Kierkegaardian Christianity or The Rules: Whitterings, June 2006

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 with a dash of sugar. In every way it has come to this – that what one now calls Christianity is precisely what Christ came to abolish.
- Soren Kierkegaard -


Throughout the centuries different groups of Christians have sought to clarify and set out the basics requirements for a standard Christian life. Different denominations and orders have come into existence to exemplify their own particular emphasis on the rules they believe have been discerned from the Bible. The Anglican Church of Canada sets out its base minimum required actions in the Book of Common Prayer.

1) To say daily prayers and grace at meals;
2) To be present at Church on all Sundays and Holy Days;
3) To receive the Sacrament regularly;
4) To give alms and service according to means;
5) To keep the days and seasons of fasting;
6) To read the Bible regularly and meditate and study what is therein read.

It is assumed that all of these Anglican duties will be carried out under the authority and theological understanding of the Baptismal Covenant, the Creeds, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Summery of the Law.

I question the approach to discipleship as rule following as being too pharisetical.

“Our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
II Corinthians 3.6

However there must be some rules if even sociologically. Words to mean anything must have a definition. A Zoroastrian is different from a Taoist and an Anglican is different from a Presbyterian. There must also be an official definition even if there is a lot of colloquial usage around. Definitions of groups of people are most reliably decided on by their actions. There is still a base behavioural definition of an Anglican even if there are a variety of theological interpretations. We must wrestle with this definition because as part of a community we do not have the right to make up the definition for ourselves. We are not Universalists after all.


I believe that discipleship is the exercise of embodying the Summary of the Law. “The passion of faith lies not in testifying to an eternal happiness but in transforming one’s own existence into a testimony to it.” My understanding of the Christian life, as a base minimum, is the passionate seeking for the will of God to be born in us. The fruits of the spirit are then manifested in us as an outworking of Grace. However to have God’s will live in us, our own personal will must die. If one avoids the death of the self, the Cross, one can not know the Resurrection of Christ.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Galatians 2. 20


I strongly contend that the majority of those who call themselves Anglicans in this place do not meet the basic requirements for an accurate and honest use of the designation.

I equally strongly contend that the majority of those who call themselves Christians in this place do not meet the basic requirements for an accurate and honest use of that designation either.

Yet we regularly use language is this dishonest way.

“When we see someone holding an axe wrong and chopping in such a way that he hits everything but the block of firewood, we do not say, "What a wrong way for the woodcutter to go about it," but we say, "That man is not a woodcutter." When we see thousands and thousands and millions of Christians whose lives do not resemble in the remotest way what – and this is decisive – the New Testament calls a Christian, is it not tampering with the meaning to talk as one does in no other situation and say: "what a mediocre way, what a thoroughly inexpressive way these Christians have." In any other situation would one not say, "These people are not Christians?" SK

“There was a time when one could almost be afraid to call himself a disciple of Christ, because it meant so much. Now one can do it with complete ease, because it means nothing at all.” SK

“Once upon a time learning to read was a rigorous matter; it took a lot of hard work. But eventually the theory was devised that everything ought to be enjoyable. So the practice of having a little party after each hour of reading was introduced, and the A B C’s were decked out with pictures, etc. Ultimately that hour was also dropped, and the A B C’s became simply a picture book. But still people went on talking about learning to read, even though the children did not learn to read at all. Learning to read was now understood to mean eating cookies and looking at pictures, which became an even more pleasant experience just because it was called "learning to read." SK

“Either these are not the Gospels or we are not Christians.”
Thomas Linacre (1460-1524)
Upon Reading the Gospels for the first time late in life.


I do not believe you have to entirely accept Kierkegaard’s particular understanding or my particular understanding of discipleship to realise there is a profound ‘disconnect’ within the Anglican Church. All you need is to accept that Christian discipleship is the fundamental interpretive vehicle for a Christian. I believe all the different ‘Methods’ agree on this! However, many simply lose themselves in ‘Church Land’ and simply gloss over the difference between being a church person and being a Christian. I often say that many parishes are closer to self appointed property appreciation societies than radical core groups of disciples.

What I find sometimes almost unbearable is the lack of honesty about what we are as a church and what we are actually doing. I feel like I am in the fable shouting “The Emperor has no clothes!” and being told to shush! How are we to keep our integrity when we continue to pretend we are something we are not? My experience of the church over the last several years is one of continual ‘disconnect’. Not only does it seem as if almost no one is ‘keeping the rules’, including the clergy, but that people, including the clergy, simply do not believe in them anymore and have made up their own. Sometimes they seem to be playing a totally different ‘game’, like being a member of the United Church, but still playing on an Anglican Board with Anglican pieces. Personal opinion has been placed ahead of that of the Church and the community.

Perhaps God does not care if we shop do work on the Sabbath. However, it is still enshrined in the Ten Commandments and a consistent part of Church teaching. Yet this activity seems to be as prevalent among Anglicans as among else. When did the rules change? When was the debate? When was the decision taken to remove this as a sin? Personally this is not a major issue with me; I only use it as an example (so please no theological Jesuitical diatribes about the ‘real’ meaning of sabbaterianism). The point is that the church seems to have stopped teaching basic tenants of Anglican behaviour, people are ignoring them, and everyone is pretending it is just like it has always been.

Sometimes it even seems as if the church is undermining itself. I both observe and teach the importance of a strict Lent as a way of being honest with yourself about the direction your life is headed in. I teach at length about the will, the true freedom that comes from discipline, the fire and energy and concentration that comes through the struggle to deny the desires, the abandonment of one’s will to God’s, and our enslavement to the desires when they control us. I teach about the Desert Fathers, the Mystics and the impact that fasting has one one’s prayer life and especially on one’s practice of meditation. I then discover that not only do most churches not emphasise fasting as one of the distinctive traits of our spirituality but that some actually teach against it. I even read this past Lent an article in a church magazines by a colleague stating that it is good that fasting has become ‘out of fashion’. When did it become out of fashion? When was it discovered that all of the world religions had got it wrong? When was it shown that Christ had got it wrong? And the most important question, why the hell did someone not tell me?! If the rules have changed and I am not supposed to fast during Lent (as well as pray daily, tithe, and study) would someone please let me in the loop?

What I really want to know is whether this blatant hypocrisy is conscious or unconscious. Why are people acting as though there are no rules or that they have all changed? Why are people acting, especially the ordained, as if they can make up the rules as they go along? Have we become so scared of our financial future that we are willing to be a community of prostitutes instead of priests and give the world what it wants so we do not make them feel uncomfortable?

“Christianity has been made so completely devoid of character that there is really nothing to persecute. The chief trouble with Christians, therefore, is that no one wants to kill them any more!” SK


When Kierkegaard attacked the church of his day the church was scandalized. He was ridiculed and scorned. It was only later that he came to be widely regarded as a prophet. Although some of his attacks against Christendom and the established church do not apply to us today, many of his barbs still stick. The question is how do we respond.

I believe there is only one response to Kierkegaard's passionate reminders of our duty and identity as Christians: to repent.

“We could at least be truthful before God and admit our weakness instead of reducing the requirement.” SK

Yet we seem to reduce the requirements all the time. We hold up saints and prophets in our Calendar and then shrink from emulating them. People will say, “It has always been like this you know” or “the rules are only an ideal really” or even “we are not characterized by the rules”. Well, it has not always been like this even if the success stories are few, they are still there: Nicholas Ferrar and Little Gidding. Even if the rules are hard to achieve and are an ideal, ideals are for striving for and not just something hung high up on the wall that no one even looks at. As for not being characterized by the rules, those who say so ontologically are correct. However we are a community searching for God in a distinctive way and so teleological there is an Anglican soeteriological path.

Repentance requires brutal honesty.

“To see yourself is to die, to die to all illusions and all hypocrisy. It takes great courage to dare look at yourself – something which can take place only in the mirror of the Word. You must want only the truth, neither vainly wish to be flattered nor self-tormentingly want to be made a pure devil.” SK

“There are many people who arrive at conclusions in life much the way schoolboys do; they cheat their teachers by copying the answer book without having worked the problem themselves.” SK

“No one can be the truth; only the God-man is the truth. Then comes the next: the ones whose lives express what they proclaim. These are witnesses to the truth. Then come those who disclose what truth is and what it demands but admit that their lives do not express it, but to that extent still are striving. There it ends. Now comes the sophistry. First of all come those who teach the truth but do not live it. Then come those who even alter the truth, its requirement, cut it down, make omissions – in order that their lives can correspond to the requirement. These are the real deceivers.” SK

Only when we are honest enough to realise that we can not by right call ourselves good Christians, let alone good Anglicans we can begin to see the truth. Only when we see can we then act. Only when one realises that one is trapped in a cage can one begin to seek a way to escape. So paradoxically, the only way to be a good Anglican is to admit that we are not good Anglicans. The only way to be a good Christian is to admit that you are not. Only then can we venture once again upon the road to discipleship.

“To venture the truth is what gives human life and the human situation pith and meaning. To venture is the fountainhead of inspiration. Calculating is the sworn enemy of enthusiasm, the mirage whereby the earthly person drags out time and keeps the eternal away, whereby one cheats God, himself, and his generation.” SK

It is spirit, it is of passion to ask: Is what is being said possible? Am I able to do it? But it is lack of spirit to ask: Did it actually happen? Has my neighbour actually done it?"
- Soren Kierkegaard -