"Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians" by Mark A. Tietjen. A Review
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The only exposure I had with Søren Kierkegaard was in some passing references in theological and philosophical works. So I was hesitantly interested in picking up the recently published “Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians” by Mark A. Tietjen, chaplain and Grace Palmer Johnston Chair of Bible at The Stony Brook School in Stony Brook, New York, former professor of philosophy at the University of west Georgia, past secretary-treasurer of the Søren Kierkegaard Society, and author. This 173 page paperback ended up being a pleasant read by an author who was knowledgeable and delighted with his subject.
After a short foreword by Merold Westphal, “Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians” cruises through five easy chapters. The first brings the reader up to speed on the life of Søren Kierkegaard, his loves, academic background, and format of writing. The author coaches us on how to pronounce his subject’s name properly, and addresses some of the bad press Kierkegaard has received from modern writers like Francis Schaeffer, Dave Breese, and Walter Kaufmann. In the end it is obvious that Tietjen sees that “there is no reason to think [Kierkegaard’s] personal Christian beliefs were outside the parameters of classic Reformed, Lutheran orthodoxy” (36).
The subsequent chapters address four themes the author perceives as central to Kierkegaard’s program: Jesus Christ (theology), the human self (psychology), Christian witness (communicating Christian truth to the world) and the life of Christian love (ethics). Throughout each chapter Tietjen makes clear that Kierkegaard was pushing for a genuine Christianity, one that included body, soul, mind, life and love. The author shows how he stood in opposition to the sterile Christianity of his day that was reduced to a social and civil religion. Keirkegaard believed that “when one views Christianity as little more than a collection of truth claims to which one assents, one engages in little more than a clever strategy to justify oneself before God” (69). That when “Christian truth is merely held true as a bit of knowledge one would give assent to, but does not find its way into one’s life, one is spiritually ignorant” (118). Earnestness is what could summarize Kierkegaard’s aim: a living integrity where our Christian beliefs integrate with each aspect of our lives, and we are genuinely honest before God (162).
“Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians” is an easy-to-grasp work that helps readers to poke their toes in and test the Kierkegaardian temperature; and Tietjen is saying, “Jump on in! The water’s fine!” This short volume would make a great addition to a seminary class on worldview or philosophical foundations; but it will also enhance anyone’s reading list who is interested in Christian thought. I highly recommend the book.
Thanks to IVP Academic for providing, upon my request, the free copy of “Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians” used for this review. The assessments are mine given without restrictions or requirements (as per Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255).
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