Christians and the Bible

From Soren Kierkegaard:

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

This is a quote I ran across on the blog Waving or Drowning (I love the title) years ago, though I was introduced to Soren Kierkegard even longer ago during my first year in seminary. Amazingly enough, only one of my professors opened his or her classes with a devotional reading and/or prayer. Dr. Charles Bull, who taught Christian History, was the one. During one four-class stint, Dr. Bull read from Fear and Trembling, taking as his texts the introductory passages where one man considers and interprets the story of the Akedah (Abraham’s binding of Isaac). I found these readings to be one of the most moving and formative experiences of the school year.

What I find particularly refreshing about Kierkegaard is his honesty, which can at times be brutal. As you can see from the quote above, Kierkegaard felt that most Christians only talk about their faith; they don’t, however, live it. It is said that when the bishop of his diocese of Copenhagen died, and all the newspapers spoke in glowing terms of this great Christian, Kierkegaard noted in his diary something like this: “He is dead now, and as he has been responsible for a very long period, it would have been desirable that one would have been able to convince him to end his life by giving in to Jesus Christ, and to admit that what he represented among us was not Christianity but a compromise.”

Kierkegaard went on to explain his feeling further by telling a story about geese in one of his sermons. He compared his fellow Christians to domesticated geese. These geese, he says, always talking about flying: “We have wings,” they say, “we never use our wings; we should use them, let us fly!” But nobody ever flies. And on Sundays a big goose stands a bit higher than other ones on a pulpit, and he, too, every Sunday, encourages and exhorts the others, in the most beautiful words, to fly. But nobody does fly, and if one would start to fly, the preacher would be the first one to shout, “Come down immediately!”

I guess the problem of hypocrisy has been around forever, and the idea that the followers of Jesus should actually follow Jesus is nothing new either.  As for me, I often wonder what our churches, what Christians, and what I might look like if we all took the Bible more seriously, if we all lived our faith with more conviction.  What would happen, do you think, if we more thoroughly practiced what we profess and proclaim to be true.

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One thought on “Christians and the Bible

  1. This passage is probably the second most quoted from Kierkegaard on the entire Blogsphere. (First quoted is about freedom of thought vs. freedom of speech). I’ve been struggling to come to terms with his words, and was wondering what others thought of it.

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