In a recent post, M.G. Piety (who wrote the main book on Kierkegaard’s epistemology I’m using for my thesis) argues that Kierkegaard falls solidly within the tradition of “liberal theology.” She makes this claim because of Michael Langford’s defines the fundamental characteristics of liberal theology in A Liberal Theology for the Twenty-First Century as,
(a) ‘The desire to use rational methods, including those of the empirical sciences, as far as they can be taken,’ (b) The confident ‘pursuit of truth’ from the perspective of belief ‘in a God who is active in the world, and who is the source of all that is.’
Piety argues, given Kierkegaard’s ultimate trust in rationality/logic and his (perhaps slightly) modified belief that God can be found in the world (Piety says that Kierkegaard only affirms that this happens “through the eyes of faith”). All well and good — however, I have a qualm that these characteristics solely define “liberal” theology. Modern theology, perhaps. Liberal?
Let’s take an example from Roger Olson:
In order for a theological proposal to be “liberal” it MUST be offered on the ground that modern thought requires it even though what is requiring it is not a universally recognized material fact (such as the earth moves around the sun). In other words, liberal theology makes modern thought in general a norming norm for theology–alongside if not above Scripture.
I’m inclined to trust Olson’s definition of “liberal theology” against Langford’s — partially because he’s making a claim about authority. In other words, liberal theology is not only characterized by trust in rationality, but a trust in rationality as a higher authoritative norm than Scripture and tradition coupled together. So then the question becomes, “Can we define Kierkegaard’s theology as inherently liberal?” Maybe, but not necessarily.
Kierkegaard trusted that rationality was capable of accessing truth about the natural world. Especially, as Piety says, regarding both tautologies/logic, the natural world, and human history. But was he so confident in the capability of rationality to determine truth in ethico-religious terms? Not particularly. Rationality lends itself to understanding ethico-religious truth(s) abstractly, “objectively.” His desire was to show, in his time, that embodiment of ethico-religious truth was the necessary requirement for truly being a Christian (“Subjectivity is truth,” etc.). In my mind, this implies that he distrusted objective, rational thought insofar as it was able to correct scriptural and creedal theology. True Christianity requires one to subject oneself to Christian tradition, to submit one’s reason to religious truth. Hence, rationality necessarily cannot function as a “norming norm” (as Olson says) for theology.
Ergo, Kierkegaard’s theology was not a “liberal theology.” Modern? Yes. Liberal — not so much.