The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard spoke of truth in terms of “inwardness,” “passion,” and “subjectivity,” and is best known for urging a “leap of faith” into belief in God and Christ. Opponents of Kierkegaard and Faith say this means that trust in Jesus is irrational and that one must simply make a mindless jump into the Kingdom (if there is such a thing).
Of course, SK meant no such thing. Rather, he saw that no “proofs” could establish the soundness of an overarching worldview, with its supreme metaphysical commitments. Arguments come up short, whatever your “religion,” including the religion of materialism. (Blaise Pascal had a similar stance, from which he proposed a “wager,” wherein one sizes up the life outcomes of rival religious bets.) But more than this, he showed no patience for those who suggested that we could be detached, disinterested observers, sizing up big truth claims from the sidelines, as if we were Olympic diving or gymnastics judges in business suits, holding up our score cards while the athletes tumbled and sweated in the arena. Rather, you must throw yourself into the event yourself before you can really know what’s going on, before truth can become Truth, if you will.
His take on the Danish, state, Lutheran church was merciless, for he saw it as a place of spiritual deadness, even where there was doctrinal correctness. Against this type of domesticated, safe, respectable religion, he wrote Fear and Trembling, which argued that Abraham’s “crazy” and “deplorable” willingness to sacrifice Isaac was normative. It was only when Abraham showed himself willing to follow through on God’s shocking directive that the Lord provided an alternative. It didn’t make sense up to that point, for the aged Abraham and Sarah had only one son to fulfill the promise that they would parent a vast nation, and now God was telling him to kill that son. But God was building a nation on faith and not on flesh, and he insisted that the father of both genetic and Christian “Israel” would be a faith exemplar.
Hence the “progressive treasure map.” With our “Godlike” view, we can see the end of this sketch from the beginning, but the pilgrim can only see one instruction at a time, and he must enter upon the route before he gets what he needs next to make his way toward blessings. You can’t stick with the cool assessment of natural law ethicist or the superficial snippiness of an aesthete. You have to put “skin in the game” (the often terrifying game of radical discipleship) to really grasp reality.
Kierkegaard also had no patience for the wildly abstract philosophizing of a Hegel and others who presumed to speak sweeping and detached descriptions and prescriptions for mankind. He insisted that wisdom comes at the gut level, and, for this, he has been labeled the “father of existentialism.” (In this connection, Francis Schaeffer blamed SK, at least indirectly, for the dreadful, atheistical work of Jean-Paul Sartre.) But this is less than fair, something like blaming Paul for antinomianism, since he said we’re “saved by grace, not works.”
It is fair to say that Kierkegaard’s language was over-the- top, a linguistic over-correction. He could have said that truth was, at base, correspondence with reality, but that one was in no position to appropriate and preach it until he had lived it, with some risk. Or something like that. Indeed, speaking of truth “as subjectivity” invites theoretical malpractice. But hammers aren’t scalpels, and we’re fortunate that he took up the hammer he did.