Existentialist counselor, Ben Strickland, writes that there are nine signs that a person has become a Kierkegaardian individual. The list of signs involves the person making decisions based on a chosen essence or discovery of a call, rather than pleasure/pain feedback or cultural expectation a realization of transcendence and the ability to live connected to their finite physicality and transcendent potential. “From direction-from-without to direction-from-within.” Such actualized individuals live with the acceptance of the tension of unknowing and acting and their actions transition from selfishness to altruism. These flow from a relationship between the individual and God which frames their social ethics.
So how can we tell if a person has reached the status of the “individual” in the thought of Bonhoeffer? The Bonhoefferan individual has moved Christ to the center of their life. Christ becomes the lens through which the individual discerns ethics for the
purpose of revealing the Kingdom of God as good, even if it reveals that the individual is not good. Christ becomes the mediator between the individual and all things, between the individual and the world, the individual and others, the individual and God, the individual and the state, and the individual and ethics. This movement towards the call of Christ, placing Christ at the center of all things and interpreting ethics through the will of God, yields a threefold proof: the conviction to serve, responding to the cry of the oppressed, and unshakable courage.
I sense Kierkegaard and Bonhoeffer would have gotten along. Their work on the subject of the self-actualization of the individual in response to Christ were traveling along parallel tracks towards meaning. It is fascinating that both of these men produced their work on the subject in such brief amounts of time, Kierkegaard dieing at 42, and Bonhoeffer at 39. Both young, neither naive. Both of them were disappointed and appalled by the behaviour of the institutionalized churches they encountered, and bother were haunted by the presence of death in the world. It seems they were moved to opposite ends of the spectrum in response to their zitzen laben and the call of Christ. Kierkegaard was moved to despair at the state of the world, Bonhoeffer, to courageous action. Still both paths led them to the call of Christ, and ultimately, I argue Bonhoeffer would have agreed the only appropriate response to the call of the incarnate one, is a Kierkegaardian leap of faith.