Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
(October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900)
I admire Friedrich Nietzsche. I really do. I believe he was a pursuer of extreme honesty and truth. I do not agree with everything he said, even on days when I doubt most, but I am always thankful for his existence. I thank God for him.
I know that it is relatively popular for Christians to just write Nietzsche off, especially when they haven’t read any of his work. I hope to do the opposite. He was one of Christianity’s fiercest opponents, a despiser of religious faith, a popular reference for atheists— and there are a lot of things that we can learn from him. His work was excellent. His rhetoric was powerful. His critiques were scathing and at least some were true. By learning from Nietzsche, perhaps Christians can promote a more wholistic Gospel. Maybe we can understand where post-modern critiques are actually coming from as well. In this way I call Friedrich Nietzsche an Artist for the Gospel.
Here are three points to consider (I hope to have more in the future):
1. “Gott ist tot”
God is Dead. It’s horrifying how often I have heard this statement misused. Nietzsche never meant that God was literally living and then died. Nietzsche didn’t believe God existed in the first place. He meant that the power of God in culture was “dead”– that God as an idea had lost it’s potency in Western Civilization. It was true in the 19th century and it is even more true now. The church steeple has been replaced by the skyscraper, the office, the red carpet, the shopping mall as the symbol of our culture. Most Christians worship at those new temples. That needs to be admitted. Do what you like with the situation after that.
2. Nietzsche is still more alive than most religious people today.
Nietzsche points out over and over again, particularly in The Antichrist, that Christians and other religious people are in danger of “decadence”–that they promote with their hands, feet, and mouths death instead of life. It is an interesting idea and it is at least true to this point: many by devoting themselves to God, avoid life today and tomorrow. Religious people avoid the realities of living on earth among other people. They say, “all that is not explicitly related to God or Christ is bad– that nothing on earth is good.” In this way many religious people do not live. “Do not do this. Stay away from this. Do not be friends with sinners. The non-believer is only a sad object to be saved.” This is incredibly normative among religious people, and it’s not even biblical. The biblical accounts actually show us that Jesus was criticized for doing the opposite (Luke 7:34). Jesus’ critics were also the most religious people of his day. Just read the book.
3. What do we mean by “peace”?
In Twilight of Idols Nietzsche mentions that he hates “peace”. He then goes on to explain the possibilities of what that term can mean. He found all of them to support decadence. I don’t think that is necessarily true, however, I do think that his point about the intentions behind using the word peace are very powerful. Do we mean comfort when we say peace– that we want happiness or luxury, especially at the expense of others? Do we mean that we want to give up on our situation in life, in this reality? I think these are typical uses of the term and they are potentially frightening. Peace in these senses really does feel like a retreat from life, a contagious disease of apathy, a promotion of decadence. Is there a better way to look at this word? I think there is.
Does Nietzsche have valid points? What does the Bible mean by “peace”? Is Nietzsche in some sense an Artist for the Gospel?