Kierkegaard’s authorship is an attempt to help the individual acquire the inward personal concern or “subjectivity” he believed was essential to becoming a true Christian. He saw Christianity as the final and most adequate answer to the question, how should I exist? Basically, he believed there were three major ways of answering this question--these three answers made up what Kierkegaard termed three “spheres of existence” or “stageson life’s way.”
The first stage he termed the aesthetic stage; this is the life view in which a person is urged to enjoy life by developing his natural drives and abilities. The aesthete lives “for the moment.” This life is symbolized by the casual love affair, and it culminates in despair.
The second stage is the ethical life-a life of duty and commitment, which is symbolized by marriage. A truly earnest attempt to live such a life culminates in the discovering of a person’s own moral shortcomings and therefore the recognition of guilt.The final and highest stage is the religious, which involves a recognition that man is unable to become a whole person on his own and must seek the help of God. Kierkegaard saw Christianity as differing from all other religions, however, in that Christianity alone says that man is not even able to establish a relationship with God on his own. Since man is sinful, it was necessary for God to take the initiative by becoming a man himself.
Kierkegaard stressed that Christianity sees the Incarnation as an actual historical event; thus a Christian acquires salvation not through trying to live a moral life (as many liberal theologians who were Kierkegaard’s contemporaries said) but through faith in the Jesus of history. Kierkegaard believed that God’s loving self-sacrifice in Christ could not be understood by finite, sinful human beings. He thus opposed any attempts to philosophically understand the Incarnation or scientifically “prove” the truth of Christianity. For Kierkegaard, one becomes a Christian only through faith, which is produced by the consciousness of sin through the work of God. The Incarnation was and remains a “paradox” to human reason, which is only competent to ascertain its own incompetency with respect to the content of Christianity. For the proud man who will not acknowledge his sinful limits, the Incarnation will necessarily be an “offense.”
A significant feature of Kierkegaard’s authorship is his attempt to utilize “indirect communication.” He believed that moral and religious truth could only be acquired by an individual through personal appropriation, unlike mathematical and scientific truth, which can be directly and objectively given by one person to another. To help stimulate his readers to concern themselves personally with the three states on life’s way, Kierkegaard wrote a series of books attributed to pseudonymous authors who actually embody the life views they represent. Thus, Kierkegaard’s readers not only read about the aesthetic, ethical, and religious ways of life-they encounter these views and are forced to reflect about their own life.
When reading Kierkegaard, it is important not to attribute all the opinions of these pseudonymous characters to Kierkegaard himself. His own deepest beliefs are contained in the series of discourses. He culminated his life with an attack on the Danish state church, which he saw as an embodiment of Christendom. In Christendom, Christianity is abolished by being made into a triviality. Nobody can become a Christian because it is assumed that everybody is a Christian. Being a Christian has been reduced to being a nice person who conforms to the established human order. Kierkegaard saw his task as that of reintroducing Christianity into Christendom by helping his contemporaries see that being a Christian requires a radical, courageous decision to follow Christ. This is a decision that must be continually renewed and that may bring the individual into conflict with the established order, which is permeated by worldly values.