A Review of “Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians” by Mark Tietjen

What has 1800s Denmark to do with Jerusalem? It was the church father Tertullian who originally asked that question of Athens, determining that philosophy was something of a threat to Christian theology. Writing during the height of the Danish Golden Age, however, philosopher Soren Kierkegaard saw great potential in philosophical reflection for the recovery of a true Christianity. In Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians author Mark Tietjen not only introduces readers to the depths of the philosopher’s thought, but he also helps us see how his thought can help us understand Christianity better. It is not just Christianity in 1800s Denmark that needs Kierkegaard’s thought.

The sad reality of American Christianity is that it is deeply confused about the nature of genuine Christianity. We have conflated Christian faith with the American Dream, materialism and worldly success, political power and influence, and personal power. In many ways we have made becoming a Christian too easy for some and too hard for others. We have reduced the faith to a set of orthodox beliefs that you claim, and ignored the significance of Christian practice. We have many of the same problems today that the church in Denmark had during the life of Kierkegaard. His words are a challenging and an aid to us today.

Kierkegaard is evidently very dense and difficult to read. No shortage of interpretations regarding his work exist and various scholars debate his meaning. Tietjen is a tremendous help to us in this regard, not only does he have immense first-hand knowledge of the works of Kierkegaard, not only is he former secretary-treasurer of the Soren Kierkegaard Society, but he is a believer who writes with accessible style. He not only offers explanation and critiques of other scholarly work, but he gives expositions of Kierkegaard’s work in such a clear and concise fashion that even the novice can enjoy and benefit from this book.

The books five chapters span the entirety of Kierkegaard’s work and approaches them through a thematic lens. Tietjen highlights major talking points of Kierkegaard’s philsophy/theology and helps readers to see its relevance tot them today. The introduction begins by clearing some of the confusion around the philosopher. Is he friend or foe? According to some theologians and scholars Kierkegaard is not to be trusted. Part of the challenge revolves around misreadings of his works, and around false associations with Existentialism. Tietjen exposes some of the flawed thinking in none other than Francis Schaeffer on this point. He helps to clear away some of the confusion and gave this reader an immense appreciation for the scholar.

In the remaining four chapters Tietjen picks up a particular theme and helps us to see how Kierkegaard reintroduces Christianity to Christians who have forgotten it. These themes include: the person of Christ, the human self, the Christian witness, and love. Kierkegaard gives tremendous insights into each of these themes both from a Scriptural and theological perspective, as well as from a philosophical and psychological perspective. His development of ideas is challenging and convicting. Tietjen helps readers to see at various levels how his analysis of an idea contrasts with cultural Christianity and, at the same time, how it is closer to the Scriptural teachings.

I was personally very captivated by this book. There were a number of times where I saw weaknesses in my own thought and practice, and times where I saw major flaws in the church’s thinking and practice. If Tietjen is right in his analysis than Soren Kierkegaard has plenty to say to American Christians today. This is a book well worth reading, friends.

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