The Misfortune of Christendom

Here’s a page from Kierkegaard that really struck me today (which is about every other page, normally…but this one stands fairly well on its own). It’s from Training in Christianity, and it’s section f, entitled, “The misfortune of Christendom”.

But this precisely is now the misfortune of Christendom, as for many, many years it has been, that Christ is neither the one thing or the other, neither what He was when He lived on earth, nor what (as is believed) He shall be at His return, but one about whom in an illicit way, through history, people have learned to know something to the effect that He was somebody or another of considerable consequence. In an unpermissible and unlawful way people have become knowing about Christ, for the only permissible way is to be believing. People have mutually confirmed one another in the notion that by the aid of the upshot [effects] of Christ’s life and the 1,800 years (the consequences) they have become acquainted with the answer to the problem. By degrees, as this came to be accounted wisom, all pith and vigor was distilled out of Christianity; the tension of the paradox was relaxed, one became a Christian without noticing it, and without in the least noticing the possibility of offense. One took possession of Christ’s doctrine, turned it about and pared it down, while He of course remained surety for its truth, He whose life had such stupendous results in history. All became as simple as thrusting a foot into the stocking. And quite naturally, because in that way Christianity became paganism. In Christianity there is perpetual Sunday twaddle about Christianity’s glorious and pricelss truths, its sweet consolation; but it is only too evident that Christ lived 1,800 years ago. The Sign of Offense and the object of Faith has become the most romantic of all fabulous figures, a divine Uncle George. One does not know what it is to be offended, still less what it is to worship. What one especially praises in Christ is precisely what one would be most embittered by if one were contemporary with it, whereas now one is quite secure in reliance upon the upshot; and in reliance upon this proof from history, that He quite certainly was the great one, one draws the conclusion: Ergo that was the right thing. This is to say, That is the right, the noble, the sublime, the true thing, if it was He that did it; this is the same as to say that one does not trouble oneself to learn to know in a deeper sense what it was He did, still less to try, according to one’s slender ability, by God’s help to imitate Him in doing the thing that is right and noble and sublime and true. For what that is one does not apprehend and may therefore in the situation of today form a judgment diametrically opposite to the truth. One is content to admire and praise, and may be (as was said of a scrupulous translator who rendered an author word for word and therefore made no meaning) “too conscientious,” perhaps also too cowardly and too feeble of heart really to wish to understand.

Christendom has done away with Christianity, without being quite aware of it. The consequence is that, if anything is to be done, one must try again to introduce Christianity into Christendom.

By Jonathan Lipps

Jonathan worked as a programmer in tech startups for several decades, but is also passionate about all kinds of creative pursuits and academic discussion. Jonathan has master’s degrees in philosophy and linguistics, from Stanford and Oxford respectively, and is working on another in theology. An American-Canadian, he lives in Vancouver, BC and has way too many hobbies.

1 reply on “The Misfortune of Christendom”

How perfectly put. Christendom – especially the effective and rapidly growing kind of Christendom – may well be a good mission field. Sometimes I wish a latter-day Paul would show up in my world, and open my eyes of my heart…

There have been maybe 5 friends I’ve had since I was 19 who were just that to me – we became close friends, they moved on, and left me deeply changed. I have a few friendships deepeing even now which hold the same promise – I feel deeply blessed.

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