Of Men and Mantles: Kierkegaard on the Difference between a Genius and an Apostle

I was asked to introduce Elder Neal A. Maxwell to a group of BYU English majors. This assignment caused me some concern. I feared that my audience might be inclined to revere Elder Maxwell for the wrong reasons, or at least for secondary reasons—namely, for his considerable gifts as a writer rather than for his apostolic authority. So rather than rehearse Elder Maxwell’s resume, I decided to frame my introduction with insights borrowed from a remarkable essay by Soren Kierkegaard entitled “The Difference between a Genius and an Apostle.” In it, Kierkegaard emphasizes that human genius does not confer genuine religious authority. Thus, to honor an Apostle like Paul as a profound thinker or notable stylist is to miss the point. Paul’s brilliance is no more relevant to his real claim on us than is his skill as a tentmaker.

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