C. S. EVANS is one of the foremost scholars of Kierkegaard, but there are many scholars and many academic books. This volume, however, is exceptional. What makes this book distinctive?
For a start, Evans really understands Kierkegaard at a deep level; and this is no mean achievement. Not for him the glib ideas of Kierkegaard as advocating a “leap of faith” or being the “father of existentialism”. He shows Kierkegaard to be a profound Christian writer who seeks to show the existential truth of religion and Christianity for every human being as well as the challenge that this presents. His task is to show that Kierkegaard is a spiritual writer.
“Spirituality” is a greatly over-used word today. and few people identify Kierkegaard with spirituality; but Evans shows that spirituality and the importance of a relation with God, the Absolute, The Eternal (however it may be described), is at the core of being human. Indeed, Kierkegaard’s task is really to show what it means to be an individual, what it means to live a fulfilled life.
Evans shows that, for Kierkegaard, spirituality is always relational. The question is what the individual is related to, and this absolutely reflects on what sort of a human being a person is. A person who is relational in terms of finite goods, whether these be money, sex, power, reputation, nationality, politics, or wife and family, is barely human. They define themselves in terms of other finite goods. Only the person who is genuinely in relation to God, who seeks to live “coram deo” can approach genuine spirituality.
No one who reads Evans’s book could be content with the social Christianity found in churches and cathedrals up and down this country and around the world. For Kierkegaard, the outward manifestation of Christianity is a veneer. Churches may — or, as Kierkegaard makes clear, frequently do not — help in developing the relationship with God, but it is this that is decisive, and everything else falls into second place.
This God-relationship demands action in the world and a transformation of the individual. This will, for Kierkegaard, lead to inevitable suffering and guilt, because no one lives up to the demand, and seeking to live in this way will bring opposition. It requires a total commitment that is challenging and yet liberating. It brings apparent failure and often worldly rejection, and yet hope and confidence, because nothing can separate the individual from a life truly grounded in God.
This reviewer spent three decades lecturing on Kierkegaard at the University of London, and always encouraged students to read the Dane and not — at least, not until the end of their study — commentators. If this volume had existed then, he would have changed his position. Strongly recommended.
Dr Peter Vardy is a former Vice-Principal of Heythrop College, University of London.
Kierkegaard and Spirituality: Accountability as the meaning of human existence
C. S. Evans
Church Times Bookshop £18