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Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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January 18, 2023 12:01 am


Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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January 18, 2023 12:01 am

Søren Kierkegaard didn't mince words as he criticized the lack of passion he observed in the church of his day. Today, R.C. Sproul addresses the writings of the father of existentialism.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul

Today on Renewing Your Mind… R.C. Sproul shows us what we can learn from Kierkegaard. We remember that Socrates was known as the gadfly of Athens because of his style that was so provocative as he would go through the marketplace and ask people penetrating questions and try to stimulate their thinking. So the modern philosopher who also was given that descriptive nickname of gadfly was Søren Kierkegaard, who many believed to be the father of modern existentialism. Of course Kierkegaard lived in Denmark.

He was born in 1813 and died in 1855 at the young age of 42. And I remember as a college student being a philosophy major going through my Kierkegaard period because Kierkegaard was passionately committed to the Christian faith. If there's one word that summarizes the concern of Søren Kierkegaard as a philosopher, it is the word passion.

He himself was a passionate man, a man of intense feelings, feelings of love and devotion to Christ, but also his life was marked by a constant struggle against the impulses of despair, principally emanating from a lost love whose name was Regina, which haunted him to the day that he died. Now one of the insights that Kierkegaard gave to the world was his analysis of what he called the stadia, which is the plural of stadium. A stadium is where one goes to observe some public event or spectacle like an athletic contest. And he talked about the three stadia of life, or sometimes termed the three stages along life's way, where many people become stuck in one or the other of these stages.

In the first stadia, of the three stadia, he called the aesthetic stadium or the aesthetic stage along life's way. And this is the level of existence where one becomes and remains chiefly a spectator. And he includes within this group of aesthetics those who he called Epicurean hedonists, namely those who spend their lives appreciating, admiring and being chiefly concerned with the pursuit of the delight that comes through the arts, those who like to go to concerts, those who like to go to galleries, those who enjoy being spectators to other people's creative genius. And secondly, he put in this stage of the aesthetics those who were abstract intellectuals, or what we would call eggheads, whose heads are in the clouds but remain divorced from the details of human existence that get down and dirty. In this regard, he once made an observation about the culture of his day. We remember that Nietzsche had been chiefly critical of 19th century European culture, calling it decadent because of its lack of creativity and its lack of courage. Kierkegaard said, let others complain that our age is wicked.

My complaint is that it is paltry, that it lacks passion. He said, when I become depressed with my own culture and the world around me, he said, I inevitably am drawn back to the Old Testament where I encounter people who are real. They lie, they steal, they cheat, they commit adultery, and yet in the midst of all of this, they have this passionate pursuit of the God who is. And so he was complaining of those who passed the time of their lives on the sidelines, who remained personally and existentially uninvolved with the great cares and crises of human existence. Well the second stage along life's way, according to Kierkegaard, he called the ethical stage where people live on the basis of conscience and are concerned with the value systems around them in terms of good and evil.

They are not simply disinterested spectators, but they are people who are concerned with value and with justice. And this, of course, is an advanced stage over the aesthetic stage, but it is an intermediate stage to the ultimate existential stage to which Kierkegaard was calling people. And he saw that the highest or the deepest stage along life's way was stage three, which he defined as the religious stage of human existence. Now a passion for religion and for the things of God is what marked this philosopher's life and his thinking. I mentioned earlier that as a college student I read everything I could get my hands on from Kierkegaard, including purity of heart, fear, and trembling, attack upon Christendom, the concluding unscientific postscript, either-or, and others. In this religious stage, life in its existential passion is marked, according to Kierkegaard, by the twin characteristics of fear and trembling. And he wrote a book by this title in which the hero of the story is the biblical patriarch Abraham. And you recall Abraham's existential anguish when God called him to the supreme test whereby he was commanded of God to take his son, the son whom he loved, Isaac, and to take him to Mount Moriah and there to kill him and offer him as a sacrifice unto God. And in fear and trembling, Kierkegaard tries to pierce the soul of Abraham and imagine the existential anguish that Abraham went through as he was contemplating this enormous dreadful task that God had set before him. And one of the key refrains that Kierkegaard works with in Fear and Trembling is related to the biblical description of that event when we're told that after God gives this command to Abraham, the narrative says, and Abraham rose up early in the morning. And Kierkegaard begins to contemplate on that phrase. And he asks the question, why did Abraham get up early in the morning?

Was it because he was such a virtuous, sanctified man that he rose up early to be bright and alert and about the business of obeying the command of God? Well, Kierkegaard doesn't think so. Kierkegaard thought that the reason why Abraham got out of his bed in the morning is because Abraham couldn't sleep.

He tossed and turned on his bed. He was caught in the throes of existential anxiety, of fear, and of trembling because God had commanded him to do something that was absolutely unthinkable to destroy his own son who indeed was the child of promise. And to do this, God was commanding Abraham to do something that the moral law later as is expressed in Moses and already as expressed in the natural law written within us completely forbade the taking of a human life in such a manner. And child sacrifice was an abomination to Israel.

And so part of Abraham's anguish was the anguish of asking himself, can this really be the voice of God? This involved what Kierkegaard called the temporary suspension of the ethical. I don't know what that phrase may mean to you, but the only thing I can relate it to in our day in terms of simple illustration is the experience you may have when you're driving through a city and maybe the traffic lights are not adequately performing or there's a traffic jam and instead of going through the lights as they occur, there's a policeman on the corner. And if you've ever driven your car to an intersection where a policeman was directing traffic and the light turned red but the policeman motions you to go ahead, you have the temporary suspension of the ethical. The law requires that you stop when the light is red unless the personal embodiment of the law, the traffic officer, is present there to override it.

And even then you see people hesitate to go through a red light even when the policeman in his uniform is motioning you to come through. This is just a tiny taste of the thing that Abraham struggled with when God told him to go against the law. And so how does Abraham respond to this existential crisis? Well, he does it by taking a leap of faith and embracing the paradox of the moment. And now what Kierkegaard does at this point is that he uses this illustration in the life of Abraham to illustrate the whole substance of a passionate Christian life.

Because the Christian faith is a pilgrimage that requires the existential leap, the time where you have nothing in front of you but darkness, and yet you have the command of God to move ahead and you must leap by trusting that God will be out there in the darkness and you must act and you cannot simply be a spectator or sit around analyzing what is right and what is wrong if you know that God is calling you to something even if you can't see what's on the other side of the street. Just like Abraham, you have to take the existential leap of faith. Now for Kierkegaard, the existential leap of faith was not something that was patently irrational or absurd, but it was something that on the surface seemed to be irrational and absurd. And what Kierkegaard is saying is that that's the risk that a person has to take if they're going to be a follower of Christ, because Christ himself is the supreme paradox, because in Christ, in His incarnation, we have the intersection of the infinite with the finite, the eternal with the temporal, the unconditioned with the conditioned, and that is the paradox of the one who is God and man. And so one must passionately commit oneself to this Christ of Scripture in a moment of crisis that later became called by theologians the crisis of existential unscheidung or decision. And this moment of passion is the moment of faith that defines a true authentic Christian's life, and that takes place, he uses the term as I said, moment, the existential moment that is of decisive significance for one's whole existence. Now you remember when we were studying Descartes, and Descartes was wrestling with the question of the interaction between act and thought, thought and act, mind and matter, and he speculated about the transition that takes place in the mind at a given point, and he made reference to his mathematical understanding of a point as being something that was taking up space but had no definite dimensions. It was kind of a hybrid sort of hanging between mind and matter, an intermediate point, the point of transition that he used. Now for Kierkegaard, he speaks not of a point of crisis but of a moment of crisis. And what is a moment?

An Augenblick. That moment is something that takes up time but has no definite duration. It is to time what a point is to linear space. And so Kierkegaard speaks about this moment of truth, this moment of decision where faith breaks in to the ordinary linear structure of life and defines everything from that moment on. The other person with whom Kierkegaard so closely identified from biblical literature, in addition to Abraham, was the person of Job because Job was the man who knew the profound depths of suffering and of pain and who was threatened every minute of his existence with despair and yet out of his pain came insights into truth, into love, and into faith.

You remember Job in the midst of his affliction crying out, though he slay me, yet will I trust him. And in that sequence Job became for Kierkegaard his spiritual model or ideal. One of the things that he was concerned about was how pain and suffering can be translated into beauty, though the one who is experiencing the anguish and pain that produces the beautiful is not fully appreciated by the public.

He's speaking here of the woes and misery suffered by the poet or the artist. And he gave two illustrations about that. The one he told the story of a man who worked in a theater and his role was to play the part of a clown. And he comes out onto the stage and as he is going through his act he sees in the back of the theater an outbreak of smoke and fire. And he is alarmed and so he cries out to the audience that the building is on fire. And when he does that, dressed in his clown outfit, the audience laughs.

And the more the clown warns and the more he cries out about the imminent danger, the greater the laughter of the people. Kierkegaard says this is what is the problem with the prophet in any generation, that he is subjected to ridicule and mockery. Another illustration he used was of a rebel who had disobeyed the rules of the king and the punishment that the king imposed upon him was to be burned at the stake. The problem is the king was very soft-hearted and he couldn't stand to watch or to listen to anyone suffering. And so it was a question as to whether he would be able to carry out the execution. But they took the rebel and tied him to the post and they ignited the flames to burn him at the stakes and as soon as he cried out in the throes of agony, the fates intervened and translated his screams into beautiful music.

And so the king sat back and said put more wood on the fire that I may enjoy more of this beautiful music. And he says that's the way the public responds to the poet who creates his beauty out of his own pain or the prophet who brings truth out of his own suffering, that people enjoy it without feeling the sickness or the pain that is being undergone. Now in another small work he talks on this point which was entitled Sickness Unto Death, where there he talks about loneliness and he talks about the condition of what is called existential solitude, to be shut up in a world where you are closed in by yourself.

He points out that it is the supreme punishment for those who are incarcerated in prison to be put in solitary confinement, where one is cut off from all human intercourse and communication. And he said when a person goes into that depth of loneliness, they are as a person who has a fatal illness, who is sick unto death, who has a desire for one thing and that is to die. But he can't die.

He's not allowed to die. And again Kierkegaard is identifying here personally with Job, who cried out to God that God would slay him and take his life to put him out of his misery. Now for Kierkegaard, one of the great legacies he gave to 20th century theology was his emphasis on the subjective aspect of truth.

He was not interested in the cold abstract logic of Hegel or of abstract speculative philosophy or theology. He wrote a vehement attack against the institutional church for its dead orthodoxy and formalism in his attack upon Christendom and said that in his passion to recover the personal dimension of authentic truth that truth is subjectivity. Now there's a debate as to whether he really meant what he said. Was he simply saying that truth doesn't come alive until it has the personal application and appropriation by the individual or as some of his followers claimed, truth itself is reduced to personal subjective preference? If that is the case, then of course Kierkegaard has undermined the Christian faith that he is espousing by setting the stage for a later relativism that would negate the objective truth of the Word of God. But the basic concern of Kierkegaard at this point I don't think was to give us a complete new epistemology or philosophy of truth, but rather to call his generation and future generations to a passionate subjective involvement into the life of faith.

That's his legacy to me. I believe that theology should be rational, cogent, coherent, logical and all of that, but that our response to that which is objectively true should be a response of unrestrained passion and care as we show our love for the things of God. As we listen to Kierkegaard's arguments, it encourages us to be passionate about our own faith. Today's message is from R.C. Sproul's series, The Consequences of Ideas, and we're bringing you highlights of this series all week here on Renewing Your Mind.

I'm glad you could be with us today. Studying philosophers can come as a shock to us as we consider the far-reaching impact of their ideas. If you look at the curriculum of highly regarded seminaries, you will find that a course requirement is the history of philosophy. They want future pastors to be able to identify and counter unbiblical ideas. Dr. Sproul taught this series because it fits in with Ligonier Ministries' desire to bridge the gap between Sunday school and seminary.

There are 35 messages on 9 DVDs. That's more than 13 hours of teaching, and we'll be happy to send you the entire series when you give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. You can make your request online at, or you can call us.

Our number is 800-435-4343. If you found today's program helpful, would you consider sharing it with others? When you go to our website, there's a Share button right in the middle of the page. You can post a link to today's program on Facebook or Twitter, or you can email the link to friends or family members. Thanks for spreading the word. That web address again is Tomorrow, Dr. Sproul examines the destructive ideas of a man named Nietzsche. I hope you'll join us Thursday for Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-22 09:03:11 / 2023-01-22 09:10:29 / 7

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