HOW ARE WE DOING?

“Popular agnostic Bart Ehrman, religious studies professor at UNC Chapel Hill, starts one of his courses with a class exercise.1 He begins, “How many of you believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God?” According to professor Ehrman, the majority of students at UNC raise their hands. Then he asks, “How many of you have read [and he will select a popular novel]… The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins?” Usually, every hand goes up across the room, with only a few exceptions. Ehrman follows with a third question, “How many of you have read the entire Bible?” And virtually no one raises his or her hand. Then comes Ehrman’s punch. He inquires, “Now I can understand why you would read Collins’ book. It’s entertaining. But, if you really believed God wrote a book, then wouldn’t you want to read it?” Ehrman thus exposes the inconsistency with what these students say and with what they do.”

(Tony Merida, “Preach the Word, Build the Church,” May 16, 2016)

THE BIBLE IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD

Richard Bauckham is professor emeritus of New Testament studies at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.  He is also senior scholar at Ridley Hall, Cambridge and a fellow of both the British Academy and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.  He is the author of many distinguished works.  The following interview revolves around Professor Bauckham’s book, The Bible in the Contemporary World  (http://www.amazon.com/The-Bible-Contemporary-World-Hermeneutical/dp/0802872239).

David George Moore conducted the interview.  Dave blogs at www.twocities.org.

Moore: In the introduction you write that “biblical surprises should also be part of the Bible’s relevance to the contemporary world.”  Would you unpack that a bit for us?

Bauckham: I meant that we should never feel too satisfied that we know what the Bible’s messages are and how they relate to the contemporary world. If we go on studying Scripture at the same time as we attend to what is happening in our world there will always be fresh insights.

Moore: Some continue to argue that Gnosticism is compatible with Christianity.  It seems fairly obvious that this is not the case, so why do so many keep seeking to persuade us otherwise?

Bauckham: We live in a culture that values diversity and so I think the idea that early Christianity was more diverse than we thought is appealing. Moreover, the institutional church is not popular and so the idea of an early version of Christianity that was suppressed by the institutional church for political reasons also appeals. But Gnosticism is a slippery term. I think, for the sake of clarity, we should limit it to the view that the material world was created by an inferior and incompetent deity, identified with the God of the Old Testament, while the Father of Jesus Christ is an altogether different, supreme God. Jesus came from the Father with a message for the elect: that they do not belong in this world, in which they are trapped by their bodies and the hostile god of this world, and can escape to the kingdom of the Father. Gnosticism is anti-Jewish, anti-body, anti-matter.

Moore: It seems quite evident that British biblical scholars are generally more apt than their American counterparts to discuss the abuses of capitalism and the importance of stewarding the environment.  If I am correct in my observation, what do you attribute this to?

Bauckham: There is a strong tradition in USA of association of conservative Christianity with right-wing politics and economics. This doesn’t exist in UK. You also need to remember that the political spectrum in USA is considerably to the right of the spectrum in the UK.

Moore: The modern idea of progress is a stubborn and persistent idea.  It is resilient in the face of modern horrors like the great wars, genocide, and so much more.  How can we better help others see the unbiblical assumptions behind the modern notion of progress?

Bauckham: I always have to explain that, when I criticize the idea of progress, I am not denying that many things have improved (e.g. medicine). But other things have got worse (e.g. climate change). We cannot empirically weigh up all the gains and losses and say that on balance and in total the world is constantly getting better. The idea of progress is an ideology that distorts by making us notice what seem to be improvements and to miss what are often serious downsides of those very improvements. “Progress” very often has victims, but the beneficiaries of this “progress” can the more easily ignore them because the ideology of progress consigns them to a past that is being left behind.

In its origins the idea of progress is a secular version of Christian eschatology. Perhaps that’s why so many Christians are still firm believers in it. But the Christian hope is for a future that comes from God and is not just for those lucky enough to live in the vanguard of progress but even for the dead.

Moore: It is common to hear people announce the death of the Enlightenment Project.  Is the Enlightenment over, and if it isn’t, why do so many say it is?

Bauckham: Of course, the Enlightenment was a complex phenomenon, like all such historical movements. Some of its legacy is more or less permanent, other aspects less so. I think many of us were very impressed by the claim that postmodernism was about to succeed the Enlightenment, but it hasn’t really worked out that way. It looks like the West now has a culture that mixes elements of both.

Moore: Do Christians in the West generally have the correct understanding of freedom?

Bauckham: My impression is that Christians generally don’t think about what true freedom is. They unthinkingly go along with the views that are current in our culture. But, seeing that freedom is probably the most powerful concept in contemporary western culture, it is surely vital that Christians think critically about it.

Moore: Give us a few things that you would like your readers to take away from reading The Bible in the Contemporary World.

Bauckham: I hope many readers will come away with the sense that the Bible speaks more broadly to the big issues of our time than they have realized before. And I hope many readers will find that the Bible invites them to be more concerned with the big issues of our time than they have been before.

 

 

 

 

MY CORRESPONDENCE WITH TIM KELLER

Dear Tim,

I have read several of your books and benefited greatly from each one.  I am also grateful for your willingness to do the Patheos/Jesus Creed interview with me.  Hyperbole and lack of nuance (not two things many associate with you) can be taken literally when the person communicating is well regarded.  I’m afraid that may be the case with the following.  In several places I have seen various iterations of your remarks when it comes to young preachers.  Here is one such example:

I don’t believe you should spend a lot of time preparing your sermon, when you’re a younger minister. I think because we are so desperately want our sermon to be good, that when you’re younger you spend way too much time preparing. And, you know, its scary to say this to the younger ministers… you’re not going to be much better by putting in twenty hours on that sermon–the only way you’re going to be a better preacher is if you preach often. For the first 200 sermons, no matter what you do, your first 200 sermons are going to be terrible. (laughter from the crowd). And, if you put in…fifteen or twenty hours in the sermon you probably won’t preach that many sermons because you won’t last in ministry, because your people will feel neglected.

Similar to Gladwell’s now contested “10,000 hours of practice,” many seem to take the 200 sermons in the most wooden of ways.  I get the point that it may take some five years of preaching to “find one’s voice,” but surely there is a wide variation of gifts and maturity that make the number 200 arbitrary, aren’t there?

Personally, I have heard young preachers whose maturity coupled with a genuine unction of the Spirit made it evident that “they found their voice.”  Conversely, I sadly report hearing some minsters who long ago crossed 200 sermons and still seem in search of their voice.

Sincerely in Christ,
Dave

Hi Dave—

Certainly we can’t take 200 in a wooden way. Of course there are variations. By the way, I doubt I’ve used the number “200″ more than once or twice in off hand remarks.

You are right in drawing out the broader principle. If you preach regularly, say 40-50 times a year, including Sunday preaching and other speaking at weddings, funerals, and conferences, then, yes, I’d say it takes at least three years of full-time preaching before you get even close to being as mature and skillful a preacher as you are capable of becoming.

There are basically three things that go into the “maturing” process: a) the actual preparation of the message, b) life experience—of your own heart, of pastoral work, of prayer, c) practice.

I’d say that younger preachers a) don’t have enough life experience, and b) don’t preach often enough to be growing in preaching as they should. They tend to put all the emphasis on long hours of academic prep.  It would be better if instead of 20 hrs of prep they did 5-6 hrs of prep and spent the rest of the time out involved in people’s lives, and then simply preached and spoke more often.  That is the balance that is needed. And then give it 3-5 years to come up to whatever level God has gifted you.

And, yes, I have heard some young preachers with pretty good spiritual maturity for their age and God’s anointing–be quite good.  Yet compare the sermons of the young Spurgeon (who was a teenage preaching phenom) with the old Spurgeon. The older Spurgeon sermons are far richer, wiser, better.

Tim

TWO PRAYERS

About ten years ago I noticed that two things spontaneously dominated my prayers.  And they continue to do so to this day.

The first is a “Lord Jesus come” prayer for God to set everything right.

The second is a sort of lament/complaint to God “reminding” Him how difficult it is to live the Christian life.

EVERYONE HAS A PLAN UNTIL THEY GET PUNCHED IN THE FACE

Mike Woodruff is senior pastor of Christ Church in Lake Forest, IL.  He has served in that capacity since 2003.  Healthy and fitness focused, Mike had a freak accident which upended the trajectory of his life.

Moore: Give our readers a sense of what happened that fateful day in the pool during your regular swim.

Woodruff: The winter of 2014 was a nasty one in Chicago. It was too cold for me to run outside so I started swimming to stay in shape. Swimming is supposed to be a great low-impact cardiovascular workout. Unfortunately I am in the .02 percent who are susceptible to fraying a vertebral artery by repetitive head turning (to breathe). On Good Friday I ended up suffering a SCAD – a Spontaneous cerebral arterial dissection. This means the lining of my artery frayed. Blood got into the lining, ballooned it out and that led to a stroke. I wasn’t swimming at the time. I was in my office getting ready for a busy weekend. I stood up and felt a bit dizzy. I didn’t think anything of it. A few hours later it happened again. The third time the room started to spin. I went home early and went to bed, thinking I had the flu. I started to slide pretty fast. Early on Saturday AM my wife called an ambulance. I was quickly diagnosed at the local ER and transported to Northwestern University’s Neuro-ICU unit.  

Moore: Didn’t you already plan on doing a series on suffering just prior to your accident? 

Woodruff: Yes. Every fall I write a book for part of a fall series. I had started writing a book called Broken, which was based on four ideas: 1) If you live long enough you will suffer; 2) Americans are bad at it; 3) You can prepare; and 4) suffering can be a pathway to growth.  It doesn’t have to be, but some can emerge stronger.  

Moore:  In the first book (we should probably call them booklets) of the five, you mention that you “started out writing a very different book…” What changed the original course you were on?

Woodruff: The book I was writing was a bit more academic. And in it I had noted that I didn’t feel particularly qualified to write about suffering. As soon as I was coherent enough to start reflecting what was going on I started blogging about my situation. The response to my blog led me to think I needed to adopt a very different voice for the book. (And yes, because I was so late in getting to the book, we turned it into five small booklets).

Moore: Mark Noll famously said Abraham Lincoln was the best theologian during the Civil War period because he appreciated the inscrutable nature of God’s providence.  Perhaps we could say Mike Tyson is also a pretty good theologian with the memorable quote that leads into our interview.

Woodruff: I love the Tyson quote. It is quite profound.

Moore: I interviewed Tim Keller on his book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.  (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/02/04/tim-keller-on-suffering/) Both of you describe how common it is to find Christians who are surprised by suffering.  How do you pastor folks to be better prepared for difficult and trying times?

Woodruff: I told the congregation that I was going to talk about suffering because I was tired of people being surprised by suffering – and also by death. I said, “I am failing you.  I need you to hear that if you live long enough you will suffer. It’s going to happen. Count on it.”

Even having said that some are still surprised.

Moore: You make your living by speaking. It must have been terrifying to feel like your livelihood was in jeopardy. 

Woodruff: The doctor in the ER of the local hospital told me that I had had a Cerebellar stroke and would make a full recovery. That was a bit optimistic. Most of the damage I sustained was to the Cerebellar region, but I also suffered Vestibular damage. That is more serious. Few survive Vestibular (brain stem) strokes because that real state is so loaded with important things, like breathing. My balance, sight, touch, swallowing and voice were affected, but not breathing. Anyway, I didn’t understand how serious my situation was. There were some very dark moments, but I thought I would make a 100 percent recovery for the first few months. I only later realized how close to I had come to dying. And how much worse it could be.   (For the record, I would say I have made a 90% recovery to date).

Moore: How has your relationship with Christ changed as a result of the stroke?

Woodruff: During the most desperate moments I felt great peace. As I began to heal I prayed that I could hold on to that closeness. I am sorry to say that I have not. I believe some may, but I didn’t. What I can say is, I found great comfort from my savior and my family. I would not want to go through it again, but I got to test my safety net and it was very strong. I am thankful.

 

 

 

YOU CAN’T HAVE ONE WITHOUT THE OTHER

Conversion and Discipleship, that is.

The following description of Bill Hull comes from his web site: “Bill Hull’s passion is to help the church return to its disciple making roots and he considers himself a discipleship evangelist. This God-given desire has manifested itself in twenty years of pastoring and the authorship of many books.” Bill’s latest book, Conversion and Discipleship: You Can’t Have One Without the Other (http://www.amazon.com/Conversion-Discipleship-Cant-without-Other/dp/0310520096) framed this conversation.

Moore: Late in life, St. Augustine wrote his Retractions (some like to translate it reconsiderations). He was working through the body of his works to see what might need to be changed or clarified. You’ve written several previous books on discipleship. To what degree is your present book akin to Augustine’s Retractions?

Hull: Augustine wrote over 100 pieces of significant literature, my corpus is twenty-two books and a few articles and I suppose hours of video, blogs, tweets, and other recordings. Overall I have less to regret than the Bishop of Hippo, but your question gives me an idea for the next book.

At the twentieth anniversary of each of my disciple making trilogy, Jesus Christ Disciple Maker, The Disciple Making Pastor, and the Disciple Making Church, I reread the books and contemplated some changes. I found it easier to write a reflection at the start of each chapter than reconstructing the book’s arguments. What I found to be true in that exercise was that the problem of nominal or weak Christianity still existed, but that I would choose some different modes or methods to solve the problems. Conversion and Discipleship is like throwing a “smart bomb” into the middle of the church and see what is left after the smoke clears. What is significantly different than my previous work is that it starts the conversation at the “What is the gospel?” level rather than the “Make Disciples” level. There are really three levels of conversation when it comes to the world revolution that is the Great Commission. Upstream it is, “What does the gospel we produce naturally produce, disciples or consumers? The midstream conversation is, “What is a disciple, why are they important, and what difference do they make?” Finally, there is the downstream conversation, “What is your plan? Because if you don’t have a plan, you don’t intend to do it.

Moore: I’ve been the beneficiary of discipleship for almost forty years now. I’ve had several men invest in me and I love doing my own part with other men. In both of the seminaries I attended (Dallas and Trinity), I was constantly surprised how many of my classmates (many coming from solid, Christian families) never were discipled. Why is that?

Hull: Everyone has been discipled, by a family, a church, a culture. Everyone has a spiritual formation; even a terrorist has been discipled. I know their meaning when they say such a thing; they have not been worked with by another person in a systematic way where there was some start and finish to the process. That reveals how powerfully the insularly educational discipleship process has been embedded into the evangelical mind. I think Winston Churchill put it nicely, “We teach what we know, we reproduce what we are.”

Most contemporary discipleship runs aground because it is educationally based, and self-focused. It is about finishing curriculum and evaluates itself by asking the question, “ How am I doing?” This is not the kind of question or life than Jesus invites us into. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called Jesus, “A man for others.” As his disciples, we are to live for others; the church exists at its best when it exists for others. If you try and make a Christlike disciple from a conventional gospel you will fail, every time you will fail. Another factor is that discipleship has not been central to the teaching available in seminaries, churches themselves and the pastors have very little theological or practical basis for beginning such a process or developing a workable plan.

Moore: We live on the far side of mass evangelistic outreaches with the likes of Sunday, Moody, and Graham. To what extent do you think that approach to evangelism has brought confusion about the integral nature of discipleship?

Hull: There is a lot to say here. I will restrict myself to how modern mass evangelism separated conversion from discipleship. The first step in the separation was to replace the gospel with the plan of salvation. The gospel is the complete story of God, humans and the redemptive drama. The early fathers saw the four gospels together as the “gospel.” The drive to evangelize and get decisions created the “Plan of Salvation,” a four or five point extract of the gospel. Through the popularity of mass evangelism the plan of salvation replaced the gospel in the perception of the American church. The split between conversion and discipleship was complete when the Navigators and others created a category called discipleship. Discipleship included a system, a planned curriculum or study, and had tiers of ascendance. You would start as a convert, the after a period of time you would earn the moniker, disciple, then worker and finally leader. This all meant that conversion or being a convert was an entry level Christian. Discipleship then was a post conversion option for those who were so inclined, but it had no bearing on heaven, forgiveness of sins or eternal life. This of course has led us to the present need to reunite conversion to discipleship, and realize truly, that we cannot have one without the other.

Moore: I’ve had many conversations with those who advocate a “free grace” perspective when it comes to the gospel. (I don’t even like the term. Kind of like the “Department of Redundancy Department.”) As you know well, it came to prominence during the 1980s. I was at at Dallas Seminary at the time and the teaching of Zane Hodges, the late professor of New Testament, was influential. Others continue to advocate the “free grace” position. What do you think about this recent interpretation of the gospel? Has it had any effects on how we understand the integral role of Christian discipleship?

Hull: Dallas Willard commented on the misunderstanding of grace, “We have not only been saved by grace, we have been paralyzed by it.” He meant that it created a passivity among Christians. Bonhoeffer was disturbed about what his own Lutheran church had done to Luther’s understanding of grace. Willard said the grace was not opposed to effort, but was opposed to earning. Bonhoeffer famously, called what his church practiced, “Cheap grace.” All that needs to happen to corrupt grace is to it assign it a single place only in our spiritual journey, the point of conversion. Therefore, when someone says, “I was saved by grace on July 1, 1986, we then leave that big dollop of grace behind as a memory and we live on that memory. Grace becomes only a memory, but not a means of power and energy to strengthen our effort to work for Christ and his Kingdom. Grace too often breeds passivity. We keep waiting for a special work, command or power before we act. God’s grace is an active force that is ever ready to empower us.

The only way out of this corruption of grace I know is to act, quit asking a lot of personal therapeutic questions about self, and start obeying, doing what God has already commanded us to do, then you will experience grace. Much better than sitting around and contemplating its meaning.

Moore: You regularly refer to Dallas Willard in your latest book. What role has he played in your own understanding of Christian discipleship?

Hull: My first attraction to Dallas was his writing. He reached my mind before he did my heart. I first met him in 2001 and he complemented me on something I had written. Of course, that warmed by heart. I heard him say two things that stand out in the development of my life and understanding. The first was, “ I never try to make anything happen.” I really did question his sanity when I heard him say it. I thought, “ a typical philosopher who doesn’t need to make anything work.” But he was talking about forcing the action, attempting to get people to accept or recognize his work, or to through human effort attempt to earn God’s favor. I found this a profound truth, coupled with this: “ Don’t seek to speak, seek to have something to say.” This was not a call to passivity. It was a call to humility and allowing God to provide the opportunities.

The second statement was, “There has not been in twentieth century anyone who has put together a theology of discipleship.” I questioned this statement as well, because I thought I had done it. But in conversation with Dallas over a period of months I came to agree with him. His comment and subsequent conversations was the impetus for the publication of Conversion and Discipleship. Upon Dallas’ death, I sensed it was time for me to give it a go. While it didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned, it is my good faith effort as a writer to put out a respectable street level theology that can help leaders make disciples.

Moore: Another friend of yours, Robert Coleman, wrote the influential The Master Plan of Evangelism. For those who may not be familiar with the book, there is much in that relates to the subject of discipleship, and discipleship is what Coleman continues to do even now at 88 years old. This book continues to sell at a rather brisk rate, yet I don’t hear it mentioned much in evangelical circles. Is my own experience unusual or do you think there is a rather pervasive neglect of Coleman’s message?

Hull: Dr. Coleman is a national treasure, not just for the church, I mean for the nation. There are so few people of such an age who are so full of Christ. The Master Plan is one of those books that everyone remembers they read, even if they never read it. It is short and simple. It is the reason it remains one of the best sellers of all time. I believe somewhere around five million have been sold. It was used by Billy Graham in follow up to his crusades and offered on television. It is no longer marketed or repackaged strongly and that explains partly why it is less known to the younger generations. There are a few discipleship classics, but none with the history, clarity and brevity as the Master Plan. It is the gold standard.

Moore: What are a few things you would like people to take away from your book?

Hull: I would hope that it would change the way you think. I have always believed that the most important part of a leader is what he or she thinks, for it drives everything else. The book’s thesis is, “All who are called to salvation, are called to discipleship, no exceptions, no excuses.” If that is believed and practiced, then the church will fill the world with Christlike disciples, they will preach the gospel to the end of the earth and then the end will come. Our choices do matter, our efforts do count, and in the end, God has given us this work to do. Discipleship is about world revolution.

 

CHRISTIAN MISSIONARY TO CHRISTIANS?

Mark Tietjen serves as director of religious life and Grace Palmer Johnston Chair of Bible at Stony Brook School. His latest book, Kierkegaard: a Christian Missionary to Christians (http://www.amazon.com/Kierkegaard-Missionary-Christians-Mark-Tietjen/dp/0830840974/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8) framed this interview.

Moore: Your title will pique the interest of those not familiar with Kierkegaard. How is he a “Christian missionary to Christians”?

Tietjen: Kierkegaard’s context is 19th century Europe, i.e. Christendom, and thus he’s addressing an audience that would regard itself as Christian, simply by virtue of their being European. He felt strongly, however, that there was little Christianity in Christendom, hence the description of his work as missionary work. I think what Kierkegaard offers is along the lines of what any number of Christian thinkers offer when they point us closer toward the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in doing so challenge those beliefs, prejudices, behaviors, attitudes, and feelings that we take to be ‘Christian,’ but which in fact are not. And the process of discovering that is painful, but good. Reading Kierkegaard can be painful, but good.

Moore: As a young Christian growing up the 1980s the writings of Francis Schaeffer were extremely influential. I vividly recall Schaeffer’s critique of Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith.” A college professor who described Kierkegaard as the father of existentialism added another inaccurate component to my understanding of Kierkegaard. How did both of them get Kierkegaard wrong?

Tietjen: “Leap of faith” is a phrase that never appears in Kierkegaard’s published work. What critics pick up on in his use of the term leap is the idea that the most important decisions humans make in their lives are passional decisions, decisions where reason can help but is not necessarily decisive, and instead, our deepest commitments—our cares and passions—direct us. If that’s true, then we need to cultivate virtuous cares and passions, and Kierkegaard is devoted to thinking deeply on that. These critics would suggest that when it comes to faith Kierkegaard promotes a kind of irrationalism which, at the end of the day, says that to believe in God is something one does blindly, without any evidence. Kierkegaard is hardly an irrationalist. However, he is a very strong critic of rationality because he recognizes that all conceptions of rationality have some angle, some set of assumptions, that often serve to justify oneself, one’s nation, one’s ethnic group, one’s prejudices, etc. Kierkegaard is also aware that while Christianity has its own logic (Jesus is the logos, after all), to those who do not share that faith, Christianity seems irrational. That does not scare Kierkegaard, precisely because he refuses to deify and human conception of rationality.

Concerning existentialism, classical existentialism claims that humans more or less determine who they are by their choices, but Kierkegaard thinks this sort of thinking is actually despair. Kierkegaard believes humans are image-bearers of God who will all experience despair until they ‘rest transparently’ in God. He is far more Augustinian than existentialist.

Moore: On the positive side of the ledger, I’ve noticed that many “conservative” Christians now refer to Kierkegaard with great enthusiasm. What has changed the minds of many in a more favorable direction?

Tietjen: This is a good question. Perhaps one explanation is the overall increase in Christian philosophy that has occurred since the 1970s. There are quite literally hundreds of more Christian philosophers working than there were 50 or more years ago, and thus more scholars who’ve studied Kierkegaard at a high level and recognize his contributions to Christian philosophy, psychology, and theology. I also think that when popular Christian writers like Philip Yancey and Timothy Keller speak approvingly of their debt to Kierkegaard, that moves the needle in the right direction.

Moore: Over the years, I’ve led several book clubs through various classics of the Christian faith. Kierkegaard’s Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing is one of the readings. There are a number of things which have stuck with me from reading that incisive work, but I want to ask you to unpack Kierkegaard’s suspicion over the crowd or what we today call “groupthink.”

Tietjen: Simone Weil, a kind of kindred spirit of Kierkegaard’s, once bravely admitted that she could imagine getting sucked into the group energy of Nazi rally songs—that there is a kind of seduction to following the mob that lullabies one to sleep. Kierkegaard felt that Christianity was primarily a category of individuality, meaning that God created each human uniquely and relates to each human individually, and thus oftentimes our involvement in the masses, including the public and even the church, can distract us from standing before God as individuals who have obligations to God and specific callings from God. To say I’m a Christian because I’m a European (or a Southerner) is precisely to make out of faith a group identification rather than a personal relation to God.

Moore: Kierkegaard had some very pointed things to say about the clergy of his day.  As you point out, even on his deathbed he refused communion because the clergy of the State church would have to administer it. He makes Eugene Peterson’s critiques of modern pastoral professionalism look mild! How did those ministers who ended up in Kierkegaard’s spiritual crosshairs respond to him?

Tietjen: Kierkegaard’s critique of the church and its clergy was at times challenged by the clergy, and at other times simply dismissed because he was not taken seriously after a while. To this day many in Denmark don’t know what to do with Kierkegaard. He was a public agitator, and that bad taste has never gone away. On the other hand, he’s arguably one of the three most famous Danes the world has ever known, and so there’s reason to take pride in him.

Moore: Kierkegaard liked to use irony, story-telling, and even sarcastic humor to get his points across. Was his intention similar to the famous lines of Emily Dickinson where she says, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant”? In other words, conveying the truth via direct communication may not always be the most effective.

Tietjen: Telling someone who identifies as a Christian that his or her life does not reflect Christ or Christianity is a hard sell and likely to get you in trouble. So Kierkegaard tries to ‘deceive into the truth,’ to use his phrase (one he attributes to Socrates). Beyond that, however, he felt like Christianity is more than affirming true doctrine, but rather it contains truth (or the Truth) to which one must personally relate. For example, to be a Christian is not to believe in the doctrine of sin, but to recognize in one’s heart, mind, and actions—“I am a sinner.” But the best way to communicate this, Kierkegaard felt, was not simply through saying as much, but through irony, through humor, through characters, etc.

Moore: What kind of person would derive the most benefit from reading your book? What would you hope that type of person would learn from your book?

Tietjen: I can think of a number of different kinds of people who might benefit from the book, but I imagine the person in need of a spiritual jolt or in need of encouragement in faith might benefit from the book. The book covers a lot of ground—who Jesus is, what it means to be human, what a life of Christian love looks like, and how we’re to think about ourselves as witnesses of faith. Thus, it is geared toward those inclined toward self-examination, those interested in thinking about their faith, but also those wondering what Christian faith means for me beyond beliefs—in the realm of religious emotions, Christian action, and care for those around me.