Playing Christianity

kids in sandbox

Søren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855) was a significant Danish philosopher who is widely considered to be the father of modern existentialism. A trenchant critic of the German thinker G. W. F. Hegel, Kierkegaard believed that the former’s philosophy poisoned the well of civil, ecclesial, and philosophical discourse. Kierkegaard saw the Church of his day as cold and lifeless, a victim of Hegelian rationalism. His frustration emerged in his scathing Attack Upon Christendom, which, despite appearances, was written by someone who deeply cared about vital Christianity.

Kierkegaard has received well-deserved criticism from modern evangelical theologians.1 Nevertheless, the following passage taken from his Journal powerfully exposes the terrible problems that develop when the Church fails to understand the seriousness of her task in the world. To the Church of his day, Kierkegaard exhorted: your battle is spiritual, and war is grim business: get on with it. To the preacher, he underscored the need for risky sermons, which could cost him his comfort, his position, and even his life.

“We all know what it is to play warfare in mock battle, that it means to imitate everything just as it is in war. The troops are drawn up, they march into the field, seriousness is evident in every eye, but also courage and enthusiasm, the orderlies rush back and forth intrepidly, the commander’s voice is heard, the signals, the battle cry, the volley of musketry, the thunder of cannon–everything exactly as in war, lacking only one thing . . . the danger.

So also it is with playing Christianity, that is, imitating Christian preaching in such a way that everything, absolutely everything is included in as deceptive a form as possible–only one thing is lacking . . . the danger.2″

For some, the danger about which Kierkegaard speaks is physical. The lives of Christians in places like China and Sudan bear sober and clear testimony to this. For most of us however the danger has more to do with our social status and image. Perhaps our allegiance to Christ will cause us to be viewed as someone who doesn’t belong to this world. What a great danger it is.


1 See, for example, Edward John Carnell, The Burden of Søren Kierkegaard (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965).

2 Søren Kierkegaard, Attack Upon Christendom, trans. Walter Lowrie (1944; reprint, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 180.

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  • In fact, “our allegiance to Christ will cause us to be viewed as someone who doesn’t belong to this world.”

    This is true, Chris, and I do admit that it is not that comfortable to get laughed at, though often on the quiet. Here are some reactions I heard from other Christians.

    (1) “Honestly, you are overdoing the Christian thing, Susanne. You’re pretty uptight about what is wrong and what is right.”

    Or in other words, ‘Did God actually say that there is indeed a difference between (the implications of doing) right and (doing) wrong?’ (Gen 3:1)

    (2) “God has created us just the way we are. How could He ever accuse us of being sinners? We have no choice but being who we are.”

    Aha. I get it. A kind of bondage of the will, yet the other way round. They believe that God is the one who is to blame for creating sinful human beings. Urgh!

    (3) “We live in this world and we have to react to its challenges. Why do you withdraw from trying to be successful here and now in order to work secludedly and gratuitously for a God who is invisible?”

    The latest question arises, again and again, when I have to do with successful women of our days. One of them, for example, is a married-mother-manager who always shakes her head when faced with my obvious stupidity. Another woman, in contrast, is a married-mother-pastor. Regarding the latter, she was the daughter of a Lutheran pastor and my best friend in childhood. But after our school days we lost sight of each other.
    One day, another woman told me on the phone that my friend had finally become a pastor and she added, “Isn’t it a wonderful story that women nowadays can do the same things men always could? I think being a pastor could have been your job as well, Susanne.” Ouch! “Not for me. The Lord doesn’t want women to rule over men,” I said. “Yes, yes. I know you see things much differently than others do.”

    Why am I not on the same page with these women? Because I believe the Bible to be God’s inerrant Word of which nobody should take something away nor add something to it, even if current culture says so.

    No, it isn’t an easy way, it can be dangerous – even physically, but God helps us so that we won’t go astray. As you said in your last post, Chris, we ought to fear Him who can destroy body and soul in hell more than those who try to impose worldly ideologies on us.

    It’s a spiritual warfare, indeed.

    Warm regards to you and Angela,


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