VIII. Christ as Savior and Pattern

Jesus Christ was the foremost reality of S.K.'s faith and religious thought. Many scholars--at least among those of theological persuasion--have appreciated something of the centrality of that orientation; all too few have appreciated the uniqueness of S.K.'s Christological thought. His peculiar terms and concepts customarily have been picked up and treated without close examination, as though they already were understood--and that in accord with traditional modes of thought. Actually, however, S.K. was a pioneer in this field, offering a doctrine that is in many respects quite different and in some quite counter to customary Christology, although quite in line with the basic tenor of sectarian thought.

Traditional Christology inevitably has been marked by a profound dualism. This dualism takes many aspects, which can be indicated through a whole congeries of specific dualities; and these, in turn, can be arranged so that the left-hand terms are all obviously interrelated and the right-hand terms similarly. Thus they all stand as components of one general duality:


Church theology traditionally has tended to stress the items of the first column to an extent somewhat detrimental to (although obviously not denying) those of the second. The exception to this rule is modern Liberalism, which concentrated on the first four items of the second column to the virtual exclusion of their first column counterparts. But interesting to note, regarding the last three items, it tended to stay with the first rather than moving to the second column.

A primary and most obvious characteristic of S.K.'s Christological thought is that, without at all denying the truths of the first column, he endeavored to bring particular emphasis to those of the second in the attempt to restore a proper balance. In doing this, as we shall see, S.K. was in accord with sectarianism. But S.K. did not stop with a balancing of emphasis; his unique contribution was to weld the elements of each pair together in such a way that one could not be defined without involving the other. He concentrated upon the necessary relationship between them rather than upon their disjuncture. His tool for doing this was, of course, his dialectic method, i.e. interpreting the paired elements as complementary truths either of which is completely true only as both are solidly conjoined.

One example will illustrate S.K.'s technique. It concerns the relation of the divine and the human in Christ, and it is something he did entirely in passing, without calling attention to what he had accomplished. Creedal theology, of course, handles the matter with a doctrine of two natures in one person. Undeniably, the point of the doctrine is that the two natures are united in one person. Yet nevertheless, the very positing of the two natures is an invitation to distinguish between them, to identify that which is divine in Christ as separate from that which is human. And to do this is inevitably to create the problem of balance and set the stage for one nature to be emphasized over the other--which is precisely what happened in Christian thought.

S.K., on the other hand, made no use of this creedal solution--but not because he was intent on deserting orthodoxy. He chose to be unorthodox in the interest of achieving a purer orthodoxy. He consistently referred to Christ under the term "the God-Man," and he never allowed the slightest grounds for breaking that hyphen apart to examine the two halves independently. The God-Man is not some of God and some of Man; he is not two natures in union; there is no suggestion that either in his being or his actions there is that which can be identified as stemming from his deity as over against that which stems from his humanity. Precisely the significance of Christ's humanity is that it is God who has assumed it; and precisely the significance of Christ's deity is that it is revealed in human form. The two "natures" cannot get out of balance, because the concept has been so developed that it is impossible to describe either without affirming the other. More examples of a similar dialectic will appear on the pages to follow.

One of the very basic dualities of Christology is, certainly, that between Christ's role as Savior and as Pattern, or Example. S.K. provided a terminology with which to handle the distinction: "contemporaneousness" refers essentially to a man's approach to Christ as Savior, Nachfolge to him as Pattern. This distinction will be used to organize the discussion that follows. However, even here we shall discover that S.K., quite contrary to most theology, went a long way toward obliterating the distinction in practice. He did not simply identify the Savior with the Christ of Faith and the Pattern with the Jesus of History. Actually, "contemporaneousness" and Nachfolge come out as very similar spiritual economies directed toward one and the same object, the God-Man Jesus Christ. And thus, in the end, the difference between them is found to be one merely of thought, whereas in practice the two necessarily and inevitably go together with nothing to be gained by trying to separate them.

A. Contemporaneousness

[Contemporaneoasness] is the decisive thought! This thought is the central thought of my life. And I may say too with truth that I have had the honor of suffering for bringing this truth to light. Therefore I die gladly, with infinite gratitude to Governance that to me it was granted to be aware of this thought and to make others attentive to it. Not that I have discovered it. God forbid that I should be guity of such presumption. No, the discovery is an old one, it is that of the New Testament.1

S.K.'s conception of contemporaneousness with Christ is in no Sense a complicated or difficult one. Yet it seems not to occur to many commentators that, although there are a number of routes and methods by which a believer might achieve contemporaneousness, S.K. was intent upon one and only one of these. It is not sufficient to cite the word "contemporaneousness and then classify as Kierkegaardian anything and everything that might qualify under the term; a more thorough investigation is required to determine precisely with what (or who) it is that S.K. desires the believer to be contemporary and precisely how that contemporaneousness is to be attained.

But this investigation is not often enough made. For examp1e in an essay which was designed solely as a précis of S.K.'s Training in Christianity (his primary exposition of contemporaneousness), the reviewer fails to make a single statement which is clearly identifiable with S.K.'s doctrine and does make several which are quite contrary to it. He says, for instance: "The Christian is he who acknowledges Christ as a present reality." And again: "[Christ] is a living reality, seen through the eyes of faith, contemporaneous with each generation. His reality is such that it transcends both time and space."2

Now, of course, S.K. believed in the presence of the living Christ, but he never identified this presence as "contemporaneousness," and this presence was not his particular concern in Training in Christianity. There is a great deal of difference between saying that Christ is contemporary with us and saying that we are to become contemporary with him--the difference in who moves to meet whom and where the meeting takes place. S.K. consistently talked in terms of the latter alternative, his reviewer consistently in terms of the former.

Because there are these alternatives, perhaps the best way to get at S.K.'s intention is by eliminating the possibilities he did not intend. However, first there must be an understanding of why the necessity of contemporaneousness, what the meeting is designed to accomplish.

A saving relationship to Jesus Christ is, of course, one special case of faith in general--or rather, the special case of faith. Thus, faith in Christ--which is the goal of contemporaneousness with him--can best be understood in the light of our earlier discussion of faith [see above. There faith was defined as den Enkelte's absolute venture of his total life and self, the "leap" in which he cuts himself off from every earthly security, every human dependency, to float over 70,000 fathoms of water through trust in the God before whom he exists. This sort of venture is necessitated, is impelled, when den Enkelte encounters a claim to truth which, in the first place, is a matter of "infinite, personal passionate interest," something which, for him, will make all the difference in the world whether it is true or false. In the second place, this matter is so paradoxical in nature that no amount of investigation, no amount of research, no amount of logic, no amount of reflection accomplishes one whit toward indicating whether the claim is indeed true or false. The problem is not that the claim is such as to prohibit investigation but that investigation invariably produces just as many "con's" as pro's," for every proof that the claim is true an equally convincing proof that it cannot be true. One must choose (the matter is too crucial to let slide); one cannot compute an adjudication (the evidence is too ambiguous); therefore one can only venture absolutely, throwing himself upon God (which act is faith).

The situation that most completely fulfills this pattern is the event of Jesus Christ. He is The Paradox, the Absurd, and thus, at one and the same time, the Sign of Offense and the Object of Faith--indeed, he is the object of faith precisely because the possibility of becoming offended is always a very real one. The claim he both presents and represents is that this plain, ordinary, individual man (who thus obviously is not God) is in fact God. The claim dare not be ignored, for if it is true it does indeed make all the difference. If Jesus is in fact God, then to accept him is to accept God and, what is perhaps even more fateful, to reject him is to reject God. If Jesus is in fact God, to accept him is to find life, to reject him is to miss life and choose damnation. Clearly, if Jesus is in fact God, neutrality has been made impossible; to answer God's address with a shrug amounts to the same thing as defiance and rebellion. One must choose.

One must choose, but the outcome of that choice cannot be calculated on a rational basis--whether scientific, historical, or philosophical. Ultimately, neither investigation nor reflection proves of any use in deciding the matter. However, this is not the same as saying that investigation and reflection are of no use whatsoever; S.K. has been badly misunderstood on this score. Reason and research do have a role, the real and necessary role of determining whether the claim is truly a paradox or not, whether there is indeed evidence both "pro" and "con." Thus, regarding the claim "Napoleon was a man," research can say, "This claim is not a paradox but an evident fact; all the evidence is 'pro'; there was such a man and there is nothing to indicate that he was anything other than a man." Conversely, regarding the claim "Plymouth Rock is God," research can say, "This claim is not a paradox but an absurdity; all the evidence is 'con'; the rock is a rock and there is nothing to suggest that it might also be God." Finally, regarding the claim "Jesus Christ is God," research can say, "This claim, indeed, is a true paradox; there is strong and convincing evidence both pro and con; Jesus is either what the claim says he is or else he is a fraud--either God-Man or madman, but which, no amount of study or thought will accomplish a whit to decide."

Although research, stymied by contradictory evidence, cannot contribute to deciding the case, it does have an important role to play nonetheless. By separating the Absurd (i.e. the true Paradox) both from self-evident facts and from mere absurdities, research, as it were, holds the nose of den Enkelte right to the point where the venture must be made. Research is competent to elucidate (not settle) the claim, to marshal the "pro's" and "con's" involved in the historical situation itself. Research is competent to establish the source and locus of the paradox, to say that this claim is not simply an idea, a concept, a myth, a hypothesis, a proposition for discussion, but a hard, concrete, specific, and indissoluble lump in history--a fact that can he interpreted in either of two ways (either as a sign of offense or as an object of faith) but a solid fact for all that.4

Because paradox is the precondition of faith--indeed, it is the very occasion and context that produces faith and without which faith would be as impossible as unnecessary--because this is the case, for S.K., Christology must, above all, maintain the paradoxicality of Jesus Christ. And how is this to be done? Clearly, by welding the terms of the right-hand column solidly to their counterparts of the left-hand column in a dialectic that does not allow one to be defined without reference to the other; each "pro" must be tied inseparably to its "con."

Thus S.K. proposed the term "God-Man," a term which affirms Jesus' divine humanity (or human deity) but without positing a human nature and a divine nature in such a way that one tends to gain predominance over the other.

Thus, regarding the exalted Christ as against the humiliated Jesus, S.K. protested against the de-emphasis of the second term:

Who is the Inviter [who said, "Come unto me ... and I will give you rest"]? Jesus Christ. Which Jesus Christ? The Jesus Christ who sits in glory at the right hand of the Father? No. From the seat of His glory He has not spoken one word. Therefore it is Jesus Christ in His humiliation, in the state of humiliation, who spoke these words.... That He shall come in glory is to be expected, but it can be expected and believed only by one who has attached himself and continues to hold fast to Him as he actually existed.... What He said and taught, every word He has spoken, becomes eo ipso untrue when we make it appear as if it were Christ in glory who says it.5

With this emphasis S.K. desired to correct the imbalance he found in the church of his own day; but lest his own correction itself become an imbalance, he spoke also as follows:

[But] in case one could feel himself drawn to Christ and able to love Him only in His humiliation, in case such a man would refuse to hear anything about this exaltation when power and honor and glory are His--in case ... he longs only for the spectacle of horror, to be with Him when He was scorned and persecuted--such a man's vision also is confused, he knows not Christ, neither loves Him at all. For melancholy is no closer to Christianity than light mindedness, both are equally worldly, equally remote from Christianity, both equally in need of conversion.6
And what his position actually came to, then, was this:
Whether in lowliness or in exaltation, [Christ] is one and the same; ... Christ is not divided, He is one and the same. The choice is not between lowliness and exaltation; no, the choice is Christ; but Christ is composite, though one and the same, He is the humble one and the exalted.7

Obviously, it is this character of being "composite though one and the same" that constitutes Christ's paradoxicality; and the "pro" of his exaltation (which would indicate that he is the God-Man) is made ambiguous by the "con" of his humiliation (which would indicate that he is not).

Thus, too, S.K. was not about to let the Christ of Faith become detached from the Historical Jesus:

If Christianity is the historical truth, how then can it be the absolute? If it is the historical truth, it has happened at a certain time and place. If people say that it existed before it came into being and that it is like the harmonies [of which Leibniz spoke], then they are saying no more about it than any other idea, because it is also 'without father, mother, and genealogy' [Hebrews 7:3]. By insisting upon that, they enervate the essence of Christianity, because the historical is the essential point about it, whereas with other ideas the historical is the incidental.8

Thus, again, as regards Christ's recognizability as over against his incognito, S.K. would have both factors in operation concurrently and in tension with one another. S.K. has not been well understood on this point, and in an effort to go him one better, thinkers of the modern "kerygma theology" school9 have ruined his initial insight. These theologians have picked up the truth of S.K.'s insistence upon Christ's incognito and made it mean that the "deity" of the historical Jesus must be absolutely invisible and indiscernible. The paradox, then, comes about in this wise: The life, career, and person of the earthly, historical Jesus constitutes the "con"; nothing is to be seen here except what would indicate that Jesus is simply and solely a man. Later, after the historical Jesus has left the scene, the "pro" comes along in the form of the early church's contention that this man was indeed God. But this was not S.K.'s position: in fact, he said: "The whole life of Christ on earth would have been mere play if He had been incognito to such a degree that He went through life totally unnoticed-and yet in a true sense He was incognito."10

In order to make the facts meet the pattern of the kerygma-school it is necessary to eliminate anything in the historical Jesus that might be read as "proofs" or "signs" of his deity, for these would betray his incognito. And this is precisely the point of Bultmann's demythologizing; any visible "super-naturalness," any outward miracle, any mark that would betray deity must be understood as belonging to the early church's affirmation of faith and by no means as a literal event concerning the historical Jesus. Whether or not it is legitimate to determine the historicity of an event through theological fiat, Bultmann's motive is creditable, for if supernatural demonstrations such as miracles can be pointed to as proofs of Jesus' deity, then the paradoxical precondition of faith has been destroyed.

S.K. would have agreed with Bultmann's principle but not with his application of it, for S.K. denied that miracles actually can play the role that Bultmann fears they do. Indeed, S.K. insisted that miracles are meet for his purpose, that their very nature reflects the ambiguity, the pairing of "pro" and "con," which truly heightens the paradox rather than destroying it. He pointed out that a miracle is understood as a miracle only by one who through an act of faith already has accepted the miracle--worker for what he claims to be. Otherwise, the so-called miracle is simply an inexplicable event which just as easily and just as logically can be explained as a fraud or delusion. For S.K., Jesus' miracles are very much to the point; they are ambiguous witnesses that attract attention and then, quite the opposite of providing a proof, force one to make a decision regarding the paradoxical miracle-worker.11

S.K.'s position would seem to have the better of Bultmann's at every point:

  1. first, in making it unnecessary to demythologize before one can get at the gospel in Gospels;
  2. second, in retaining the positive theological significance of miracle; and
  3. third, in saving us from the rather awkward position of, in effect, prohibiting God from showing himself in the world because it would he "untheological" of him to do so.

S.K. and Bultmann show a similar difference over the question of the historical Jesus' verbal claims to deity. Bultmann rejects all of these, on critical grounds as a Bible scholar but also as a theologian, because such claims, again, would compromise the incognito. S.K., on the other hand, accepts and welcomes these verbal claims as support for his interpretation. On the face of it, a plain and direct statement to the effect "I am God" constitutes a rather clear betrayal of Jesus' incognito--until one pauses to consider that the speaker is a mere man and therefore obviously not what be says he is. The speech is indeed all "pro," but the speaker is all "con," and thus that speech in the mouth of that speaker is paradoxical in the extreme.12

Clearly, "incognito" meant something different to S.K. than it does to Bultmann and others of the kerygma-school. For S.K., it did not mean that the historical Jesus must he denied any and every indicator that would suggest his deity but only that every such indicator be accompanied with a counter-indication which would have the effect of balancing the account and leaving the verdict wide open--yet all the more urgent because of the evidence that is building up. In short, the kerygma-school sees the historical Jesus as nothing but incognito; S.K. saw him as incognito so dialectically welded to immediate recognizableness as to form a most irritating and inescapable paradox.

S.K.'s position avoids some of the most glaring weaknesses of the kerygma-school. For if the case is, as this school maintains, that nothing paradoxical is to be found in the historical Jesus but that the paradox comes into being only when the early church claims deity for him, then there is no compelling reason why that claim should attach to Jesus of Nazareth and not to someone else, or to anyone else, or even to no one at all. Yes, because essentially the paradox lies not in the historical person but in the claim, that claim would be just as effective in evoking faith if it concerned a figure of the imagination instead of an actual historical man.

And further, if ultimately the kerygma itself is the only paradox, then any contributions on the part of reason and research are absolutely excluded; there is no way of investigating whether this is a true Absurd or merely an absurdity. Research regarding the historical Jesus cannot possibly be of help, because it is decreed beforehand that only "con" evidence will be admitted, that anything that might look like "pro" evidence cannot be credited to the historical Jesus but must he attributed to the early church's kerygmatic claim. Thus, the kerygma-school does not possess a true Kierkegaardian paradox composed of pro-and-con evidence building up to an existential tension that compels one either to take offense or to make the venture of faith. It holds, rather, a mass of "con" evidence topped by a "pro" claim which brings with it absolutely no substantiation except the subjective power of "God's Word." But why this particular claim, coming as it were out of thin air, should be treated as the Absurd rather than merely an absurdity, no one is able to say. And what there is about a claim so lacking in solidity, in historical actuality and "presence," that should attract a man's attention, compel him to face up to it, and force him to decide one way or the other--again, no one is able to say. And yet--and yet Kierkegaard is the one who customarily gets accused of irrationality, subjectivism, and making faith into a wild and unmotivated leap in the dark.

Actually, S.K.'s dialectic Christology was deliberately polemic against several familiar types, of which kerygma-theology is only one. For instance, S.K. was strongly opposed to the traditional, creedal Christology which had held the field up until the development of scientific scholarship made possible "the quest of the historical Jesus." S.K. was critical of the Pre-Quest Christology for making the tacit assumption that the New Testament, the ecumenical councils, and the whole tradition of the church had settled the matter of Jesus' deity once for all, that the 1800 years since Christ had resolved any paradoxicality that may have been involved in his historical manifestation, and that, rather than making any decisive venture of faith, modern Christians had only to let themselves be carried on the tides of scripture, creed, and church.13

Even though S.K. lived and wrote before Liberalism's "Old Quest" (the quest described in Schweitzer's classic study) had reached its heyday, the major thrust of his polemic was directed against this movement. The Old Quest was dedicated to "going beyond faith," to reaching Christianity via a sturdy bridge of scientific-historical evidence rather than a leap across a paradox. To this end the "truly historical" kernels of the Gospel tradition were threshed out of the chaff of "mere assertions of faith," and Christian doctrine was to be reared precisely upon these findings, as logical deductions drawn from proven facts of history. Of course, in S.K.'s view, such an approach would destroy Christ's incognito, his humiliation, his paradoxicality, his Person, and indeed the very possibility of faith and thus any true concept of Christianity.14

Then, within the memory--and indeed, the work--of men still living, Old-Quest Liberalism was challenged and conquered by so-called Neo-Orthodoxy, which, although quite varied in many respects, seems to have been pretty much of a mind as concerns its "No-Quest Christology." S.K. has been looked to as one of the "fathers" of Neo-Orthodoxy, and it is true that these theologians used (and used properly) S.K.'s "anti-historicism" to break up Old-Quest Liberalism. They did not, however, use (or use properly) Kierkegaardian concepts in constructing their own positive Christology, for S.K. was anything but a kerygmatic Christologian.

We already have suggested something of the difference between S.K. and the No-Quest school but the matter can be made more pointed. Although writing even before the Old Quest had reached its height, S.K. seems to have anticipated kerygma theology and risen to counter it. His crucial statement in this regard opened with the words: "Christianity is not a doctrine." But the fact of the matter is that the kerygma is precisely a doctrine and nothing else: in essence it is a proposition, a concept, an idea. Granted it is a proposition that has reference to an historical event; but when it is insisted that the content of that event is irrelevant, is not open to investigation, or, if investigated, is destined to produce only negative results--if this is the case, then the kerygma remains solely and exclusively a doctrine, and S.K.'s statement applies:

Christianity is not a doctrine. All the talk about offense in relation to Christianity as a doctrine is a misunderstanding, it is a device to mitigate the shock of offense at the scandal--as, for example, when one speaks of the offense of the doctrine of the God-Man and the doctrine of the Atonement. No, the offense is related either to Christ or to the fact of being oneself a Christian.15

A merely doctrinal paradox is not an adequate occasion for producing true faith. Such a paradox exists only on the intellectual, cognitive level, and here it can be argued away just as easily as it can be argued into being; an intellectual paradox can be resolved through intellectual gymnastics. And in actuality it can be disposed of even without this effort, simply by ignoring it. The common man is neither excited nor disturbed by a doctrinal paradox, this plaything of the theologians about which he could not care less. No, only a real, live, demanding Paradox with all its attention-catching "pro's" and "con's" is adequate to pull the existential tension to the point that energizes the venture of faith.

Offense has essentially to do with the composite term God and man, or with the God-Man, Speculation naturally had the notion that it 'comprehended' God-Man--this one can easily comprehend, for speculation and speculating about the God-Man leaves out temporal existence, contemporaneousness, and reality.16

By force of lecturing they [modern thinkers] have transformed the God-Man into that speculative unity of God and man sub specie aeterni, nianifested, that is to say, in the nullipresent medium of pure being, whereas in truth the God-Man is the unity of God and an individual man in an actual historical situation.17

Edit that last to read "speculative unity of God and man sub specie hypothesis" and "manifested in the nullipresent medium of existential self-understanding" and the statement becomes directly applicable to modern kerygma Christology without changing S.K.'s point in the slightest.

Clearly, S.K.'s basic and crucial Christological move was to tie the act of faith securely to a specific, objective historical event--not by that token making faith a simple, straight-line deduction from historical evidence (the evidence is too ambiguous for that) but certainly neither by de-historicizing the event into a mere kerygmatic postulate. He staked out his position in so many words:

Christianity exists before any Christian exists, it must exist in order that one may become a Christian, it contains the determinant by which one may test whether one has become a Christian, it maintains its objective subsistence apart from all believers, while at the same time it is the inwardness of the believer. In short, here there is no identity between the subjective and the objective. Though Christianity comes into the heart of never so many believers, every believer is conscious that it has not arisen in his heart, is conscious that the objective determinant of Christianity is not a reminiscence.... No, even if no one had perceived that God had revealed himself in a human form in Christ, he nevertheless has revealed himself. Hence it is that every contemporary (simply understood) has a responsibility if he does not perceive it.18
This one statement puts S.K. a pole away from modern existentialist theology. His position, for example, is the contrary of that of a Paul Tillich, who can say: "The believing reception of Jesus as the Christ, calls for equal emphasis. Without this reception the Christ would not have been the Christ." And again, "Since the Christ is not the Christ without the church, he has become the Christ."

A statement by Rudolf Bultmann, as another example, is also at a considerable remove from S.K.:19

This 'once for all' [of redemption in Christ] is not the uniqueness of an historical event but means that a particular historical event [which, by inference then, is not unique in and of itself], that is, Jesus Christ, is to be understood as the eschatological 'once for all.' As an eschatological event this 'once for all' is always present in the proclaimed word, not as a timeless truth, but as happening here and now.... The word of God is Word of God only as it happens here and now. The paradox is that the word which is always happening here and now is one and the same with the first word of the apostolic preaching crystallized in the Scriptures of the New Testament and delivered by men again and again.20

Bultmann may be the dominant figure of existentialist theology and S.K. may be known as the founder of existentialism, but their respective Christologies have very few points of contact. Bultmann's "eschatological event," his "event" which somehow becomes synonymous with "word," is not at all what S.K. would have meant by "event." 21 Bultmann's paradox is not at all S.K.'s. And even Bultmann's object of faith (the kerygmatic word) is not at all S.K.'s (the historical God-Man). And thus the problem of contemporaneousness is completely different for Bultmann than for S.K.

But if, with S.K., the Christ of Faith is in fact the Historical Jesus believed upon--rather than, with Bultmann, the Kerygmatic Word affirmed--then inevitably a valid and even necessary role has been opened for historical research and criticism. As passionately opposed as he was to the sort of historical research that proposed to make faith unnecessary, S.K. did not at all resist this other implication but did himself elucidate it. As early as the pseudonymous Philosophical Fragments (1844), S.K. made the following, very seminal statements:

The absolute fact is an historical fact, and as such it is the object of Faith. The historical aspect must indeed be accentuated, but not in such a way that it becomes decisive for the individual; ... for a simple historical fact is not absolute, and has no power to force an absolute decision. [Thus is the Old Quest with its exclusive concentration on history disqualified.] But neither may the historical aspect of our fact be eliminated, for then we have only an eternal fact. [And thus is the No Quest with its exclusive concentration on the kerygma disqualified.]22

And again, he said: "As long as the Eternal and the historical are external to one another, the historical is merely an occasion." In this one sentence is hidden the key to the history of Christological thought. In Pre-Quest Orthodoxy, the Eternal and the historical were thought of in substantial terms, a divine nature and a human nature. They were necessarily compartmentalized and thus essentially external to one another, and so inevitably the Eternal came to overshadow the historical as being obviously preeminent. Thus the historical did become merely an occasion. In Old-Quest Liberalism, the Eternal's aspect of the case was virtually ignored and thus held external to the historical. Inevitably the quest of the historical Jesus failed to get anywhere, because it was studying merely the occasion. In No-Quest Neo-Orthodoxy, the Eternal and the historical were deliberately kept external to one another, and the historical consciously was treated as merely an occasion ... for the kerygma of the Eternal. But as we repeat and complete S.K.'s statement, we see that he would have had none of these:

As long as the Eternal and the historical are external to one another, the historical is merely an occasion.... But the Paradox unites the contradictories and is the historical made Eternal, and the Eternal made historical.... Faith is not a form of knowledge;23 for all knowledge is either a knowledge of the Eternal, excluding the temporal and historical as indifferent [thus the abstract philosophizing of No-Quest existentialism], or it is pure historical knowledge [thus the critical researches of the Old Quest]. No knowledge can have for its object the absurdity that the Eternal is the historical.... But the disciple is in Faith so related to his Teacher as to be eternally concerned [i.e. in an infinite, personal, passionate way] with [the Teacher's] historical existence.24

By positing this Christology which insists on a dialectic of both objective event and subjective word, both history and faith, both research and venture, S.K. was pointing toward the latest school of Christology, the so-called New Quest.25 Indeed, the New Questers themselves have never outlined their program better or more succinctly than did Søren Kierkegnard a full century before the New Quest was as much as dreamed of:

The historicity of the redemption must be certain in the same sense as any other historical thing, but not more so, for otherwise the different spheres are confused.... The historical factual assumption necessary for the redemption must only be as certain as all other historical facts, but the passion of faith must decide the matter.26

Of course, S.K. did not perform the New Quest; he was not trained in biblical criticism, and indeed, the tools and methods now being used had not yet been discovered or developed. But be that as it may--and even though the New Questers have not taken their cue directly from S.K. but on their own are correcting the distortion that Bultmann imparted to the tradition which he derived from S.K.--nevertheless it is unimpeachable that Kierkegaard developed a theological rationale that explains and necessitates precisely the sort of historical quest that is going on today.

Indeed, it may well be that S.K. went further, that he can point the New Questers to their next step, to the implications that their work has for the preaching and teaching of the gospel. This he did in his doctrine of contemporaneousness.

By defining the object of faith as he did, by specifying that it is the historical Jesus believed upon, that the immediately recognizable elements in Christ always must be made ambiguous by his incognito, that offense always must be just as live and just as logical an alternative as faith--with this definition S.K. in effect already had determined the route that contemporaneousness must take.

"Contemporaneousness" is, of course, nothing more than the procedure by which den Enkelte meets the God-Man, confronts and is confronted by him in such a way that the venture of faith can take place. Actually, all worship, all ritual, all preaching, all theology is in one sense or another directed toward the achievement of contemporaneousness. However, S.K. held that there is only one mode of contemporaneousness which truly is appropriate and effective for the act of faith.

Plainly, all attempts at contemporaneousness can be classified into two major groups as regards the direction of the movement involved. Either Christ moves out of first century Palestine to become contemporary with den Enkelte, meeting him in the present time and situation; or else den Enkelte moves out of the present to become contemporary with Christ, meeting him in first century Palestine.27

Most approaches to contemporaneousness--and particularly the churchly ones--assume the first context: Christ comes to meet den Enkelte. However, given S.K.'s definition of the object of faith, this alternative poses some problems from the outset. For one thing, to what extent can the historical Jesus be moved out of his own locus and still be the historical Jesus? Were not his life, words, and actions closely enough related to the first century milieu that they must be seen against that background in order to be understood? And for another, the very fact that this Christ can move across the years to confront den Enkelte rather effectively eliminates any possibility of his being incognito; his very being here is positive proof that he is the God-Man and not a madman; there is no paradox in a contemporary Christ.

To get down to instances, then, the entire cultic apparatus of churchly worship obviously is designed to create contemporaneousness. Just as obviously, the meeting is thought of as taking place on the spot, i.e. in the church here and now. All of the symbolism, the liturgy, the vestments, the architecture, the music, and so forth-all point to the glorified, exalted Son of God; there is little if anything to remind one of the humble carpenter of first century Nazareth. Even the celebration of the eucharist is performed, not so as to remind or recreate before the congregation a meal eaten in an upper room in Jerusalem (this would he the dynamic of the opposite movement), but as a commemoration of the eternal Christ. Contemporaneousness with the Christ of the altar hardly will meet the conditions requisite for a Kierkegaardian venture of faith.

Also, creedal theology is designed to create contemporaneousness. However, it does not so much represent an attempt to understand the historical Jesus and/or the early church's faith in him in terms of the first century situation (i.e., biblical theology) as to explain Christ in terms of the Greek thought forms that were contemporary at the time the creeds were formulated. Thus it represents another case of bringing Christ to us rather than the reverse. And again the consequence is that very little of the historical Jesus shows through, his incognito is explained away, and there is nothing in him that would offend anyone. Contemporaneousness with the Christ of Nicaea and Chalcedon would not satisfy S.K.

Likewise, modern kerygmatic, existentialist theology is designed to create contemporaneousness, this indeed being its forte. If Christ's primary locus is in eschatological event, in the word of proclamation, in symbol, then contemporaneousness is not a problem. Contemporary with us is the only possible way in which Christ can exist, and as Paul Tillich has as much as said, it is our acceptance of his contemporaneousness that brings him into being [see above]. But S.K. specifically denied that a paradoxical doctrine, or proposition, is a true paradox capable of occasioning true faith. Contemporaneousness with the Kerygmatic Word will not do.

A final mode within this first type of contemporaneousness holds particular interest because it involves a conscious attempt to do justice to the historical Jesus and not simply to the exalted or the proclaimed Christ. This "theology" was signalized in Charles Sheldon's popular classic In His Steps and is characterized by the shibboleth "What would Jesus do?" The theory is that contemporaneousness is to be achieved as a wholesale transplant of the Palestinian rabbi into the twentieth century where he can then function as tutor and guide. This approach proves singularly ineffectual, because in the process of transplantation either the historical Jesus must be subtly transmuted into a twentieth century man or else he is so out of place as to be of no help at all. Contemporaneousness even with the historical Jesus, if the meeting must take place on our ground, hardly will meet S.K.'s conditions.

The other option is for us to become contemporary with Christ by going back to meet him in his own time and place. From the outset, this procedure shows more promise of satisfying the Kierkegaardian definition, and it is here S.K. will find his answer, although he will be far from approving every approach that comes under the category.

The old, Liberal "Quest of the Historical Jesus" was a sincere attempt to go back to first century Palestine and meet Jesus "as he really was." However, because this research was informed by certain hidden assumptions regarding what evidence would be admitted and what interpretations allowed, the final results were somewhat less than satisfactory. In his account of that Quest, Albert Schweitzer pointed out time and again where and how this occurred. Far from either seeking or finding a paradox, these scholars were intent specifically to remove all problematic elements and present a humane and idealistic Jesus worthy of recognition as the founder and norm of an enlightened culture-religion for modern man. In effect, the Old Quest set out to erase from the Gospels precisely those features that S.K. valued, those that might make Jesus paradoxical and a sign of offense.

The popular counterpart of the Old Quest, which has not been as easily put down (precisely because it is popular and thus not susceptible to scholarly refutation), is what might be called the Sunday-school, or Hollywood, approach. In Sunday school, this takes the form of children dressing up in bathrobes and beards, building models of a Palestinian home, etc. In Hollywood, it costs a bit more money to do the same thing. There is something commendable about all this, the desire to join the disciples, go with them to meet the Master, and believe on him as they did. But in this well-intentioned procedure, one element is distorted in such a way that the entire enterprise becomes falsified. Because of Christ's incognito, the first disciples could believe only after an agonizing struggle to surmount offense; they had to dare to accept Jesus as the God-Man under conditions in which this interpretation of the matter was by no means self-evident. Biblical movies present no such problem, for here the historical [sic] Jesus is surrounded with an aura of light, wears a pure white robe, speaks through an echo chamber with harps in the background, looks like a Greek god (if not a Hebrew one), and hardly would have the audacity to say, "Blessed is he who is not offended in me!"

Any mode of contemporaneousness that proposes to overlook the incognito and possibility of offense achieves at most a pseudo-contemporaneity:

Most people now living in Christendom live, we may be sure, in the vain persuasion that, had they lived contemporary with Christ, they would at once have known and recognized Him in spite of his unrecognizableness. They are quite unconscious that they thereby betray the fact that ... this notion of theirs, notwithstanding that it is certainly meant as praise of Christ, is really blasphemy.29

If the glory had been directly visible, so that everybody as a matter of course could see it, then it is false that Christ humbled Himself and took upon Him the form of a servant; it is superfluous to give warning against being offended, for how in the world could anybody be offended by glory attired in glory!30

The fact of the matter is that S.K. branded as inadmissible the very approaches to Jesus that are most prominent in churchly teaching and worship.31

Contemporaneousness in S.K.'s sense of the term is a conscious effort of the imagination by which den Enkelte overleaps the entire 1900-year tradition which the church has established regarding its faith and, free of inherited presuppositions, meets the historical Jesus, sees him with the eyes not simply of the first Christians but of the first eyewitnesses (crucifiers as well as disciples), and there, in the painful tension of that dilemma; makes his own choice as to whether Jesus is the God-Man who has an absolute claim to his life or a madman who should be avoided at all costs.

Of course, S.K. believed that there is also a living Lord who meets the believer in the present, but this movement takes place only posterior to and consequent upon the venture of faith; this presence is discernible only to the believer and is not itself the occasion which produces faith. S.K. consistently used the term "contemporaneousness" in reference to the first movement and not to the second. His intention, certainly, was not to prohibit or even inhibit the second but to establish the priority and absolute necessity of the first.

With this distinction in mind, even a cursory examination of Training in Christianity makes S.K.'s point unmistakable. Much of that book, indeed, is given over to a frankly imaginative reconstruction of how different contemporaries might have spoken about Jesus. And although the following quotations represent an attempt to cite the most compact and crucial statements of S.K.'s thesis, they are at the same time typical--completely typical--of his entire Christological approach:

The past is not reality--for me: only the contemporary is reality for me. What thou dost live contemporaneous with is reality--for thee. And thus every man can be contemporary only with the age in which he lives--and then with one thing more: with Christ's life on earth.32
But so long as there is a believer, such a one must, in order to become such, have been, and as a believer must continue to be, just as contemporary with [Christ's] presence on earth as were those [first] contemporaries. This contemporaneousness is the condition of faith, and more closely defined it is faith. O Lord Jesus Christ, would that we also might he contemporary with Thee, see Thee in Thy true form and in the actual environment in which Thou didst walk here on earth; not in the form in which an empty and meaningless tradition, or a thoughtless and superstitious, or a gossipy historical tradition, has deformed Thee.33
The principal concern now is to be able to clear the ground, get rid of the eighteen hundred years, so that the Christian fact takes place now, as if it happened today.... This contemporaneousness, however, is to be understood as having the same significance that it had for people who lived at the same time that Christ was living.... However, the contemporaneousness here in question is not the contemporaneousness of an apostle, but is merely the contemporaneousness which everyone who lived in Christ's time had, the possibility in the tension of contemporaneousness of being offended, or of grasping faith.34

The clear implication is that the preaching, teaching, and worship of the church should be directed toward helping den Enkelte to make his own experiment in contemporaneousness. It was S.K.'s conviction, based on his own quite uncritical (i.e. not scientific-scholarly) reading of the Gospels, that anyone who tried such a "contemporary-reading" would meet the same Jesus that he had. The New-Quest research of our own day has the effect of confirming S.K.'s conviction. The Kierkegaardian picture of the Paradox will bear the full weight of the closest sort of scientific-historical scrutiny, because the New Quest, too, establishes the historical Jesus of Nazareth as having been a real, live, ordinary man (and thus obviously not God) who nevertheless spoke such a message, presumed such an authority, and acted in such a style as would indicate that he considered himself in possession of divine prerogatives. It would not be inaccurate to suggest that the New Quest allows (or even compels) the scholar and theologian to read the Gospels in the same terms that S.K. was sure the common man could and would if sophisticated scholarship and church tradition left him alone.

Needless to say, neither the Brethren nor sectaries in general ever have produced the sort of Christological thought that would match S.K.'s. Nevertheless, in an intuitive way they did have a "feel" for the historical Jesus, for his humiliation and incognito, for the possibility of offense--a feel which, it must he said, is not nearly as strong in the churchly tradition. S.K. himself realized that the simple, unlearned believer would understand contemporaneousness better than would the intellectual. In analyzing the case of Adler, the pastor who, after taking a rural parish, became spiritually deranged, S.K. suggested, half seriously, that perhaps the thing with which Adler could not cope was the meeting of true Christians:

Magister Adler becomes a priest in the country, and so is brought into contact and into responsible relation with simple and ordinary people who, lacking a knowledge of Hegel, have, as perhaps men in the country still have, a serious though meager Christian instruction, so that, unacquainted with every volatilization of it, they simply believe in the Christian doctrine and have it before them as a present reality. For simple, believing men so deal with Christianity that they do not hold it historically at a distance of eighteen hundred years, still less fantastically at a mythical distance.35

The early Brethren fit S.K.'s description precisely. Mack Senior, for example, said:

There is a time of humiliation and a time of exaltation. The Lord Jesus first appeared very humbly and lowly in this world in humble and willing submission to the will of His Father. The second time, however, He will appear in great power and glory as an exalted Christ. All souls who desire to be with Him in His exaltedness must certainly first accept Him as a humbled Christ. They must confess Him before men in all His commandments, and not be ashamed of them. In this way they will become humble in the humble commandments, and then finally they shall be exalted in due season. It will be impossible otherwise. For this reason, the church of the Lord has always been lowly and despised in this world. It has always been considered as filth.36

And Mack Junior came even closer to formulating a concept of contemporaneousness when, in speaking against infant baptism, he said:

What did it avail a poor man in Israel in former times, when he could only hear of a fiery serpent, which was erected for his healing. He had to see the serpent; yes, he himself had to look at it, and not another for him; thus also it must not remain with the witnesses in this important matter; if we want to be thoroughly healed from our deep injury, then we must see Jesus crucified ourselves.37

It would not be accurate to say that the Brethren held S.K.'s doctrine of contemporaneousness; it would, however, be accurate to suggest that they would have welcomed the interpretation had they been exposed to it. They did not, as did S.K., talk about contemporaneousness with Christ; they did, rather often, talk as if they were contemporaneous with Christ. Their mode of observing the Lord's Supper points toward contemporaneity. So do their "low" forms of worship and church architecture. So does the very simplicity of their demeanor and way of life. And so, particularly, does their central emphasis on Nachfolge (which is our next topic).

Copyright (c) 1968