Søren Kierkegaard: To Understand and to Understand

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37–40).

Hank Hanegraaff: I’ve invited my son-in-law into the studio. This may seem like a bit of a gratuitous gesture, but he is not just any son-in-law. First of all, he is married to my second-oldest daughter. I have three grandchildren as a result of this marriage — Caleb, Naomi, and Luke. They are extraordinary children because Katie and Adam are extraordinary parents, raising their children in the fear and nurture of the Lord, but also with a biblical worldview that is not just focused on truth but a biblical worldview that is focused on life. I want to start this broadcast in a little different way by talking to Adam about two words. Those two words are understanding and understanding. The two words do not have a whole lot in common. Adam, by the way, is a professor, a PhD; he is presently a professor at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Again, I am very, very proud of him. I want you, Adam, if you would, to just give us a sense of what Søren Kierkegaard was talking about when he talked about those two words.

Adam Pelser: Yes, Søren Kierkegaard says that to understand and to understand are two things. He is drawing on the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates when he says this. Socrates had this idea that if you really knew the truth, if you really knew the right way to live, that you would do it. Kierkegaard says, well, there’s a kind of understanding for which that’s true; there is a kind of understanding that if you really understand the truth, it makes its way into your life. You cannot help but live in accordance with it because to understand the truth is to see how good it is. Especially when that truth is an existential truth, a truth about how one ought to live, a truth about one’s life.

But, there is another kind of understanding. There is a kind of understanding that’s very shallow. That is only intellectual. That is purely cognitive. It does not make its way into your heart and into your life.

Kierkegaard was warning his readers, many of whom professed to be Christians but did not seem to be living a very rich or vibrant faithful Christian life. He was warning them about that kind of understanding that is purely intellectual. To understand and to understand are two things. He tells a great story about a pastor who stands up and preaches a sermon about helping the poor and immediately walks down from the stage on which he is preaching the sermon, walks by a poor man that is in need of his help, and does not even notice that he is there. He says that kind of understanding is not the kind of understanding that we ought to be interested in as Christians. That kind of life is not the one in which we ought to be interested. We ought to be interested in cultivating the kind of understanding that not only makes us want to live in accordance with the truth but also helps us to notice how to see, to open our eyes to the ways the world needs us. It opens our eyes to the needs of the poor. It opens our eyes to the needs of the suffering. It opens our eyes to the needs of those who do not know Jesus, and then ushers us into the kind of love of neighbor that Jesus calls us to.

Hank: He does that in so many beautiful ways. “If you give the cup of water, if give the piece of bread in my name, you have done it unto me.”

Adam: Right. You mentioned Katie and the way we parent our children, and I appreciate those kind words. They love their grandpa Hank and their grandma Kathy, and had such a wonderful time being with you this week, and seeing the model of Christian life that you give to them. I think, Katie and I have talked about this, sometimes we feel as though we do not do enough to teach our children about the doctrines of Christianity, the history of the church, and theology. You know, our oldest is eleven going on twelve years old, and we have had conversations about what we need to do to start increasing his intellectual exposure to the Christian faith, as it were. But, one thing we have always been committed to as parents, and first and foremost committed to, is we have said that the most important thing for us is that our kids learn to love God with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their mind, and to love their neighbors as themselves. That is what we want them to do as followers of Christ. We are less concerned, especially at their young ages, that they dot all their i’s and cross all their t’s theologically and more concerned that they love God with their whole hearts and love their neighbors as themselves. We are trying to instill in them that kind of understanding, that kind of experiential knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ and the truth of the way He wants His followers to live that makes its way into the way they treat their teachers at school, their friends, their neighbors, those who are poor and suffering in our community, and so on.

Hank: This really ties into something that I know you are trying to teach them as well, not just them but the wider Christian community, and that is the connection between emotion and apologetics.

Adam: Yeah, I think this is something that has unfortunately been missed by a lot of Christians who are doing good work in Christian apologetics. I think one of the dangers in apologetics is the over-rationalization of the Christian faith, making the Christian faith a purely intellectual endeavor, where it is just about getting all of the facts right, getting all of your biblical knowledge right, getting all of your theology right. One of the things that I have been working on ever since I have been introduced to the idea of thinking about the emotions even as a discipline by my dissertation director at Baylor University, a man named Robert C. Roberts who has written a great book on the topic called Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues.

One of the things that I have been trying to do is trying to help those who are doing work in apologetics see the importance of engaging the emotions and appealing to the emotions in the right sorts of ways. Oftentimes in logic textbooks, they like to point out the different types of fallacies that you can use in sort of informal argumentation trying to convince somebody of something. One of the fallacies that shows up in almost every logic book is the appeal to emotions, the idea being that if you are appealing to someone’s emotions, well, that’s not a way to get them to see the truth. You have got to appeal to their purely rational mind if you want to help lead them to the truth. But of course, the best kind of preaching, the best kind of teaching, the kind that actually instills in us the kind of deep understanding that makes its way into our lives that Kierkegaard was taking about, that kind of preaching and that kind of teaching always appeals to our emotions and, in the process, helps to form in us the right sorts of emotions. It helps us to perceive the world rightly through our emotions, and I am trying to help folks to see the importance of that in apologetics and to not lose sight of the importance of the emotional side of life — not just the intellectual.

Hank: Form your perspective, talk for a moment about the significance of a ministry in a post-truth culture: standing for truth no matter what the cost but also leading people to that second idea of understanding not just the first but also the second notion of understanding, the experience of life.

Adam: It is so important today. You say we live in a post-truth culture. I think that is right. We live in a culture where many people are uncomfortable even talking about truth, at least in certain realms. They are comfortable taking about scientific truth, but they are not at all comfortable talking about religious truth or moral truth, and it is religious truth and moral truth that we most desperately need. Truth in the areas of religion and the areas of morality are not opposed to scientific truth but actually enhance it and come together with scientific truth to help inform our entire worldview. A ministry, like CRI (Christian Research Institute), that is reaching people with truth, communicating truth to people, both biblical truth (theological truth) but also historical truth, truth about the history of the church, and philosophical and moral truth, is so critically important today because there are so many people who are not sure that it’s even acceptable to say that they believe that something is true anymore. They are not even sure that is an appropriate thing to do, but of course, in not being sure that is an appropriate thing to do, they are recognizing that there are certain truths about what we ought to say, what we ought to profess, so everyone does have a deep recognition of objective truth, but we are afraid to talk about it, at least in certain realms, and CRI helps people to know how to do that.

It is also important to help people get beyond just knowing the truth. Right? Just having this intellectual grasp of what Christians believe, how Christians ought to live, but having that truth make its way into your life. The “P” in the E-Q-U-I-P acronym that CRI has used for its motto for so long stands for para-church, meaning that CRI comes along the church; it does not replace the church. It does not supplant the church, but CRI comes along the church to equip believers for evangelism and for education by providing research and providing resources that the church desperately needs in this post-truth culture. That is crucially important today. It is then in the church where that truth can be combined with the profound practice of liturgy and worship and right preaching and teaching and building up one another in love that makes its way into that understanding, that makes its way into our life, and helps to inform how we live in love of God and the love of neighbor.

Listen to the rest of Hank’s interview with Adam here.

For further related study, please see the following:

We Get to Carry Each Other: Kierkegaard and U2 on Authentic Love (Michael W. Austin)

Kierkegaard: Understanding the Christian Father of Existentialism (Michael W. Austin)

This blog is adapted from the June 2, 2017, Bible Answer Man broadcast.

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