Norman Geisler on Existentialism

I was reading an article by Norman Geisler entitled “Beware of Philosophy: A Warning to Biblical Scholars”, in it Geisler gives an admonition to biblical scholars over varying forms of philosophical schools of thought . Below is an excerpt from the article with a critique on Soren Kierkegaard’s existentialist paradigm:

 

The father of modern existentialism was not a twentieth-century French atheist but a Danish Christian named Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) who could have signed a statement subscribing to the historic fundamentals of the Faith. He wrote: “On the whole, the doctrine as it is taught [in the church] is entirely sound.”28 Nonetheless, few have done more from within the evangelical fold to methodologically undermine historic orthodoxy than Kierkegaard. Indeed, it was his philosophical son, Karl Barth, who gave rise to Neo-Orthodoxy. Kierkegaard concluded that even if we assume that the defenders of Christianity “… have succeeded in proving about the Bible everything that any learned theologian in his happiest moment has ever wished to prove about the Bible” namely, “that these books and no others belong in the canon; they are authentic; they are integral; their authors are trustworthy–one may well say, that it is as if every letter were inspired.” Kierkegaard asked: “Has anyone who previously did not have faith been brought a single step nearer to its acquisition? No, not a single step.”29

Then Kierkegaard posed the opposite, namely, “that the opponents have succeeded in proving what they desire about the Scriptures, with a certainty transcending the most ardent wish of the most passionate hostility–what then? Have the opponents thereby abolished Christianity? By no means. Has the believer been harmed? By no means, not in the least.”30

At the minimum, Kierkegaard’s bifurcation of fact and value is axiologically misplaced. In fact, it has been biblically disastrous, as Barth, Brunner, and Bultmann demonstrate–or whatever other “B’s” may be buzzing around unorthodox circles. We need only mention the Kierkegaardian inspired beliefs that: 1) Religious truth is located in personal encounter (subjectivity); 2) Propositional truth is not essential to the Faith; 3) Higher criticism is not harmful to real Christianity: 4) God is “wholly other” and essentially unknowable, even through biblical revelation. These give further significance to the Pauline warning to “beware of philosophy.”

28Soren Kierkegaard, Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers 6:362 in A Kierkegaard Anthology, ed. Robert Bretall (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973).  29Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H.Hong (Princeton, MJ: Princeton University Press, 1985), 29-30.  30Ibid., 31.

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6 Responses to “Norman Geisler on Existentialism”
  1. Gordan says:

    I have a confession to make, which, if it gets out, will ruin my reputation among my Reformed friends. That is, I read Keirkergaard’s “Attack on Christendom” and must confess that I enjoyed it (what little bits I understood.)

    Now, I can see why and how liberalism and postmodernism have lept out of what he said, but I think that on a certain level, blaming Soren for all that is a bit like blaming John Calvin for the burning of Servetus: it’s easy, it’s convenient; and everybody does it.

    I really think it’s important to realize the errors he was aiming at and the times he lived in. I don’t get the sense that if he lived today, he’d be all pally-pally with McLaren and Bell.

  2. scribe7580 says:

    I have a confession to make, which, if it gets out, will ruin my reputation among my Reformed friends. That is, I read Keirkergaard’s “Attack on Christendom” and must confess that I enjoyed it (what little bits I understood.)

    HAIRY TICK!!! Just kidding…there are certain paradigms Kierkegaard promoted than I am in agreeance with… 😉

    Now, I can see why and how liberalism and postmodernism have lept out of what he said, but I think that on a certain level, blaming Soren for all that is a bit like blaming John Calvin for the burning of Servetus: it’s easy, it’s convenient; and everybody does it.

    Agreed but even you submit that they (Kierkegaard’s writings) have helped formulate some of these philosophical errors in Christian thought.

    I really think it’s important to realize the errors he was aiming at and the times he lived in.

    Understandably so as he was fiercely opposed G.W. Hegle’s idealism.

  3. Hey Scribe–

    Obviously, from your reading you can see why I consider Kierkegaard to be one of the most influential thinkers in my theological formation.

    I am intrigued by Geisler’s disparagement of Kierkegaard’s position–I would like to hear Geisler’s thoughts on the context in which Kierkegaard wrote what he did. After all, these kinds of philosophical movements do not normally come unprovoked, and it could be argued (as I would AND strenuously DO) that the positions that Kierkegaard (and others) took are integral to the vitality of Christian faith today. In the face of the blind leap into modernistic materialism that both secular and religious thinkers took during K’s days, such a prophetic stand against the wholesale wedding of Christian faith and historical criticism can hardly be sluffed off as a perversion of the Christian faith. To the contrary, I would assert that it is Kierkegaard and others like him who were the true preservers.

    On a final note, I think it laughable that Geisler so reductively associates Barth, Brunner and Bultmaan. One would be hard pressed to pigeon-hole Barth as non-orthodox, and it is certainly naively absurd to suggest that Barth and Bultmaan were cut from the same cloth.

    One last thing: What “philosophical errors in Christian thought” would you specifically attribute to K’s contribution?

  4. Oh yeah, one more thing– I almost missed this:

    Religious truth is located in personal encounter (subjectivity); 2) Propositional truth is not essential to the Faith; 3) Higher criticism is not harmful to real Christianity: 4) God is “wholly other” and essentially unknowable, even through biblical revelation.

    With the exception of 3) (which wouldn’t have been relevant in the 16th century), I think a very good case could be made that Luther adhered to everyone of these tenants. Obviously, Geisler’s ultimate beef Kierkegaard (and the larger arena of “liberalism”) is that any potential basis for absolutism is removed and this, frankly, makes people like Geisler nervous. If “truth” and the force of theology cannot be centered in something which the professor can possess (and therefore manipulate), but can only be asserted as existing essentially alien to the person (and therefore only accessible through the inter-personal and extra-propositional encounter of the Logos of God and the human person), it must be concluded (from Geisler’s prespective, at least) that the antithetical position must be “unorthodox” precisely because it requires the rejection of the power of absolutism. But as the power of absolutism is really only a vacuous elevation of the epistemological self (as its veracity can only be established and asserted on the basis of, ironically enough, the subjectivity of the human experience), it is obvious that the rejection of the siren songs of modern philosophy and historicity (and prophetically outlined in K’s thought) is only for the positive.

  5. Scribe says:

    Hey Exist…long time no lurk, LOL! 😉

    I must readily submit that I do not have a final verdict on “K” as I have not read enough of Him to formulate a well enough informed idea concerning his theology en toto.

    I understand you have a vested interest in K as he has made a formidable contribution to your theological outlook…

    With that being said, if Geisler’s assessment on some of K’s views (i.e. rejection of propositional truth, religious truth is realized in experientialism /subjectivity) than I can see how this can be an inroad for philosophical error in Christendom.

    I believe truth is both propositional and personal. Sorry answer so choppy but I am at work and lunch is over….

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