Tietjen Introduces Kierkegaard

Tietjen reviewTietjen, Mark A. 2016. Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

An important motive for devoting the last six years to writing about Christian spirituality has been the premise that many Christians have lost touch with their spiritual heritage. In more than one denomination, the basic teachings that launched the denomination are no longer given even cursory attention from the pulpit and synchronistic practices are widely believed to be Christian. Faced with a church that has lost its way and offers little help in dealing with life’s challenges, many young people who grew up in the church understandably see no reason to continue attending. In reading about the such issues, one name gets repeated a lot: Kierkegaard.

Introduction

In his book, Kierkegaard, Mark Tietjen writes:

“My goal is to convince Christians as I have been convinced that Soren Kierkegaard [1813-1855] is a voice that should be sought and heard for the edification of the church.”(25)

Merold Westphal, who wrote the foreword, describes Kierkegaard as a prophet who rails against cheap grace and encourages Christians to think of faith as harder to deal with than it is commonly sold in three ways: (1) it is a lifelong pursuit (2) focused on beliefs and actions (3) that takes sin seriously (12-14). A fourth ways arises in that pastors need both to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, where most focus exclusively on the former (17).

Cheap Grace

Railing against cheap grace is today more normally associated with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who may have picked up the idea from Kierkegaard. Bonhoeffer (1995, 44-45) wrote:

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living, and incarnate.”

The Apostle Paul put it this way: we were bought with a price (1 Cor 6:19-20).

If this critique of the church seems harsh, I remember attending an inquirers weekend at Princeton Theological Seminary in 2003. At a closing dinner, the dean asked each inquirer to talk about why they had come. All but about 2 of the sixty inquirers were fresh out of college and typically answered something like this: I enjoyed my youth group in high school and just want to continue that experience by working for the church.

Cheap grace? Yes, because many churches seek out such young candidates for ministry hoping to attract their kids back into the church. Ironically, the church requiring the most devotion from their members often have the highest retention rates among their kids.[1]

Background and Organization

Mark A. Tietjen received his doctorate from Baylor University and is a director at Stony Brook School in New York. He is the former secretary of the Soren Kierkegaard Society and has written another book: Kierkegaard, Communication, and Virtue: Authorship as Edification (2013). Tietjen writes in five chapters:

  1. Kierkegaard: Friend to Christians?
  2. Jesus Christ
  3. The Human Self
  4. Christian Witness
  5. The Life of Christian Love.

These chapters are preceded by a foreword and introduction and followed by conclusions, suggestions for the further reading, and indices.

Missionary to Christians?

In his conclusions Tietjen offers a number of reasons why Christians may need a missionary. The most controversial one might be that some Christians may “have inherited a perverted form of Christianity.”(161) He offers three views of such perverted forms:

  1. The liberal theology view. Traditional Christian views on sin and the divinity of Christ are unnecessary even though Jesus can help us live a more moral life.
  2. The Pelagian view. Grace is overstated and unnecessary because we can help contribute to our own salvation.
  3. The grace-abuse view. Because of God’s grace, we need not practice God’s law or pursue holiness. (56-57)

While one can argue the need for missionaries to the church, the modern and postmodern church appears to have inoculated many to traditional Christian faith. Tietjen refers to them as Christian admirers who fail to take the life of Christ as something to be imitated. Admirers look on the imitator as a: “religious fanatic, Jesus freak, fundamentalist, and so on.” (74) Thus, the Holy Spirit’s intervention, not better apologetics, seems to be required.

Assessment

Mark Tietjen’s book, Kierkegaard, provides a basic understanding of Kierkegaard’s writing and times. Tietjen is well versed in Kierkegaard’s work and offers many interesting anecdotes.

References

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich 1995.The Cost of Discipleship(Orig Pub 1937). Translated by R. H. Fuller and Irmgard Booth. New York: Simon & Schuster—A Touchstone Book.

Footnotes

[1]A similar phenomenon has occasionally been observed by marketers when the highest priced good is perceived by consumers to be the highest quality—discounting in such cases may actually lower sales revenue. The classic example of this phenomenon is Lite Beer which has frequently sold at a premium to regular beer even though it is essentially made by adding water to that same beer. Part of the mystique is the higher price.

Tietjen Introduces Kierkegaard

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