(Another installment of Kierkegaard that is sure to shake things up!)
It is well known that Christ consistently used the
expression “follower.” He never asks for admirers, worshippers,
or adherents. No, he calls disciples. It is not adherents of a
teaching but followers of a life Christ is looking for.
Christ understood that being a “disciple” was in innermost
and deepest harmony with what he said about himself. Christ
claimed to be the way and the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6). For
this reason, he could never be satisfied with adherents who accepted
his teaching – especially with those who in their lives ignored
it or let things take their usual course. His whole life on
earth, from beginning to end, was destined solely to have followers
and to make admirers impossible.
Christ came into the world with the purpose of saving, not
instructing it. At the same time – as is implied in his saving
work – he came to be the pattern, to leave footprints for the person
who would join him, who would become a follower. This is
why Christ was born and lived and died in lowliness. It is absolutely
impossible for anyone to sneak away from the Pattern
with excuse and evasion on the basis that It, after all, possessed
earthly and worldly advantages that he did not have. In that
sense, to admire Christ is the false invention of a later age, aided
by the presumption of “loftiness.” No, there is absolutely nothing
to admire in Jesus, unless you want to admire poverty, misery,
What then, is the difference between an admirer and a follower?
A follower is or strives to be what he admires. An admirer,
however, keeps himself personally detached. He fails to
see that what is admired involves a claim upon him, and thus he
fails to be or strive to be what he admires.
To want to admire instead of to follow Christ is not necessarily
an invention by bad people. No, it is more an invention by
those who spinelessly keep themselves detached, who keep
themselves at a safe distance. Admirers are related to the admired
only through the excitement of the imagination. To them
he is like an actor on the stage except that, this being real life, the
effect he produces is somewhat stronger. But for their part, admirers
make the same demands that are made in the theater: to
sit safe and calm. Admirers are only all too willing to serve
Christ as long as proper caution is exercised, lest one personally
come in contact with danger.
As such, they refuse to accept that
Christ’s life is a demand. In actual fact, they are offended at him.
His radical, bizarre character so offends them that when they
honestly see Christ for who he is, they are no longer able to experience
the tranquillity they so much seek after. They know
full well that to associate with him too closely amounts to being
up for examination. Even though he “says nothing” against them
personally, they know that his life tacitly judges theirs.
And Christ’s life indeed makes it manifest, terrifyingly manifest,
what dreadful untruth it is to admire the truth instead of
following it. When there is no danger, when there is a dead
calm, when everything is favorable to our Christianity, it is all
too easy to confuse an admirer with a follower. And this can
happen very quietly. The admirer can be in the delusion that the
position he takes is the true one, when all he is doing is playing
it safe. Give heed, therefore, to the call of discipleship!
If you have any knowledge at all of human nature,
who can doubt that Judas was an admirer of Christ! And we
know that Christ at the beginning of his work had many admirers.
Judas was precisely an admirer and thus later became a traitor.
It is just as easy to reckon as the stars that those who only
admire the truth will, when danger appears, become traitors.
The admirer is infatuated with the false security of greatness;
but if there is any inconvenience or trouble, he pulls back.
the truth, instead of following it, is just as dubious a fire
as the fire of erotic love, which at the turn of the hand can be
changed into exactly the opposite, to hate, jealousy, and revenge.
There is a story of yet another admirer – it was Nicodemus
(Jn. 3:1ff). Despite the risk to his reputation, despite the effort
on his part, Nicodemus was only an admirer; he never became a
follower. It is as if he might have said to Christ, “If we are able to
reach a compromise, you and I, then I will accept your teaching
in eternity. But here in this world, no, that I cannot bring myself
to do. Could you not make an exception for me? Could it not be
enough if once in a while, at great risk to myself, I come to you
during the night, but during the day (yes, I confess it, I myself
feel how humiliating this is for me and how disgraceful, indeed
also how very insulting it is toward you) to say “I do not know
you?” See in what a web of untruth an admirer can entangle
Nicodemus, I am quite sure, was certainly well meaning. I’m
also sure he was ready to assure and reassure in the strongest
expressions, words, and phrases that he accepted the truth of
Christ’s teaching. Yet, is it not true that the more strongly someone
makes assurances, while his life still remains unchanged,
the more he is only making a fool of himself? If Christ had permitted
a cheaper edition of being a follower – an admirer who
swears by all that is high and holy that he is convinced – then
Nicodemus might very well have been accepted. But he was not!
Now suppose that there is no longer any special danger, as it
no doubt is in so many of our Christian countries, bound up
with publicly confessing Christ. Suppose there is no longer
need to journey in the night. The difference between following
and admiring – between being, or at least striving to be – still
remains. Forget about this danger connected with confessing
Christ and think rather of the real danger which is inescapably
bound up with being a Christian. Does not the Way – Christ’s
requirement to die to the world, to forgo the worldly, and his
requirement of self-denial – does this not contain enough danger?
If Christ’s commandment were to be obeyed, would they
not constitute a danger? Would they not be sufficient to manifest
the difference between an admirer and a follower?
The difference between an admirer and a follower still remains,
no matter where you are. The admirer never makes any
true sacrifices. He always plays it safe. Though in words,
phrases, songs, he is inexhaustible about how highly he prizes
Christ, he renounces nothing, gives up nothing, will not reconstruct
his life, will not be what he admires, and will not let his
life express what it is he supposedly admires.
Not so for the follower.
No, no. The follower aspires with all his strength, with all
his will to be what he admires. And then, remarkably enough,
even though he is living amongst a “Christian people,” the same
danger results for him as was once the case when it was dangerous
to openly confess Christ. And because of the follower’s life,
it will become evident who the admirers are, for the admirers
will become agitated with him. Even that these words are presented
as they are here will disturb many – but then they must
likewise belong to the admirers.