a rather blind character.

[quote name='Persiflage' date='14 February 2011 - 03:56 PM' timestamp='1297716985' post='243828']I think that ultimately the answer to his argument is the Biblically based natural law position on self-evident truths. And it is certainly no coincidence that Christian existentialists do not like the idea of self-evident truth.[/quote]
This depends entirely on how you construe a theology of natural revelation. Some formulations of it would provide difficulties for an extreme Christian existentialism, but there are other formulations both of Christian existentialism and natural revelation that would not be in direct conflict. Edited by Ryan H.

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[quote name='Kyle' date='13 February 2011 - 07:59 PM' timestamp='1297641573' post='243641']
I'm a big hesitant posting this. Mostly because I feel like that guy that just jumps in to clarify what is perhaps an unimportant point. But with that being said, I wouldn't classify Barth as an existentialist in any meaningful fashion. Especially in his later writings, he was "existential" in affirming that the response of faith must be an "I" response. But beyond that, he was highly critical of it in its variety of forms (theological and non-theological). Particularly he was critical of Bultmann and Tillich--the later of which is a much better representative of a Christian existentialist thought than Barth could ever be.

This wasn't meant to be a flame--I'm particularly protective of Barth who I feel has been a huge aid to pulpits (my own included) and would hate to see kicked out of any pulpit.
[/quote]

So you do not buy [url="http://www.amazon.com/Barths-Critically-Realistic-Dialectical-Theology/dp/0198269560"]McCormick's[/url] thesis? (Which is essentially that there are elements of Barth the dialectician all the way through the dogmatics.)

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Christianity and Existentialism are like chocolate and peanut butter! Two great tastes that go awesome together! WOOOO! [img]http://artsandfaith.com/public/style_emoticons/default/laugh.gif[/img]

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[quote name='Holy Moly!' date='14 February 2011 - 05:22 PM' timestamp='1297722132' post='243854']
Christianity and Existentialism are like chocolate and peanut butter! Two great tastes that go awesome together! WOOOO! [img]http://artsandfaith.com/public/style_emoticons/default/laugh.gif[/img]
[/quote]
A more thoughtful, cogent, incisive statement has never been made.

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[quote name='Persiflage' date='14 February 2011 - 12:56 PM' timestamp='1297716985' post='243828']
[quote name='Kyle' date='13 February 2011 - 03:59 PM' timestamp='1297641573' post='243641']
I'm a big hesitant posting this. Mostly because I feel like that guy that just jumps in to clarify what is perhaps an unimportant point. But with that being said, I wouldn't classify Barth as an existentialist in any meaningful fashion. Especially in his later writings, he was "existential" in affirming that the response of faith must be an "I" response. But beyond that, he was highly critical of it in its variety of forms (theological and non-theological). Particularly he was critical of Bultmann and Tillich--the later of which is a much better representative of a Christian existentialist thought than Barth could ever be.

This wasn't meant to be a flame--I'm particularly protective of Barth who I feel has been a huge aid to pulpits (my own included) and would hate to see kicked out of any pulpit.[/quote]
Thanks for the input Kyle, please don't feel hesistant to contribute to the discussion further. I'm completely willing to be convinced that Karl Barth is not a Christian existentialist, but from what I have read (admittedly probably less than what you've read), he certainly sometimes sounds quite friendly to the ideas of Kierkegaard. It'd be interesting to flesh out why Barth does or does not primarily align with the main tenants of Christian existentialism.
[/quote]

I'd say Kierkegaard's biggest influence on Barth (and especially his commentary on Romans) is his use of dialectic and paradox.

[quote name='M. Leary' date='14 February 2011 - 02:06 PM' timestamp='1297721196' post='243845']
[quote name='Kyle' date='13 February 2011 - 07:59 PM' timestamp='1297641573' post='243641']
I'm a big hesitant posting this. Mostly because I feel like that guy that just jumps in to clarify what is perhaps an unimportant point. But with that being said, I wouldn't classify Barth as an existentialist in any meaningful fashion. Especially in his later writings, he was "existential" in affirming that the response of faith must be an "I" response. But beyond that, he was highly critical of it in its variety of forms (theological and non-theological). Particularly he was critical of Bultmann and Tillich--the later of which is a much better representative of a Christian existentialist thought than Barth could ever be.

This wasn't meant to be a flame--I'm particularly protective of Barth who I feel has been a huge aid to pulpits (my own included) and would hate to see kicked out of any pulpit.
[/quote]

So you do not buy [url="http://www.amazon.com/Barths-Critically-Realistic-Dialectical-Theology/dp/0198269560"]McCormick's[/url] thesis? (Which is essentially that there are elements of Barth the dialectician all the way through the dogmatics.)
[/quote]

If by existentialist you mean Barth remained a dialectician, then yes, Barth remained existentialist. Although I don't believe dialectic thought necesarily equals existential through and through.

Further, here is McCormick on Barth and existentialism from the above book:

[quote]In [i]Fides quaerens intellectum[/i], Barth overcame ever last remnant of the attempt to ground, support, or justify theology by means of existential philosophy. (438)[/quote]

Later McCormick cites Barth’s own words on his earlier attempts at Dogmatics:

[quote]“…with existential thinking, I was paying homage to false gods … If there is one thing the word of God certainly is not, it is not a predicate of humanity” (CD I/1, 126-7)[/quote]

In the end McCormick says this:

[quote]“Did Barth attempt to ground, support, and justify theology by means of existential theology? The answer must be no, though he did succumb to the temptation from time to time to seek corroboration, in that direction, of a doctrine of the Word which he steadfastly maintained was grounded in itself.” (441)[/quote]

I think it might be safe to say that Barth was willing to admit the influence of existentialism in some of his earlier work. However Barth, and McCormick would agree, the existential influence wasn't a material influece to his thinking and it could be easily erradicated without changing the fundamental character of his earlier thought.

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[quote name='Persiflage' date='15 February 2011 - 03:56 AM' timestamp='1297716985' post='243828']
But I view the influence as harmful partly because of nonChristian friends I've talked to who have been exposed to teachings about what they might mischaracterize as "blind faith" in the Christian church. But however mischaracterized, they are still referring to a certain type of teaching. I've run across it regularly. I love to ask questions. And if there is one kiss of death to asking questions in church, it's being told that, whatever science or rationalism or enlightenment philosophy has to say on the subject, there are certain aspects of Christianity that you just have to accept and believe. I've been told over and over again, that I need to stop being critical and just need to "have faith." A good friend of mine who has read far more Kierkegaard than I have (and likes it), has given me some very good arguments for why the truths of Christianity are really just based ultimately on faith, not on reason.

In fact, he argued that there is really nothing you can know 100% for sure without at least having faith first. He said that even the most simple logical argument, a syllogism for example -

A = B
B = C
A = C

- is impossible to make without first taking the first two presuppositions solely on faith. (It's impossible to conclude that A = C without having faith that A = B and B = C). Therefore, to believe Christianity is true, you are just going to have to make a "leap of faith" or "leap into faith" at some point in your thinking. I think that ultimately the answer to his argument is the Biblically based natural law position on self-evident truths. And it is certainly no coincidence that Christian existentialists do not like the idea of self-evident truth.
[/quote]

But it seems to me the people that insist that you must accept Christianty on "blind faith", which I would characterize as different from Kierkegaard's "leap of faith," are not so keen on rejecting the idea of self-evident truths. The issue with most Christian churches I've been a part of is in fact that they accept as self-evident many things that I don't see as being very self-evident.

I think it's a mis-characterization to suggest the very real tendencies that you have noted in N. American Christianity (which I have also noted) are in anyway rooted in a form of Christian existentialism or even the teachings of Kierkegaard or Tillich. I think it is more a case of anti-intellectualism and a desire to avoid uncomfortable questions. I'm curious as to why you think those tendencies are rooted in existentialism.

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Hmmm, I'll have a little more time to respond and think through the rest of the comments so far on the thread tomorrow. But real quick, I wanted to write one thought down before I forget it.

A couple comments have asked if some of the "leap of faith" teaching in the modern church can't just be attributed to anti-intellectualism, because the teachers of it are not consciously rooted in any sort of consistent Christian existentialist teaching (as, for example, thought through by Kierkegaard) ... AND because they are rooted in a desire not to bother with thinking out things all the way.

But, can't any teaching at all be rooted in an anti-intellectualism???

I could advocate the idea in politics that we need lower taxes in a simplistic manner lacking all nuance, and be advocating that idea rooted in my anti-intellectual desire to avoid thinking things through. In other words, I'd be adopting a proposition (that actually does has very cogent and philosophical grounds) simply because it was easy to do so and required no work on my part. The fact that I'm advocating the idea that we need lower taxes out of my own anti-intellectualism does not mean that the idea itself isn't still a proposition held to by a consistently thought through political ideology and opposed by an opposite consistent and thoroughly thought-through political ideology.

OR, for example, I could teach that God predestines some people to go to heaven and some people to go to hell, simply because I'm not interested in thinking and have no wish to bother with reconciling Scripture on predestination with Scripture on free will. In other words, I've adopted one proposition that is part of a cogently argued theology by some Calvinists, not because I agree with or even know what Calvinism is, but out of laziness on my part. The fact that I'm advocating this idea on predestination because of my own anti-intellectualism does not mean that that theological proposition isn't still part of a consistently thought through theology and opposed by an opposite consistent and thought-through theology.

Therefore ...

... the epistemological position that all religious truth is attained ultimately by faith rather than by logic & reason, is still a proposition that is held to and defended by a consistently thought through philosophy. (My Kierkegaard loving friend's arguments that all knowledge is ultimately based on faith are not anti-intellectual arguments). The fact that [i]that[/i] position is ALSO adopted out of anti-intellectualism on the part of many Christians shouldn't mean that it doesn't still originate from somewhere with a purpose. Nor does it mean that the proposition itself isn't still held to by one theology and denied by another.

(Aaaaahhh! I'm typing fast and I think some sparks just flew up somewhere from a short-circuit in my brain's nerve center. That hurt, but I tried to capture it before it went away. More on this later, sorry if I still could have explained this more clearly, and I'm done for today).

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[quote name='Persiflage' date='15 February 2011 - 07:35 AM' timestamp='1297730110' post='243878']
Therefore ...

... the epistemological position that all religious truth is attained ultimately by faith rather than by logic & reason, is still a proposition that is held to and defended by a consistently thought through philosophy. (My Kierkegaard loving friend's arguments that all knowledge is ultimately based on faith are not anti-intellectual arguments). The fact that [i]that[/i] position is ALSO adopted out of anti-intellectualism on the part of many Christians shouldn't mean that it doesn't still originate from somewhere with a purpose. Nor does it mean that the proposition itself isn't still held to by one theology and denied by another.

(Aaaaahhh! I'm typing fast and I think some sparks just flew up somewhere from a short-circuit in my brain's nerve center. That hurt, but I tried to capture it before it went away. More on this later, sorry if I still could have explained this more clearly, and I'm done for today).
[/quote]

I'm with you as far as the fact that anti-intellectualism (or just plain ignorance) can be the root of any belief, but what I'm particularly curious as to which theologies you feel are espousing an existentialist theology. Because while I'm with you on the critiques you're raising, and think I have some inkling of what groups and positions you're describing, I might quibble with whether these groups are actually espousing an existentialist theology just because they might share the idea that religious truth is founding on faith rather than reason. I think many of these groups would balk at being lumped in with Tillich, and would likely accuse him of being far to liberal to be "authentically" Christian. Just my suspicion based on the fact that they probably share very few other commonalities in theology. Did this idea really originate from the same somewhere with a purpose that Christian existentialism did?

Anyway, thanks for your response because I think some of this needs to be worked through.

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[quote name='Ryan H.' date='13 February 2011 - 07:32 PM' timestamp='1297643546' post='243650']
[quote]With that very important qualification established, I did just find two articles on Kierkegaard's conception of subjectivity that might challenge your opinions on the subject, [url="http://www.quodlibet.net/articles/johnson-truth.shtml"]here[/url] and [url="http://www.nobts.edu/Faculty/ItoR/LemkeSW/Personal/kierkegaard.html"]here[/url]. Also, not to toot my own horn, but my series of eight posts on the Fall of Man, over at my blog [url="http://extravagantcreation.wordpress.com/category/fall-of-man-series-of-posts/"]here[/url] (the posts are listed in reverse chronological order - read them from the bottom up), lays out using lots of extended quotes the critique of rationality that Shestov, Dostoevski, etc., made in the context of the Fall. I have no illusions about changing your mind, but you might it interesting.[/quote]
Thank you so much for this, tenpenny. These excerpts are wonderful. I hope to read them all. I just the Shestov excerpts, and one Shestov quote struck me as flat out wrong:
[i]
The theologians, even those like St. Augustine, have feared this secret, and instead of reading what was written in the Bible, viz: that man became mortal because he ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they read that man became mortal because he disobeyed God. [/i]

Well, strictly speaking, man [i]is[/i] already mortal in the Genesis account--he is sustained through the Tree of Life--and it is God's denial of the Tree of Life to man that condemns him to death. So it's not really the tree of knowledge that makes man mortal. And, as such, much of Shestov's comments about the Genesis account ring false afterward. As far as we can tell, nothing inherent to the Tree of Knowledge brings death, despite Shestov's comments to the contrary.
[/quote]

Persiflage,

I'm not meaning to ignore your posts, but I would like to address Ryan's first.

Ryan,

Thanks for the compliments - here and before - I really appreciate them!

When you say you think Shestov is "flat out wrong" about how man became mortal, is this based on your own [i]personal[/i] reflection and understanding of the account in Genesis, or is it based on what one might call "received" doctrine? Sorry, I know the question risks sounding condescending. I don't mean it to be. It's just that if you strictly and only read what the text in Genesis says, I don't think what it says is incompatible with Shestov's interpretation. Note how I said that: the account in Genesis is not [i]incompatible[/i] with Shestov's interpretation. I did not say "Shestov's interpretation [i]must be[/i] correct." I think it's important to say it the way I did, at least at the start, in order to preserve and make explicit my own [i]personal[/i] opinion on the matter, which is not quite the same as Shestov's. I've placed myself in the position here of arguing on behalf of Shestov, however, and so to avoid having to constantly distinguish my own positions from Shestov's, which could get rather tiresome, one should generally assume from now on that I'm articulating his positions, and not [i]necessarily[/i] my own. I think it's safe to assume that people are rather less interested in my positions. :)

In short, I will argue here as I think Shestov might have argued (but on this particular point there will inevitably be supposition on my part, because I'm not aware that Shestov ever wrote out, like I will, an underlying basis for his interpretation of the Fall - in truth, he seemed to think, perhaps naively, that his interpretation was self-evidently correct).

Per your understanding, then, death was not [i]intrinsic[/i] to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Rather, death only came about because God eventually [i]withheld[/i] the tree of life - of which man had [i]already been partaking[/i] while he was in the Garden of Eden - by expelling man from the Garden. Death, then, would seem not to have an "independent" existence but is, in effect, simply the withholding of life. As a kind of corollary, you are basically saying that partaking of the tree of life confers life only temporarily, not permanently, not irrevocably.

There are two major problems I see with your understanding of the provenance of death:

1) Why then does God say to man [all biblical passages are from TNIV], "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die" and not "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for if you do, I will withhold from you the tree of life" [Gn 2:17]? By your understanding, I'm supposed to believe that mortality came not as a direct and immediate result of partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, i.e. as an intrinsic effect of the tree, but indirectly and eventually, at the end of a chain of causation. Why should one not prefer Shestov's simpler, more direct understanding to yours (per Ockham's razor)?

2) Why then does God say (to whom exactly is unclear - other members of the Trinity?), "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever" [Gn 3:22]? By your understanding, this statement by God appears nonsensical. Why would God say this, if it's just a matter of expelling man from Eden, in order to prevent further partaking of the tree of life. By your understanding, so what if man takes one last bite, so to speak, from the tree of life before God expels him, what's the harm in it? It would be the last time he would do so and, in any event, would not affect the final outcome. No, the account as we have it in Genesis indicates otherwise. It indicates that partaking of the tree of life confers life [i]irrevocably[/i].

Evidently, man had not partaken of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden at any time. There is additional evidence for this assertion, inasmuch as the Genesis account states (emphasis added), "In the [i]middle of the garden[/i] were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," and then later Eve relates to the serpent that God's instruction was (emphasis added), "You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the [i]middle of the garden[/i], and you must not touch it, or you will die." Now, it seems there is a paradox here that defies logical resolution: how can [i]both[/i] trees be in the (precise) middle of the garden? We don't know the answer to this, but we could assume that in some inscrutable way both trees [i]were[/i] somehow in the middle of the garden. Therefore, by Eve's statement, the tree of life might also have been warned against. Still, God in His warning to Adam did not use the phrase "middle of the garden" - He specified the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There can be no [i]logically[/i] consistent answer that squares every statement (taking the account at face value, i.e. ignoring the possibility of some ancient compiler combining multiple and conflicting sources for the Genesis story) but, on balance, the evidence indicates that the tree of life was never partaken of by man, whether or not one assumes that God actually warned man against it. Why man [i]didn't[/i] partake of the tree of life, while he had the chance, as opposed to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, is another mystery. Perhaps in some inscrutable way the tree of life was invisible to him before he had "tasted" knowledge (perhaps this is implied in the biblical quote given in problem #2 above). If it be thought that man had to have partaken of the tree of life in the garden, in order to live, this is a misapprehension. We are told that "the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being" [Gn 2:7]. The tree of life confers not simply life, but eternal life.

Finally, one should note the fact that when God explains to Adam and Eve their punishments for ignoring His warning, [i]now that they have already eaten from the fatal tree[/i], death is not one of them. And it is not, because death was intrinsic to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The same moment man partook of it, he became mortal, not later, when God got around to dealing out punishments. While God does refer to man's mortality in His recitation of punishments, in the context of "by the sweat of your brow," it is as a thing already accomplished.

This is me again, not Shestov. That, as I take it, might be Shestov's reasoning, to the extent that one can call an argument that necessarily has to deal with a paradoxical statement or two in the text reasoning. Of course, one can object that to use reason to, in effect, attack reason (i.e. by equating knowledge with death) seems a little self-negating, to say the least. But such was Shestov: his attacks on reason were well-reasoned. One could also say that he opened himself to the liar's paradox. In fact, I have a post at my blog, [url="http://extravagantcreation.wordpress.com/2010/05/22/andrei-tarkovsky-and-lev-shestov/"]here[/url], wherein I cite and translate a French filmmaker / philosopher who avers this very thing, all the while maintaining that Shestov offers a kind of key to understanding Tarkovsky's films (rest assured, if he had said the same thing about Dreyer's films, I would have already mentioned it here). :)

Lastly, yes, I'm aware that Shestov's interpretation of the Fall may be unique in that perhaps only he has made it. A mountain of "received" doctrine stands against him. But, as I said, I don't believe Shestov's interpretation is incompatible with the Genesis account, and I even think that, alone though he may be, his interpretation probably makes the most sense. Okay, defenders of "received" doctrine at Arts & Faith, fire away. Edited by tenpenny

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Q: Before man ignored God's warning, was he mortal or immortal?

A: He was neither mortal nor immortal. He had partaken of neither tree. His state, with regard to your question, was indeterminate. [Me: The [i]mu[/i] state - in effect, unask the question.]

Q: Could man have remained in this indeterminate state?

A: Of course! Otherwise God would not have warned him against the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man need not have died. But man was not immortal.

Q: Isn't this logically absurd?

A: Yes, but it is so nevertheless. God surpasses or exceeds logic. Edited by tenpenny

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[quote name='Persiflage' date='14 February 2011 - 07:35 PM' timestamp='1297730110' post='243878']


... the epistemological position that all religious truth is attained ultimately by faith rather than by logic & reason, is still a proposition that is held to and defended by a consistently thought through philosophy. (My Kierkegaard loving friend's arguments that all knowledge is ultimately based on faith are not anti-intellectual arguments). The fact that [i]that[/i] position is ALSO adopted out of anti-intellectualism on the part of many Christians shouldn't mean that it doesn't still originate from somewhere with a purpose. Nor does it mean that the proposition itself isn't still held to by one theology and denied by another.

(Aaaaahhh! I'm typing fast and I think some sparks just flew up somewhere from a short-circuit in my brain's nerve center. That hurt, but I tried to capture it before it went away. More on this later, sorry if I still could have explained this more clearly, and I'm done for today).
[/quote]

But were they the first? Is it not possible that different protestant groups and Christian existentialists are influenced by ideas that proceed them both?

I'm curious...is there anyone who has sat down, intellectually studied Christianity and concluded it is true-that didn't take some sort of faith leap? If there is one thing I have found to be true, it is that people are more inclined to accept something intellectually if they are at least sympathetic to the idea that it is already truth. That's how people accept things we might find outlandish. And then when people point to something we might believe that is equally outlandish, we have an argument we (or someone we respect) created to say why "It's different!"

Honestly, all theology at times looks more like an attempt justify the apparent lack of provable presence or evidence of God or contradictions. And when the questions get to hard, the questioner is called to task for not simply trusting od or having enough faith-and I have found this true across the board among Catholics, Protestants and every group in between. If there seem to be no good answers? We are told to trust we just are not smart enough to truly understand God's crazy wisdom and we need to have more faith.

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[quote name='Ryan H.' date='14 February 2011 - 05:02 PM' timestamp='1297720928' post='243843']
But is this necessarily Kierkegaardian influence or just some part of broader anti-intellectualism? It does seem that, in your conversations, it's come back to Kierkegaard. But in my experience, this kind of "you just have to believe" talk isn't really rooted in any fully-fledged intellectual standpoint. It's just that, well, these folks aren't very intellectual, aren't very interested in being intellectual, and thus their faith is of a rather blind character.
[/quote]
I'm jumping into the middle of the conversation here, but I just have to comment.

I find comments like this insulting, and what they suggest to me is that those who make them have never experienced the soul-crushing weight of unexplained and unexplainable tragedy, loss, and grief. It's okay. It will happen. All you have to do is live long enough. And perhaps I'm overly sensitive because I saw that holy terror last night.

My friends Ben and Sarabeth have longed for a child. They've waited years. Yesterday their son Henry was born. He suffered from anencephaly -- he literally had no brain -- and died a couple minutes after birth.

There are all kinds of intellectual explanations for this. One out of every 150,000 babies is born this way every year. It happens. There are theological explanations for it, too. We live in a fallen world. The very notion of evil suggests that there is an ethical law. Pain is God's way of accommodating the freedom of a rebellious creature. Yada, yada, yada.

I'm not going to say any of those things to my friends. Even if they're true, they don't matter. They're simply immaterial in this situation. It's the difference between the C.S. Lewis of [i]The Problem of Pain[/i], who wraps theodicy in a nice, pretty, rational and intellectual bow, and the C.S. Lewis of [i]A Grief Observed[/i], who is undone by senseless tragedy and death. Guess which one I come back to, again and again? Guess which one eventually emerged from the bubble and experienced life?

If my friends continue to believe in the goodness and mercy of God, as I pray they do, they will need to make some adjustments to their thinking. They will need to believe in spite of the evidence of their eyes. They will need to believe in an all-powerful, all good God who allowed their deepest desires, their best dreams, to be crushed. You'd better believe that this will entail a leap, and that the chasm is wide. God bless Soren Kierkegaard for writing the truth.

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[quote name='Andy Whitman' date='15 February 2011 - 09:13 PM' timestamp='1297779204' post='243938']
If my friends continue to believe in the goodness and mercy of God, as I pray they do, they will need to make some adjustments to their thinking. They will need to believe in spite of the evidence of their eyes. They will need to believe in an all-powerful, all good God who allowed their deepest desires, their best dreams, to be crushed. You'd better believe that this will entail a leap, and that the chasm is wide. God bless Soren Kierkegaard for writing the truth.
[/quote]

Amen to this Andy. I always appreciate your comments, and I think you're right in this case. I hope that your friends' faith carries them through this terribly hard time.

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[quote name='Kyle' date='14 February 2011 - 07:55 PM' timestamp='1297727735' post='243871']
I think it might be safe to say that Barth was willing to admit the influence of existentialism in some of his earlier work. However Barth, and McCormick would agree, the existential influence wasn't a material influece to his thinking and it could be easily erradicated without changing the fundamental character of his earlier thought.
[/quote]

But if we pull out that Barth quote about "paying homage to the false idols [of existentialism]," we need to complete the sentence: "with existential thinking, I was paying homage to false gods, [i]even if only after the manner of the libellatici of the Decian persecution[/i]." This is a big caveat. Barth is referring to those Christians that bought certificates to prove they had made proper homage to pagan idols, rather than actually doing it. Which is to say: He didn't consider his use of existential forms in his earlier thinking as an idolatry that renders his early thinking unfaithful. Rather, his use of existential forms in his earlier thinking was an expedient way to continue doing theology in that liberal context he was engaging. Over time, as he became increasingly realist and even biblicist, he came to see his earlier appropriation as an easy way out. In the Dogmatics, his dialectical thinking matures, and we see his understanding of the Word of God both [i]being[/i] and [i]becoming[/i] develop in a more concretely biblical space. (As Bloesch use to tell us in class, Barth would always walk into class with a Greek New Testament and maybe a page with a few notes. When fielding questions, he would typically sort through his GNT to a text, read it, and expound on it in response.)

However (remaining true to dialectics), I appreciate the way in which Barth critiqued Bultmann's existentialism, which essentially drained all the Christological content out of the historical particularities of the New Testament.

[quote name='Andy Whitman' date='15 February 2011 - 10:13 AM' timestamp='1297779204' post='243938']
If my friends continue to believe in the goodness and mercy of God, as I pray they do, they will need to make some adjustments to their thinking. They will need to believe in spite of the evidence of their eyes. They will need to believe in an all-powerful, all good God who allowed their deepest desires, their best dreams, to be crushed. You'd better believe that this will entail a leap, and that the chasm is wide. God bless Soren Kierkegaard for writing the truth.
[/quote]

And God bless people for reclaiming this Kierkegaard from Francis Schaeffer.

[quote]"Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him."[/quote]

[quote]"Come on! Let’s return to the Lord! He himself has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us! He has injured us, but he will bandage our wounds. He will restore us in a very short time; he will heal us in a little while, so that we may live in his presence. So let us acknowledge him! Let us seek to acknowledge the Lord!"[/quote]


The OT is filled with this being and becoming madness. Edited by M. Leary

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[quote name='Andy Whitman' date='15 February 2011 - 09:13 AM' timestamp='1297779204' post='243938']I'm jumping into the middle of the conversation here, but I just have to comment.

I find comments like this insulting, and what they suggest to me is that those who make them have never experienced the soul-crushing weight of unexplained and unexplainable tragedy, loss, and grief. It's okay. It will happen. All you have to do is live long enough. And perhaps I'm overly sensitive because I saw that holy terror last night.[/quote]
You seemingly entirely misunderstand me. When I'm talking about the people being anti-intellectual, I'm not thinking of people like your friends Ben and Sarapeth who are so befuddled and stunned by incomprehensible tragedy that no verbal response is possible. Heck, I've been there myself. Some days, I'm still there. Instead, I'm talking about the people I've met in the white, wealthy churches where I grew up, people who were generally out of touch with sorrow and more interested in living in happy bubbles. These people would rely on the "just believe" excuse to avoid thinking about difficult issues, to maintain the simplicity and comfort of their existence, and in doing so, maintain the shallowness of their faith. Such has been the bulk of individuals I've met through my travels through the world of evangelicalism, and I'm not sure that kind of "just believe" response has much to do with the "leap of faith" idea suggested by Kierkegaard.

FWIW, I [i]love[/i] Kierkegaard.

[quote name='tenpenny' date='14 February 2011 - 10:12 PM' timestamp='1297739555' post='243906']When you say you think Shestov is "flat out wrong" about how man became mortal, is this based on your own [i]personal[/i] reflection and understanding of the account in Genesis, or is it based on what one might call "received" doctrine?[/quote]
It's based both in academic study and personal wrestling with the first two chapters of Genesis. I'll elaborate and respond to your points more fully later on.

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[quote name='Ryan H.' date='14 February 2011 - 02:02 PM' timestamp='1297720928' post='243843']
But is this necessarily Kierkegaardian influence or just some part of broader anti-intellectualism? It does seem that, in your conversations, it's come back to Kierkegaard. But in my experience, this kind of "you just have to believe" talk isn't really rooted in any fully-fledged intellectual standpoint. It's just that, well, these folks aren't very intellectual, aren't very interested in being intellectual, and thus their faith is of a rather blind character.[/quote]
So, to sum up, it looks like I'm suggesting in this thread that the "you just have to have faith instead of trying to reason" talk is, in fact, a major tenet of Christian existentialist belief (advanced by the likes of Kierkegaard, Shestov and their comrades). Yes, I acknowledge that there are anti-intellectual Christians who use the idea as an excuse not to think. But they are still using a particular idea that, even if [i]they[/i] are completely oblivious that it's actually intellectually defended on purpose by thinking Christian existentialists, has logical and philosophical consequences resulting in one sort of theology instead of another.

[quote][quote name='Persiflage' date='14 February 2011 - 03:56 PM' timestamp='1297716985' post='243828']I think that ultimately the answer to his argument is the Biblically based natural law position on self-evident truths. And it is certainly no coincidence that Christian existentialists do not like the idea of self-evident truth.[/quote]
This depends entirely on how you construe a theology of natural revelation. Some formulations of it would provide difficulties for an extreme Christian existentialism, but there are other formulations both of Christian existentialism and natural revelation that would not be in direct conflict.[/quote]
Yes, we can construe our theology to suit our own wishes and to harmonize with whatever we want whenever we want it to. But that has nothing to do with which theology is true or false. In this thread, I'm interested in the major ideas of Christian existentialism, which includes Kierkegaard's "leap of faith" arguments against rationalism in the church, and for another example, Shestov's arguments in, oh, say his In Job's Balances chapter on Dostoevsky entitled [url="http://www.angelfire.com/nb/shestov/ijb/jb1_1.html"]"The Conquest of the Self-Evident"[/url] (and yes, that's self-evident truth in reason that is being conquered, not doing the conquering).

[quote name='Holy Moly!' date='14 February 2011 - 02:22 PM' timestamp='1297722132' post='243854']
Christianity and Existentialism are like chocolate and peanut butter! Two great tastes that go awesome together! WOOOO![/quote]
Good one. I can only come up with some lame parallel in response, like how I obviously find Existentialism (sickly sweet chocolate syrup, perhaps?) to be something that does mix well at all with Christianity's hearty steak & potatoes.

[quote name='Anders' date='14 February 2011 - 03:56 PM' timestamp='1297727811' post='243872']
But it seems to me the people that insist that you must accept Christianity on "blind faith", which I would characterize as different from Kierkegaard's "leap of faith," are not so keen on rejecting the idea of self-evident truths. The issue with most Christian churches I've been a part of is in fact that they accept as self-evident many things that I don't see as being very self-evident.[/quote]
Alright then, so how is arguing that you need to "just have faith", instead of looking for rational evidence, different from Kierkegaard's basic "leap of faith" ideas?

On another note, I know what you mean about Christians just accepting/assuming a number of questionable ideas as "self-evident" without any question. But that's a different and looser definition of the word. Sure, you can say that the things you just accept or assume (which is the act of having faith) are "self-evident," but that is not the same philosophical use of the word as John Locke understood it when he defended it or as Lev Shestov understood it when he argued against it. Rightly defined, "self-evident" is not something you just blindly accept by faith or assume. "Self-evident" means something that is necessarily true by definition, evident in itself without further proof, axiomatic, impossible to logically deny.

[quote name='Anders' date='14 February 2011 - 05:13 PM' timestamp='1297732396' post='243884']
I'm with you as far as the fact that anti-intellectualism (or just plain ignorance) can be the root of any belief, but what I'm particularly curious as to which theologies you feel are espousing an existentialist theology. Because while I'm with you on the critiques you're raising, and think I have some inkling of what groups and positions you're describing, I might quibble with whether these groups are actually espousing an existentialist theology just because they might share the idea that religious truth is founding on faith rather than reason. I think many of these groups would balk at being lumped in with Tillich, and would likely accuse him of being far to liberal to be "authentically" Christian. Just my suspicion based on the fact that they probably share very few other commonalities in theology. Did this idea really originate from the same somewhere with a purpose that Christian existentialism did?[/quote]
I'm by no means claiming that the majority of American Protestant churches are espousing Christian existentialist philosophy. Instead, I'm just claiming that Christian existentialism has influenced the majority of modern day evangelicalism. There are things being commonly taught in the church today that I believe to be untrue. One is the "you just have to have faith" approach to Christianity, which denies that there is any use in rationally defending Christian truths (Wasn't it Karl Barth who made light of Apologetics?). When any thinking nonbeliever is exposed to this sort of teaching, he or she is only going to be less interested in Christianity as a result. There's a reason that in the secular culture, just having "blind faith" is a popular Christian stereotype. It's a stereotype we've foisted on ourselves, and it's a stereotype that comes with not being familiar with where certain ideas originate from. Other examples would include experiential church teaching on Hermeneutics that replaces asking "what is God saying here" with asking "what little personal meaning does this verse have for [i]me[/i]?", or church teaching focusing [i]ad infinitum [/i]on where you find [i]your[/i] self-value, self-worth, self-security, etc. from. If you just haven't read the right Kierkegaard or Shestov quotes on this stuff, I'll starting posting them.

[quote name='tenpenny' date='14 February 2011 - 07:12 PM' timestamp='1297739555' post='243906']
Persiflage,

I'm not meaning to ignore your posts, but I would like to address Ryan's first.[/quote]
Cool. Just one quick question, I have to admit that I don't understand what you mean by "received" doctrine.

[quote name='tenpenny' date='15 February 2011 - 05:24 AM' timestamp='1297776274' post='243930']
Q: Isn't this logically absurd?

A: Yes, but it is so nevertheless. God surpasses or exceeds logic.[/quote]
Gotta say, I've certainly found the whole "God transcends logic" thing my Christian Existentialists friends' favorite turn of phrase. Summed up, I think you might just be making a lot more out of something that Genesis just gives us limited information on. It isn't necessarily logically absurd to say that, before the Fall, Adam & Eve weren't mortal (in the sense that they would die) or immortal (at least in the sense that their earthly physical bodies couldn't still been replaced at some future point). If "mortal" means that one will die, and "immortal" means that one cannot die, then it's no logical contradiction to say that there could also be a third state of one who was able to die actually never dying.

[quote name='Nezpop' date='15 February 2011 - 05:29 AM' timestamp='1297776587' post='243931']
But were they the first? Is it not possible that different protestant groups and Christian existentialists are influenced by ideas that proceed them both?[/quote]
Yes, it is possible, if not even probable. Kierkegaard had to get some of his ideas from somewhere.

[quote]... Honestly, all theology at times looks more like an attempt justify the apparent lack of provable presence or evidence of God or contradictions. And when the questions get to hard, the questioner is called to task for not simply trusting God or having enough faith-and I have found this true across the board among Catholics, Protestants and every group in between. If there seem to be no good answers? We are told to trust we just are not smart enough to truly understand God's crazy wisdom and we need to have more faith.[/quote]
Yes, this is precisely what we're taught, and I believe it to be both false and unBiblical.

[quote name='Andy Whitman' date='15 February 2011 - 06:13 AM' timestamp='1297779204' post='243938']
I find comments like this insulting, and what they suggest to me is that those who make them have never experienced the soul-crushing weight of unexplained and unexplainable tragedy, loss, and grief. It's okay. It will happen. All you have to do is live long enough. And perhaps I'm overly sensitive because I saw that holy terror last night.[/quote]
Andy, I'm very sorry to hear about your friends. My prayers go with them. I think you have a very good point that we all either have had, or will have, times of crushing grief and suffering. And it is during these times that our faith will be most tested. I agree with you that rational discussion of general revelation and evidence for the truth of Christianity during times of grief are not particularly comforting. But works and discussions like those of C.S. Lewis in [i]The Problem of Pain [/i]are meant, not to console suffering believers, but to provide an answer to nonbelievers who are wondering about Christianity and how a good God could allow evil in the world. There is a time and place for everything.

I realized that there is something else I haven't made clear in this thread yet. Just because I disagree with the Christian Existentialist use of faith to supplant reason does not mean I don't hold faith to be a major requirement and life-saver within Christianity. Faith is what makes you a Christian - putting your faith and trust in Jesus, and His death on the cross, and His resurrection from the grave - that is the only thing that makes us Christians in the first place. A philosopher could prove that God exists, that Jesus existed and the gospels were true, that Christianity is the only religion that is true, and that still wouldn't make him a Christian. I don't think you need faith to know God exists or that Christianity is true. But there is still a huge difference between rationally demonstrating a Christian truth and placing your faith in Christ. ALSO, someone who falsely believes that there isn't really any good rational basis for the truth of Christianity, but who still puts his or her faith in Christ ... well, that person is just as much a believer as the one who only choose to put his faith in Christ to save him, after first looking at the rational evidence. Edited by Persiflage

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[quote name='Persiflage' date='15 February 2011 - 03:04 PM' timestamp='1297800272' post='243974']
[quote name='tenpenny' date='14 February 2011 - 07:12 PM' timestamp='1297739555' post='243906']
Persiflage,

I'm not meaning to ignore your posts, but I would like to address Ryan's first.[/quote]
Cool. Just one quick question, I have to admit that I don't understand what you mean by "received" doctrine.
[/quote]
I almost said, instead, "received" [i]wisdom[/i], and maybe I should have - doctrine seems overly specific. In this context, I simply meant an interpretation of a biblical story or event that is accepted by someone more on the basis of tradition and authority (i.e. someone else's thinking) than on the basis of personal thought and contemplation (i.e. one's own thinking). It could range from an opinion one hears from one's friends and fellow-travelers in faith, or one's pastor or priest, all the way up to the most carefully considered exegesis by the most learned biblical scholar.


[quote name='Persiflage' date='15 February 2011 - 03:04 PM' timestamp='1297800272' post='243974']
[quote name='tenpenny' date='15 February 2011 - 05:24 AM' timestamp='1297776274' post='243930']
Q: Isn't this logically absurd?

A: Yes, but it is so nevertheless. God surpasses or exceeds logic.[/quote]
Gotta say, I've certainly found the whole "God transcends logic" thing my Christian Existentialists friends' favorite turn of phrase. Summed up, I think you might just be making a lot more out of something that Genesis just gives us limited information on. It isn't necessarily logically absurd to say that, before the Fall, Adam & Eve weren't mortal (in the sense that they would die) or immortal (at least in the sense that their earthly physical bodies couldn't still been replaced at some future point). If "mortal" means that one will die, and "immortal" means that one cannot die, then it's no logical contradiction to say that there could also be a third state of one who was able to die actually never dying.
[/quote]
I was referring to definitions, for both words: "mortal" and "immortal." You are mixing an inference with a definition. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) defines "mortal" (in the sense we're using the word here) as "subject to death," and "immortal" as "exempt from death." Furthermore, these are the ordinary, everyday definitions that most people would give for these two words, even without consulting a dictionary. When, with respect to "mortal," you said "one will die" that is an inference from the definition (and not an unreasonable one, under post-Edenic conditions), but it is not the definition itself. Curiously, when you passed on (hmm, a pun) to "immortal," you switched from using an inference to using a definition. Thus, in order to be consistent, which sound reasoning requires, you should have said:

"If 'mortal' means that one will die, and 'immortal' means that one will not die..."

or:

"If 'mortal' means that one can die, and 'immortal' means that one cannot die..."

But neither of those would allow you to show that a third state is possible, would it?

Logically speaking, the two definitions of "mortal" and "immortal" are airtight and permit no third state. Therefore, to say that "man was neither mortal nor immortal" is logically absurd, yet, I still maintain that this was man's Edenic condition prior to the point when he partook of the tree and became "knowledgeable."

I don't get you, Persiflage. You said you were all about the importance of a reasoned faith, as against "blind faith" or "leaps of faith," and you were in such a big rush to start this thread, so that you could engage in reasoned debate with defenders of Kierkegaard and Shestov, so you said...

But then when I get here, and present a sustained and [i]reasoned[/i] argument - that took some care and work on my part - for why the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was intrinsically fatal (i.e. why the tree directly conferred mortality), you pull back and mumble something to the effect that I "might just be making a lot more out of something that Genesis just gives us limited information on."

Man, I have to say, that's weak. Sorry, but I have to call you out on it. If you aren't interested in responding, in a commensurate manner, to what I post, why should I waste my time? I'll just leave you to continue bloviating about how existentialism ruined / is ruining Christianity.

For that matter, I really think Shestov can only be classified as a "Christian existentialist" in the loosest sense. I'm not sure you would accept that he is really a Christian (born Jewish, he never converted, and so far as I know he rarely or never attended a synagogue past childhood, or a church once he became sympathetic to Christianity in adulthood). And I'm not sure I would accept that he is really an existentialist. So maybe this whole thing was a non-starter, at least as far as Shestov, and maybe that's my fault. If so, I'm sorry I wasted your time. Kierkegaard defenders, carry on. You're doing great.

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[quote name='M. Leary' date='15 February 2011 - 06:56 AM' timestamp='1297781793' post='243940']
[quote name='Kyle' date='14 February 2011 - 07:55 PM' timestamp='1297727735' post='243871']
I think it might be safe to say that Barth was willing to admit the influence of existentialism in some of his earlier work. However Barth, and McCormick would agree, the existential influence wasn't a material influece to his thinking and it could be easily erradicated without changing the fundamental character of his earlier thought.
[/quote]

But if we pull out that Barth quote about "paying homage to the false idols [of existentialism]," we need to complete the sentence: "with existential thinking, I was paying homage to false gods, [i]even if only after the manner of the libellatici of the Decian persecution[/i]." This is a big caveat. Barth is referring to those Christians that bought certificates to prove they had made proper homage to pagan idols, rather than actually doing it. Which is to say: He didn't consider his use of existential forms in his earlier thinking as an idolatry that renders his early thinking unfaithful. Rather, his use of existential forms in his earlier thinking was an expedient way to continue doing theology in that liberal context he was engaging. Over time, as he became increasingly realist and even biblicist, he came to see his earlier appropriation as an easy way out. In the Dogmatics, his dialectical thinking matures, and we see his understanding of the Word of God both [i]being[/i] and [i]becoming[/i] develop in a more concretely biblical space. (As Bloesch use to tell us in class, Barth would always walk into class with a Greek New Testament and maybe a page with a few notes. When fielding questions, he would typically sort through his GNT to a text, read it, and expound on it in response.)

However (remaining true to dialectics), I appreciate the way in which Barth critiqued Bultmann's existentialism, which essentially drained all the Christological content out of the historical particularities of the New Testament.

[/quote]

Thanks for expanding on this. I was a bit pressed for time when composing my initial reply and you hit on many of the themes I would have liked to hit on.

However, I totally missed the meaning of the phrase you added: [i]even if only after the manner of the libellatici of the Decian persecution[/i]. Thanks for pointing that out. It also helps better articulate what McCormick (and I clumsily) was getting at: any existentialism in early Barth (so, pre-mid 30's if we're going off his work on Anselm as being the turning point) wasn't a thorough-going existentialism (i.e. Barth was an existentialist theologian) but used it sparingly and for his benefit even if it wasn't crucial to his program. And you hit the nail on the head when you referred to him as a realist and a bit of a biblicist. If I had to pick a camp for Barth I would tend to put him in the realist camp first and foremost. Thus my confusion over the original post that praised realism (if I recall correctly) but was (open to be corrected) placing Barth in an existentialist camp.

In fact I had one professor who liked to read his Bible with Barth over one shoulder and Tillich over the other. He was very into continental philosophy.

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[quote name='Persiflage' date='15 February 2011 - 03:04 PM' timestamp='1297800272' post='243974']So, to sum up, it looks like I'm suggesting in this thread that the "you just have to have faith instead of trying to reason" talk is, in fact, a major tenet of Christian existentialist belief (advanced by the likes of Kierkegaard, Shestov and their comrades). Yes, I acknowledge that there are anti-intellectual Christians who use the idea as an excuse not to think. But they are still using a particular idea that, even if [i]they[/i] are completely oblivious that it's actually intellectually defended on purpose by thinking Christian existentialists, has logical and philosophical consequences resulting in one sort of theology instead of another.[/quote]
Well, I don't think the "you just have to have faith instead of trying to reason" notion is at all a fair depiction of Kierkegaard. As that first link of Tenpenny's suggests, Kierkegaard did not deny rational knowledge wholesale; instead, he held that truth had both objective and subjective aspects. He simply held that rationality had limitations, as indicated, among other things, by the paradox of the Incarnation and the Trinity, spaces into which the human mind struggles to enter. But Kierkegaard would be absolutely horrified at a kind of brainless, unconsidered faith. To quote that article Tenpenny put forward: "Kierkegaard does not advocate a non-reflective faith. One can and should be reflective and rational concerning one’s faith."

[quote name='Persiflage' date='15 February 2011 - 03:04 PM' timestamp='1297800272' post='243974']Instead, I'm just claiming that Christian existentialism has influenced the majority of modern day evangelicalism. There are things being commonly taught in the church today that I believe to be untrue. One is the "you just have to have faith" approach to Christianity, which denies that there is any use in rationally defending Christian truths (Wasn't it Karl Barth who made light of Apologetics?).[/quote]
But to claim existentialism has some real influence on American evangelicalism, you have to connect the dots historically between the works of Kierkegaard and the modern state of American evangelical belief. You can't just say, "Hey, these ideas seem similar, so there must be influence here!" Similar ideas can be arrived at by very different means.

[quote name='Persiflage' date='15 February 2011 - 03:04 PM' timestamp='1297800272' post='243974'][quote]... Honestly, all theology at times looks more like an attempt justify the apparent lack of provable presence or evidence of God or contradictions. And when the questions get to hard, the questioner is called to task for not simply trusting God or having enough faith-and I have found this true across the board among Catholics, Protestants and every group in between. If there seem to be no good answers? We are told to trust we just are not smart enough to truly understand God's crazy wisdom and we need to have more faith.[/quote]
Yes, this is precisely what we're taught, and I believe it to be both false and unBiblical.[/quote]
Oh, so God gives us all the answers, then? That doesn't seem very Biblical to me. That's not to say God fails to give us any answers at all. But there are always gaps, spaces which our mind struggles to enter, or spaces where God refuses us revelation. Remember that God's response to Job is not an articulate proof and defense, but a devastating rebuttal of Job's knowledge.

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