Month: January 2017

Kierkegaard: A Single Life

As we were driving down the highway recently as a family, I informed my college-age sons that a recent album (Reflektor) released by one of their favorite bands (Arcade Fire) was inspired by Soren Kierkegaard’s work, The Present Age. In his interview with Rolling Stone, band front man Win Butler speaks of how relevant Kierkegaard’s writing is today, “It sounds like he’s talking about modern times…He’s talking about the press and alienation, and you kind of read it and you’re like, “Dude, you have no idea how insane it’s gonna get.”  This quote comes from Stephen Backhouse’s new biography of the Danish Christian/existentialist/philosopher entitled Kierkegaard: A Single Life.(p. 205).

I had to read Kierkegaard as a freshman in college in my Western Civilization class (I think it was Fear and Trembling-but it’s been 36 years), and while I found some of his ideas compelling, most of it went over my head.  But over the past few decades, I’ve come across his writings in various places, perhaps most recently in Metaxas’ biography of Bonhoeffer (see my blog and Backhouse’ discussion, p. 197), so when I saw this new biography from Zondervan, I happy picked it up.

I was not disappointed.  Backhouse is a Kierkegaardian scholar who can write for a more popular, non-specialist audience, moving easily between anecdotes of a man who life was largely tragic and encapsulations of his profound writings and philosophy.

While it took awhile for his writings to gain traction in broader circles, his impact goes way beyond Arcade Fire and Dietrich Bonhoeffer to include Franz Kafka, Karl Barth, Charles Williams (friend of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Dorothy Sayers), Thomas Merton, Albert Camus, Richard Wright, FDR, and Martin Luther King Jr (although the often-cited link between Kierkegaard and Frederick Nietzsche seems rather tenuous).  Backhouse’s final chapter detailing these influences makes fascinating reading.

Soren Kierkegaard’s goal to “reintroduce Christianity into Christendom” seem tragically appropriate today.  Here’s a journal entry, “A modern clergyman [is] an active, adroit, quick person who knows how to introduce a little Christianity very mildly, attractively, and in beautiful language, etc.–but as mildly as possible.  In the New Testament Christianity is the deepest wound that can be dealt to a man, designed to collide with everything on the most appalling scale–and now the clergyman is perfectly trained to introduce Christianity in such a way that it means nothing…How disgusting!” (p. 171-172).

Kierkegaard’s views profoundly challenge me as a seminary professor in my occupation of training “clergymen.”  God help us reintroduce Christianity into Christendom.

Encounter with an Ark

nate-note-dave-arkOn New Years Eve Eve, I dragged my family to see the Ark Encounter in Grant County, Kentucky, as part of a visit to my father in Lexington. The Ark Encounter opened to great fanfare and controversy in July 2016.

The organization behind this ark, Answers in Genesis, also created the Creation Museum, and their perspective on creation was a major theme of the Ark Encounter. While I believe God created the cosmos, I don’t share the views of the makers of this ark that creation took place over six literal days of 24 hours, but more on that topic below.

But let’s start with three positives things I saw.  

  1. The Ark itself is impressive.  It’s huge, based on the dimensions from Genesis 6 (we’re not exactly sure how long a cubit is, but it was roughly 18 inches).  It’s great to walk up next to it and experience the overwhelming size.  It’s hard to imagine how practically Noah would have been able to build it, but the organizers worked hard to explain how he might have done it.
  2. The experience is well-designed.  The organizers run a tight ship, so to speak.  They aren’t fully done developing the entire grounds, but it was very attractive overall. The Christmas lights were beautiful at night (we went at night because it was 1/2-price).
  3. The exhibits are engaging.  I was surprised that our 2 hours-plus wasn’t really enough time.   They worked hard to explain how feeding, watering, and waste may have been handled on the ark.  I’ll mention two exhibits that I particularly appreciated. The first: “Was the Bible Used to Promote Racism?” They acknowledge that the answer is “sadly” yes, which was really good to admit.  They go on to point out that humans are created by God, are made in God’s image (Gen. 1-2), are all loved by God (John 3:16), and are all descended from Noah, thus all member of the same human race.  Great points overall (see also my chapter on Racism in God Behaving Badly).  The second exhibit I’ll mention was “Help Me Understand” which speculated about some of the possible questions Noah’s daughter-in-law Rayneh, wife of Japheth, may have asked concerning the ethical problems associated with judgment, suffering, and death.  I didn’t love their answers, but the fact that they were asking these questions was really good.

Because of these positives, I’m really glad we visited it.  But now, I’ll share three negative things I saw.

  1. The scientific arguments presented in the exhibits were based on essentially anecdotal evidence proving that the earth was only about 6000 years old. They created straw man arguments that they could then easily shoot down. The reality is that the vast majority of reputable scientists around the world in a variety of fields (geologists, biologists, astrophysicists, etc.) believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old. To explain the fossil record, the Ark Encounter exhibits had to theorize that all those fossil layers were laid down after the flood, a view which doesn’t take seriously the amount of time, pressure and energy it takes to create a fossil.
  2. The biblical arguments presented in the exhibits don’t take the Bible seriously, despite their claims to the contrary.  Their interpretation of a “day” (yom in Hebrew) as literal 24 hour period of time from Genesis 1 doesn’t even make sense in Genesis 1-2.  In the context of creation the word yom is used as a 24 hour period (Gen. 1:5b), a 12 hour period (Gen. 1:5a), and a week long period (Gen. 2:4b).  The genre of Genesis 1 is not narrative, but poetic, formulaic prose which does not require a literal interpretation.
  3. The view presented in the exhibits of other Christians was not respectful or gracious. Believers who didn’t share the hyper-literal views of the organizers of the exhibit were made to appear either as ridiculous or not as genuine Christians.  While I strongly disagree with their interpretations, I respect how hard they are working to honor the biblical text.

ark-does-bible-promote-racismIn spite of the criticisms I have of it, I firmly believe that the designers, builders, and organizers of the Ark Encounter are my brothers- and sisters-in-Christ and therefore are worthy of my upmost respect.