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When interpreting any author, it is crucial to understand his terms. Reading The Book on Adler (sometimes titled Concerning Authority and Revelation), I have come to understand that the essentially Christian (which I take to be equivalent to "the essence of Christianity") is a key phrase for Kierkegaard. But what does he mean by this? In which of his books does he discuss what this means? Many people have different opinions on what is the essence of Christianity is, so I cannot assume that Kierkegaard means by this what I would envision by it.

Here is an example use of the phrase in context (The Book on Adler, ed. and tr. Hong & Hong, 116):

Alas, the knowledge acquired for a theological degree—unless one brings along the university from one's childhood and upbringing that which purely religiously is of infinite value: a profound veneration for Christianity so that someday in the later moment of decision one resolutely and with bold confidence stands by the choice, would rather give up everything else than change the least jot in the essentially Christian—alas, the knowledge acquired for the theological degree, even if it could have ever so much worth considered as knowledge, is of but little use in orderly resistance to an emotion that goes to extremes.

  • Thanks so much! Out of curiosity have you read any other Kierkegaard? – Joseph Weissman Mar 6 '12 at 21:24
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    @JosephWeissman Several months ago I read part of Concluding Unscientific Postscript but ran out of time to finish it. Recently I have read Sickness Unto Death, Fear and Trembling, and several fragments from an anthology. I own several other of his books (Practice in Christianity, Repetition) and have several more on my reading list, but that will take some time to get through. – Kazark Mar 6 '12 at 21:45
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Kierkegaard discusses Christianity - and what he thinks of it - in a number of pseudonymic works. In fact, it could be argued that there isn't a work in which he doesn't deal with Christianity. Christianity is central to his thought.

If you are looking for particular works of his in which his ideas of Christianity are discussed, I recommend looking in Fear and Trembling, Works of Love and Either/Or to start.

In answer to your question of what Kierkegaard thinks is essential in Christianity, it is the individual, where the individual is defined as a person of faith who can gracefully embrace life. So what is essential in Christianity is an individual, with Kierkegaard's connotations (and let's not forget that what "an individual" means to Kierkegaard is complex and evolves), in a specific kind of relationship to God. It is a practical way of living, an existential fact, not a metaphysical essence.

To unpack any of Kierkegaard's ideas takes some patience and cross reading. If you are looking for immediate, succinct, and professional summaries, I can do little better than recommending the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy's entry on Kierkegaard.

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For Kierkegaard, the essentially christian / the essence of Christianity is the movement of faith. Or to put things in context, Kierkegaard is writing during the heyday of Danish Hegelianism. There's some questions about how good that Hegelianism is as Hegelianism but the core point is that everyone is going around saying that comprehension is the key. But for Kierkegaard, the essentially Christian is faith.

In other words, the point is not being able to say credal statements but to believe them as life-changing realities. A recurring theme which you can encounter in several places (but I think the one I'm remembering is Fear and Trembling) is the distinction between the preacher who simply gets up and preaches eloquently about Abraham and his faith and the person who really understands what sort of craziness is involved in his faith (n.b., that Kierkegaard's understanding incorporates a belief that Abraham believes in the resurrection of the dead such that even if he slays Isaac his descendants will still be numbered through Isaac).

Thus, in the passage you quote notice the opposition he sets up between knowledge and the essentially Christian -- these are two separate ways of relating to things.

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Although the other answer here is technically correct (I think!), it misses a really really key point: Kierkegaard is not trying to tell you the truth about Christianity. To teach Christian doctrine is totally counter to the purpose of all of his most widely-read books.

The pseudonymous works (such as Either/Or or Philosophical Fragments) were never intended to convey the truth of what he himself thought. This is part of the reason for the pseudonyms: He examines (and satirizes) various viewpoints through these characters, but he does not necessarily agree with them. That's not to say that he would disagree with everything written by a pseudonym -- There are many pretty obviously autobiographical passages in these books, and you'll certainly find valuable ideas.

But you'll have to examine those ideas for yourself! That's the main point of the pseudonyms (I think), and certainly one of Kierkegaard's main points about Christianity. You have to come to grips with it on your own, without his help.

Kierkegaard is not trying to tell you the truth about Christianity. He is trying to force you to think for yourself about it.

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    This turns out to be a highly misleading method. It's true that Kierkegaard does not want to tell you the truth about Christianity, but this is because he thinks it cannot be directly told. Instead, his hope is through dialectical means to maiuetically help you find its meaning. – virmaior Jun 1 '14 at 15:24

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