Why We Need Kierkegaard

Carl Trueman, writing for Reformation21:

Partly the pleasure of reading SK [Kierkegaard] arises from the fact that his one-liners are virtually without peer.  Indeed, if you are as bone-idle as I am, you have to love any man who can come up with a statement such as `Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good.’  And I even a possess a mug with the caption, `The truth shall set ye free; but first it shall make ye miserable.’  If ever there was a sentiment of which a northern European, living in the oversized Disneyworld that is the U.S.A., needed to keep reminding himself, it is surely that one.  Indeed, among the few pleasures left to me now that my children are teenagers and regard me with withering disdain, is that of being a pessimist trapped in a nation of chirpy optimists, are the bleak landscapes of SK’s essay and the films of Ingmar Bergman. I need my misery.

Here, here! I heartily second Trueman’s need for Kierkegaard (and thus for misery). Even though my File:Kierkegaardlast name (Johnson) is Swedish, I’m mostly German (alas, I also love Luther, hopefully for reasons other than our shared German lineage). I’m also a Minnesotan who appreciates strong doses of Garrison Keillor. In other words, one might think misery comes second nature to me. But you’d be mistaken.

As an American Christian (more accurately, a Christian living in the U.S.), I too readily identify with a western understanding of evangelicalism as synonymous with Disneyland and niceness. (I can’t count how many times I’ve heard, from the mouths of professing Christians, “I really like [so-and-so]. He’s such a nice guy.” To which I retort, “as if niceness has anything to do with biblical Christianity!”)

Kierkegaard was right: “The truth shall set ye free; but first it shall make ye miserable.”

Me, a chirpy optimist? I don’t think so. Let me contemplate on misery, if only to better help me comprehend the gospel’s beauty and glory.

Now about that mug? I need something to hold my drink while I watch an Ingmar Bergman film on this dark, dreary and depressingly dull November Minnesota day.

And if you’re looking for an accessible introduction to Kierkegaard, begin here.

Finally, if you’re ever in Minnesota and want to visit the world’s largest Kierkegaard library, drop me a line and I’ll join you.

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