Søren Kierkegaard argued that no one can be raised a Christian.* Does that sound odd? At the very least it runs counter to what virtually every Christian parent is trying to do with their kids. Our impulse is to make sure our kids understand the faith, to do everything in our power to make sure they love Jesus. It’s a noble goal, yet Kierkegaard says it’s impossible.
I don’t think he’s wrong on this, and the implications go way beyond parenting. Here’s why. Our efforts to teach Christianity to someone else are important, but insufficient. Because until you have a moment in which you see Christianity as fundamentally weird, you’re missing the whole thing.
But it’s not just weirdness. Kierkegaard used the word “offense” and said that offense functions like a gate to Christianity. This is the only entry point. If you waltz right in and everything aligns with everything you’ve ever thought and dreamed, then you missed the gate. You have to come face to face with Jesus as he truly is, and Jesus as he truly is will always offend us in some way. Think about this. Consider Jesus’ demands that we lower ourselves, that we put others first, that we forgive our enemies (something a good American would never do), that we turn the other cheek (something a good American would never do), that we stop judging others, that we repent and die to ourselves (something a human being would never do). Give it ten seconds of thought and you’ll realize how insane it is that we don’t primarily think of Jesus as offensive.
So until you come to this jarring place of realizing that following Jesus means getting over your desires and inclinations in a number of areas, you’re not dealing with the real thing.
Kierkegaard uses the example of gunpowder. Someone went to a lot of trouble to find gunpowder, refine it, and figure out how to best use it. That was an important discovery. But from that point on, that guy was able to hand it on to other people: here’s how it works, here’s how you use it, etc. But Christianity is not like gunpowder. Once discovered, it is not simply handed down. It must be discovered. Again and again. Every generation. Every individual. It’s either discovered or it’s not. If your faith has been handed down but not discovered, then you’re holding a counterfeit.
I actually think this insight is at the heart of a lot of the jackassery that masquerades as Christianity.“Does your Jesus coincidentally do and believe everything you happen to do and believe? Are all of your enemies his? If so, do you see why this should scare you?”
When was the last time you were surprised by Christianity? The last time anything you read in the Bible struck you as odd or crazy or unreasonable? When was the last time you found yourself doing something where you thought, “Man, I’d never be doing this [serving the homeless, giving away my money, praying for someone I consider a piece of crap, forgiving someone for the 449th time] if Jesus hadn’t commanded and modeled it“? Seriously, have you ever found yourself in that spot?
Or does your view of Jesus coincidentally mean that he would always do exactly what you would naturally do in a given situation?
Does your Jesus agree with every theological, political, and moral opinion you hold? Does your Jesus look at your enemies and consider all of them his enemies as well? Probably right? But do you see why that’s problematic? You can tell yourself this is the case because you have a perfect understanding of the Bible and have thereby brought your inclinations into submission to God’s truth. But you’re lying to yourself.
A Jesus that we perfectly understand and perfectly agree with is not Jesus. A Jesus who never surprises us or challenges what we think and do is not Jesus.“A Jesus that we perfectly understand and perfectly agree with is not Jesus. A Jesus who never surprises us or challenges what we think and do is not Jesus.”
I’m writing this like a total hypocrite. Like a complete jackass. Because I’m rarely surprised by Jesus. Because I don’t spend enough time with him. Because I find it easier to identify the people who see Jesus the way I want to and then listen to what they tell me about what Jesus would and wouldn’t do.
I’m writing this like I know what I’m talking about, but really, I’m just a pastor that read something incredibly convicting and I know I have to do something with it. And while I try to figure that out, I’m realizing I need to stop seeing specific Twitter feeds or pulpits or associations as the go-to location for finding “what Jesus thinks about ______.” I’m feeling this pull to sit down with all of my conclusions and practices and ask Jesus what he thinks about them. I’m confident that will mean hearing his voice speaking through people I wouldn’t expect him to speak through. That means I’ll have to step out of my echo chamber. And that’s okay. I guess I never really believed Jesus could be confined to such a place anyway.
*[Everything I say about Kierkegaard in this post comes from some pretty common Kierkegaardian themes. I’m pulling these thoughts specifically from Repetition, Sickness Unto Death, and Practice in Christianity.]