Søren Kierkegaard’s two heroes were Socrates and Jesus Christ. When explaining what he took his purpose as a philosopher to be, Kierkegaard said, “My task is a Socratic task—to rectify the concept of what it means to be a Christian.” This nineteenth-century Danish philosopher (1813–1855) is perhaps best known as the father of existentialism, a school of philosophical thought most often associated with atheist thinkers like Jean Paul Sartre. Kierkegaard, however, had a passionate faith in God. He was a staunch critic of the Danish church as well as a voice urging others to consider their need for God and His place in a truly fulfilled human existence. Much of what he wrote is strikingly relevant to contemporary life.
Kierkegaard is often misunderstood, in part because of the complexity of his approach as an author. Many of his works are written under particular pseudonyms. That is, Kierkegaard takes on a persona as an author and writes from a perspective different from his own. For example, in Fear and Trembling, a book that explores God’s testing of Abraham through His command that he sacrifice Isaac, Kierkegaard writes as Johannes de Silentio (“John of silence”). In the preface, John of silence states that he is not a philosopher. Instead, he is an outsider looking in at the faith of Abraham. He is trying to understand a faith that he does not have.
Kierkegaard wanted to help people discover and ultimately live the truth for themselves, which may be one of his motivations for writing from the perspective of different characters. Because Kierkegaard employs pseudonyms in this way, he is often misinterpreted. To understand his views, it is best to look to the works published under Kierkegaard’s own name, such as his series of edifying discourses and Works of Love.
For the rest of this article, go here. (This is the first in a new series of occasional posts I’ll be doing on Christian thinkers, past and present. I hope readers will find it useful!)