What it Means to be an authentic Theologian before God: Søren

Søren Kierkegaard famously opined at an early age in his diary on August 1st, 1835 upon his course in life as a budding theologian (although not particularly in those terms). He offers an existential look into what I think a good theologian should be motivated by; i.e. to know the reality of God and what that implicates for self. Kierkegaard wrote:

What I really need is to get clear about what I am to do. . . . What matters is to find my purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I should; the crucial thing is to find a truth that is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die. Of what use would it be to me to discover a so-called objective truth, to work through the philosophical systems so that I could, if asked, make critical judgments about them, could point out the fallacies in each system; of what use would it be to me to be able to develop a theory of the state, getting details from various sources and combining them into a whole, and constructing a world I did not live in but merely held up for others to see; of what use would it be to me to be able to formulate the meaning of Christianity, to be able to explain many specific points—if it had no deeper meaning for me and for my life?. . . [Truth] must come alive in me, and this is what I now recognize as the most important of all. This is what my soul thirsts for as the African deserts thirst for water. This is what is lacking, and this is why I am like a man who has collected furniture, rented an apartment, but as yet has not found the beloved to share life’s ups and downs with him. But in order to find that idea—or, to put it more correctly—to find myself, it does no good to plunge still farther into the world. That was just what I did before. . . . I have vainly sought an anchor in the boundless sea of pleasure as well as in the depths of knowledge. I have felt the almost irresistible power with which on pleasure reaches a hand to the next; I have felt the counterfeit enthusiasm it is capable of producing. I have also felt the boredom, the shattering, which follows on its heels. I have tasted the fruits of the tree of knowledge and time and again have delighted in their savouriness. . . . Thus I am again standing at the point where I must begin again in another way. I shall now calmly attempt to look at myself and begin to initiate inner action; for only thus will I be able, like a child calling itself “I” in its first consciously undertaken act, be able to call myself “I” in a profounder sense. But that takes stamina, and it is not possible to harvest immediately what one has sown. . . . I will hurry along the path I have found and shout to everyone I meet: Do not look back as Lot’s wife did, but remember that we are struggling up a hill.[1]

There is an existential honestly about what Kierkegaard writes; and he’s right I don’t want to engage in vain meanderings simply to say that I can. Theology is a lived reality coram Deo (before God); theology penetrates deeply into the warp and woof of our very existence as sentient and breathing human beings. Jesus Christ, the theanthropos, entered into this in the incarnation and lived what it meant to truly be human before God for us. I think Kierkegaard was wanting to press into this reality by probing his own inner thoughts. There is a humility about this, really. It is easy to get caught up in the accolades of praise from others, and then use that praise to seek more; even when doing theology (what Martin Luther would call ‘theology of glory’ and what Jesus warns against all throughout the Gospel of John). I want to be the type of theologian that Kierkegaard wanted to be; to be driven by nothing else than love of God and others in the most authentic ways possible. So I will continue to look to Jesus and ask him to help me in my unbelief.

[1] Søren Kierkegaard cited by Stephen Backhouse, Kierkegaard: A Single Life (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2016), 74-5.