I disagree with some of the easy complaints voiced in other less sympathetic reviews of this book and I welcomed Gardiner's approach to Kierkegaard as being an antidote to the widespread tendency to view this writer as an impish yet melancholy anti-philosopher. Unfortunately Kierkegaard has been reduced through decades of superficially motivated and self-seeking interpretations to the status of a finger-in-your-eye trickster who conducted lifelong guerrilla warfare against institutionalized religion and academic philosophy. And, even though his quarrels with bishops and professors are well-known, in the hands of those who would appropriate Kierkegaard for their own variously anti-intellectual and/or breast-beating approaches to life, these same episodes have been reduced to a historical theatrics, the contrived symbolism of those who habitually confuse defiance with authenticity.
Gardiner lets us in on the simple fact that Kierkegaard does not--even in the light of his own undeniably original genius--stand on his own. And if the Dane chose to write at length about, say, the dizzying prospect of real human freedom or the ineluctable pull of the infinite in our finite persons, then it was because such themes were still very much in the air in those days. For example, people need to be reminded that Hegel's philosophy, far from freezing intellectual or religious life, was an unbelievably stimulating development, and yes, contrary to the popular picture of Kierkegaard as a morbidly introspective but entertaining soul, this most unusual man wrote expressly in reaction to the issues that Hegel had raised and the answers he was providing.
And Gardiner's CONTEXTUALIZING of Kierkegaard is immensely valuable because it helps the reader to see in a clearer and more balanced manner just why it is that this man's writings continue to be so provocative and influential to our own day. If Kierkegaard was at loggerheads with the idealist metaphysics of the professors, it was because he was able to see and willing to confront the implications of that line of thinking vis-a-vis the unavoidable demands of Christian faith. Gardiner is not at all interested in downplaying this aspect of the man or in consigning it to the sidelines as an almost arbitrary detail (some Kierkegaard interpreters do end up treating his faith as a more or less incidental aspect of the man or even as a necessary quirk in his character): rather the author places it front and center because Christian faith--contrary to that modern prejudice which would have us assume the opposite--is more than just a set of personal convictions that must take a backseat to just about anything else.
For those who prefer to view Kierkegaard as some kind of countercultural anti-philosopher (read: modernist hero/individualist freethinker before his time, etc.) Gardiner reminds us that his uniquely challenging assertions had as much to do with his inner Christian convictions as they did with the defiant stands he made against the likes of Kant, Hume or Hegel. And any book which allows the reader to re-think the ideas and the debates in which so original a creation as Kierkegaard's emerged is worth the time and the effort it takes to read, understand, and appreciate how it all happened.