Kierkegaard and Radical Discipleship
Kierkegaard and Radical Discipleship:
A New Perspective
by Vernard Eller
This publication was originally published by the Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1968).
Bible selections are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989 (NRSV) by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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To my two sons, Sander Mack Eller and Enten Eller.
This book comes as the product of a rather long development. It all began, I guess, when, as a junior at La Verne College, I first discovered Kierkegaard--March 22, 1948, the check-out card in the library book says. The circumstances, I feel, were propitious for helping me become one whom S.K. hopefully might address as "my reader." I was wandering through the stacks of the college library when a bright blue volume carrying on its spine the glittering gold letters KIERKEGAARD caught my eye; it was Bretall's anthology from Princeton University Press. Curious as to who or what such a label could represent, I took down the book, flipped through its pages (starting at the back), immediately hit some of the short-and-sharp entries of the Attack upon "Christendom," and was captured.
I checked out the book six times in as many months and then began buying Kierkegaard on my own. Thus I had read a good deal of S.K. before reading any books about him; had read S.K. before I even heard of existentialism, dialectical theology, and such; had listened to S.K. speak before I listened to anyone tell me what he said; had read deeply in the religious works before going to the pseudonymous ones-and all this I consider providential. It was almost seven years later that, as a student at Bethany Biblical Seminary (Church of the Brethren) in Chicago, I was taking a course in the history of Christian doctrine concurrently with one in philosophical ethics. I got permission from the respective professors to submit in the two classes one double-length paper exploring the affinity between Kierkegaard and Pietism.
Each of the teachers decided to keep the copy I gave him (my only two copies). Floyd E. Mallott, the church history professor--to whom I owe much of my understanding of Brethren history--had me read part of the paper in class and encouraged me to pursue this line of investigation. Donovan Smucker, the ethics professor, wanted to submit the manuscript to The Mennonite Quarterly Review; but when it came time to do so, neither professor could find his copy. That primordial "J Document" was lost for several years, and only half of it has been located to this day--not that it is any great loss. But dating from that time was my determination to do a doctoral dissertation on Kierkegaard and sectarianism.
I chose my school, my field, and my department--all with an eye to making this study. At the Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley, California) I did my work in historical theology under John von Rohr, a man who became mentor, friend, and colleague in an exceedingly helpful way. I also had courses- and much more than just courses-from Robert E. Fitch and Hugh Vernon White. Although Dr. White retired before my dissertation was well underway, he continued to give me help and counsel on it.
By this time (1958) I was teaching at La Verne College, but my topic, outline, and prospectus were accepted without difficulty. A grant from the Swenson Kierkegaard Fellowship Committee helped finance some of my research, and appreciated assists from my college administration kept the project moving. Things went smoothly until it came to producing a draft that would satisfy my doctoral advisors. Then, at one point, just three brief months before deadline, I seriously proposed to Dr. von Rohr that I drop the Kierkegaard half of my study and write a brief and innocuous discourse on the Brethren. He responded with a direct command, which is all that kept me at the task. The finished dissertation was accepted without dissent.
My doctorate behind me (1964), I reworked the manuscript and started the search for a publisher. It was at this point that Franklin H. Littell, authority on Protestant sectarianism and then professor of church history at Chicago Theological Seminary, read the volume and for no reason other than the benevolence of his good heart took the initiative in contacting prospects. Nevertheless, the hook seemed doomed to remain forever a manuscript when the editors at Charles Scribner's Sons for no reason other than the benevolence of their good hearts--took it upon themselves to recommend it to Princeton University Press. And at Princeton it has been the benevolent heart and kindly hands of managing editor Eve Hanle that have brought to completion this work of ten, thirteen, almost twenty years.
The greatest satisfaction to come out of this long-drawn process is the friends made along the way. To each of the persons named above I proffer heartfelt thanks-as I do to an even greater number who must go unnamed: my wife, parents, family, and friends; my colleagues of the faculty and ad- ministration here at La Verne College; my fellow scholars within the Church of the Brethren; and the librarians without whose help few books would get written and few, indeed, read. May the contribution of this book prove worthy the trust they all have put in me.