In my previous treatment of Kierkegaard (S.K., hereafter) as a relevant Christian thinker of our day, I drew upon basic themes in S.K. to illuminate an apologetic for the imagination, so to speak. One of these basic yet classic themes in S.K. was “truth as subjectivity.” For such a phrase, S.K. has (wrongfully) been acclaimed a relativist, or a fideist.
But my goodness! S.K. has also been said to be a European moralist, a postmodernist, an existentialist, a poet, a psychologist, and much more. Among the receptions of 20th century scholarship there is also a cloud of smoke: the reader’s (sometimes reluctant) yielding to S.K.’s desire to be read as he intended, or attempting to retrieve an understanding of the “man” through his Journals, among other such “clouds.” I wish to take S.K. to round two of the battlefied; not of an attack upon “Establishment Christianity” (as he saw it), but to a retrieval of S.K. from his critics .
Setting the Record Straight
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813-1855) is a very interesting philosopher and individual who has gained my undivided attention over the past year. His use of indirect communication, irony, satire, and impressive wit make him a rather unprecedented – or perhaps ‘unusual’ – thinker of his time. Even as a boy, by the testament of fellow classmates , he was not one blessed with the powers of physical strength, but God nonetheless left him with his uncanny wit, so that he might not be left completely defenseless. As one classmate recollects:
As a boy, he did not have the least trace of the great poetic gifts he later developed. Now and then, when our classmate H. P. Holst would read us his attempts at poetry or a Danish composition which displayed his poetic talents, S.K. was always one of the first to interupt his reading by throwing a book at his head (Kirmmse 1996, 8).
Other instances such as this, left the young S.K. (“fork” as he was called) with much of a beating from other classmates he annoyed and ridiculed. Such a wit he maintained and executed all throughout his life. However, should the reader not be too upset, I would like to (though it is custom) pass over a biographical sketch of S.K. and get right to the meat of his thought (please see note  on this). The question of this article is basically this: Is Kierkegaard a relevant Christian thinker for today? 
First, let us deal with the subject of S.K.’s alleged fideism. We are perhaps all too familiar with Anselm’s famous dictum, fides quaerens intellectum (“faith seeking understanding”). For those who have read the opening chapters of the Proslogion, we see the interesting strategy of logic being embedded in the form of a prayer. As one philosopher put it, Anselm is a lover first and a theorist second. After all, so is S.K. But what would he make of Anselm’s dictum?
It will have to be said that although S.K. would perhaps be best classified as a fideist, we should by no means attach a negative connotation to this labeling. C. Stephen Evans in his Faith Above Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account (Wm. B. Eerdmanns, 1998) I think rightly identifies S.K. as a “responsible fideist” (ibid., 78). That is, considered alongside Thomas Aquinas (who argued that faith entails beliefs in propositions which are above reason in the sense that their truth is not established or determined by reason alone) and Immanuel Kant (who, with a more radical proposal than Aquinas, argued that faith ought to be grounded in our moral being; hence faith is linked to practical applications but is nonetheless based on theoretical knowledge), S.K. has some interesting similarities to these thinkers and as such recognizes the limits and boundaries of reason (e.g., reason can be self-critical) without actually giving reason a detestable or degrading status.
First, let us look at the relation to Thomas Aquinas. What makes S.K. a rather difficult figure is his lack of first-hand association with Christian philosophers. Though, through his reading of Martin Luther, S.K. did come to read a good amount of St. Augustine  and as such bears much relation with the Augustinian tradition (Pascal here included). However, the relation between S.K. and St. Thomas is shady due to the indirectness of the relation, although it is still very real. For example, Robert C. Roberts’ paper (Roberts 1998) sees S.K. more as a successor of Aristotle and Aquinas rather than a predecessor of Sartre and Foucault (ibid., 177). S.K. and Aquinas seem to both be metaphysical realists (Evans 1998, Collins 1983), and Aristotle’s understanding of virtue (“a state of character concerned with choice” (II07a1)) seems to be in accordance with S.K.’s understanding of the nature and formation of character.
Furthermore, S.K. is a little bit less formal than Aquinas due to their respective projects (e.g., S.K.’s polemical vocabulary and Aquinas’ essence/existence distinction) and yet both recognize the speculative and practical elements in theology. For example, both warned against the purely speculative way of “doing” theology, though, Aquinas did put reason to task in his examination of the truths or content of faith. Let us break away some confusion here. Aquinas was by no means employing such a task so as to bolster up or strengthen his belief in God. Such a theological application of reason insists that man ought to accept man as he is. In other words, “Just as we cannot decree man into becoming a phase of Absolute Mind, so we cannot decree that faith and reason will have no commerce in him” (Collins 1983, 265).
Kierkegaard and Natural Theology
Among all this business about faith being above reason, what did S.K. have to say about arguments for God’s existence? In what sense did he object to using rational proofs to establish the existence of God? Philosophers and theologians alike often don’t tread on this area with caution. The major passage containing such a critique of natural theology is found in the pages of S.K.’s pseudonymous author Johannes Climacus’ work, Philosophical Fragments (though the book was “edited” or “published” by S.K. ).
To begin, Kierkegaard writes that ‘God’ is not a name, but a concept (Kierkegaard 2009, 114). Based on John Whittaker’s paper, a logic of distinction between names and concepts hinges off of a proper interpretation of S.K.’s discussion here. That is, since God is a name and not a concept  one cannot establish or derive an existential proposition from a set of analytic judgements that attempt to examine the meaning of the concept. Here S.K. demonstrates a comparison to Kant’s critique of the ontological argument, although S.K. seems to go further or (at least) in another direction in his own unique fashion. S.K. even objected to a posteriori arguments (e.g., the teleological argument) on the grounds that the deeds of the Creator is not sufficient evidence to establish a particular God or Being. He writes:
It would be strange if one of Napoleon’s deeds were taken as proof of his existence. His existence does indeed explain his deeds, but the deeds cannot prove his existence unless I have already assumed the word ‘his’ in such a way that I have assumed he exists. Napoleon is, however, only an individual, and to this extent there is no absolute relation between him and his deeds, thus another could also have done the same things. Perhaps this is the reason I cannot conclude existence from works.
To be clear, by “name” S.K. did intend to mean a proper name (like Napoleon, Steven, or Jehovah). On this grounds Kierkegaard would object to the scholastic project of establishing the existence of God by means of His “effects.” However, though Kierkegaard may concede to a natural order, a governance of things, or natural bodies directed toward their respective ends, he would not further concede that such things point to the Judeo-Christian God. However, we shouldn’t suspect that S.K. left the matter settled here. In using the Napoleon analogy as a critique for a posteriori attempts, S.K. abandons it seemingly early. Reasons why may be speculative. However, Whittaker shifts the discussion:
In any case, he dropped the analogy and turned to the remaining possibility that “God” functions as a general concept. This in turn left him with the possibility that a posteriori arguments from effect to causes might succeed if they involved only a God-concept, not a named deity. After all, what is wrong with reasoning from effects to causes to show that some God-like being must exist? If we can reason from effects to causes to show that some great general must have existed to have performed certain military deeds, what is to stop us from doing the same in the case of God? (121)
For instance, S.K. is suggesting that an a posteriori proof for Napoleon’s existence is superfluous because I already presuppose that Napoleon exists. However, S.K. admits that if he tried the a posteriori proof without such a presupposition then he could “only (purely abstractly) prove that such deeds are those of a great general, etc” (Kierkegaard 2009, 114). In the form of this analogy, we see that in the latter sense – without the presupposition – S.K. sees that military deeds at least give us the framework for strategic planning, leadership, human accomplishments, and the like. Such a framework does not give us a baker or a basketball player, for example.
However, the “effects” in the teleological arguments or the cosmological arguments are not as easy to characterize as in the instance of a great military leader. As S.K. writes, “God’s works are thus things only God can do” (ibid., 114-115). That is, God is identified by His works. So, if we are given the works of God as such, then we get God. In conclusion, S.K. objected to an a posteriori attempt but has his own unique criticism of the ontological argument similar, but nonetheless separate from Kant (whom S.K. has read ).
Objective Reasoning in The Postscript
There is an interest essay by Robert Adams entitled “Kierkegaard’s Arguments Against Objective Reasoning in Religion,” which contains perhaps the strongest criticism of S.K.’s fideism (this is also endorsed by Evans 1998, 106). In the Postscript, Adams identifies three arguments which S.K. employs against objective reasoning: (a) the approximation argument, (b) the postponement argument, and (c) the passionate argument. I will not exhaust all the differences and definitions here (see the paper instead and compare Evans’ examination if possible), though, the conclusion of the paper is that Adams rejects all three arguments, but nonetheless sees plausibility in arguments (b) and (c) (though both rest on an understanding of faith which he also rejects)
However, I am interested in “Kierkegaard’s Leap” and “Pascal’s Wager” as it relates to argument (c). That is, it seems that S.K. allows a form of objectivity that doesn’t necessarily relate to the plausibility of a belief, but rather what objective advantages such a belief entails given a person who should have a certain desire. As Adams fleshes the argument:
Let us assume that there is, objectively, some chance, however small, that Christianity is true. This is an assumption which Kierkegaard accepts. . . and I think it is plausible. There are two possibilities, then: either Christianity is true, or it is false. . . If Christianity is false it is impossible for anyone to obtain S, since S includes the truth of Christianity. It is only if Christianity is true that anything one does will help one or hinder one in obtaining S. And if Christianity is true, one will obtain S just in case one becomes a genuine Christian believer. It seems obvious that one would increase one’s chances of becoming a genuine Christian believer by becoming one now (if one can), even if the truth of Christian beliefs is now objectively uncertain or improbable. Hence it would seem to be advantageous for anyone who can to become a genuine Christian believer now, if he wants S so much that he would be willing to sacrifice everything else for the smallest possible chance of obtaining S. (Adams, pp. 12-13)
Hence, if correct, S.K. may be objecting to an evidentialist interpretation that belief must be proportioned to evidence and instead resorts to a William Jamesian “will to believe.” That is, “Like James (and Pascal) he wants to argue that if you want something like an eternal happiness more than anything else, then it may be reasonable to commit yourself wholeheartedly to something that promises to help you obtain it, even if the chances of obtaining what you seek are not high because the objective probability that eternal happiness is truly to be gained in this way is not high either” (Evans 1998, 108).
Adams, Robert. “Kierkegaard’s Arguments Against Objective Reasoning in Religion”
Bretall, Robert. A Kierkegaard Anthology. 1946. Princeton University Press.
Collins, James. The Mind of Kierkegaard. 1983. Princeton University Press.
Evans, C. Stephen. Faith Above Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account. 1998. Wm. B. Eerdmanns.
Hannay, Alastair. “Kierkegaard’s Single Individual” in The Cambridge Companion to Existentialism. ed. Steven Crowell. 2012. Cambridge University Press.
Kierkegaard, Søren. Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs. trans. M. G. Piety. 2009. Oxford University Press.
Kirmmse, Bruce H. Encounters with Kierkegaard. trans. Bruce H. Kirmmse and Virginia R. Laursen. 1996. Princeton University Press.
Robert, Robert C. “Classical themes in Kierkegaard” in The Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard. 1998. Cambridge University Press.
Whittaker, John H. “Kierkegaard on Names, Concepts, and Proofs for God’s Existence” in The International Journal for Philosophy of Religion.
 John MacArthur’s Reckless Faith (Crossway, 1994) is one such not so uncommon evangelical critique of S.K (see brief excerpt here).
 See Bruce H. Kirmmse’s Encounters With Kierkegaard: A Life as Seen by His Contemporaries (Princeton University Press, 1996).
 Let it be noted that I am proceeding with caution on making this point. Any introduction to S.K. (or beginner for that matter) should keep in mind the unavoidable relevance of S.K.’s biographical background in order to come into a sensible contact with his overall thought. After all, little understanding in the former area will consequently exhibit little understanding in the latter. However, I think a proceeding can still commence even without such a biographico-psychological sketch, though I do intend to be careful with the ground I am treading. Notice for instance Alastair Hannay speaking on the concept of the individual in S.K.:
It is beyond doubt that Kierkegaard’s focus on the individual had autobiographical origins. The topic of exceptionality was generated by events surrounding the breaking off of his engagement to Regine Olsen. This gives scope to the psychologizer. Once the biographical background is known, it is easy to read the early pseudonymous works as an extended reflection upon that event, one that Kierkegaard exploits partly to give rein to his considerable literary gifts but also as a personal working-out of the ramifications. . . (Hannay 2012, 74)
 See the 2013 Baylor University Symposium on Faith and Culture: “Kierkegaard: A Christian Thinker for Our Time?”
 Lee C. Barrett’s work on the comparative interpretation of Kierkegaard and Augustine in the Kierkegaard as a Christian Thinker series is a book to consider here.
 For those not familiar, Kierkegaard in terms of his authorial method maintains what might be known as a “dual authorship”: between the pseudonymous works (Either/Or, Fear and Trembling, Sickness Unto Death, etc.) and the signed works (Works of Love, Two Upbuilding Discourses, etc.). In his Point of View for My Work as an Author, he writes:
The first group of writings represents esthetic productivity, the last group is exclusively religious: between them, as the turning-point lies the Concluding Postscript. This work concerns itself with and sets ‘the Problem’, which is the problem of the whole authorship: how to become a Christian. . . The Concluding Postscript is not an esthetic work, but neither is it in the strictest sense religious. (citation here)
 Kierkegaard attaches a footnote to this passage criticizing Spinoza’s attempt at an a priori attempt to “bring forth being from the means of thought” (Kierkegaard 2009, 114).
 More could be said, but due to space I confined myself to this discussion of S.K. More illuminating thoughts on S.K. and natural theology are to be found in his alleged Christian Platonism (Evans has a lecture on this, feel free to comment asking for this lecture) and relation to Kant’s theological project (see James 1983, 148-151).
Carnell, Edward J. The Burden of Søren Kierkegaard. 2007. Wipf and Stock Publishers.
Collins, James. The Mind of Kierkegaard. 1983. Princeton University Press.
Evans, C. Stephen. Kierkegaard: An Introduction. 2007. Cambridge University Press.