From beginning to end, Kierkegaard's writings are marked by an intensity of argument and expression that can only be explained -- if "explain" is the right word--by his uncompromisable passion for the truth. He was convinced that almost everyone--maybe everyone except Jesus Christ and a few spiritual "virtuosi" who have honestly followed Jesus--had settled for something less than the truth. Kierkegaard’s many readers are fascinated, perhaps even spiritually titillated, by his pressing every question to the limits, and then beyond the limits. The pressing, the fearless exploration, never ends.
Since a person's relationship with Christ, however, is of infinitely greater importance than his relationship with his society, the main fire of Kierkegaard's polemic is directed against the treason of the church. In this connection, Kierkegaard makes a lasting contribution to the endless--or at least unending until Christ returns in glory--debate over the proper relationship between, as the twentieth-century American theologian H. Richard Niebuhr titled his classic book, "Christ and Culture." Niebuhr proposed five main "types" of that relationship as Christians have thought about these things over the centuries. Kierkegaard, one might suggest, is polemicizing against the type of Christ as culture and is arguing for the type of Christ against culture.
Even more telling, I believe, is the similarity of Kierkegaard's argument with the chilling Legend of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. I have sometimes suggested, half tongue in cheek, that if anything might be added to the canon of the New Testament it should be the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor. Although Ivan Karamazov tells the story against the Catholic Church, it is the story of all Christians and the subtle ways in which Christianity can be displaced by Christendom, in which people can be seduced into surrendering their souls to the established order. When Jesus appears in the public square of medieval Spain, the Grand Inquisitor has him put in jail and explains to him, with sophisticated reasons, why he has no right to come back, why people do not need him and cannot bear him as their contemporary. The established order has now taken over the business of salvation, the Inquisitor tells Jesus, and it is simply intolerable that he should return to interfere. After the long night's monologue, in which Jesus says not a word, the Inquisitor opens the prison door and says, 'Go, and come never again." Kierkegaard, I am convinced, would relish the tale.