Augsburg Fortress

From Despair to Faith: The Spirituality of Søren Kierkegaard

From Despair to Faith: The Spirituality of Søren Kierkegaard

Søren Kierkegaard has been called many things, from brooding genius and "melancholy Dane" to the father of existentialism. Yet, rather than clarify the nature of Kierkegaard’s writings, such labels have often obscured other important aspects of his authorship. Such, indeed, is the case with Kierkegaard’s standing as a spiritual author.
In From Despair to Faith: The Spirituality of Søren Kierkegaard, Christopher B. Barnett endeavors to remedy this problem. He does so in two overarching ways. First, he orients the reader to Kierkegaard’s grounding in the Christian spiritual tradition, as well as to the Dane’s own authorial stress on themes such as upbuilding, spiritual journey, and faith. Second, Barnett maintains that Kierkegaard’s spirituality is best understood through the various "pictures" that populate his authorship. These pictures are deemed "icons of faith," since Kierkegaard consistently recommends that the reader contemplate them. In this way, they both represent and communicate what Kierkegaard sees as the fulfillment of Christian existence.
In the end, then, From Despair to Faith not only offers a new way of approaching Kierkegaard's writings, but also shows how they might serve to illuminate and to deepen one's relationship with the divine.


  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781451474695
  • eBook ISBN 9781451487473
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 192
  • Publication Date August 1, 2014


1. Kierkegaard as Spiritual Writer
2. Kierkegaard on God, Self, and the Spiritual Journey
3. Kierkegaard and the Aesthetics of the Icon
4. Icons of Faith: The Natural World
5. Icons of Faith: The Bible


"Building on a strong historical and textual base and easily readable, Christopher Barnett's new book opens up an original reading of Kierkegaard as spiritual writer. This is a Kierkegaard, whose sense of the religious life as a progressive deepening 'from despair to faith,' not only draws on the theological and historical sources long familiar to scholars but also finds nourishment in contemplating clouds, oceans, birds, and flowers and in meditating on biblical icons of faith, from Job to Anna, and from Paul to the sinful woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears."
—George Pattison
University of Glasgow

"Viewing Kierkegaard as a spiritual author in the tradition of Christian pietism, Barnett identifies—rightly I believe—a dialectic between the aesthetic and the religious in his writings in the form of an 'aesthetics of the icon' á la Jean-Luc Marion that seeks to promote the reader’s spiritual journey from despair to faith via images or icons from nature and the Bible that exemplify the life of faith in humility, suffering, and love. This is essential reading for anyone interested in Kierkegaard as a Christian poet and thinker."
—Sylvia Walsh
Stetson University

"Barnett (Villanova Univ.) examines Kierkegaard's contribution as a spiritual writer, i.e., as a writer who aimed to involve readers in faith in God. This literary aim stems from the influence of Catholic and Protestant Pietism on Kierkegaard (including the influence of, for example, Thomas à Kempis, Johannes Tauler, and François Fénelon). It figures in Kierkegaard's publication of his many 'upbuilding' or 'edifying' discourses, which seek the spiritual benefit of readers and not the mere imparting of information. Barnett clarifies Kierkegaard's spiritual literary aim in connection with the latter's understanding of one's interior life as a challenge to move from despair to faith in God. He also investigates Kierkegaard's understanding of pictures of godliness, in the natural world and in biblical personalities, as aids toward faith in God. The book is remarkably lucid and illuminating in its treatment of a widely neglected side of Kierkegaard. Being nontechnical, it is accessible to college students at all levels and will be enlightening to teachers and scholars too. It shows critical awareness of the relevant literature on Kierkegaard. For all libraries supporting work on theology, philosophy, and Kierkegaard. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above."
—Paul K. Moser, Loyola University Chicago
American Library Association

"From Despair to Faith heralds a welcome development in the scholarship exploring the depths of Kierkegaard's relationship to the Christian spiritual tradition. Historically and theologically sensitive, Barnett's study of Kierkegaard's 'icons of faith' subtly serves as an important corrective to the many incomplete but persistent stereotypes of this challenging Christian thinker and equally shows him to be a spiritual author on the order of such enduring guides as John of the Cross and Johann Arndt."
—Joel D. S. Rasmussen
University of Oxford

This book may change not only your way of reading Kierkegaard but even how you shelve your books. That is to say, if you have been parking your Kierkegaard collection right after the nineteenth-century German Idealists or else intermingled with the twentieth-century existentialists, Barnett's argument will incline you instead to set Kierkegaard's religious discourses, at least, up on that special shelf you reserve for books that get to the heart of the Christian life, alongside similar writings by Augustine, Luther, and Bonhoeffer."
—Andrew J. Burgess, Professor of Philosophy Emeritus
University of New Mexico

Christopher Barnett's scholarship is operating at the forefront of a deepening appreciation of Kierkegaard's thought. In a beautiful assimilation of word and image, Kierkegaard's contribution to devotional literature shines through in Barnett's profound and fluent exposition. Barnett's book is essential reading for scholars and students, and, perhaps above all, to those interested in the heights, depths, and pathways of spirituality."
—Simon D. Podmore
Liverpool Hope University

"In this sophisticated and sensitive reading, Christopher Barnett resists the common temptations to polemicize or fragment the thought of Søren Kierkegaard. Rather, he carefully demonstrates that there is a unifying focus in Kierkegaard's thought, namely, the conviction that the spiritual life is a homecoming, a return to God. To this end, Barnett illuminates how Kierkegaard persistently displays the intense human desire for that which brings fulfillment in concert with the Christian claim that the triune God can best satisfy that desire. In doing so, Barnett provides a much-needed theological reading of Kierkegaard that firmly places him in the fecund tradition of Christian spirituality and iconography."
—Paul Martens
Baylor University
"Barnett's splendid book is one of the few scholarly efforts to read Kierkegaard in the way that Kierkegaard wanted to be read: as an edifying author who 'builds up' the individual. With a compellingly close reading, Barnett shows how Kierkegaard's authorship serves as a spiritual discipline, urging the pilgrim on her journey and shaping her heart. Barnett demonstrates that Kierkegaard may best be understood by situating him not in the history of philosophy or theology, but in the rich traditions of Christian spirituality that foster ‘the peace that passes all understanding.’"
—Lee C. Barrett
Lancaster Theological Seminary


Review in Theology