Notes from Norman

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by Norman P. Grubb

From the May June 1981 Union Life Magazine

Q. Does Union life Embrace Existentialism?

A. That depends on what we understand by “existentialism”. My understanding comes from Kierkegaard, who was fiercely combating Hegel’s theories of self-improvement as the ultimate goal of the individual. Kierkegaard called him down to earth by saying, “Let’s talk in terms of practical existence, not vague idealism.” And then he proceeded to shock Denmark awake with his two books Either-Or, which exposed not only the basic rottenness of the hedonistic life, but also the so-called morality of the “ethical” life. His conclusion is that “Before God we are all wrong.” He then shows that there can be no human bridge over the gulf of our wrongness which separates us from God, and he introduces the rational “absurdity” of the Infinite God taking finite form in His Son, who makes a sufficient atonement for us. Here is where Kierkegaard made famous the phrase “the leap of faith” (which he borrowed from the philosopher Lessing). For Kierkegaard it is a leap of faith beyond reason, on the authority of God’s word, into our acceptance by God and justification by grace through Jesus Christ. And to this basic “existential” leap of faith, which he would even call the “absurdity of faith” (because it is beyond reason) I thoroughly align myself. Yes, on Kierkegaard’s terms, I am an existentialist.

But since Kierkegaard’s days, other unbelieving philosophers, led by Heidegger and consummated we may say in Jean Paul Sartre, have prostituted the meaning of the leap, saying that it is a leap into anything which we will name as our belief (or Unbelief) and attach ourselves to. Thus Sartre pitifully dies with his leap boldly declared as into death as the end of all. Curiously the present Christian world seems to have caught on to that interpretation of the leap as true existentialism, and thus made it a dirty word to Christians, and some even accuse Kierkegaard of misusing the term. They had best re-read that magnificent interpreter of evangelical faith. I am proud to remain an existentialist of the original brand!