Tuesday, November 25, 2014

An Introduction to Kierkegaard

Peter Vardy, An Introduction to Kierkegaard. Hendrickson, 2008. 109 pages. ISBN 978-1-59856-345-0.

I had been reading E. Stephen Evans' introduction to Kierkegaard. I found it somewhat dense in some spots. I had already read Peter Kreeft's new book on Socrates and Kierkegaard. I enjoyed it. It was mostly an overview of Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments. I decided I needed an introduction to Kierkegaard for a beginner. I found Peter Vardy's An Introduction to Kierkegaard just what I needed. He does an excellent job of explaining Kierkegaard to a beginner. It probably helps that he has been teaching Kierkegaard to undergraduate students for 25 years. Vardy is Vice-Principal of Heythrop College, the specialist Philsophy and Theology college of the University of London. Other books authored by Vardy are The Puzzle of God, The Puzzle of Sex, The Puzzle of Ethics, and Being Human.

An Introduction to Kierkegaard includes eleven chapters. Topics discussed in these chapters are Kierkegaard's life, faith and reason, truth, stages of life, ethics, love, dialogue with other religions, and Kierkegaard's criticism of the institutional church. Vardy states that Kierkegaard has influenced him "more than any other thinker" (ix). This introduction does not treat Kierkegaard's works exhaustively. He does well as providing a basic overview of Kierkegaard's thought. It is an excellent book for one just beginning to read Kierkegaard.

Vardy argues that if Jesus is God certain things follow: "The truth that is revealed in Jesus' life is not like that of Gandhi or Socrates;" the supreme importance of the incarnation as a "decisive event in human history;" for an individual to accept the message of the gospel "is not like acquiring one more piece of information;" (This is Walker Percy's argument in his parable, "The Message in the Bottle") the moment when accepts the incarnation and decides to take it seriously the Eternal Truth that Jesus brings will be decisive" (12). In other words, the incarnation is not like any other event. In it the eternal entered the temporary. E. Stephen Evans does an excellent job explaining these thins things in his commentary on Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments which I was reading at the same time I was reading Vardy's introduction to Kierkegaard.

Two other points that followed from the incarnation argued by Vardy are that "KIerkegaard . . . equates error with sin" and sin is not the opposite of virtue. If Jesus is God and we do not recognize the fact, then we are in error. Hardy thinks that this "is to assert the primacy of human reason and to refuse to accept a revelation that goes beyond reason" (13). In addition, "if someone moves from refusal to accept that Jesus is God to an acceptance of this, then this is a move from error to truth, from sin to faith" (13). There are many ways that Christians see the relationship between faith and reason. Three major ways are faith against reason, the synthesis of faith and reason, or faith above reason. Kierkegaard seems to argue either for faith against reason or faith above reason. Some argue that Kierkegaard is an irrationalist, but this does not seem to be the case. This relationship between faith and reason has captured my attention for over thirty years. I have been studying how Aquinas and Kierkegaard understand this relationship. Are there positions diametrically opposed? Can they be reconciled? This is something I am trying to find out in regards to the writings of Walker Percy.

An Introduction to Kierkegarrd by Peter Vardy does a good job in providing a concise overview of Kierkegaard and his thought. It is a good place to begin reading about Kierkegaard. He provides a recommended reading list for those who want to go further. The book is well-written and easy to understand. One does not need prior knowledge of Kierkegaard to understand it.

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