Thursday, December 18, 2014

Kierkegaard's Concept of Faith

Merold Westphal, Kierkegaard's Concept of Faith. Eerdmans, 2014. 284 pages. ISBN 9780802868060

Westphal's KIerkegaard's Concept of Faith seeks to show the different aspects of Biblical faith according to Kierkegaard by looking at five books of Kierkegaard--Fear and Trembling, Philosophical Fragments, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Sickness unto Death, and Practice in Christianity-- and three pseudonyms. Westphal does a thorough job of analysing these texts to help the reader understand the different aspects of Kierkegard's views of Biblical faith. The book is intened for both the beginning and advanced student of Kierkegaard. The main text is for the beginning reader. The footnotes act as a second conversation with the advanced student. I was quite surprised how well Westphal was able to make Kierkegaard's ideas understandable to the reader.

Westphal is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Fordham University. His books have won awards from many organizations. He has published widely on Kierkegaard and Hegel. This is helpful since Kierkegaard's writings are a response to Hegel and his followers. Westphal is able to make this background conversation clear. Westphal and C. Stephen Evans are two of my favorite interpreters of Kierkegaard. They are both very knowledgeable about both the primary and secondary sources concerning Kierkegaard. Both have been writing about Kierkegaard for about forty years. One gets informed about the scholarly literature on Kierkegaard just by reading their works.

Kierkegaard's Concept of Faith is divided into three parts, based on three pseudonyms, Johannes Slentio, Johannes Climacus, and Anti-Climacus. The reader will learn a lot about Kierkegaard's writings through reading this book. The book is also enjoyable to read and understandable to the beginning reader of Kierkegaard.

Westphal in this book illustrates the different aspects of faith expressed in Kierkegaard's writings. The first aspect discussed in chapter one is "faith is the task of a lifetime" (18). This is a denial of the Hegelian view that faith is easy and quickly accomplished. One sees throughout the book that Kierkegaard's thinking is not an either/or but a both/and. For example, faith is both a task and a life-long quest. It is not something we can finish, then go on to another. It is also a critique that we do not go beyond faith to philosophy as Hegel thought.

Other aspects of faith are: Faith as trust in divine promises and faith as obedience to divine commands. Westphal also critiques certain views of Kierkegaard in this book: Kierkegaard was an irrationalist and an extreme inidividualist with no place for community in his thought. I enjoyed reading this book and help me to have a better understanding of Kierkegaard.

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