Barth's Criticisms of Kierkegaard-A Striking Out at Phantoms?

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Towards the end of his life, Karl Barth had occasion to review his and Christian theology's relation to the work of Søren Kierkegaard. Barth's ‘settling of accounts’ with Kierkegaard issued in three searching criticisms: first, that Kierkegaard's work succumbs to a dour legalism, second, that it promotes a pious individualism at the expense of the church as a community with social and political responsibility, and third, that it promotes a new fixation upon subjectivity, enthralled by the idea of the possibility of a self-founding and groundless gesture of faith. This article explores the extent to which these are in fact warranted criticisms of Kierkegaard's theology. After considering how and by whom Kierkegaard was mediated to Barth, each of the three criticisms is taken up in turn and tested against a reading of texts from Kierkegaard's ‘second authorship’. While it appears that in significant respects Kierkegaard's theology is different to what Barth takes it to be, what does become plain is that Kierkegaard's account of the church is in fact almost as phantasmal as the image of the Danish thinker at which Barth himself tilts for the most part.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)434-451
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Systematic Theology
Issue number4
Early online date14 May 2007
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2007


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