Today a large man appeared over my shoulder while I was reading at the Starbucks in Huntersville, NC. I greeted him with a startled “Hello,” and he responded, “Oh, sorry. I am a book worm, and I always like to see what others are reading.”
A bit consoled, I responded, “Ah, yes, no problem. Have you ever read any Soren Kierkegaard?” At the time, I was reading Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments.
He responded that he had not, and I explained that he was a Danish philosopher and theologian. He then asked if I was a philosophy student, and I said, “Oh no, I am a theology student.”
He looked again at my book, and asked, “So like William Craig?”
I chuckled a bit, not offensively, and answered, “No, not apologetics per se.”
He paused a bit, and I smiled as if the conversation was about to come to a close; but he posed another question: “So do you study Islamic theology?”
I smiled again and said, “Oh no.”
“Well what about Buddhist theology?” I again shook my head no. He continued, “Well if you are studying theology, why don’t you study all of theology?”
I must admit that the question took me off guard, so I began my answer, “I only study Christian theology – perhaps I should have clarified.”
He pressed some more, “Why don’t you study other theologies?”
Still taken off guard, I answered, “I guess that Islamic and Buddhist theology takes the theological study in a different direction. The Christian god and the Islamic god essentially contradict each other. Does that make sense?”
He mildly interrupted and asked, “You know what theology means right?”
“Yes, the study of God” I asserted, “but the Christian god is essentially different than other gods.”
Now, the man nodded, smiled, and began to walk away. I then asked him, “Well, what do you believe?”
He stated, “I like reason.”
I responded, “I like reason too.”
Then as if a spring released, he asked, “What is reasonable about a man being in the belly of a fish for three days? Do you think that someone rising from the dead is reasonable?”
I quickly answered, “Oh no, it is not very reasonable; but if God exists, then I do not see why he could not raise a man from the dead.”
He stuttered a bit, “You cannot prove God by asserting such things.”
I responded even quicker, “I am not trying to prove God.”
We went back and forth a bit more. He asked why I believe the Bible and not the Quran, why I believe in God, etc. The man was apparently in a rush to leave, because he kept trying to walk away (not in the sense that I was trumping his arguments, though). Finally I let the man return to his seat, and I thanked him for his time. All in all, I felt uneasy about the exchange. Did I do this man a disservice? Did I reflect the Christian faith and the gospel in an honorable way? Things I could have said kept bouncing around in my head, but one thing remained unavoidable: I could not convince this man that Christianity was reasonable.
Now, I am not asserting that Christianity is unreasonable ipso facto. It is reasonable to me, absolutely; but to this man, I do not see how he could ever see Christianity as reasonable without first believing in Christianity – Credo ut intelligam. How can one ever believe that the resurrection is perfectly reasonable without first supposing that there is a God? And this must be a belief in the Christian god. The deistic god would not reasonably resurrect a dead man. As I see it, all of the major arguments – the teleological, ontological, cosmological – may point to the existence of a god, but they do not necessarily point to the monotheistic, involved, relational, holy, loving, glorious Christian god.
Can reason, therefore, ever rise up on wings like eagles and ascend as high as the Christian belief? I would answer a stout, “Of course not.” Christianity is essentially a gospel, and the gospel is ‘a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles’ (1 Cor. 1:23). Kierkegaard claims that reason consists in “a linking together of truths, a conclusion from causes,” and faith, therefore, “cannot be proved, demonstrated” or “comprehended” since there is a missing link. There is not an unbroken chain of truth rising to the conclusion of faith, making faith ‘above reason.’
Does this mean that faith cannot be in continuity with the understanding? – not at first. Kierkegaard asserts, “Christianity appears in its first form as the absurd or a paradox to the understanding, but that is not its true or ultimate form, which is grasped only in faith.” At first, the understanding views Christianity as absurd, marking its negative qualifications – consciousness of sin, self-renunciation, suffering, etc. – and thus stands in the ‘possibility of offense’. Either the offended consciousness can leave Christianity in its first form, choosing offense, or he can choose faith, where those negative qualifications meet their positive qualifications – forgiveness, regeneration, hope, etc. – in Christianity’s ultimate form. Using the dialectic, one can observe that the arrival at the absurdity of Christianity, its negative qualifications, is the necessary route unto its positive qualifications. It is only “through these factors” that the “Christian stands indirectly related to or brings to expression in his or her existence the positive determinants of Christianity.” Without the absurd, one could never arrive at the ultimate form of Christianity, because without the absurd, one would never arrive at the first form of Christianity.
What can I expect of this man who saw my faith as unreasonable? Well, I can expect him to mark it as unreasonable, as paradoxical. But the glorious truth is this: it is in his very admittance that Christianity is unreasonable where he can choose faith. If Christianity was perfectly and objectively reasonable to all, then there would be no room for faith; and faith is what makes Christianity reasonable. Therefore, I can glory in this man’s standing in the ‘possibility of offense’, for it is only in such a position where man can come to faith. I hope and pray that I come across him again, and maybe the Holy Spirit will have nourished that seed or motivated his will to choose faith. My only responsibility can be to proclaim the gospel with boldness and clarity.
 Soren Kierkegaard, JP 3:3073.
 Sylvia Walsh, “Echoes of Absurdity: The Offended Consciousness and the Absolute Paradox in Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments” in International Kierkegaard Commentary: Philosophical Fragments and Johannes Climacus, 45. My emphasis added.
 Ibid., 45.