Tag Archives: existentialists

We Are Not Droids — Schaeffer v. Kierkegaard

A couple weeks ago, my friend Bob Weathers mentioned that while at Fuller Seminary, he read something by Francis Schaeffer that criticized Soren Kierkegaard. I knew of and admired Schaeffer on account of his L’Abri community, but I hadn’t read his any of his books.

Now, while reading How Then Should We Live?  (written, like Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, in answer to the question Aristotle raised) I see Schaeffer’s problem with Kierkegaard.

He appears to blame Kierkegaard for the result of his ideas, for what the philosopher’s followers have wrought, which Schaeffer calls the “existential methodology” that places reason and non-reason (the objective and subjective, in Kierkegaard’s terms) as mutually exclusive processes.

Schaeffer blames this “existential methodology” for causing the flight of reasonable people from Christian ideals and ethics.  He maintains that existentialists, beginning with Kierkegaard, have convinced us that values belong to the realm of  “non-reason” or blind faith and therefore can never be universally or culturally applied. So, according to Shaeffer, on account of the existentialists, our culture as a whole considers values as relative only to the individuals who choose to follow them.

Certain existentialists may argue for the relativity of values, but according to my reading of and about him, Kierkegaard made no such argument. I have found not the least indication that he denies the value of reason, a faculty he consistently applies with a master’s touch. His rejection of reason is only of the insistence that it is all we have with which to discover truth.

Schaeffer appears to believe we must either rely exclusively upon reason or ban reason and rely only upon the “non-reason” of our instincts, desires, and wishful fantasies.

This morning I came across an article about scientists who contend that reason is only one of our tools, and perhaps not the one we most often apply, even while we consider ourselves reasonable, logical. Please click and read.

Surely reason is a factor in what Kierkegaard means by the subjective. Likewise, intuition, emotion, and perhaps divine inspiration, influence our reasoning.  After all, we are not droids.

This Schaeffer v. Kierkegaard conflict ought to matter to anyone concerned who has ever wondered if evangelists should aim to influence the objective or the subjective; the mind, the heart, or the whole individual. A worthy question, especially for those who take The Great Commission to heart.

Ken Kuhlken

Kierkegaard v. melancholy, post 10

The Danger

Existentialists consider a conscious decision about the meaning of life as essential to a creditable existence.  Sören Kierkegaard framed that decision as the choice for or against Christ.

He reasons that the message of Christ is so opposite to the attitudes most of the world lives by, it allows no legitimate alternative but for us to accept and attempt to apply the message with all we have, or reject and go our own way.

In a journal Kierkegaard wrote: “Imagine a kind of medicine that possesses in full dosage a laxative effect but in a half dose a constipating effect. Suppose someone is suffering from constipation. But – for some reason or other, perhaps because there is not enough for a full dose or because it is feared that such a large amount might be too much – in order to do something, he is given, with the best of intentions, a half dose: ‘After all, it is at least something.’ What a tragedy!

“So it is with today’s Christianity. As with everything qualified by an either/or – the half has the very opposite effect from the whole. But we Christians go right on practicing this well-intentioned half-hearted act from generation to generation. We produce Christians by the millions, are proud of it – yet have no inkling that we are doing just exactly the opposite of what we intend to do.

“It takes a physician to understand that a half dose can have the opposite effect to that of a full dose. Common sense, cool- minded mediocrity never catches on. It undeviatingly continues to say of the half-dosage: ‘After all, it is something; even if it doesn’t work very well, it is still something.’ But that it should have an opposite effect – no, mediocrity does not grasp that.

“The greatest danger to Christianity is, I contend, not heresies, heterodoxies, not atheists, not profane secularism – no, but the kind of orthodoxy which is cordial drivel, mediocrity served up sweet.” (1)

If a middle ground, a partial acceptance and application of Christ’s message, is so perverse, people of integrity must choose, when they come face to face with Christ, to either pick up the cross and follow or, whether with a laugh, shrug, or shudder, pass on by.

Christ’s message is so radical, it lies outside any possibility of compromise. The whole of his message invites us to reject and betray our very natures. We are deeply selfish creatures.  Jesus would have us turn our selfishness inside out, and concern ourselves exclusively with the good of whomever we encounter.  He commands us to love without distinction.

He draws a line.  On the one side is self-concern.  On the other side is love.  To straddle the line is like paddling into a wave with the right foot on one surfboard, the left foot on another.

(1) For those who care to read on, at the risk of copyright infringement, I have posted an entire chapter reprinted in Provocations, on my website, at: www.kenkuhlken.net/danger.htm