1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. A note on subjectivity and objectivity
  4. Barth's ‘broken engagement’ with Kierkegaard
  5. Kierkegaard as preacher and homiletician
  6. The subjective–objective dialectic in Kierkegaard's preaching
  7. The objective–subjective dialectic in Barth's preaching
  8. Conclusion

Despite Barth's initial appropriations of Kierkegaard, he famously discarded the Dane from the theological ‘canon’ due to the latter's alleged anthropocentric subjectivism. Yet Kierkegaard was himself a preacher and polemical homiletician, seeking merely to appropriate the objective truth of the proclaimed word. Barth's Basel prison sermons reveal this same endeavour to render the eternally significant message temporally significant for his hearers. In Kierkegaard's Christendom, a corrective focus on subjectivity was the only way to remain faithful to the ‘objective’ truth of the gospel. Barth and Kierkegaard are juxtaposed here not in contrast (as Barth might have preferred) but in affinity, in that both sought to evoke the dialectical subjectivity of objectivity through preaching.

On 18 May 1851, in the church of an army barracks in Copenhagen, Søren Kierkegaard preached a sermon entitled ‘The Unchangeableness of God’. The very fact that Kierkegaard preached at all seems to counteract many ‘subjectivist’ caricatures of him which still exist today. 1 The theme of his sermon that day, in particular, seems to work against the notion that Kierkegaard was more concerned with existentialist or anthropocentric interests than ‘objective’ theological doctrine. Karl Barth has been one such critic of Kierkegaard's ‘anthropocentric’ theological legacy. However, it is noteworthy that a younger Barth, during his time as a preacher in Safenwil, once sat in his armchair for an entire evening reading a translation of Kierkegaard's The Moment (the book in which that sermon was later published). Due to the heavily edited edition, however, Barth never found that sermon. 2 For him, this Kierkegaard seemed more the nonconformist revolutionary than the Christian preacher. In a letter to Eduard Thurneysen, Barth noted that he awoke that night at 3 a.m. from a turbulent dream in which he was being fired at by bourgeois soldiers of the established order and wondered whether this was a coincidence of his evening's reading. 3 Indeed, Barth's perpetual gravitation towards the immediacy of his context at this time tended to filter into his own preaching, which was often more concerned with the subjective clamour of contemporary events than the objective truths of Christian doctrine. 4 Barth's eventual transition away from Kierkegaard was, in part, an attempt to leave behind this perceived doctrinal captivity to all things momentary. It may be, however, that Barth's view of Kierkegaard could well have benefitted from reconsidering the doctrinal implications of that sermon he never read.

It is well documented, of course, that Barth and Kierkegaard share something of a tarnished affinity. 5 On the one hand, the early Barth's indebtedness to Kierkegaard is obvious; and on the other, the mature Barth's growing suspicion of Kierkegaard becomes more emphatic with each volume of the Church Dogmatics. As is well known, it was Kierkegaard's repeated emphasis on ‘subjectivity’ that most troubled Barth. Yet it seems that for the little he actually read of him, Barth rarely considered Kierkegaard's preaching as being of any particular importance. This article will assess two ways in which we might see Barth and Kierkegaard closer together by analysing their conceptions and practices of preaching. Firstly we will see, in Kierkegaard's attitude to preachers and in his own preaching, a greater sense of theological objectivity which better frames his thinking on the role of subjectivity. Secondly, in Barth's preaching, we will see greater elements of a subjective focus through which we find a similar dialectic of objectivity-and-subjectivity. In both thinkers, it is the proclamation of the gospel itself that grounds their contrasting emphases, whereby the objectivity of the preached word is dialectically inseparable from its subjective hearing. However, in order to situate the significance of their similarity here, it will first be necessary to provide an extensive account of Barth's ‘subjective’ reception of Kierkegaard, and – prior to this – to highlight how the terms ‘subjectivity’ and ‘objectivity’ feature in the context of this debate.

A note on subjectivity and objectivity

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. A note on subjectivity and objectivity
  4. Barth's ‘broken engagement’ with Kierkegaard
  5. Kierkegaard as preacher and homiletician
  6. The subjective–objective dialectic in Kierkegaard's preaching
  7. The objective–subjective dialectic in Barth's preaching
  8. Conclusion

These two decidedly ‘modern’ concepts have been used conjunctively and dualistically in various ways in theology, philosophy and literary theory, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although certain key thinkers such as Kant and Hegel have had a considerable impact upon the widespread use of such terminology (especially for both Kierkegaard and Barth), it is notoriously difficult to track their etymologies with exact precision. James Brown, in his 1953 Croall Lectures at the University of Edinburgh, undertook an extensive study of these terms in relation to modern theology, with particular reference to both Barth and Kierkegaard. He noted the inherited complexity and ambiguity in meanings that had led – even by that time – to a profound difficulty in using these terms without heavy qualification. 6 He did, of course, note the shades of interpretation that exist at general levels before illustrating their uses in particular thinkers. One such general presupposition he found is a tendency to favour ‘objectivity’ as the more preferable proponent of ‘truth’ within the pair: ‘the modern world has arrived at a distinction between subjective and objective thinking, which in its popular version at least tends to identify truth with objectivity and error with subjectivity’. 7 Such a perception, though certainly hyper-generalized, does remind us of the difficulties of extracting the meaning of ‘subjectivity’, particularly if our intention is to redeem its use within theological speech, as Kierkegaard attempted.

Regarding the actual definition of subjectivity, of course, an exhaustive treatment of its usage and multifarious interpretation (even in modern theology alone) will be impossible here. What I am noting is the meaning of this term in the context of this particular discussion. Brown notes three clusters of the general meaning of subjectivity: ‘that which pertains to the mere individual act of presentation’, ‘anything and everything which a feeling and a thinking creature experiences in itself’ and ‘all convictions extending beyond the immediate evidence of the facts’. 8 Subjectivity, then, may connote a number of different emphases but usually gravitates towards the individual, the personal, the self and the particular, rather than, say, the universal or abstracted principle beyond the confines of the self. This juxtapositional definition, more importantly, is how Barth seemed to conceive of ‘subjectivity’ as a category in his reading of Kierkegaard. That is, subjectivity was that which had a propensity or fixation for the human self or the existential elements of feeling rather than that which is primarily oriented towards an exterior object.

Without wanting to oversimplify Barth here, it should be noted that his use of objectivity and subjectivity, following Kant, is often somewhat dualistic in its appearance. That is not to say that he actually was entirely dualistic in his conception, but simply that he had a tendency to express the two terms as though they were completely antithetical and non-correlative. An interesting example of such an antithetical expression is in his book on Mozart (both his and Kierkegaard's favourite composer). Barth wrote of

[T]he great, free ‘objectivity’ with which Mozart went through life … The subjective is never his theme. He never used music to express himself, his situation, his moods. I do not know of a single instance where one can with any certainty explain the character of a work from a corresponding episode in his life, so that from the succession of his works one might trace something like a biographical line. 9

Of course, the same could certainly not be said for Kierkegaard [!]. 10 What this passage reveals, of course, is the rhetorical antithesis through which Barth would present objectivity in stark contrast to subjectivity. Objectivity, it seems, is portrayed not in its own right, but – ironically enough – by reference to ‘the subjective’, that is, by virtue of the fact that objectivity is not concerned with the anthropological, the existential, the emotional or the biographical. To Barth's mind, Mozart was admirable because he was able to prevent his own existential crises from penetrating his works, thus affirming a sense of truth which lay beyond his own experience. This, for Barth, is the virtue of ‘objective’ thinking.

On overt doctrinal matters, Barth often deployed this same distinction between the subjective and the objective, relating to human existence and divine being. Although in many cases Barth presents an antithesis, he evidently did portray a dialectical relationship between subjectivity and objectivity when he wrote of the objective and the subjective within God's being and acts. 11 However, when using the terms to portray the distinction between God and humanity, the dialectic is altered to that of a hierarchy, necessitating a submissive reciprocation on the part of the human subject: ‘What we have said about the objective content of truth of the reality of Jesus Christ, which includes our own reality, presses in upon us, from its objectivity to our subjectivity, in order that there should be in us a correspondence.’ 12 It is evident that Barth wants to uphold both the distinction between and the correct ordering of the two (from the objective, to the subjective), whilst highlighting their complementarity. 13 The sharp distinction between them, as we will see, feeds his gradual suspicions of Kierkegaard, who is imagined by Barth to be solely committed to subjectivity at the expense of objectivity.

It is certainly true that Kierkegaard's use of subjectivity played the crucial role in his entire theological framework. His Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846) 14 is perhaps his best-known work in this regard, in which we find many uses of the famous phrase ‘Truth is subjectivity’. Needless to say, this aphorism could be (and has been) interpreted simplistically as if Kierkegaard, therefore, did not value ‘objective’ truth. What Kierkegaard has in mind, however, is the subjective appropriation of objective truth by the individual. In fact, when he derides ‘objective truth’ here, he is deriding the merely objective attitude towards truth, rather than a wholehearted engagement with it; as Ziegler states: ‘To claim that “truth is subjectivity” is to claim that we know the truth of faith in a more-than-merely cognitive manner. Note well – not a non-cognitive manner, but a more-than-merely cognitive manner.’ 15

A pertinent section of the Postscript equates ‘subjectivity’ with ‘inwardness’. 16 Inwardness, here, means the personal response to the objective truth, as grasped by the individual rather than a dispassionately perceived piece of information. Indeed, another famous phrase demonstrates the corrective nature of this thought-pattern: ‘in a Christian country it is not information that is lacking; something else is lacking’. 17 For Kierkegaard, Christendom was in no need of ‘objective’ theological emphases. There was, in his mind, an absurd over-abundance of objectively described theology on display already – and almost none of it made any significant difference to those who spoke or heard such truths. Thus, effectually speaking, these objective truths may as well not be ‘truths’ at all. This is not to say that Kierkegaard was relativistic (in the sense of one's reception of an object necessitating its existence) but he did believe that to speak of the object is to respond to it in some way, and that to neglect this response is to neglect something of that object's ontology. If an objective truth is not appropriated, Kierkegaard does not think that it therefore ceases to exist, but rather that this truth has not been truly spoken unless it has been appropriated. Thus, to communicate Christianity is not merely to speak of it outwardly. Indeed, ‘the question is whether, and if so to what degree, the thinking person “lives within” the idea entertained or the belief that is held’. 18

The category of ‘subjectivity’ for Kierkegaard, then, is not the grounding of truth within the individual, but the inward application of the objective truth, which he believed to be essential if one is to speak of objective truth at all. This is particularly important when that ‘object’ is a theological doctrine, or indeed, God himself. Kierkegaard is overtly committed to subjectivity, but only as a category for rightly situating one's approach to objectivity, rather than treating subjectivity in isolation. Come highlights this dialectic well when he writes: ‘[for Kierkegaard] there is both an objective source and a subjective source of Christian theological formulation, and neither one works without the other’. 19 We will see this demonstrated more acutely when we come to analyse Kierkegaard's own preaching and homiletical practice. Before this, however, we will chart Barth's reception of Kierkegaard and his negative perception of Kierkegaard's subjectivity.

Barth's ‘broken engagement’ with Kierkegaard

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. A note on subjectivity and objectivity
  4. Barth's ‘broken engagement’ with Kierkegaard
  5. Kierkegaard as preacher and homiletician
  6. The subjective–objective dialectic in Kierkegaard's preaching
  7. The objective–subjective dialectic in Barth's preaching
  8. Conclusion

Barth is often seen as one of the primary catalysts for the Kierkegaardian ‘renaissance’ in early twentieth-century Germany. 20 It is true that Kierkegaard was very much en vogue in theological circles of that time and had a significant impact on the up-and-coming dialectical school of theology. Kierkegaard's project is frequently mentioned as though it were a kind of ‘grammar’ for the trajectory of their thinking at that time: ‘[our theology,] whether we wished it or not, has been taken not as a gloss but as a text, a new theology. This was the case even with that most venturesome of the knights of the chessboard, Kierkegaard himself.’ 21 Kierkegaard is even mentioned in the same vein as ‘Luther, Calvin, Paul and Jeremiah’ as a proponent of ‘a clear and direct apprehension of the truth that man is made to serve God and not God to serve man’. 22 Barth's initial Kierkegaardian influence was especially evident in his second edition of Der Römerbrief (1922) in which we see Kierkegaard quotations and allusions sprinkled around freely, as well as the oft-quoted comments in the preface in which Barth says he had paid ‘more attention’ to Kierkegaard in interpreting the New Testament, as well as to the ‘infinite qualitative distinction’. 23 Barth's sense of Kierkegaard here is not simply as a depository of a few interesting concepts or turns of phrase, but rather relates to Kierkegaard's general ‘spirit’, as someone in whose lineage Barth hopes to stand. It is clear that the early Barth saw Kierkegaard as something of a comrade-in-arms – perhaps, even, a distant mentor. For this Barth, Kierkegaard was the romanticized prophet of radical Christianity, who had refused to succumb to the anthropocentric idolatry of his age. It is one of the most curious footnotes of modern theological history that Barth would eventually come to see Kierkegaard in exactly the opposite light.

Kierkegaard's infamous broken engagement to Regine Olson, which many have interpreted as playing itself out in some of his writings, demonstrates precisely the opposite of that for which Barth had praised Mozart's ‘objectivity’. It was because of this growing awareness of Kierkegaard's perpetually ‘subjective’ focus (in the broad sense in which Barth understood the term) that he eventually felt the need to part company with the ‘melancholy Dane’. It is difficult to pin down any precise ‘moment’ when Barth's thinking changed, though it certainly crystallized over time. Retrospectively, he would even come to say: ‘not even in Romans was I a real friend of Kierkegaard, let alone a Kierkegaard enthusiast’. 24 Although Barth would reflect that his theological development came through Kierkegaard's ‘school’, his final assessment was that Kierkegaard's theology was ultimately ‘groundless and without object’. 25

To some extent, a milder form of this critique was present even in the Römerbrief period, where Barth expresses the concern that: ‘There proceeds … from Kierkegaard the poison of a too intense pietism’. 26 But this earlier measured awareness of Kierkegaard's ‘extremities’ gradually became more negative and emphatic. By the latter sections of the Church Dogmatics, Kierkegaard is labelled outright as ‘anthropocentric’ and the primary influence behind ‘the modern theological existentialism’. 27 Barth's gradual change of heart is perhaps understandable when we remember that he was so regularly engaged in theological polemics in which the name ‘Kierkegaard’ was being invoked by his adversaries as a chief influence. Barth equates this increasing Kierkegaardian influence upon some of his contemporaries with the nineteenth-century obsession for ‘the individual experience of grace’ through which ‘the great concepts of justification and sanctification came more and more to be understood and filled out psychologically and biographically’. 28 He concludes: ‘we will do well not to allow ourselves to be crowded again into the same cul de sac on the detour via Kierkegaard’. 29

Oddly, as late as 1964, Barth was still considered by many outside of theological circles as a Kierkegaard ‘expert’ and was invited to speak on the contemporary relevance of Kierkegaard at a UNESCO symposium in Paris alongside such noted ‘existentialist’ thinkers as Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre (each of whom were due to give papers). 30 It is an invitation Barth politely declined (though one imagines Barth's presence at such a conference would have made for a rather fascinating exchange). The conference line-up can only have added to Barth's concerns over the anthropocentric impact and applicability of Kierkegaard's thought, cementing an opinion he had voiced a year earlier in Copenhagen: ‘The fact that the existential philosophy of Heidegger, Jaspers, and Sartre could grow out of and be based on [Kierkegaard's] work is understandable and legitimate.’ 31 Further comments relating to Kierkegaard's ‘existentialist philosophy’ also highlight that Barth had, by the 1960s, struck Kierkegaard from the theological ‘canon’, so to speak. 32 For Barth, ‘existential’ thought could not be considered ‘theological’ in itself. Rather, it had been imported into theology (for which he admits a partial ‘unwitting responsibility’ in his earlier affirmations of Kierkegaard); it is thus an ‘instrument’ rather than a necessary component. 33 To Barth's mind, Kierkegaard too became an ‘instrument’ for existential thought rather than a truly ‘theological’ voice. By this time, of course, Barth's view of Kierkegaardian subjectivity is barely coming from his own reading of Kierkegaard at all. It is apparent that Barth cannot separate Kierkegaard from his existentialist legacy, regrettable though it may be for Kierkegaard's subsequent reputation within many theological circles.

Indeed, included with the posthumous publication of Barth's 1923–4 Göttingen lectures on Schleiermacher is a fascinating epilogue entitled: ‘Concluding Unscientific Postscript on Schleiermacher’. The allusion to Kierkegaard, of course, is obvious. Throughout this short piece, he mentions the Dane not only as the ‘forerunner’ to Bultmannian existentialism, 34 but as one ‘in conformity with the spirit of the middle of the nineteenth century’ (a striking comment given that ‘conformity’ to the zeitgeist is rarely associated with Kierkegaard, of all people!). He even places Kierkegaard in the lineage of the great ‘father of liberalism’ himself:

In short, despite the fact that the vocabulary of [Kierkegaard's] recent theology included concepts which Schleiermacher certainly would not have cherished – such as Word, encounter, occurrence, cross, decision, limit, judgment, etc. – I could not allow myself to be deceived that within their own context they did not break with the narrowness of Schleiermacher's anthropological horizon. 35

Clearly, Barth saw a covert connection between Schleiermacher's general theological trajectory and that of Kierkegaard's (regardless of whether Kierkegaard knew it or not). Given the theological ‘battles’ in Barth's own context, the lens through which he came to see Kierkegaard became increasingly narrow and inherently negative by association. Referring to Kierkegaard's Works of Love he even makes a rather swiping comment about ‘the unlovely, inquisitorial and terribly judicial character which is so distinctive of Kierkegaard in general’. 36 Indeed, in both his early affirmations and latter defamations of Kierkegaard, it is often only ‘in general’ that Barth wishes to see him, disregarding both the complex nature of Kierkegaard's authorship and his theological nuances. Perhaps due to the fact that, at one stage, many had conflated Barth's own theological project a little too closely with Kierkegaard, Barth was keen to disassociate himself from all (or most) things ‘Kierkegaardian’. 37

In reassessing Barth's relationship to Kierkegaard it is important to note that his later criticisms must be viewed in light of what he read of him. The task of mapping Barth's reception of Kierkegaard is notoriously tricky; we cannot be sure precisely which of his texts Barth read and when he read them. 38 Another problem lies with Christoph Schrempf's German translations in the editions Barth had read. These were heavily abridged, distorting and largely ignorant of Kierkegaard's Danish context and theology. 39 Suffice to say, we are to take due caution when we assume that Barth even knew the Kierkegaard he thought he was rejecting: ‘Barth's familiarity with Kierkegaard may have been so inadequate that he failed to appreciate many of the basic dynamics of Kierkegaard's authorial project, and he may have been more in agreement with Kierkegaard than he realized.’ 40 When it comes to Kierkegaard's view of preaching, of course, separating him from his contemporary context proves particularly problematic, since it was the preachers of his day who catalysed so much of his homiletical (and ‘anti'-homiletical) thought. 41

Barth's rejection of Kierkegaard seems to have stemmed from a fundamental misunderstanding not only of Kierkegaard's emphasis upon subjectivity, but of Kierkegaard's applicability in realms of theology and philosophy deemed dangerous for genuine faith and ecclesial edification, not least for the task of preaching. One of his earlier (and less anxious) critiques of Kierkegaard evidences this in highlighting the importance of ecclesial consciousness: ‘The venture of Christian preaching is the venture of the Christian church. Christian preachers are not just individuals, as Kierkegaard depicted them.’ 42 This seems to demonstrate that Barth did not consider that Kierkegaard himself had any significant concern for preaching. Kierkegaard, he thinks, merely refers to ‘them’ as though attacking the (im)piety of ‘the preacher’ in general, rather than the particular problem of pulpit hypocrisy within Danish Christendom. Barth thus sees Kierkegaard as a deconstructive voice to preaching but not as a preacher in his own right who could be equally constructive. 43 It is, however, in the area of preaching that I believe one of the clearest bridges can be seen between Barth and Kierkegaard. Indeed, it is in preaching that we may see – in both thinkers – a complementary dialectic between subjectivity and objectivity, rather than an antithesis.

Kierkegaard as preacher and homiletician

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. A note on subjectivity and objectivity
  4. Barth's ‘broken engagement’ with Kierkegaard
  5. Kierkegaard as preacher and homiletician
  6. The subjective–objective dialectic in Kierkegaard's preaching
  7. The objective–subjective dialectic in Barth's preaching
  8. Conclusion

It is my contention that preaching was one of the most important emanations of Kierkegaard's theology. So significant was preaching to Kierkegaard that, in an article of this length, it would be impossible to do justice to the volume and scope of his homiletical thought and practice. Although little is made of it, it is one of the most frequently recurring concerns in his entire authorship. Due to the relatively scant attention paid to Kierkegaard's preaching, it will be worthwhile giving a more detailed account here before progressing onto his connection with Barth's preaching. It is hoped that imagining Kierkegaard in his context as a preacher (of sorts) should help us to see his supposed ‘subjectivism’ – and Barth's interpretation of it – in a different light. After all, Barth was primarily concerned with – as he says himself – ‘the situation of the parson in the pulpit’. 44

Burgess has written that ‘Kierkegaard's lifelong concern for the theory of Christian preaching is one of the least known aspects of his thought … If Kierkegaard himself had been able to select the field in which he would be remembered he might have picked homiletics.’ 45 Of course, his emphases on indirect communication, on the need for action over mere speech, and his incessant critiques of contemporary preachers such as Mynster and Martensen often make him appear as if he vigorously opposed preaching. He would even say that ‘what we call the sermon (that is, a speech, a rhetorical oration) is a completely incongruous form of communication for Christianity’. 46 But such critiques are not aimed at the act of preaching itself but rather at the hypocrisy of the preacher who does not live out what he preaches:

A handsome court preacher, the cultured public's chosen one, steps forward in the magnificent castle church, faces a chosen group of distinguished and cultured people, and preaches movingly on the apostle's words: God chose the lowly and the despised – And no one laughs. 47

It was precisely because Kierkegaard cared so much about preaching that he felt so indignant about the way the preaching of the gospel was so abused in Christendom by the ‘preacher-squawking’ 48 and ‘preacher-prattle’ of false, ‘blubbering preachers’. 49 These were men who were content with the performance of preaching rather than its substance and application in their own lives and congregations. He quips that these preachers are like fervent swimming coaches who do not know how to swim themselves. 50

In the context of Kierkegaard's entire authorship it could be seen, as Collette has said, that Kierkegaard was more of a dialectical rhetorician or playful ironist than religious preacher, that he was ‘neither preacher nor pastor’. 51 But this does not take into account the extent of Kierkegaard's thoughts on the subject, nor his extensive practice. Lowrie notes the significance of the fact that Kierkegaard was, in his everyday life, ‘a constant hearer of sermons’. 52 He was profoundly impacted by sermons, would travel to various churches in Copenhagen to hear them, and would also read and comment upon printed sermons from various preachers on a regular basis. 53 Søltoft notes that ‘his reflections on the nature of preaching are many and varied’. 54 We see not only focused discussions of preaching in his works, but also notable ad hoc references to preaching situations in pseudonymous texts such as ‘The Seducer's Diary’. Reflecting on Cordelia going to confession, Johannes says: ‘The situation is really most seductive, and since she is the only figure in the piece, there is nothing to prevent one's imagining the church in which all this takes place being so spacious that several very different preachers could all preach here simultaneously.’ 55 There are different ways one could imagine and articulate churchly spaciousness, but for Kierkegaard here, it is preaching that comes to mind. Such casual references are significant in that they show how much the practice of preaching dominated Kierkegaard's theological, philosophical and literary landscape, whatever he was writing or thinking about.

Of course, we also have some eighty ‘discourses’ that Kierkegaard published alongside the pseudonymous works, comprising over half of his entire authorship. Interestingly, Kierkegaard refrains from calling them ‘sermons’ because he says he does not have ‘authority’ to preach. 56 However, one wonders whether there is more indirectness in this distinction than is often seen, possibly relating to Kierkegaard's complex category of ‘authority’, which as often means living a life in tandem with one's message as it does church ordination or commissioning. 57 In any sense, these discourses are wholly sermonic in form, usually with a prayer beforehand, an assumed congregation of ‘listeners’, a quoted biblical text and an expositional exhortation of the text's theme. Lowrie, perhaps over-simplistically, refers to them as ‘the eighty sermons which he modestly called discourses’. 58 We may certainly say, with Pattison, that the discourses ‘are not so far removed from sermons as first seems to be suggested’. 59 However their official ‘genre’ is interpreted, most of these discourses certainly reflect the theological content of sermons that Kierkegaard certainly would have preached had he found himself ministering in a rural parish, as he occasionally hoped.

In addition to the discourses, of course, we have the sermons we know he did preach, not only in the pastoral seminary and the Friday communion services, but also at occasional Sunday services too. It is not known for sure how many Sunday services he did in fact preach. 60 In the Letters and Documents we see feedback given for Kierkegaard's seminary sermons and regular sermons. 61 One listener wrote to him, saying: ‘If only you would preach more often … It is your clear duty’, whilst another (a deaf lady) thanks him for his ‘written’ preaching (the discourses) because, she says: ‘I cannot hear your homilies, and you do say something that fortifies me.’ 62 This shows evidence that he preached at least fairly frequently. In any case, it is worth noting Plekon's comment in an article on Kierkegaard's Citadelskirken sermon: ‘in mid-19th century Copenhagen, those not ordained but with the degree cand. theol. were nevertheless regularly called on to preach’. 63 Kierkegaard could well have been called upon more frequently within this ecclesiastical pattern, especially in the years preceding his more overt attacks on the established church.

Alongside his preaching, there is also regular correspondence between Kierkegaard and other preachers who were struggling with various aspects of their own preaching. Clearly he was seen by those he knew as a reliable source of homiletical advice. 64 Holmer notes that Kierkegaard ‘reflected long and fruitfully on the purpose, form, style, and limits of the sermon’. 65 In fact, at one point, there was even a possibility of Bishop Mynster giving Kierkegaard a job at a homiletical seminary, and perhaps even the chance to run his own. 66 On this, Burgess rightly speculates that ‘Kierkegaard might have made a brilliant if eccentric professor of preaching’ (though he wonders about the administrative nightmares that might ensue!). 67

What can be in no doubt is that Kierkegaard held the analysis and practice of preaching in incredibly high esteem. This leads us to conclude that we must view his theological emphases upon subjectivity in an altogether different light. Against Barth's view, we might see Kierkegaard as both a deconstructive and a constructive voice for preaching. Of course, we could not expect Barth to have known too much about Kierkegaard's homiletical leanings. But I suggest that Kierkegaard's preoccupation with proclamation – even in his (typically) unconventional manner – shows us there is far more to his doctrinal anchorage than ‘Truth is subjectivity’.

The subjective–objective dialectic in Kierkegaard's preaching

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. A note on subjectivity and objectivity
  4. Barth's ‘broken engagement’ with Kierkegaard
  5. Kierkegaard as preacher and homiletician
  6. The subjective–objective dialectic in Kierkegaard's preaching
  7. The objective–subjective dialectic in Barth's preaching
  8. Conclusion

It is especially in Kierkegaard's approach to preaching that we see just how much he valued the objective content of the gospel. The proclaimed gospel must go beyond mere listening: it must not only connect with the hearers; it must shape the way they (and the preacher) live. Breuninger notes that Kierkegaard's model of communication ‘encompasses the objective nature of truth, but extends to the subjective appropriation of that truth’. 68 Seeing Kierkegaard as he saw himself – as a ‘corrective’ – helps us to see why he did not go out of his way to stress the gospel's objective content. 69 In Danish Christendom, he alleged, sermons could be heard without any connection to the subjective individual whatsoever. They had become mere ‘observations’ which – effectually speaking – became untrue:

In Christendom, sermons, lectures, and speeches are heard often enough about what is required of an imitator of Christ, about the implications of being an imitator of Christ, what it means to follow Christ, etc. What is heard is generally very correct and true; only by listening more closely does one discover a deeply hidden, un-Christian, basic confusion and dubiousness. The Christian sermon today has become mainly ‘observations’: Let us in this hour consider; I invite my listener to observations on; the subject for our consideration is, etc. But ‘to observe’ … signifies keeping very distant, infinitely distant, that is, personally [distant]. 70

For Kierkegaard this was the absurdity of preaching in Christendom. His subjective corrective sought to locate the essence of the gospel not merely in the spoken word but in actuality – in existence. This does not divorce it from the spoken word; it rather becomes the outworking of a true hearing of the word (cf. Jas 1:22–5). There is a dialectical relatedness to the objective and the subjective which cannot be separated, even as one is emphasised over the other: ‘For Kierkegaard the objective truth of a teaching or proclamation was not a major issue, since he presupposed it.’ 71 It is this underlying presupposition that is often overlooked. Yet this objective content ultimately remains, for Kierkegaard, the foundation of preaching. There can be no ‘subjectivity is Truth’ without objective truth in which subjectivity can be evoked. The subjective appropriation of this truth is seen as intrinsically connected to its effectual ‘trueness’.

We turn now to the aforementioned sermon, ‘The Unchangeableness of God’, which Kierkegaard preached on 18 May 1851. On the face of it, it appears like many of his discourses, opening with a thematic prayer and the quoted biblical text: James 1:17–21. His first move is one of juxtaposition with our human situation:

My listener, you have heard the text read. How natural now to think of the opposite: the temporal, the changefulness of earthly things, and the changefulness of human beings! How depressing, how exhausting, that all is corruptibility … How sorrowful that so often change is for the worse! What poor human consolation … 72

With such an opening we may feel Barth was right to identify Kierkegaard as ‘anthropocentric’ since he seems to have bypassed God and delved straight into the despair of human existence. But this is just a preacherly ploy. His very point is that if we were to remain in this ‘spirit of gloom’, contemplating the subjective human realm of changefulness, ‘we not only would not stick to the text, no, we would abandon it, indeed, we would change it’. 73 Unlike our human situation, this text speaks, he says, ‘from the mountain peaks … lifted above all the changefulness of earthly life’. 74 If the ‘existential’ or ‘subjective’ is that which marks our changeful, earthly lives, then that which is above and speaks into such changefulness can only be an evocation of objectivity. The ‘mountain peak’ is a profound metaphor not only for God's transcendence, but more specifically, for the ‘transcendence’ of his Word, and the ‘objective’ theological truth of the text. This is the very reason it may speak into our own subjectivity with authority, because it comes from an objective, divinely authoritative ‘location’. The listeners of this sermon – who are always addressed directly – are urged to ‘listen upward’ to this mountain peak, ‘because from above there is always only good news’. 75 Kierkegaard continues to move through the text with expository precision, unpacking it phrase by phrase and exhorting the listeners with the joy and gladness contained within it: namely, the gospel message that God does not change, that he offers peace, that he keeps his promises, that he loves us. He continues to juxtapose these doctrinal truths with the subjective human situation, but always as a springboard back to the overwhelming emphasis of his main point: ‘But God is changeless.’

The sermon itself is, in essence, an impassioned acclamation of the orthodox Christian doctrines of God's immutability, omnipotence and benevolence. Of course, in contemplating Kierkegaard's theology we would be foolish to ignore Kierkegaard's trenchant criticisms of dogmatic theologians or his criticisms of ‘Hegelian’ objectivity, which remain lifelong polemics. For Kierkegaard, systematic thinkers must take themselves into account lest they articulate a system in which they themselves cease to exist. 76 To be sure, Kierkegaard is no dogmatic theologian in any ‘systematic’ sense, but he was certainly a biblical preacher and an expounder of doctrinal truth. As Slemmons comments, in this sermon: ‘[Kierkegaard's] overriding concern is not to compare human experience with human experience, but human experience with the divine revelation’. 77 Doctrine and experiential encounter with said doctrine are woven together in the act of preaching in a complementary dialectic.

We see many subjective emphases in this sermon too, including a constant addressing of the listeners' personal situations. Kierkegaard does not want his congregation to get away with merely ‘observing’ this sermon; he wants to trap them in it, to engrain it into the realm of ‘actuality’. This extends to a point he makes about the anxiety that God's changelessness ought to provoke in us. When we think God is unwatchful or unconcerned, he remains the changeless one, eternally interested in the ‘trivialities of your life’ even when he seems most absent: ‘for us light-minded and unstable human beings there is sheer fear and trembling in this thought of God's changelessness. Oh, do consider this well, whether he shows any signs of noticing or not – he is eternally changeless!’ 78 This is a message of both judgement and grace, since to understand who God is (and who we are in the face of his changelessness) urges us to unite our changeful wills with his changeless will. At its core, this evokes a call to obedience. But just as we think this sermon is verging on law – as the preacher admonishes us that God's changelessness ‘must plunge a person into anxiety and unrest to the point of despair’ 79 – there is a sudden volte which wrenches us back to the gospel:

[W]hen you, weary from all this human, all this temporal and earthly changefulness and alteration, weary of your own instability, could wish for a place where you could rest your weary head, your weary thoughts, your weary mind, in order to rest, to have a good rest – ah, in God's changelessness there is rest! 80

As the sermon begins to close, we are forcefully prodded again, lest we forget the urgency of this truth, lest we remain too comfortable in it and go on our merry way unchanged: ‘My listener, this hour is soon over, and the discourse. If you yourself do not want it otherwise, this hour will soon also be forgotten, and the discourse … [and] this thought about the changelessness of God will also soon be forgotten in changefulness’. 81 And yet as soon as this warning is uttered, the proclamation of the gospel resounds back again as he concludes with a prayerful flourish which proclaims this God of ‘overwhelming security’, from whom ‘no one strays so far that he cannot find his way back’, 82 but even more than this: that God is the ‘spring that even searches for the thirsting [and] the straying’. 83 Sponheim notes the ‘law–gospel dialectic’ that we see at play in this discourse. 84 It is one in which the proclaimed gospel of who God is and who he is for us triumphs over our impulse to ascend towards him. And yet, for Kierkegaard, this subjective notion of human response is not divorced from the gospel element. It is complexly related to and inseparable from the objective, God-oriented content of Christian proclamation.

Two of the aspects Barth highlights as reasons he had to leave Kierkegaard's ‘school’ were that ‘the Gospel is the glad news of God's “yes” to man’ (unlike, he assumes, Kierkegaard's negativity) and that the gospel ‘is the news from on high’ (unlike, he assumes, Kierkegaard's subjectivity). 85 However, as we have seen, for Kierkegaard the gospel comes not from Existenz but from ‘the mountain peaks’ of God's transcendence to the human subject. Not only this, but this gospel does not consist of a dialectical uncertainty but rather brings the good news of wonderful assurance and rest in divinely wrought salvation. It is evident that Kierkegaard's preaching passes Barth's ‘test’ on these two counts, at least. Not only that, but we will see that this objective–subjective dialectic might also be found in Barth's own preaching.

The objective–subjective dialectic in Barth's preaching

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. A note on subjectivity and objectivity
  4. Barth's ‘broken engagement’ with Kierkegaard
  5. Kierkegaard as preacher and homiletician
  6. The subjective–objective dialectic in Kierkegaard's preaching
  7. The objective–subjective dialectic in Barth's preaching
  8. Conclusion

The articulation of the subjective and the objective nature of the gospel is one particular way in which we might compare Kierkegaard's preaching with Barth's. Barth, of course, though appearing to some as the austere academic theologian with his magisterial Church Dogmatics, was – first and foremost – a preacher, always concerned with ‘the situation of the parson in the pulpit’. 86 It was the situation of preaching, too, which had sparked what had become known as the dialectical school of theology in the 1920s. 87 Preaching, for Barth, is in many ways the very aim of dogmatic theology, which remains forever in service to – and in examination of – church proclamation. 88 Willimon goes so far as to say, ‘I do not think that anyone should venture to interpret Barth who is not a preacher.’ 89

Notably, Bultmann criticized Barth's sermons for their formulaic nature and lack of existential verve. He mentions Barth's unrelatedness to Kierkegaard on the point of ‘true’ exegesis in preaching:

I am of the opinion that Paul spoke to the existence of his hearers very differently from the way you and Thurneysen do, namely, by lighting up their existence under the Word … I might also say that the Kierkegaardian element that once influenced you and Thurneysen so strongly has now disappeared. And Kierkegaard did indeed understand exegesis. 90

Kierkegaard is cited here as the ‘truer’ exegete because, for Bultmann, Kierkegaard understood that it is through ‘existential’ knowledge that true knowledge of the object arises. To miss this critical element in the name of ‘objective’ doctrinal formulae, for Bultmann, was to miss the kernel of exegesis and preaching itself. We might not only defend Kierkegaard from Barth's criticisms, but perhaps also defend Barth from Bultmann's criticisms, by way of seeing more of a subjective emphasis than perhaps even Bultmann had seen. In both cases, the connections between Barth's and Kierkegaard's preaching are illuminating in bringing them both closer together than Barth had imagined. It is not incidental that preaching is the avenue through which this comparison takes place. Preaching was, after all, the theological activity of which both spoke such a great deal; it was also of critical importance within the scope of their wider theological endeavours.

Barth's preaching, particularly after his ‘rediscovery’ of the Reformation, was overtly scriptural and expository in style. This was thoroughly intentional in that, similarly to Calvin's practice, it was the preacher's role to call the congregation from the subjective complexities of their lives to the objective truths of Scripture: ‘If preachers are content to make their sermons expositions of scripture, that is enough.’ 91 This approach correlates to his emphasis on theocentric rather than anthropocentric preaching, as Willimon says: ‘Barth keeps reminding us of what a joy it is to talk about this God rather than to speak only of ourselves and our idols.’ 92 We can see – as is consistent with Barth's thought as a whole – that objectivity is the first marker in the dialectic. Whereas Kierkegaard tends to approach the objective by overtly emphasizing the subjective, Barth usually attempts to speak from the place of objectivity, as it were, in order for that objectivity to take root in the subjective person. It is in this way that their endeavours may be seen as twinned, even though they are articulated differently. However, it will also be seen that in their preaching there is commonality not only in their overall vision for what preaching seeks to accomplish (namely, the subjective reception and appropriation of objective truth), but also in some of their sermonic expression.

It would be easier, perhaps, to find Kierkegaardian emphases in some of Barth's Safenwil sermons. But to demonstrate truly the preacherly kinship these two shared, it will be more illuminating to see similarities in some of Barth's later sermons (a period in which Barth, as we have seen, was more settled in his dismissals of Kierkegaard). In the 1950s and 1960s Barth preached once or twice a year to the inmates at Basel Prison. In these sermons we find very similar emphases to Kierkegaard's. It is to be expected, of course, that Barth wants to stress the objective nature of doctrinal truth and the triumph of grace in the gospel over against immediate anthropological or existential concerns:

[F]rom its first to its last word, preaching follows a movement … [which] does not so much consist in going towards men as in coming from Christ to meet them. Preaching therefore proceeds downwards; it should never attempt to reach up to a summit. Has not everything been done already? 93

Such emphases upon the objective basis for the preached Word are well-known aspects of Barth's theological endeavour, and unsurprisingly these are present in almost every sermon he preaches at Basel Prison. Yet we also see interesting ‘points of contact’, as it were, between his sermons and his congregation's existential situations. We see recurrent references to ‘your [prison] cells’ and ‘this chapel of ours’ in which he is making personal connections between the content of the sermon and the places these prisoners will be returning to once the preaching moment has ceased. 94 In opening one sermon, he asks a barrage of questions, empathizing with the prisoners' confusions: ‘Who is God? What is he like, where is he, what is he? One or other of you may be wondering at this moment. What is meant by the word, what does it say to me, what am I supposed to do about it?’ 95 Barth really is invested in the personal responses of his hearers. Although for Barth the gospel will always be triumphant and God has always – ultimately – done everything there is to ‘do about it’, he clearly does not see this as mutually exclusive to what his hearers will do in response to the sermon. This attitude extended not only to the sermon itself but to his general posture of compassion towards the prisoners' everyday lives and stories:

Barth did not want merely to preach to his audience. In order to preach to them properly he also wanted to get to know them personally, and so he often went to visit them in their cells. For instance, he once reported that ‘this morning I listened at length to three murderers, two confidence tricksters and one adulterer, added the odd remark here and there and gave each a fat cigar.’ 96

We also see emphases not only on the listeners' anxieties but a point of empathetic vulnerability in which he is open about his own recurrent nervousness on the days before he is due to preach: ‘There is a well justified anxiety about heavy responsibilities which can be placed upon us: I need not hide from you the fact that for as long as I can remember, every time when I am to preach, and so too yesterday and today, I have felt anxious.’ 97 He wants to show them that he, the preacher, is with them in what they suffer, that these anxieties are not reserved for them alone but are faced in all walks of life in different ways. In the same sermon he asks a very piercing and (one might say) ‘subjective’ question: ‘Does not the thought sometimes force itself on us that we might be living in one great mad-house – and is that not a thought that arises anxiety?’ 98 Barth, like Kierkegaard, is pointing to the situational anxieties that afflict human life before launching into the triumphant consolation offered in the gospel, which ultimately dispels all anxieties. This juxtaposition of human anxiety with objective truth (which we see so frequently in Kierkegaard's sermon) is distinctive of much of Barth's preaching, even in his Safenwil years. See, for example, Barth's Easter sermon of 8 April 1917:

[W]hile we human beings ran our own ways with our hard, thick heads; while we with our little hostilities and foolishness soured life for ourselves and others; while we worshipped Mammon and waged war and suffered distress in this dark world, a world full of questions, enigmas and difficulties. This is Easter: that in the midst of all that, on the third day Jesus Christ rose from the dead! 99

This type of preaching (which is far more than simply a juxtapositional ‘technique’) is an attempt to propel the congregation initially further into their difficulties in order to lift them out, and into the comfort of God's Word. Of course, for Barth, it is God who is doing all the lifting, not the preacher. However, he nonetheless continues to make this particular move from the human situation to divine grace, with a distinct and subjectively oriented purpose in mind. It is remarkably similar to Kierkegaard's entire homiletical approach, and perhaps even his authorship as a whole. 100

Barth, in these prison sermons, is not content with a mere exposition of the text with some gracious and high-sounding rhetoric, safe in the knowledge that he has ‘proclaimed the unchanging gospel’. He truly wants his sermons to impact his hearers. This is not limited to the immediate preaching moment itself; he (like Kierkegaard) wants his hearers to remember the message long after he has gone: ‘It is, by the way, my most important concern, each time I am permitted to be here, that the word from the Bible should stick in your minds and stay with you afterwards rather than my sermon.’ 101 Kierkegaard's problem in Christendom was precisely that the message of the Bible went unheeded due to the serene sermons of the Danish pulpits. These sermons, so often admired and so little obeyed, were, in his eyes, pharisaic stumbling blocks to the gospel. This is Barth's concern for the Basel inmates. He wants the Word of God to speak louder than his own words, and to be remembered and heeded as the prisoners return to their lives in the cells. This is, also, almost identical to the latter part of Kierkegaard's sermon where he exhorts the people not to forget the message of God's ‘unchangeableness’ once the sermon ends. In one of Barth's closing prayers to his sermons, he offers perhaps the most overtly Kierkegaardian motif of subjectivity when he prays: ‘Speak your word to all of us … Tell it to each one so that he is not only called a Christian but may again and again become one afresh.’ 102 This was perhaps Kierkegaard's greatest message to Christendom, to introduce the notion of ‘becoming a Christian’ to those who thought they already were.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. A note on subjectivity and objectivity
  4. Barth's ‘broken engagement’ with Kierkegaard
  5. Kierkegaard as preacher and homiletician
  6. The subjective–objective dialectic in Kierkegaard's preaching
  7. The objective–subjective dialectic in Barth's preaching
  8. Conclusion

It is evident from Barth's sermons and overall homiletical outlook that if Kierkegaard is to be labelled as a ‘subjectivist’ then Barth himself can be no less deserving of the same label. Ideally, of course, neither thinker would be tarred with such a brush. Rather, both should be seen, in their preaching, as taking the objective truths of Christian doctrine and seeking to make them temporally significant in the minds and lives of their congregations. The subjective, for Barth, may well have been downplayed in his theology with his welcome emphasis upon the objective content of Christian doctrine. But in his sermons, we see a latent emphasis on subjective concerns as the necessary outworking of the objective content. In his last completed section of the Church Dogmatics, Barth said: ‘The object and theme of theology and the content of the Christian message is neither a subjective nor an objective element in isolation.’ 103 For Kierkegaard this is an almost identical burden. In their widely differing contexts they sought to emphasise different forms of communication for the same gospel in which the subjective and the objective are dialectically related. Although there may well be a right ordering within this dialectic, the subjective and objective elements within preaching are inseparable, even as Kierkegaard and Barth were articulating different avenues into it.

Barth and Kierkegaard were two very different kinds of preacher, yet both considered in great depth the implications of what it means to proclaim the word of the unchangeable God. Kierkegaard himself said, in Practice in Christianity:

[I]t is a risk to preach, for as I go up into that holy place – whether the church is packed or as good as empty, whether I myself am aware of it or not, I have one listener more than can be seen, an invisible listener, God in heaven, whom I certainly cannot see but who truly can see me. 104

This is a passage that could equally have come from Barth's pen or pulpit. It is also a paragraph he possibly did read. Yet his ignorance of Kierkegaard's preacherly concerns remains something of a ‘subjective’ blind spot.

What is most notable in configuring Barth's reading of Kierkegaard is the fluctuation between his earlier and later opinions. In the Göttingen Dogmatics, Barth could say: ‘Kierkegaard is only too right. No matter how we look at it, one of his most profound insights is that the subjective is the objective.’ 105 And yet, he could later say: ‘Because I cannot regard subjectivity as being the truth, after a brief encounter I have had to move away from Kierkegaard again.’ 106 Barth may not have been able to say with Johannes Climacus that ‘truth is subjectivity’ but as we have seen, particularly in his preaching, Barth believed in the importance of the dialectical relationship between subjectivity and objectivity in a similar way to Kierkegaard. For Kierkegaard, preaching was the arena in which his theology of subjective appropriation is mediated and finds its greatest relevance. He simply did not know of an existentialism that was ultimately subjective. The only ‘existentialism’ (for want of a better phrase) which makes any sense to Kierkegaard is that of the subjective reception of – and obedience to – the proclaimed gospel. Had Barth known this, perhaps he would have felt a longer-lasting kinship with the Danish gadfly. For us, we might consider them as firm allies in the subjective proclamation of the objective gospel of Jesus Christ.

  1. 1

    Such caricatures are often (though not always) a result of variable postmodernist interpretations of his thought. See Martin J. Matulštík and Merold Westphal , eds., Kierkegaard and Postmodernity (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995).

  2. 2

    Christoph Schrempf, the anti-ecclesial translator of this text, conveniently omitted Kierkegaard's overtly Christian sermon from the German edition (Der Augenblick), preferring instead to emphasize Kierkegaard's incendiary attacks upon the established church.

  3. 3

    Karl Barth, ‘Barth, 24. Juni 1920’, in Karl Barth – Eduard Thurneysen Briefwechsel, Band I: 1913–1921 (Gesamtausgabe, vol. 3) (Zürich: TVZ, 1973), p. 400.

  4. 4

    See Karl Barth, Homiletics, trans. G.W. Bromiley and D.E. Daniels (Westminster: John Knox Press, 1991), p. 118; Karl Barth, ‘On the Sinking of the Titanic’, in Kurt I. Johanson , ed., The Word in This World: Two Sermons, trans. Christopher Asprey (Vancouver: Regent College, 2007), pp. 3142.

  5. 5

    See, among others, Lee C. Barrett, ‘Karl Barth: The Dialectic of Attraction and Repulsion’, in Jon Stewart , ed., Kierkegaard's Influence on Theology, Tome I: German Protestant Theology (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012), pp. 142; David J. Gouwens, Kierkegaard as Religious Thinker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 20; Bruce McCormack, Karl Barth's Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology: Its Genesis and Development 1910–1936 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), pp. 217, 237; Alastair McKinnon, ‘Barth's Relation to Kierkegaard: Some Further Light’, Canadian Journal of Theology 13 (1967), pp. 3141; Kenneth Oakes, Reading Karl Barth: A Guide to the “Epistle to the Romans” (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011), p. 28; William Wells III, ‘The Influence of Kierkegaard on the Theology of Karl Barth’, unpublished doctoral dissertation (University of Syracuse, 1970), p. 262; Philip Ziegler, ‘Barth's Criticisms of Kierkegaard – A Striking out at Phantoms? ’, International Journal of Systematic Theology 9 (2007), pp. 434451.

  6. 6

    James Brown, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Buber and Barth: A Study of Subjectivity and Objectivity in Existentialist Thought (New York: Collier, 1967), p. 30 (first published as Subject and Object in Modern Theology (New York: Collier, 1955)).

  7. 7

    Brown, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Buber and Barth, p. 12.

  8. 8

    Brown, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Buber and Barth, p. 23.

  9. 9

    Karl Barth, ‘Mozart's Freedom’, in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, trans. Clarence K. Pott (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), p. 48.

  10. 10

    Although many within Kierkegaard scholarship today are at pains to move beyond an overly ‘biographical’ interpretation of his works following a long history of exaggerated biographical interpretation (see, for example, Josiah Thompson's Kierkegaard (London: Victor Gollancz, 1974)), so frequent and overt are many of the parallels with his life-events that it is almost impossible to separate his life from his authorship. Barth was no doubt aware of this.

  11. 11

    See, for example: ‘The inalienable subjectivity of God conceals itself in the hard objectivity of revelation’; ‘the objectivity in which God himself remains hidden in his subjectivity’. Karl Barth, The Göttingen Dogmatics: Instruction in the Christian Religion, vol. 1, trans. G.W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), pp. 193, 332.

  12. 12

    Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4 vols. in 13 pts., ed. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956–75) (hereafter CD), IV/2, p. 303.

  13. 13

    See also CD I/1, p. 172 and CD II/1, p. 14.

  14. 14

    Although written under Kierkegaard's pseudonym Johannes Climacus (who is not a Christian as such, but trying to ‘become’ one), it would be incorrect to separate him entirely from Kierkegaard's own thought, since Kierkegaard saw himself as dialectically placed in between both Johannes Climacus and Anti-Climacus (the ‘ideal’ Christian). See Søren Kierkegaard's Journals and Papers, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong , vols. 1–7 (Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1967–78) (hereafter JP), vol. 6, 6433, p. 174. It should be noted that Barth rarely read Kierkegaard with the pseudonymous distinctions in mind.

  15. 15

    Ziegler, ‘Barth's Criticisms of Kierkegaard’, p. 440.

  16. 16

    Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, vol. 1, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), pp. 187251.

  17. 17

    Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 614.

  18. 18

    Gouwens, Kierkegaard as Religious Thinker, p. 51.

  19. 19

    Arnold B. Come, Kierkegaard as Theologian: Recovering My Self (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1997), p. 44.

  20. 20

    N.H. Søe, ‘Karl Barth’, in Niels Thulstrup and M. Mikulvá Thulstrup , eds., Bibliotheca Kierkegaardiana, Vol. 8: The Legacy and Interpretation of Kierkegaard (Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzel, 1981), pp. 224237.

  21. 21

    Karl Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man, trans. Douglas Horton (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1928), p. 98.

  22. 22

    Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man, p. 196.

  23. 23

    Karl Barth, Epistle to the Romans, trans. E.C. Hoskyns (London: Oxford University Press, 1933, repr. 1968), pp. 4, 10.

  24. 24

    Karl Barth, ‘To Dr. Martin Rumscheidt, Toronto – 1 November, 1967’, in Letters 1961–1968, trans. G.W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), p. 273.

  25. 25

    Karl Barth, ‘A Thank You and a Bow – Kierkegaard's Reveille’, in Fragments Grave and Gay, trans. M. Rumscheidt (London: Fontana, 1971), pp. 100101.

  26. 26

    Barth, Romans, p. 276.

  27. 27

    CD IV/3, p. 498.

  28. 28

    CD IV/1, p. 150.

  29. 29

    CD IV/1, p. 150.

  30. 30

    Karl Barth, ‘To Hermann Diem – 9 March 1964’, in Letters 1961–1968, p. 154. On the conference itself, see William L. McBride, ‘Sartre's Debts to Kierkegaard: A Partial Reckoning’, in Matulštík and Westphal , Kierkegaard and Postmodernity, p. 39, n.1.

  31. 31

    Barth, ‘A Thank You’, pp. 99100.

  32. 32

    CD III/4, p. xii.

  33. 33

    CD III/4, p. xii.

  34. 34

    ‘And as to Kierkegaard, I must confess that the appeal of the existentialist theologians to him as their great and direct forerunner has made me a little reserved toward him.’ Karl Barth, The Theology of Schleiermacher: Lectures at Göttingen, Winter Semester of 1923/24, trans. G.W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), p. 271.

  35. 35

    Barth, The Theology of Schleiermacher, p. 271.

  36. 36

    CD IV/2, pp. 781–2.

  37. 37

    Barrett comments that in the mid-twentieth century, as Barth's fame ‘skyrocketed’, this ‘paralleled a rise in interest in Kierkegaard, who was frequently lumped together with Barth in the ill-defined category of “neo-orthodoxy” ’. Barrett, ‘Karl Barth’, p. 6.

  38. 38

    See McCormack, Karl Barth's Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology, p. 234; Barrett, ‘Karl Barth’, p. 7.

  39. 39

    Gerhard Schreiber, ‘Christoph Schrempf: The “Swabian Socrates” as Translator of Kierkegaard’, in Stewart , Kierkegaard's Influence on Theology, I, pp. 305308. Ziegler notes that this malnourishment of the ‘true’ Kierkegaard was something all had to endure: ‘Skewed as they were in particular by the anticlericalism of the translators, these editions were nonetheless the source through which Barth's theological generation came to know Kierkegaard.’ Ziegler, ‘Barth's Criticisms of Kierkegaard’, p. 436.

  40. 40

    Barrett, ‘Karl Barth’, p. 19.

  41. 41

    See Christian Fink Tolstrup, ‘Jakob Peter Mynster: A Guiding Thread in Kierkegaard's Authorship?’, in Jon Stewart , ed., Kierkegaard and his Danish Contemporaries, Tome II: Theology (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), p. 282.

  42. 42

    Barth, Göttingen Dogmatics, vol. 1, p. 53.

  43. 43

    Notably, Busch does speak of Barth's ‘discovery of Kierkegaard's scandalous preaching’ in between Romans I and II. Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth & the Pietists: The Young Karl Barth's Critique of Pietism and its Response (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2004), p. 93. However, this would most likely refer to the ‘attack-literature’ in The Moment, not to Kierkegaard's sermons or discourses.

  44. 44

    CD I/1, p. 254.

  45. 45

    Andrew J. Burgess, ‘Kierkegaard on Homiletics and the Genre of the Sermon’, Journal of Communication and Religion 17 (1994), p. 17. He even argues (p. 25) that Concluding Unscientific Postscript [1846] was, in fact, intended to be a kind of ‘ “sermon manual” for listeners’.

  46. 46

    JP 3, 3499, p. 597.

  47. 47

    JP 3, 3491, p. 594.

  48. 48

    JP 4, 3958, p. 86.

  49. 49

    Søren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 62.

  50. 50

    JP 1, 660, p. 309.

  51. 51

    Jacques Collette, Kierkegaard: The Difficulty of Being Christian (London and Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968), pp. 1418.

  52. 52

    Walter Lowrie, Kierkegaard, vol. 1 (New York: Harper Torchbooks: 1962), p. 275.

  53. 53

    See David Lawrence Coe, ‘Preaching a Sigh: Søren Kierkegaard's Discourse on Martin Luther's Sermons’, unpublished doctoral dissertation (Concordia Seminary, St Louis, 2011).

  54. 54

    Pia Søltoft, ‘The Power of Eloquence: On the Relation between Ethics and Rhetoric in Preaching’, in Paul Houe and Gordon D. Marino , eds., Søren Kierkegaard and the Word(s): Essays on Hermeneutics and Communication (Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzel, 2003), p. 241. She adds (p. 242): ‘Kierkegaard had a lively interest in the sermons of his time … [and was] an avid reader of the edifying literature of his day; moreover, in his library he had a vast collection of sermons. He knew the subject he was talking about!’

  55. 55

    Søren Kierkegaard, The Seducer's Diary, trans. Alastair Hannay (London: Penguin, 2007), p. 128.

  56. 56

    This distinction appears in the preface to each collection of discourses, eventually published as one volume. Søren Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), pp. 5, 53, 107, 179, 201, 295. It should also be noted, however, that Kierkegaard's draft for the preface to his first two ‘discourses’ calls them ‘sermons’ outright, perhaps before he had considered the distinction. See Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, pp. 430–1. This shows, at the very least, that these discourses – even if not ‘sermons’ in a formal or official sense – certainly bear the same content as sermons, especially in regard to their use of Scripture and their overt theological orientation for the edification of ‘listening’ believers.

  57. 57

    See also Kierkegaard's additional distinction found in the journals, where he notes – not only the prerequisite for ordination, but also – that discourses may deal with ‘doubt’ whereas sermons cannot. JP 1, 638, p. 262. Kierkegaard, however, is far from being consistent with these genre distinctions. See JP 4, n. 234, p. 646. To add to the confusion, the ‘sermon’ he preached in Citadelskirken in 1851 was later published in The Moment as a ‘discourse'! The residual ambiguity could well have been intentional on Kierkegaard's part.

  58. 58

    Lowrie, Kierkegaard, p. 276.

  59. 59

    George Pattison, ‘ “Who” is the Discourse? A Study in Kierkegaard's Religious Literature’, in Kierkegaardiana 16, ed. Joakin Garff et al. (Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzels Forlag, 1993), p. 29. See also George Pattison, Kierkegaard's Upbuilding Discourses: Philosophy, Theology, Literature (London: Routlege, 2002).

  60. 60

    Most tend to assume Kierkegaaard preached only four or five times in his life. Slemmons asserts that the sermon of 18 May 1851 was ‘the one and only discourse he ever preached in a Sunday service’. Timothy Matthew Slemmons, ‘Toward a Penitential Homiletic: Authority and Direct Communication in Christian Proclamation’, unpublished doctoral dissertation (Princeton Theological Seminary, 2004), pp. 299300. There may well have been more Sunday preaching occasions, especially since this event does seem a little odd as an isolated occasion. Kierkegaard seems to have had the future option, at least, to preach at his own choosing. See JP 6, 6769, p. 416. Hong suggests the sermon was ‘an attempt on his part to clarify whether it was his future task to preach’. JP 3, p. 879.

  61. 61

    Søren Kierkegaard, Letters and Documents, trans. Henrik Rosenmeier (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), pp. 1622, 379–84.

  62. 62

    Kierkegaard, Letters and Documents, pp. 384, 107.

  63. 63

    Michael Plekon, ‘Kierkegaard at the End: His “Last” Sermon, Eschatology and the Attack on the Church’, Faith and Philosophy 17 (2000), p. 69.

  64. 64

    See, for example, one letter in which a German preacher appears to be dissatisfied with his own Danish sermons and asks Kierkegaard if he can ‘solve the riddle’ for him. Kierkegaard, Letters and Documents, pp. 384386.

  65. 65

    Paul L. Holmer, ‘Kierkegaard and the Sermon’, Journal of Religion 37 (1957), p. 1.

  66. 66

    See Niels Thulstrup, Biblioteca Kierkegaardiana, Vol. 13: Kierkegaard and the Church in Denmark (Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzels Forlag, 1984), pp. 110111.

  67. 67

    Burgess, ‘Kierkegaard on Homiletics’, p. 17.

  68. 68

    Christian Breuninger, ‘Søren Kierkegaard's Reformation of Expository Preaching’, Covenant Quarterly (1993), p. 33.

  69. 69

    JP 6, 6693, p. 358.

  70. 70

    Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity, p. 233.

  71. 71

    Thulstrup, Biblioteca Kierkegaardiana, pp. 145–6.

  72. 72

    Søren Kierkegaard, “The Moment” and Late Writings, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), p. 269.

  73. 73

    Kierkegaard, “The Moment”, p. 269 (emphasis added).

  74. 74

    Kierkegaard, “The Moment”, p. 269.

  75. 75

    Kierkegaard, “The Moment”, p. 269.

  76. 76

    See Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, pp. 205209.

  77. 77

    Slemmons, Toward a Penitential Homiletic, p. 305.

  78. 78

    Kierkegaard, “The Moment”, p. 276.

  79. 79

    Kierkegaard, “The Moment”, p. 278.

  80. 80

    Kierkegaard, “The Moment”, p. 278.

  81. 81

    Kierkegaard, “The Moment”, p. 279 (emphasis added).

  82. 82

    Kierkegaard, “The Moment”, p. 280.

  83. 83

    Kierkegaard, “The Moment”, p. 281.

  84. 84

    Paul R. Sponheim, ‘God's Changelessness: The Triumph of Grace in Law and Gospel as “Archimedean Point” ’, in Robert L. Perkins , ed., International Kierkegaard Commentary, Vol. 23: “The Moment” and Late Writings (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2009), p. 103.

  85. 85

    Barth, ‘A Thank You’, p. 101.

  86. 86

    CD I/1, p. 254.

  87. 87

    Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man, p. 100.

  88. 88

    CD I/1, pp. 3–4.

  89. 89

    William Willimon, Conversations with Barth on Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 2006), p. 4.

  90. 90

    Rudolf Bultmann, ‘Bultmann: Marburg, 10 December 1935’, in Karl Barth – Rudolf Bultmann: Letters 1922–1966, trans. G.W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), p. 83.

  91. 91

    Barth, Homiletics, p. 76.

  92. 92

    William Willimon, ‘Preaching with Karl Barth’, in The Word in this World, p. 10.

  93. 93

    Karl Barth, Prayer and Preaching (London: SCM Press, 1964), p. 71.

  94. 94

    Karl Barth, ‘The Lord Who Has Mercy on You – 27 December 1959’, in Call for God: New Sermons from Basel Prison, trans. A.T. Mackay (London: SCM Press, 1967), p. 10.

  95. 95

    Barth, ‘The Lord Who Has Mercy on You’, p. 10.

  96. 96

    Busch, Karl Barth, p. 415.

  97. 97

    Barth, ‘But Take Heart – 24 December 1963’, in Call for God, p. 108.

  98. 98

    Barth, ‘But Take Heart’, p. 109.

  99. 99

    Karl Barth, ‘April 8, 1917’, in The Early Preaching of Karl Barth: Fourteen Sermons with Commentary by William H. Willimon, trans. John E. Wilson (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), p. 15.

  100. 100

    I am thinking here, in particular, of the notion of the three ‘stages’ of existence (even if we need not draw the lines between them too acutely) and Kierkegaard's pseudonymous literature as highlighting the cul-de-sac that is the ‘aesthetic’ life, ultimately attempting to propel his readers through the ‘ethical’ towards an embrace of the ‘religious’ stage.

  101. 101

    Barth, ‘What is Enough – 31 December 1962’, in Call for God, p. 78.

  102. 102

    Barth, ‘But Take Heart’, p. 114.

  103. 103

    Barth, CD IV/3, p. 498.

  104. 104

    Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity, p. 234.

  105. 105

    Barth, Göttingen Dogmatics, vol. 1, p. 137.

  106. 106

    Karl Barth, ‘Selbstdarstellung’, in Autobiographical Texts IV, quoted in Busch, Karl Barth, p. 173.