Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
J.A.A. Purves

Christianity & Existentialism

93 posts in this topic

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 "Existential movies?" and "Quote help! Did Kierkegaard say ... ?" Also for future reference, this separate topic has arisen out of the most recent discussion in the Ordet thread, pretty much because the film makes the joke that Johannes became insane by studying Kierkegaard, and some A&F'ers view Ordet 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, and 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 -

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.

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.

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 could 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.

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.

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, here and here. Also, not to toot my own horn, but my series of eight posts on the Fall of Man, over at my blog here (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.

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 Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, Shestov's The Philosophy of Tragedy, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche and about half of Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy, and selections here and there from Karl Barth's The Church Dogmatics and Karl Jaspers' Philosophy of Existence. 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 Frederick Copleston, 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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 "Existential movies?" and "Quote help! Did Kierkegaard say ... ?" Also for future reference, this separate topic has arisen out of the most recent discussion in the Ordet thread, pretty much because the film makes the joke that Johannes became insane by studying Kierkegaard, and some A&F'ers view Ordet 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, and 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 -

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.

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.

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 could 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.

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.

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, here and here. Also, not to toot my own horn, but my series of eight posts on the Fall of Man, over at my blog here (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.

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 Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, Shestov's The Philosophy of Tragedy, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche and about half of Kierkegaard and the Existential Philosophy, and selections here and there from Karl Barth's The Church Dogmatics and Karl Jaspers' Philosophy of Existence. 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 Frederick Copleston, 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.

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

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.

I see what appears to be considerable Existentialist influence in the modern day church and it always seems harmful to me.

Which fragments of the "modern day church"? 'Cause no church I've attended or visited has ever had a strong existentialist influence.

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, it looks like about 30% would identify themselves as Reformed. 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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

So you do not buy McCormick's thesis? (Which is essentially that there are elements of Barth the dialectician all the way through the dogmatics.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Christianity and Existentialism are like chocolate and peanut butter! Two great tastes that go awesome together! WOOOO! laugh.gif

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

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.

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

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.

So you do not buy McCormick's thesis? (Which is essentially that there are elements of Barth the dialectician all the way through the dogmatics.)

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:

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

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

“…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)

In the end McCormick says this:

“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)

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 that 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).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 that 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).

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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, here and here. Also, not to toot my own horn, but my series of eight posts on the Fall of Man, over at my blog here (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.

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:

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.

Well, strictly speaking, man is 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.

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 personal 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 incompatible with Shestov's interpretation. I did not say "Shestov's interpretation must be 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 personal 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 necessarily 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 intrinsic to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Rather, death only came about because God eventually withheld the tree of life - of which man had already been partaking 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 irrevocably.

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 middle of the garden 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 middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die." Now, it seems there is a paradox here that defies logical resolution: how can both 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 were 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 logically 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 didn't 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, now that they have already eaten from the fatal tree, 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, here, 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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 mu 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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

... 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 that 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).

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

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 The Problem of Pain, who wraps theodicy in a nice, pretty, rational and intellectual bow, and the C.S. Lewis of A Grief Observed, 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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

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, even if only after the manner of the libellatici of the Decian persecution." 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 being and becoming 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.

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.

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

"Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him."

"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!"

The OT is filled with this being and becoming madness.

Edited by M. Leary

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

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 they 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.

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.

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.

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 "The Conquest of the Self-Evident" (and yes, that's self-evident truth in reason that is being conquered, not doing the conquering).

Christianity and Existentialism are like chocolate and peanut butter! Two great tastes that go awesome together! WOOOO!

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.

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.

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.

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?

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 me?", or church teaching focusing ad infinitum on where you find your 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.

Persiflage,

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

Cool. Just one quick question, I have to admit that I don't understand what you mean by "received" doctrine.

Q: Isn't this logically absurd?

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

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.

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

Yes, it is possible, if not even probable. Kierkegaard had to get some of his ideas from somewhere.

... 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.

Yes, this is precisely what we're taught, and I believe it to be both false and unBiblical.

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.

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 The Problem of Pain 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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Persiflage,

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

Cool. Just one quick question, I have to admit that I don't understand what you mean by "received" doctrine.

I almost said, instead, "received" wisdom, 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.

Q: Isn't this logically absurd?

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

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.

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 reasoned 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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

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, even if only after the manner of the libellatici of the Decian persecution." 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 being and becoming 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.

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: even if only after the manner of the libellatici of the Decian persecution. 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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Kyle, I am not well read enough in Barth scholarship to know whether my understanding of Barth's offhand analogy there is correct or not - but I like to think that it makes sense. It seems in the spirit of McCormick's rescue of (much of) Barth from a lot of that neo-orthodox static.

I very much agree with you that Tillich would be a better sparring partner in this thread, even if he wasn't much of a Kierkegaardian. In fact, Persiflage, I think your beef is more with Protestant Liberalism than it is with Kierkegaard. Many applications of the kinds of existentialism we see in Tillich do result in some of the theological tendencies you are responding to. (Though my appreciation of Tillich as an apologist for the sacred in a more generalized way has deepened in the past few years, as long as I am allowed to think of generalizing about the sacred as a phenomenon and particularizing the resurrection as two different occupations. The verdict is still out on that.)

Edited by M. Leary

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 it. 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.

I almost said, instead, "received" wisdom, 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.

At least from a Protestant point of view, while we find value in church tradition in varying degrees, we don't hold to much of an "authority" of "received" wisdom or doctrine. The authority we are willing to accept is Scripture, so let's see ...

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 reasoned 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.

Look, St. Thomas Aquinas himself would never claim that we can logically know everything. There is such a thing as using Scripture to say more than it actually says. I'm having a hard time trying to figure out why our ability to call Adam & Eve mortal or immortal before the Fall affects the theology of much of anything. If your point is that the fact that we can't call Adam & Eve mortal or immortal before the Fall means that they weren't either of the two, and therefore something happened that was logically impossible, that simply doesn't follow. I didn't plan to, but since you're saying that the point is important, here goes -

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]?

Because both those statements mean pretty much exactly the same thing. It's perfectly clear that the only reason Adam and Eve are alive in the first place is by God's power. He's telling them that if they rebel, He will take away the power He's given them to be alive. That's simple enough.

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 simply a matter of expelling man from Eden, in order to prevent further partaking from 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 from the tree of life confers life irrevocably.

Facts that can be absolutely deduced from this passage are (1) eating from the tree of life would make a fallen Adam live forever in his fallen state, (2) there was some property in the tree of life that God could use to give Adam & Eve eternal life, and (3) part of the punishment or consequence for the fall was now denying eternal life from Adam & Eve, while in their fallen states. Speculation that cannot be deduced from this passage would include the exact number of bites, precisely, that Adam would have to take, in order to get immortality again. All that's clear is God says Adam shouldn't be allowed to eat of the tree, and so Adam isn't allowed to eat of the tree. Exactly the mechanics of how the tree works is not relevant to the point of the story, and thus left out.

Evidently, man had not partaken of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden at any time.

No Scripture exists to back this claim up. This is something we can't know. Yes, that's right. I believe there are some things that we cannot know right now. It's not directly affecting the facts that (1) Adam's life was given to him by the power of God, (2) Adam fell and so God took away the power that was keeping Adam alive just like He said He would.

And there is further evidence for this assertion, inasmuch as the Genesis account states (emphasis added), "In the middle of the garden 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 middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die." Now, it seems there is a paradox here that defies logical resolution: how can both trees be in the (precise) middle of the garden? We don't know the answer to this, but we can assume that in some inscrutable way both trees were somehow in the middle of the garden.

Dude, how much mathematical minutia does the word "middle" have to contain here? Smaller than square inches, square feet, square miles? - for all we know, the middle of the garden could have consisted of 10 square miles. There is no information on this in the passage because it is not important to us. I fail to find anything about this inscrutable. Why are we supposed to try and infer anything mysterious about 2 trees being in the middle of the garden. It's about as interesting as trying to infer the color of Adam & Eve's hair.

Therefore, by Eve's statement, the tree of life was also warned against.

False. The writer of Genesis wasn't trying to sneaky here, what matters to this story is stated clear and simple. Fact: There are 2 trees in the middle of the garden (Genesis 2:9). Fact: the one tree they are forbidden to eat from is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). Fact: Eve is referring to only one tree in Genesis 3:2-3. And, Fact: we know which tree this is because we've already read 2:16-17 and it's made even more clear by 3:5.

There can be no logically consistent answer that squares every statement but, on balance, the evidence indicates that the tree of life was never partaken of by man, whether or not one assumes that God had actually warned man against it.

But nowhere is the writer of Genesis logically contradicting himself or being inconsistent. It only says that they were allowed to eat of any tree (including the tree of life) except one, and then they were forbidden to eat of the tree of life after the Fall. There is no need to make any further assumption that God warned Adam against eating from some other tree, before the Fall, that God simply does not warn Adam against in these chapters of Scripture.

Why man didn't partake of the tree of life, if he was going to ignore God's warning, as opposed to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, is another mystery.

No, it's not. They ate from the ONE tree God told them not to eat from, and they did it on purpose.

Finally, one should note the fact that when God explains to Adam and Eve His punishments for their transgression, now that they have already eaten from the fatal tree, death is not one of them.

To be fair, God already told them they would die earlier. We know from the story that there is more punishment for rebellion against God that merely death. We know from the story that God decided not to let them eat of the tree of life AFTER the Fall. But trying to describe the magical qualities possessed by this tree of the knowledge of good and evil is pure speculation at this point. We know what matters, and that was that death was intrinsic to the act of rebelling against God.

That, as I take it, would 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.

No, they weren't well reasoned. That's the problem. If his attack on reason really consists of the kind of assumptions and inferences he's asserting are in Genesis 2 and 3, then he's relying on pure speculative make-up-your-own-theology additions to Scripture that are not there. A warning against eating the tree of life because it's also in the middle of the garden?? I'm sorry, but that's just not in those verses. If this is really how Shestov interpreted Scripture, I cannot stress how dangerous his ignoring the elementary rules of Biblical Hermeneutics really is. But I'm afraid his method of interpretation is probably common in church today. And it comes out of blatantly ignoring common sense, elementary rules on how to think properly. Note: other great Christian men have ignored this stuff too, some of St. Augustine's allegorical interpretations of Scripture are complete made up crap as well. But, it's not cool, man, not cool at all.

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 it. 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.

Uniqueness doesn't bother me. I could give a hill of beans for all I care about the authority of "received" doctrine. But I'll be damned if Shestov's interpretation is compatible with those verses in Genesis. Some of those ideas you are attributing to him flat out contradict what some of the verses in Genesis 2 and 3 actually say.

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.

I'm willing to accept that Shestov was a Christian, in fact, I hope that he was. I really have no way of knowing. Plenty of Christians can get their theology wrong, and as long as they're putting their faith in Jesus to save them, they are all our brother and sister believers that we'll join together with on one day. But I think it's important to point out when theological teaching is wrong, particularly when false theology is of the sort to turn nonbelievers away from the gospel. I honestly at this point still don't see what's so important about our being allowed to call Adam & Eve mortal or immortal before the Fall. We do have the little collection of truths that matter. Man's sin. Man's death. God's grace. All truths that we can claim to with an absolute certainty. But what is important is not to read one's own personal speculative theories into Scripture. As far as Shestov being an existentialist, I've just always thought he was since he did in fact write the book, Kierkegaard & the Existential Philosophy, where he defends many of Kierkegaard's ideas.

On a final note, yes, these are principles that I strongly hold to. I want you to know that I admire your willingness to share the arguments that you have for Shestov. I actually kind of feel like defending Existential arguments would be harder than criticizing them, because they are often pretty vague. Please don't take offense because I will occasionally flatly contradict what you or Shestov may have to say. It's the same sort of friendly conversation/debate my friends and I have over a few beers. Hold me to offering a good reason for where I disagree with you. Exploring this together is how we learn, and I'm reading and learning more about Shestov just in this short conversation alone than I would without it.

Edited by Persiflage

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ha! I turn to Barth's commentary on Romans this late evening, and what is there to greet me on the first page but this. (Scroll to pg 27)

Edited by M. Leary

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sorry about the weird formatting below. When I tried to post, I was denied for having "more than the allowed number of quoted blocks of text." I never knew there was a limit!

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

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

Like Schrödinger's cat?

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]?

Because both those statements mean pretty much exactly the same thing. It's perfectly clear that the only reason Adam and Eve are alive in the first place is by God's power. He's telling them that if they rebel, He will take away the power He's given them to be alive. That's simple enough.

Actually, I would argue there is quite a bit of difference between those two statements. It's the bit of difference that makes man become mortal because he ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge or because he disobeyed God.

Remember here tenpenny's distinction: "...f 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 incompatible with Shestov's interpretation. I did not say "Shestov's interpretation must be correct."

:: [tenpenny] :: 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 simply a matter of expelling man from Eden, in order to prevent further partaking from 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 from the tree of life confers life irrevocably.

::: [Persiflage] ::: Facts that can be absolutely deduced from this passage are (1) eating from the tree of life would make a fallen Adam live forever in his fallen state, (2) there was some property in the tree of life that God could use to give Adam & Eve eternal life, and (3) part of the punishment or consequence for the fall was now denying eternal life from Adam & Eve, while in their fallen states. Speculation that cannot be deduced from this passage would include the exact number of bites, precisely, that Adam would have to take, in order to get immortality again. All that's clear is God says Adam shouldn't be allowed to eat of the tree, and so Adam isn't allowed to eat of the tree. Exactly the mechanics of how the tree works is not relevant to the point of the story, and thus left out.

Well, mechanics do become relevant once you ask: If man is ignorant of good and evil, how can he disobey? If eating from the tree of knowledge bestowed the knowledge of good and evil but also made man mortal, then eating from the tree of life bestowed immortality but would also... leave man ignorant of good and evil?

:: [tenpenny] :: Evidently, man had not partaken of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden at any time.

::: [Persiflage] ::: No Scripture exists to back this claim up. This is something we can't know. Yes, that's right. I believe there are some things that we cannot know right now. It's not directly affecting the facts that (1) Adam's life was given to him by the power of God, (2) Adam fell and so God took away the power that was keeping Adam alive just like He said He would.

Well, Genesis 3:22 might appear to do just that (emphasis mine): "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."

:: [tenpenny] :: And there is further evidence for this assertion, inasmuch as the Genesis account states (emphasis added), "In the middle of the garden 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 middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die." Now, it seems there is a paradox here that defies logical resolution: how can both trees be in the (precise) middle of the garden? We don't know the answer to this, but we can assume that in some inscrutable way both trees were somehow in the middle of the garden.

::: [Persiflage] ::: Dude, how much mathematical minutia does the word "middle" have to contain here? Smaller than square inches, square feet, square miles? - for all we know, the middle of the garden could have consisted of 10 square miles. There is no information on this in the passage because it is not important to us. I fail to find anything about this inscrutable. Why are we supposed to try and infer anything mysterious about 2 trees being in the middle of the garden. It's about as interesting as trying to infer the color of Adam & Eve's hair.

Does anyone here know if in the original Hebrew "tree" was referred to specifically twice in this: "In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?" If it's not, and the second "tree" is a translation artifact, I think Shestov's argument (as interpreted by tenpenny) is strengthened.

:: [tenpenny] :: Therefore, by Eve's statement, the tree of life was also warned against.

::: [Persiflage] ::: False. The writer of Genesis wasn't trying to sneaky here, what matters to this story is stated clear and simple. Fact: There are 2 trees in the middle of the garden (Genesis 2:9). Fact: the one tree they are forbidden to eat from is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). Fact: Eve is referring to only one tree in Genesis 3:2-3. And, Fact: we know which tree this is because we've already read 2:16-17 and it's made even more clear by 3:5.

Again, see my previous question.

:: [tenpenny] :: There can be no logically consistent answer that squares every statement but, on balance, the evidence indicates that the tree of life was never partaken of by man, whether or not one assumes that God had actually warned man against it.

::: [Persiflage] ::: But nowhere is the writer of Genesis logically contradicting himself or being inconsistent. It only says that they were allowed to eat of any tree (including the tree of life) except one, and then they were forbidden to eat of the tree of life after the Fall. There is no need to make any further assumption that God warned Adam against eating from some other tree, before the Fall, that God simply does not warn Adam against in these chapters of Scripture.

I believe the writer of Genesis is indeed inconsistent. In Genesis 3:2-3, Eve tells the snake (emphasis mine), “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it...'" This whole touching restriction is not what we were told God said. If Eve made that part up, she's lying, and since this is before any fruit has been eaten, we must assume she can't be. So the writer, we must conclude is inconsistent in the relating of this story.

:: [tenpenny] :: Why man didn't partake of the tree of life, if he was going to ignore God's warning, as opposed to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, is another mystery.

::: [Persiflage] ::: No, it's not. They ate from the ONE tree God told them not to eat from, and they did it on purpose.

To answer tenpenny's question: Maybe because the snake began the conversation about the tree of knowledge and not the tree of life?

:: [tenpenny] :: That, as I take it, would 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.

::: [Persiflage] ::: No, they weren't well reasoned. That's the problem. If his attack on reason really consists of the kind of assumptions and inferences he's asserting are in Genesis 2 and 3, then he's relying on pure speculative make-up-your-own-theology additions to Scripture that are not there. A warning against eating the tree of life because it's also in the middle of the garden?? I'm sorry, but that's just not in those verses. If this is really how Shestov interpreted Scripture, I cannot stress how dangerous his ignoring the elementary rules of Biblical Hermeneutics really is. But I'm afraid his method of interpretation is probably common in church today. And it comes out of blatantly ignoring common sense, elementary rules on how to think properly. Note: other great Christian men have ignored this stuff too, some of St. Augustine's allegorical interpretations of Scripture are complete made up crap as well. But, it's not cool, man, not cool at all.

Remember, tenpenny was unpacking what he believes Shestov would have argued as an underlying basis for his interpretation of the Fall. And I'd say his attempt seems fairly well reasoned indeed. I agree though, if his basis requires these assumptions and inferences from his readers, he may have been writing a wee bit above some folk's heads. Or, maybe he just forgot to spell it all out?

These "magical" trees and paradoxes feel very Jewish to me. What is the Jewish doctrine on the cause of mortality? Does it fall in line with the Christian thought of disobedience was the cause?

Please note: I've not read anything by Shestov (yet). ::blush::

Edited by Darryl A. Armstrong

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Does anyone here know if in the original Hebrew "tree" was referred to specifically twice in this: "In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?" If it's not, and the second "tree" is a translation artifact

No, there is a nice repetition in the verse. All the trees... the tree of life... the tree of the knowledge of good and evil...

And also germane to the above, the Hebrew word here sometimes translated "middle" is less definitive than a geometric point. It often just means "amidst" as if the trees were there in the garden, but are not located specifically by the author. Their prominence derives from their unique designation by the Creator rather than their location in the garden. I think some translations choose "middle" because the narrative here may grant the word a more particular force, as if the author wants us to picture these trees at the center of this garden. But it isn't necessary from a lexical standpoint. I find it far more intriguing to think that these trees did not have any special place in the garden, but were simply there among the rest of the trees that were good for seeing and eating. It was only God's command that gave them an aura of significance among the arboreal splendor of the new world.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd say Kierkegaard's biggest influence on Barth (and especially his commentary on Romans) is his use of dialectic and paradox ... 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 ... 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 influence to his thinking and it could be easily eradicated without changing the fundamental character of his earlier thought.

Just for my own educational purposes, isn't Karl Barth usually referred to as neo-orthodox? Why was it again that Barth didn't like being called neo-orthodox? I've read through parts of Barth's Epistle to the Romans and Kierkegaard certainly shows up often (at one point he's even cited to suggest that theology itself is presumptive and harmful to Christ). However, if it's more strictly true that Barth was influenced by Existentialism, rather than calling him an actual existentialist, then that's what I'd prefer to do. I'm also curious, I've heard contradicting accounts of what exactly "dialectic thought" means in theology. How would you define it?

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!"

YES. Plenty of atheists or nonbelievers have sat down, considered the rational evidence for Christianity, and then, on that basis (already having decided based on reason that God exists, that Jesus existed, the Christ's words and Scripture are accurate) to take Jesus at his word and believe in Him to save them. Recent famous examples include G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Whittaker Chambers, Malcolm Muggeridge, Evelyn Waugh, Alister McGrath, Lee Strobel, and Marvin Olasky. However, concluding something is logically true (even if it's a religion) is not what existentialists mean by the "leap of faith" - neither is choosing to put your faith on Christ because you've been convinced Christianity is true by rational evidence.

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 being and becoming develop in a more concretely biblical space.

Biblicist? Isn't a Biblicist one who interprets Scripture literally?

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

What? Oh, after looking it up, turns out Francis Schaeffer wrote, in his book, The God Who Is There (which I read years ago, so I should have remembered) this -

pgs. 21-22 -

It is often said that Soren Kierkegaard, the Dane (1813-55), is the father of all modern thinking. And so he is. He is the father of modern secular thinking and of the new theological thinking ... Kierkegaard came to the conclusion that you could not arrive at synthesis by reason. Instead, you achieved everything of real importance by a leap of faith. So he separated absolutely the rational and logical from faith ... It is not our purpose here to discuss all that Kierkegaard taught ... the important thing about him is that, when he put forth the concept of a leap of faith, he became in a real way the father of all modern existential thought, both secular and theological.

As a result of this, from that time on, if rationalistic man wants to deal with the real things of human life (such as purpose, significance, the validity of love) he must discard rational thought about them and make a gigantic, non-rational leap of faith. The rationalistic framework had failed to produce an answer on the basis of reason, and so all hope of a uniform field of knowledge had to be abandoned. We get the resulting dichotomy like this:

The Non-Rational and Non-Logical = Existential experience; the final experience; the first-order experience.

The Rational and Logical = Only particulars, no purpose, no meaning. Man is a machine.

Once we appreciate the development of modern philosophy in this way, we may note that, though there appear to be many forms of philosophy today, in reality there are very few. They have a uniform cast about them. You might listen, on the one hand, to the defining philosophy as taught in Cambridge, and then turn, on the other hand, to the existentialism of, say, Karl Jaspers, and think there was no unity between them. But this is not so. There is one basic agreement in almost all the Chairs of Philosophy today, and that is a radical denial of the possibility of putting forth a circle which will encompass all. In this sense the philosophies of today can be called in all seriousness anti-philosophies.

pg. 44 -

The line of despair is a unit and the steps in the line have a distinguishing and unifying mark. With Hegel and Kierkegaard man gave up the concept of a rational, unified field of knowledge and accepted instead the idea of a leap of faith in those areas which make man to be man - purpose, love, morals and so on. It was this leap of faith that originally caused the line of despair. The various steps on the line - philosophy, art, music, theatre and so on - differ in details, and these details are interesting and important, but in a way they are only incidental. The distinctive mark of the twentieth century intellectual and cultural climate does not lie in the differences but in the unifying concept. This unifying concept is the concept of a divided field of knowledge.

pgs. 51-54 -

Modern existential theology finds its origin in Kierkegaard, as does secular existentialism. They are related together at the very heart of their systems, that is, 'the leap of faith.' Theology comes as the last step, but it is by no means isolated from the rest of the cultural consensus we have been reviewing. There is diversity within the unity of the new theology. There is a difference, for example, between neo-orthodoxy and the new liberalism following the new Heidegger. If we want to be careful scholars we must appreciate such differences. But if we miss the unity which binds together all expressions of modern theology, we have missed the essential point ... Neo-orthodoxy gave no new answer. What existential philosophy had already said in secular language, it now said in theological language. We can represent it like this:

The Non-Rational and Non-Logical = A crisis first-order experience. Faith as an optimistic leap without verification or communicable content.

The Rational and Logical = The Scripture full of mistakes. Pessimism.

... The new theology has given up hope of finding a unified field of knowledge. Hence, in contrast to Biblical and Reformation theology, it is an anti-theology ... Karl Barth was the doorway in theology into the line of despair. He continued to hold the higher (negative) critical theories which the liberals held and yet, by a leap, sought to by-pass the two rational alternatives - a return to the historic view of Scripture or the acceptance of pessimism. After the first edition of his Epistle to the Romans, he no longer acknowledged his debt to Kierkegaard. However, still believing the higher critical theories, his 'leap' still continued to be the base of his optimistic answers. In later years, as his followers have carried his views forward, he has drawn back from their consistent extensions. But as Kierkegaard, with his leap, opened the door to existentialism in general, so Karl Barth opened the door to the existentialistic leap in theology. As in other disciplines, the basic issue is the shift in epistomology ... As far as the [new] theologians are concerned, they have separated religious truth from contact with science on the one hand and history on the other. Their new system is not open to verification, it must simply be believed.

So, I'm assuming, M. Leary, that believe Schaeffer is mischaracterizing Kierkegaard somehow? How?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0