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  • Kierkegaard and the Refusal of Transcendence by Steven Shakespeare
  • Ronald F. Marshall
Kierkegaard and the Refusal of Transcendence. By Steven Shakespeare. New York and London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015. xv + 236 pp.

This new book on Kierkegaard and God sets out to test Kierkegaard’s writings to see whether their “deep logic” (90) can better be served by an understanding of God that is free of the “fantasies of transcendent judgment and control” (196)—a God who is “a constitutive fracture or opening within the nature of being, without referring this to the intervention or creative power of a supernatural source,” and “as immanent,” keeping reality “dynamic, differential, and temporally open” (12). Kierkegaard does not say this (15, 91, 178), being himself an orthodox Christian (2, 17, 82). So Shakespeare calls into question “the nature and reality of God” in his writings (11), by arguing “both with and against Kierkegaard” himself (135).

Shakespeare, however, does not reduce theology to anthropology, since that would “leave the identity of its founding principle (the anthropos, the human) intact” (12). There is no subjective “projection” here (4, 12, 14, 43, 121). Shakespeare knows that could lead to being “trapped within the hamster wheel of immanence, condemned to revolve around the absent center” (103). So he adds to his “immanent reading” of Kierkegaard (131, 181), an “agency-without-agency” [End Page 491] (202)—coming “from the outside,” but not from “another order of being” (178). This conception of God has the advantage of “breathing possibility back into the actual, . . . by making the actual problematic, making the ordinary absolutely strange and so threatening the established order of powers” (100). On this reading, Kierkegaard offers a ”refusal of any other world but this one, in which the passion of existence is worked out” (11). It alone maintains “worldly finitude, vulnerability, and suffering” (13). Even though Kierkegaard never says this about God, Shakespeare believes his new construal “best explains” Kierkegaard’s writings (42, 143).

A key element in the deep logic of Kierkegaard’s writings that Shakespeare thinks leads to this God of pure possibility (8, 124, 204), which is free of any “divine personality” (12), is the famous distinction between the what and how of Christianity. The what is the doctrine, and the how is the living out of that doctrine (4). For Shakespeare this distinction reduces to the what being “given as and in” the how (185). It reduces to the two being “radically inseparable” (11). Sharespeare sees this all leading to Kierkegaard’s line from his Journals that “the how is the what” (109). And this “entanglement” of the two “does not leave the dogmatic content of Christian theology unscathed like a kernel within a shell” (12).

This radicality leads, furthermore, to Shakespeare equating faith and God—“God is how one has to do with God” (145). Now while it is true that such a view reinforces intensity in Christianity, which is the goal of Shakespeare’s enterprise (86, 90, 113, 120–23, 153)— refusing to “sublimate suffering” and harmonize pain (43, 150), and put the film “in the can, so to speak” (81)—it does so by leaving out too much. Living just with “the groundlessness of our being” (172) is not enough. For Kierkegaard also insists in his Journals that the substance of Christianity is independent of its proclamation (JP 3:3684). And in the Book on Adler, which Shakespeare does not take into account, Kierkegaard argues that the “essentially Christian exists before any Christian exists” (BA 117).

Shakespeare has written a tentative, partial book by his own admission (84,177, 203). But it is also very intricate and prodigious. Therefore it should garner our attention if not also our admiration. [End Page 492]

Ronald F. Marshall
First Lutheran Church of West Seattle, Seattle, Washington


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pp. 491-492
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