Keeping his intended audience in mind is perhaps the most difficult thing to do when reading Johannes Climacus’ Postscript. He writes, neither to those who deliberately reject Christianity nor to genuinely faithful Christians. He is not writing to those who are caught in the throes of becoming a Christian. Each of these audiences can of course find much in Postscript, but it is not written to them. And, far too often, Postscript is criticized as if it had been written to these audiences. (As a result, the book is criticized as if it were apologetics (God forbid!) or as if it were evangelistic).
Now I realize this may seem a strange claim, especially in the case of the last group, those in the throes of becoming a Christian. “After all,” an objector might say, “Climacus’ controlling question is: ‘How do I become a Christian?’ So isn’t he writing to that group?”
No. Climacus’ interest in his controlling question is retrospective, not prospective. He asks the question, and answers it, not as an exercise in evangelism, not as a tractarian, but for the sake of his intended audience, those who believe that they are believers, but who fail to believe. His interest in his question is retrospective because, given the confusions of his intended audience, they will think of themselves as on the far end, as it were, of the question, not on its near end. They need to realize that the way in which they believe they became believers is not a way of becoming believers. I will call the intended audience the unbelieving believers.*
This intended audience is not wholly homogenous. Some of the unbelieving believers account for their becoming Christians by believing it as a historical truth; some account for their becoming Christians by believing it as a speculative truth. But both sub-groups have treated becoming a Christian as coming to be objectively convinced of the truth of Christianity. To the extent that they have been worried about their subjective relationship to Christianity, their appropriation of it, they have taken it to be precipitated from objective conviction. But appropriation does not precipitate from objective conviction. Even worse, objective conviction makes appropriation even more difficult than it already is. Objective conviction requires the inquirer to discipline out of her inquiry all questions of subjectivity, of how she is related to the object. That very disciplining out tends to attenuate or destroy subjectivity.—This is one reason why the unbelieving believer who worries about appropriation expects appropriation to precipitate from objective conviction–the conditions of acquiring objective conviction are hostile to appropriation, so if it is to happen, it will look to those who pursue objective conviction but worry about appropriation like something that really can happen only once objective conviction occurs.
In showing what is really involved in becoming a Christian Climacus aims to shock his audience into recognizing that they are unbelieving believers. Their account of how they became Christians, once they are clear about it and about the way one does actually become a Christian, reveals that they are not Christians. They may be objectively convinced of something–it is unclear it really counts as Christianity–but they are not really believers, appropriators of Christianity.
That unbelieving believers are the intended audience is part of the story why Climacus is not much concerned about answering the objective question about the truth of Christianity. (It is not the full story, but I am unsure I can tell the full story.) His intended audience takes that question as settled. They expect settling it to have settled the question of their faith too. Climacus aims at unsettlement. He will begin with an invitation: “Tell me, and tell yourself, how you became a Christian…”
*NB I use this phrase to suggest the simultaneous similarity and dissimilarity between Climacus’ intended audience and the father of the son possessed by a spirit (in Mark 9; cf. especially 9:24).