Training In Christianity
Author: Søren Kierkegaard, Translated With An Introduction And Notes By Walter Lowrie
Publisher: Princeton: Princeton University Press
275 pages, including Preface, Translator’s Introduction, and Index
ISBN 0-691-01959-2, Paperback
Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
The nineteenth century Danish philosopher-theologian, Søren Kierkegaard is, in most cases, difficult to read, and this work is no exception. Kierkegaard had a penchant for at times paragraph-long sentences, which are rather obscure and too abstract. Reading Kierkegaard is like running a marathon in that it requires both endless patience and endurance. Moreover, I would not be surprised either if some of the meaning has been lost translating from the Danish into English and making sections of the work in English even more cumbersome than the original text. If one is to understanding even an inkling of Kierkegaard’s works, it is helpful to remember and look for his use of paradox and dialectic in his thinking and writing.
In this volume Kierkegaard suggests there are two different kinds of history—secular and sacred. Secular history relies on facts drawn from asking the usual questions: who? what? where? when? why? how?
On the other hand, sacred history does not rely on such facts or questions. Rather, it is taken and written, read and lived with “a leap of faith,” i.e. ultimate, radical trust that its content is true and of divine origin, hence not subject to analysis by the categories of secular history nor dependent on their ultimate results. Authentic faith then tends to become offensive to every secular, rational, natural value of human beings.
Kierkegaard comes across as blunt and crude at times in his criticism of the state Church and clergy in particular. He makes all kinds of nasty remarks about their lacklustre character, their indifference, their lack of faith, etc. One does wonder if his vitriolic ranting in this regard at times is unfair and perhaps the consequence of his depressed and despairing state of being; as well as his being regarded as something of a pariah.
However there are passages in this work that do shine. For example, I like this quote based on Jesus’ call to take up one’s cross: “At the precise place where suffering would have come if I had been living in a militant Church, now comes reward; there, where scorn and derision would overtake me if I had been living in a militant Church, now honour and esteem beckon to me; there, where death would be unavoidable, I now celebrate the highest triumph.” (p. 208) Kierkegaard thought that the established Church lost its sense of contending since it had become too cozy in the world; whereas the militant Church was always in a state of becoming and survives only by contending with the world.
Training In Christianity is not for the faint-of-heart. If you’re up for challenging, heavy plodding along; if you enjoy theological and philosophical gymnastics; then this work is waiting for you.