By this phrase “armed neutrality,” especially as I explain it more and more precisely, I think I am able to characterize the position I intend to take and have taken in throwing light on Christianity or what Christianity is or, more accurately, what is involved in being a Christian…. But what I have wanted and want to achieve through my work, what I also regard as the most important, is first of all to make clear what is involved in being a Christian, to present the picture of a Christian in all its ideal, that is, true form, worked out to every true limit, submitting myself even before any other to be judged by this picture…
This is my idea of the judgment which I believe is going to fall upon Christendom; not that I or any single individual shall judge others, but the ideal picture of what it is to be a Christian will judge me and everyone who permits himself to be judged.Kierkegaard – Armed Neutrality
Many of Kierkegaard’s writings, especially in the “second half” portion of his authorship, can be explained by these words here. He was a man swimming in a sea of Christendom, wherein everyone claimed the label Christian, and yet none (including himself) could truly identify what it meant to be a Christian.
So what was his task? To illuminate Christianity, both for himself and for others. Taking on that task is dangerous because:
- To illuminate Christianity to a culture that calls itself “Christian” is to call into question the moral foundation of the entire culture around you. One must look into others’ faces and say: based on this set of beliefs, values, and practices, your (the collective “your”, the crowd, groupthink) beliefs do not align with Christianity as such.
- Taking on this task runs the risk of making it seem as if Kierkegaard was some kind of super-Christian, a Christian among Christians, self-righteous, truly pious, etc.
We have these same problems today, but exponentially moreso. At the time of Kierkegaard’s authorship, he was writing to a fairly homogenous culture. The Danish state and the Lutheran church walked hand-in-hand. Every citizen was baptized as an infant, and therefore everyone was a Christian (in their view). He could therefore speak a single theological “language” — albeit through various pseudonyms — to his own culture.
Now, we have competing factions of Christianity across the West, and especially in America. In some cases, we have the problem of white, American, Evangelicalism. While I want to avoid painting too broad of a brush, this version of Christianity often uses Christianity as a means to gain political power and win a moral war, to protect specific freedoms (bearing arms in particular, though there are others), to justify soft versions of racism, and so on.
In other cases, however, we have the version of Christianity more often found in urban/cosmopolitan environments. These versions that I have personally encountered find it easier to be oriented towards social justice but are more unwilling to hold theological boundaries. There is often an openness in these spaces to alternative worldviews and spiritualities, even if those worldviews are logically incompatible with affirming the Apostles’ Creed and the authority of Scripture in determining right practice and belief. This would include political stances, economic stances, and an openness to alternative religions as if they “lead to the same place.” (I will be writing a short blog post on this idea about religions “leading to the same place” soon.)
The swaths of different “Christianities” in America make this particularly challenging, because everyone thinks their version of Christianity is the right one. The one that will lead to more human flourishing, the one that is more open or beautiful or true.
Our challenge — no, my challenge, via Kierkeagaard — is to illuminate Christianity in such a way that the picture of it judges all of us. Not because I am somehow a better Christian than everyone else. But because I have a picture of Christianity that does not align with any of us. Illuminating Christianity means we ought to be aware that, when we do, we will all be judged and found wanting. Thank God for grace.