Soren Kierkegaard was an eighteenth century Danish philosopher who no one paid much attention to until after he died. While alive though, he had unsuccessfully waged a war of words with the Danish Lutheran church, as well as the Danish print media. A century after his death German liberals like Karl Barth rediscovered his philosophy just in time to wage war against the gospel. Today, whole denominations like the PCUSA lie in ruins, victims of the Kierkegaardian false mind-heart dichotomy which Barth so successfully championed from his seminary base in the Fatherland. Who is Kierkegaard and what did he teach that was so evil?
Denmark had tried to institutionalize Christianity. Lutheranism was the hustle, and the only game in town was the state church. If you were a Dane back then you were born Christian simply by virtue of being born a Dane. The problem, of course, is that you wouldn’t really have been a Christian. Oh, the Danes got baptized well enough, and they attended church and partook of all the customary rites and rituals, but when it came right down to it, they never actually believed the gospel. They were Danes instead; saluting the flag by planting their feet in church every Sunday.
One of the biggest problems with a state church is the fact it tends to fill churches to capacity with rank unbelievers. So it was with Denmark. Denmark wound up with state-sponsored churches full of unbelievers. Thousands failed to identify themselves as sinners deserving of death and in need of the vicarious death of Christ to save them. Instead, everyone thought they were safe, because they attended church every Sunday. Kierkegaard awoke one day to find himself surrounded by a nation of religious hypocrites who were as insincere about their doctrine as they were about their devotion.
But as sincere as he himself may have been, Kierkegaard still failed to identify the real problem, which was a state-sponsored false gospel. Kierkegaard instead identified insincerity as the culprit. The Danes weren’t sincere enough, he thought. If he could just point this out to them and show them how they needed to be more sincere, then the problem would be fixed. How was he to do this though? How could he prove to people who could not have cared less about his proofs that they were in need of sincerity?
Kierkegaard chose the Danish newspapers as his starting point. He wrote editorial opinions criticizing the sincerity of Danish churches. The problem, he said, was that the Danish had failed to understand the true definition of faith. Faith, said Kierkegaard, was not simply a matter of the mind. That is, faith is not about what you believe, but rather how you believe it. Faith is more than just assenting to propositions; it is also a way of feeling, an experience, a sincerity that is impassioned and which transcends and inspires you to a deeper devotion. Faith, he said, is not just a matter of the mind, but also of the heart.
Kierkegaard would go on to develop this mind-heart dichotomy into what is now known as existentialism. Existentialism is a philosophical system that divides knowledge into two parts – objective and subjective; outside and inside; impersonal facts and personal experience. According to Existentialism, one without the other is tantamount to no knowledge at all. According to later Existentialists like Sartre, the subjective alone is good enough.
The problem for Kierkegaard is that the Bible never makes this distinction. Kierkegaard inserted it into the text. Scripture views head and heart as the same thing. What you know in your head is what you know in your heart. The thoughts of the heart, said Jesus, proceed from the mouth. If the heart is for one thing and the head for another, then it is impossible for a heart to have thoughts.
Proverbs 23:7 As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.
Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts
Romans 1:21 and their foolish heart was darkened
Acts 5:4 Why have you conceived this deed in your heart?
Romans 8:27 And he who searches the heart knows what is the mind of the Spirit
If foolishness is something that describes a poor mind (Prov 11:29, Ps 14:1), then it is hard to imagine how a heart could be foolish if a heart is something other than a mind.
The Bible does not differentiate between heart and mind. Both words refer to the same thing – the intellect. In fact, the Greek word for heart, “kardia”, means to think.
Romans 10:10 for with the heart one believes
How did Kierkegaard get it so wrong then? He got it so wrong for two main reasons. First, he did not, nor did he ever believe the true gospel. Second, he began with his own head rather than with the Bible.
Kierkegaard was convinced that the problem with the Danish church was its lack of sincerity. He did not go to the Scriptures first to learn what the problem was. Instead, he first assumed what the problem was, and then he went to the Bible to prove his assumption true.
His cure for the Danish church was no better than the disease. And the Danes knew it! The Danish responded in kind to his editorials. Even worse, they openly mocked him. This only set Kierkegaard to scribble even more furiously. Soon, the Danes were publishing editorial cartoons mocking his appearance. Out in the streets, children threw stones at him.
While the Danish response to criticism was no better than the criticism itself, Kierkegaard cure for the Danes was also no better than the disease. This was because Kierkegaard had literally turned pagan idolaters into citizens of God’s kingdom overnight. He composed an illustration in which he imagined two men praying; one, an insincere Lutheran and the other a sincere Hindu. Kierkegaard argued that because the Lutheran was insincere, the Lutheran was therefore praying to an idol, while the Hindu, because he was sincere, was actually praying to the God of the Bible. Yes, he actually claimed this!
For one-hundred years after his death, Kierkegaard’s incurable cure lay dormant until Barth and Schleiermacher discovered it. In their own search for a cure for Nietzsche’s Nihilism, both Barth and Schleiermacher discovered Kierkegaard’s unbiblical definition of faith.
Barth would go on to fill the minds of hundreds of young American men with his nonsense. These young men, zealous to be made into Godly pastors, would find their heads filled with Barth’s rubbish. Being ill equipped to combat it, these young men would return to America to begin unwittingly filling the heads of the people in their congregations with Kierkegaardian garbage.
Some ninety or so years later, we find the hollowed out remains of what used to be churches standing everywhere in our midst. The buildings remain intact, and the congregations inside continue to gather, but the gospel has long since vanished from the place. What remains are a bunch of pagans convinced of their righteousness because they are sincere.
American Christianity is now awash in Kierkegaardian impassioned sincerity. Faith is no longer defined as intellectual assent to the gospel’s propositions. Instead, faith is today defined as impassioned sincerity.
Jesus Christ saved His people by offering His body to God at the cross as a sacrifice for His people’s sins. The Bible says agree that this is true and you will be saved. Today, preachers and podcasters all over the Western world tell us that we must do more than agree with the gospel to be saved. They tell us we must also be sincere and take measurements of our sincerity to make sure we are sincere. Justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone has been replaced with justified by grace, but saved by sincerity. It is blasphemy to tack the Holy Spirit onto the end of that last sentence. It is blasphemy and it is a lie to pretend that the message is still one of grace simply because the Holy Spirit is now asserted to be the one who enables me to be sincere. Justified by grace, but saved by a sincerity which the Holy Spirit enables me to perform is an utterly wicked and abominable message.